Meghan: Hi, William. Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?
William: I have a confession.
I don’t celebrate Halloween, and haven’t since I was a kid. Back in Scotland when I was growing up, Halloween was for kids, and just for kids. I never saw an adult dressed up, never saw a house decorated for Hallowen. We kids went out ‘acting the gloshes’ which translates as ‘pretending to be ghosts’ and, as we were all poor as church mice, that mostly consisted of an old sheet with holes cut for eyes.
We went round the local houses, not trick or treating as such… we had to tell a joke or sing a song to get a reward which in those days was often a toffee apple. I always enjoyed the singing (I found out later that I perform well in front of audiences with guitar in hand).
About the only thing I recognize when watching North American Halloween is dunking for apples in a big bucket of water. Some of the old folk in town still insisted we did that before we’d get a treat… an apple usually.
It being the end of October, in the West of Scotland, Halloween was often damp, windy and sometimes downright miserable as a lot of folks didn’t bother to participate.
So my favorite part of Hallowween these days is watching in bemusement what a big deal gets made of it over here in the New World.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
William: We didn’t have pumpkins in Scotland. We carved swedes (we call them tumchies) with kitchen knives, a process that took hours and caused many a bruised knuckle, then stuck a candle in them. I can still smell the roasted turnip even now fifty years and more on.
It’s a very old tradition. Carved swedes have been found in old graves all the way back to the Neolithic.
And there’s something spooky about the manic grin on a carved turnip that no amount of artistry in pumpkin carving can match. That was always my favorite part of the night.
Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?
William: See above. I do like seeing kids enjoy themselves, but I’m a bit bemused as to how much adults get into it here in North America.
Meghan: What are you superstitious about?
William: Not a lot really. I am a believer in the supernatural, having had several encounters that leads me to think that the land of Faerie is close by us, so if I’m somewhere with a faerie tradition (there are more than a few places in Scotland and also some here in Newfoundland) I try not to piss off the wee folk and always say hello and thank you when crossing ‘their’ bridges.
Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?
William: The same one it has been for fifty years. It’s not strictly horror, but it has to be KONG. I first saw the big guy back in the late ’60s in his 1933 incarnation, and around the same time I caught the Japanese Godzilla vs Kong movie, and that was it, I was hooked on big beasties.
The recent resurgence, firstly with Jackson‘s Kong ( which I loathe in places and love in other places) through to Skull Island and Godzilla vs Kong has me like a kid in a toy shop.
Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
William: It’s always been the Whitechapel Ripper case. I’ve read numerous books, seen all the movies, and remain no closer to having a clue as to who Jack might have been.
His crimes cast a shadow over the whole late-Victorian era in London, and his effect on popular culture down the years has been remarkable. He’s become almost mythic. I wonder if the perpetrator had any idea what he was starting… and indeed, was that the point?
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
William: Back in the 1950s, in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, about 20 miles north of where I lived, stories were going around about missing children, believed killed. The culprit was said to be a seven-foot vampire, with iron teeth, lurking in the Southern Necropolis graveyard.
One night after school, hundreds of children of all ages armed themselves with blades and crosses, stakes and dogs and descended upon the Necropolis to hunt it. The children prowled the graveyard as night fell, checking behind trees and headstones for the awful creature that might be lurking.
They never caught it of course, but the story passed into legend.
I heard about it when I was around ten years old in ’68 and it gave me a recurring nightmare that still pops up every few years.
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
William: I don’t have a ‘favorite’ serial killer. I find the idea of having that kind of empathy with them to be a strange concept. But there’s one or two that intrigue me.
Again in 1968, which was kind of a formative time for my horror roots, a serial killer was operating in Glasgow, as I said before only 20 miles from us. Bible John, as he was known, was stalking a nightclub, quoting bible verse, abducting young women and killing them. It filled the news at the time and we schoolkids were obviously fascinated.
There were 3 confirmed deaths, several other possibles.
He was never caught.
When I was at university in the late ’70s in Glasgow rumours spread that he was still around, still working the same area. We all kept a close eye on our female friends when we were out and about town.
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
William: The first time I remember being terrified at the movies was not at a horror movie as such, but at the transformation scene in Jerry Lewis‘ The Nutty Professor which I was taken to see by my mum… I can’t have been more than six years old at the time. All that strobing red lighting and screaming soundtrack had me getting out of my seat and heading for the door before fascination had me turning back to see…
The first horror movie I remember seeing was a rerun of the original The Blob in around 1967 when I was nine. I thought it was a hoot and loved every minute of it, and it gave me a lifelong love of big blobs in film. There’s a particularly good one in one of the early B&W Hammer movies X-The Unknown that I love to bits.
The first X-rated horror movie I saw in the cinema was when I sneaked in to The Exorcist on its first run in 1973. I’d already read the book so knew broadly what to expect, but it certainly made an impact.
As for books…
I got early nightmares in around ’67 from a first read of The Hobbit, my dreams being plagued by Gollum and red eyes in dark places for a while.
The first outright horror book I remember reading was one of the Pan Books of Horror collections, probably some time in 1969 IIRC. My granddad was an avid reader and had boxes of paperbacks lying around. I’d pick them up and read them, which is how I discovered the likes of Alistair MacLean, Ed McBain, Louis L’Amour and many more. One day I picked up #6 in the PBOH series and was immediately hooked. That led me on almost directly to Dennis Wheatley, then H.P. Lovecraft and then, in ’74, a chap called Stephen King came along and everything changed.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
William: T.E.D. Klein‘s The Ceremonies
Dread is a word you don’t see used much in association with horror fiction any more. And it’s a shame, because used properly, slow building dread can be more horrific than any gore or bloodletting.
Fortunately, there are writers who understand this, and one of the best examples can be found in The Ceremonies, which starts slow, gets slower, but accumulates dread along the way like a wool suit collecting cat hairs. And it’s a marvel of timing, precision and skill, with its cast of great characters all circling around the central motifs, each of them catching glimpses of the whole but none completely understanding what they are being shown, or why.
The slow build, taking care and attention to let us get to know, if not like, the main characters, gives their respective fates at the climax emotional resonance, and a depth that’s often lacking in fiction in the field.
The book is one of the wonders of modern weird fiction.
Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?
William: Don’t Look Now
I was only 17 when I first saw this classic, and wasn’t really prepared for the depth of sadness and misery that has hold of the main characters all the way through. It’s a simply stunning piece of work, with the director Roeg keeping us unsure as to what’s going on all the way through to the shock at the end. It’s lived with me ever since. Donald Sutherland‘s best movie, Roeg‘s best movie, and one of the all time great horror movies.
As an aside, Roeg‘s use of color, in particular red, to highlight important plot points meant that when I first saw The Sixth Sense and saw that Shamalyan had done the same, I saw the end coming a long way off…
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?
William: I still have a nostalgic fondness for that white sheet I mentioned earlier but if I were to do it today (and had the money) I’d splash out on a good gorilla suit and go round as KONG for the night. That would be lovely.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?
William: That would have to be THE MONSTER MASH, not the Boris Pickett version but the one by the very silly Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a bunch of English eccentrics who did a brilliant cover version.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?
William: As I don’t really do Halloween, I don’t really have one. And in Scotland we didn’t have ‘candy’, we had ‘sweeties’. My favourite as a lad was black liquorice dipped in sherbet – I’m weird that way.
I remember being disappointed as a kid by a very old and sad Tangerine.
Meghan: Thanks, William. This has been great, learning more about you. Before you go, what are your top three Halloween movies and books.
- