Phew. Fresh off the train from Unsung Live #8. Met some lovely people, listened to some lovely (and scary and violent and hilarious) fiction, and got to share A Little Star, my story of an opium den, a convict, and a shiny little something. It’s online now, if you fancy reading it.
A lamp with a shade of red paper. No matter what draughty lodge or bawdy house Benjamin laid his head for the night, he saw that Lime Street crimson whenever he closed his eyes, the way another man might see the face of a girl he loved, or a child a ghost in the doorway.
I adjust my bonnet, take a breath, and emerge into the lamplight. I can see the public in the cheap seats, and they thunder their appreciation with hands and feet and fag smoke. I smell spilt beer and ladies’ perfume disguising sweat, and I fear I will be sick. My debut. Climbing up and out and over the smoky precipice, I want to turn tail and run for the wings, but I wouldn’t survive it. The master of ceremonies wields his gavel like a sabre.
“Ladies and gennlemun, boys and girls! MISTER – PADDY – SYKES!”
This is me doing my annual Goth National Service. Here’s my list of dark little treats and recommendations to help you traverse the purgatory of December.
How To Survive The Most Wonderful Time of The Year When You Find This Time of The Year Pretty Unbearable Actually.
Vincent Price decks his tree. Just ignore the feet sticking out at the bottom…
2016 has been nightmare upon nightmare, but it was last year that we lost the incomparable Christopher Lee. Mr Lee’s baritone M.R. James readings have become a Christmas tradition in my household, and thank all the sunken crowns of East Anglia, you can buy a DVD of the lot. Forget carols at Kings’. Don your mortar board and enter James’ study for an evening of room-temperature madeira and dread.
For reading matter, cosy won’t cut it. You want something cold. Lauren Owen’s The Quick is a fresh look at the vampire myth, and it stayed with me for its sense of the physicality of being undead as much as Owen’s clever wordplay when it came to the child blood-drinkers of Victorian London.
I was on a panel at London ComicCon with Alison Littlewood earlier this year, so I picked up one of her novels and now I have an incurable fear of cupboards. I’m saying no more. Read The Unquiet House.
In The Malleus Maleficarum, Kramer and Sprenger wrote that Christmas was a good time for witches to work their magic, as all the revelry made bad Christians easy to bring over to the Devil. In that spirit, please enjoy Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate.
Speaking of bewitching, other things to treat yourself to include cosmetics, which I’m strangely shy of talking about despite having written an entire book on the subject. I’ve always been a fairly atypical consumer of beauty products, so I hope you’ll understand when I say if you wish to smell like this…
…then wear this:
Incense Avignon by Comme des Garçons is bottled ritual. Morrissey used to have it sprayed into concert halls before he came onstage to foster a feeling of holiness and dread. I always think it smells like Rasputin might if someone forced him to have a bath. Holy smoke and hard drink.
And for your filthy sinful face…
I’ve been a fan of Aromaleigh cosmetics for years and years, and they keep getting better. I never end up in the MAC shop, because Aromaleigh not only beat them on pigment, price, and quality, but their ranges are inspired by arse-kicking historical women, Dante’s Inferno, and deep space, which are really the only topics worth focusing on when browsing eyeshadows. The Hannibal-themed collection, This Is My Design, is particularly delightful for having a copper duochrome shade called Abattoir. “Ooh, you’re so glittery. What is that?” “ABATTOIR.”
I’m going to close this year’s guide on an unusually festive note with Mediaeval Baebes, because if there’s one thing December is good for, it’s putting a big blanket around your shoulders, drinking red wine and pretending to be a weatherbeaten medieval king. Mediaeval Baebes are especially good at taking traditional carols and imbuing them with that sense of midwinter darkness you just don’t get with Slade. Salva nos, stella maris…
There, now. Doesn’t that feel better?
And remember, at Christmas, Christopher Lee always wore Vincent Price’s special Christmas fez. Make spookiness a part of your festive traditions, for the sake of our dear departed Goth Granddads.
I’m over on The Literary Consultancy’s blog talking about my journey from scribbles to proofs. I used their manuscript services when I didn’t know where to turn with Pseudotooth, and I’d recommend them to anyone.
I’m very happy – and a bit overwhelmed – to be sharing the beautiful cover of my novel Pseudotooth, with original art by Christina Mrozik. I love all the little clues she’s left. Get your Jung dream dictionaries out…
I’ve just sent a real, honest-to-God, actual paper letter. It’s got ink on it, and a stamp, and I had to lick the seal.
Since moving house, I’ve been trawling through boxes of assorted flotsam. I know I’ll end up like one of those hermits you hear of, trapped under an avalanche of Screwfix catalogues and dog food tins. Since childhood, I’ve hoarded floppy discs full of Livejournal icons, Star Wars stickers, glitzy plastic bangles I can’t believe I ever wore – and letters.
So many letters.
I was a terrible teenage pen pal. I wrote bundles of pages in indecipherable spider writing; song lyrics, fan fiction, art I’d just discovered (four hundred years late, usually), books I loved, books I hated. Despatches on school (disastrous), air cadets (disastrous), the state of my kidneys (double disastrous). You can hurl yourself into a letter in a way you somehow can’t with email. They’re artefacts.
I put ads out in sci-fi magazines. I did those chain pen pal schemes where a notebook full of address and lists of interests slowly went around the country and you could pick out anyone who sounded interesting. For a while, pre-Internet, I’d order stifling incense from mail order witchcraft catalogues. Do these still exist?
SAFE banishment & exorcism!
I love reading old letters. Some surprise you all over again with gifts and puffs of glitter.
Some leave you feeling old.
Others remind you you’ve got miles to go.
There are treasures I’ll never give up, and things I can’t remember acquiring. I have letters from people I knew so briefly, I can barely recall their names or how we met.
Others are from people still in my life, people I see online every day, as real as a neighbour at the window.
Some are anonymous scraps found in the street. Someone discarded the nine muses in a cloakroom.
These days I’m an Internet person. Many of my dearest friends are people I’ll probably never meet. The web allows us pallid hermits to talk at any time of the day or night without having to venture into The Dreaded Outside and interact with postal workers. But looking through boxes of old correspondence, I do get that slightly embarrassing nostalgic pang for handwritten letters. Though I rarely send them any more, and seldom receive any, I wouldn’t get rid of my old letters any more than I’d give up my jewellery.