I want this to be a platform for EVERYONE within the horror community; authors, publishers, bloggers, reviewers, actors, directors, artists. I could go on, if you work in the genre then you are more than welcome to apply for the job.
The rules are quite simple…
You are invited to imagine yourselves as warden for an old graveyard, and choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.
As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.
You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.
If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new shift is about to begin and things are being played out a little differently. Kendall Reviews Cemetery is being left in the capable hands of Herbert West, a most enthusiastic young man. So enthusiastic he’s brought his friend Dan with him. It’s good that there are two of them to be honest. A terrible accident occurred over the weekend and there will be a lot of new visitors to the Cemetery.
So, with the Kendall Reviews Cemetery in safe hands, the warden for the week’s #GraveyardShift is…
11 short stories from the imagination of New Zealand’s multiple award-winning author and editor Lee Murray! Contains 4 original stories including a new adventure in the much-lauded and awarded Taine McKenna series!
Thank you for appointing me as the latest warden of the graveyard shift. I’d like to choose a local cemetery if I may?
Not far from my home is the Tauranga Mission Cemetery, once called the Old Military Cemetery. These days, it is a beautiful leafy spot, shrouded by ancient trees and set out on a promontory with glimpses of the harbour, and of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) standing solemn to the north, the site quiet despite the bustle of the city around it. In the daytime, I have walked here often, enjoying the calm, and considering the tombs and plaques. Not so picturesque at night, the tombstones shadowy and ominous in the darkness. Many of those whose remains are buried here fell during the New Zealand Wars, and in particular the bitter battles that took place locally at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) on 28–29 April 1864, and two months later at Te Ranga (just five kilometres inland). Many others succumbed to diseases like dysentery and typhoid which dogged the camps following the battles. Most poignant among the monuments is the Māori New Zealand Wars Memorial, a tomb erected, in particular, to the fourteen Māori warriors who were transported to hospital following the battle at Te Ranga and later died from their wounds. These men were buried in a mass grave on the site. Only one man, Te Tera of Ngāi Te Rangi, is named on the monument, the identities of the other men lost to history, their souls abandoned to this place. So as night falls and the mists drift in from the harbour, I’m going to sit beneath a tree, my back against the bark, occasionally searching the gloom for the wairua-souls of these lonely unnamed warrior spirits as I settle in for my shift.
It’s early yet, and the light is still fading, so let’s start with something classic: The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales by Edgar Allen Poe, whose own death is something of an enigma. I first read this book while in high school. For a child of New Zealand, where uncanny things crowd close to the veil, where spirits roam in lonely streets and isolated landscapes, these macabre gothic tales resonated for me. Stephen King calls The Tell Tale Heart “the best tale of inside evil ever written” and I concur. Perhaps, it says something about the universal nature of Poe’s work, that a Kiwi schoolgirl and one of the most iconic horror writers of our age should be equally affected.
The next book on my reading list is Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren. Warren’s writing cuts to the bone. She finds the perverse, the sad, the utterly unspeakable, and presents them in unique and compelling ways. She makes me wince, while also insisting that I turn the page.
When Garth Nix asked me for a comment for the World Fantasy Convention Souvenir Book, 2018, where Warren was Guest of Honour, I wrote back immediately:
“Kaaron Warren admits she struggles with impostor syndrome, and I understand how she might feel this way because as a writer, she is well ahead of her time. Every story by Warren breaks new ground, revealing more of her unique perception of the world, which is both provocative and visionary. Vivacious and approachable in person, Warren charms her readers with melt-in-your-mouth prose, leading them along unmapped paths to unspeakably dark places where the world slows and even the stones tremble. She employs this artful sleight of hand in Tide of Stone, her latest title and arguably her best work yet.”
It’s dark here in the graveyard, and difficult to make out the detail, but the photo of a timeball tower featured on this gloriously evocative cover was taken by the queen of darkness herself.
Next up, I’m going to dip into some dark poetry with A Collection of Nightmares by Singapore poet Christina Sng. Unlike Sng, I was seated at the Raw Dog Screaming Press table when this stunningly evocative collection won the Bram Stoker Award® for poetry, and heard the thunderous applause. Deservedly. This passage from the cover copy gives a clue:
“These nightmares are sweeping fantasies that electrocute the senses as much as they dull the ache of loneliness by showing you what’s hiding under your bed, in the back of your closet, and inside your head. Sng’s poems dissect and flower, her autopsies are delicate blooms dressed with blood and syntax. Her words are charcoal and cotton, safe yet dressed in an executioner’s garb.”
There’s a sequel volume, A Collection of Dreamscapes, released in April 2020, but I didn’t have room in my backpack for that one, so I’ve left it at home for now, although it is equally terrifying as my blurb reveals:
“I hadn’t thought it possible for Sng to improve on A Collection of Nightmares. I was wrong. In Dreamscapes, Sng shatters traditional storytelling and showcases her versatility as a master poet. Tackling odysseys, fairy tales, myths, monsters, and unspeakable violence, she wields words like ‘a scythe making graceful strokes’, paring her verse to sinew and bone. Not a word is out of place in this ground-breaking collection.”
