Monday, November 03, 2014

Fright in the Museum

This blog post was originally written for my local paper's Halloween edition, but I thought I'd share it here as well. Cheers to photographer Dave Gillespie for letting me share some of his photos, You'll spy some of them are mine. No prizes for differentiating one from the other.....


I've never made a secret about the fact that my love of roleplaying games, books and film inspired me to become a writer, but a huge influence on my formative years was always right on my doorstep. Growing up in the 80's in Warrington, weekend trips to town usually involved regular haunts, all now long gone; G&I Models for lead Citadel Miniatures to paint, Our Price for the latest vinyl, and the dearly departed Bookland on Cairo Street. All roads ultimately, though, lead to Museum Street.

 (Gibbet - the last person to be hung in one in Britain? Only a Mr William Jobling. There are folk songs written about the poor fellow. Check out his story here)

The fact that the museum and library were adjoining meant there was a two-bird-one-stone shenanigan going on. Reading has always been the purest form of escapism for me, more so than any film. I didn't need to see Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies to know what a hobbit looked like. I'd visited the Shire as a nine year old schoolboy via the books. In the library I could make a nuisance of myself, pestering the brow-beaten librarians into ordering obscure, fantastic and frankly inappropriate works of horror fiction before hopping next door for the real deal. The museum was where the genuine frights were to be found.

(Egyptian child's mummy)

My memory isn't what it once was, and perhaps the more ghoulish artefacts I found on display have taken on mythical proportions in my mind, but I found a world of wondrous chills and thrills in Warrington Museum as a boy. The more macabre the exhibit, the better. Skulls and skeletons, of all shapes and sizes from all manner of beasts, were a must-see. As were the insect rooms with a freakish selection of giant bugs that made my skin crawl. I distinctly recall the mummified infant, its ancient sarcophagus replaced by one of glass. And of course the two human heads -one a shrunken Amazonian, the other a tattooed Maori - the latter recently, thankfully, repatriated. All of this, at my fingertips.
(Amazonian shrunken head)

That I've gone on to write fantasy and horror novels such as Wereworld came as no surprise to friends and family. Haunt: Dead Scared is based upon my life growing up in Warrington (the sequel, Dead Wrong, will be out next year). Indeed, in my next two novels, for two separate publishers, museums play a major part within the stories. World of Warriors is a new game from Mind Candy (the guys behind Moshi Monsters) and I'll be writing a series of books set within that universe - the first book opens in the British Museum. I also have Max Helsing: Monster Hunter coming out in the States, featuring a museum of anthropology directly inspired by Warrington's own house of history.

I occasionally get asked: "Are your books too scary for children?" My answer is no. But they are scary. Fear is an emotion that affects us all, and what better way for a child to experience it than through a book? Books don't chase us down the street. Books don't make us jump out of our skin. If a book is scary, close it. Crikey, if it's really scary, throw it in the chest freezer in the garage. A little fright now and again can be a healthy jolt to anyone's heart, especially via the pages of an engaging, entertaining book. Or even through the dark, foreboding doors of your local museum.

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