Book four on my stack of graveyard reads is Summer of Monsters: The Scandalous Story of Mary Shelley. This book was recommended to me by award-winning Australian writer, Robert Hood, when we were both Guests of Honour at Canberra’s Conflux in Frankenstein’s two-hundredth anniversary year. Any recommendation by Hood is a must-read, so I sourced a print copy from the publisher. Summer of Monsters is a creative non-fiction novelisation of Mary Godwin’s early life, depicting her strained relationship with her beloved scholar father and his shrewish second wife, her tumultuous passage to adulthood, her love affair with poet Percy Shelley, and the events that led to her writing the iconic science fiction novel which spawned a genre. A quick read, the narrative is simple and unembellished, perhaps the result of a deliberate decision to make the story as accessible as possible for modern readers. It’s a good read and an excellent reminder of the contribution of women writers to the horror genre.
It’s deep in the night now, and everyone is asleep. A truck passes on the causeway, heading for the port. About now, I’m going to enjoy my luxury item, a thermos of Havana coffee, sourced from Wellington’s Cuba Street and prepared for me by my husband, who knows just how I like it. I’ll take a sip of the rich dark brew while watching the shadows and listening to the soulful call of a little morepork owl in the distance, and then I’ll open my next title, Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Worn and tattered, this book was discontinued by the Tauranga Public Library, and I recall picking it up off a bargain table for just $2 while at the library for a writing event (my apologies to the author, who won’t have received a cent of this sale). Definitely a win for me though, as this book is macabre, tense, gripping. A perfect graveyard read, with relentless pacing to make the time fly.
Since we’re in the graveyard, I’m going to add James A Moore’s Boomtown to my reading list. Set in Carson Point, Colorado, Boomtown features Moore’s popular Jonathan Crowley character, and is violent, bleak, and supernaturally-charged. I love that Moore doesn’t shy from the inherent racism, laying it out to appal us and also to gird us into doing better. High action fast-paced pulp with an even higher body count, this one is certain to keep the pages turning in the wee small hours.
Two to go. Next up, I’m going to read Why Horror Seduces by horror scholar Mathias Clasen. It’s a thoroughly readable book, even at 4am on a damp morning, where I learn that “horror fiction can have short-term effects of making us more fearful and vigilant.” Looking around the Mission Cemetery I’m inclined to agree, given that James A Moore’s Boomtown undead are still haunting my psyche. I’ll admit I’m still jittery. But Clausen has good news too, reminding me that “sustained horror consumption can give audiences tools with which to handle negative emotions and threat situations. Horror fiction,” he goes on to add, “can be much more than escapist entertainment—like all fiction, horror can function as an instrument of psychological calibration, as a means of understanding and making sense of the world.” Perhaps then, reading horror can be the ultimate superpower, a recalibration, and a chance of hope in an increasingly dark worldscape.
It will be dawn soon. I put the thermos away and check my backpack for the final book in my trove. I dig around. Pull it out. Ooh look, it’s Jeff Strand’s newest title. I haven’t read this one yet, but I haven’t read a single book by Strand that I didn’t love. Monsters, apocalypses, serial killers: there is nothing his sick mind can’t conjure into a story. I’m a huge fan. I think maybe Cyclops Road is my favourite, a modern-day road trip spiked with magical realism and a huge dollop of horror, but I reckon this one will be great too.
As the first rays of dawn glint over the cliffs of Mauao, I return the book to my backpack and zip it up. Yup, another great read. Luckily, I’m signed up to Strand’s newsletter, so I get a heads up whenever he’s about to put out a new title. I recommend doing this whenever you come across a writer whose work you love; it encourages our favourite writers to keep releasing great books.
I stand up and stretch my limbs for the walk home. I can’t read and walk so I’m going to plug in my earphones and listen to some music. Maybe something local and inspiring like Pokarekare Ana, a moving love song in Māori, which is a story in itself. My dad used to sing me this song as a lullaby, or to calm me if I woke in the night, so perhaps it is a fitting end to a night in the graveyard. I’ll choose this version by New Zealand’s Hayley Westenra.
As the shadows fade, I step onto the path and turn my back on the mountain and the tombstones. It’s early yet, but if I head back via Cameron Road, through the CBD, I might be able to get a refill for my thermos for the walk home.
Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee. Author of the Taine McKenna military thrillers, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), Grotesque: Monster Tales, and several books for children, she is proud to have edited fifteen speculative titles, including award-winning Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror. Co-founder of Young New Zealand Writers, and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction, she is HWA Mentor of the Year and an NZSA Literary Fellow. Lee writes from her Middle-earth office overlooking a cow paddock. www.leemurray.info @leemurraywriter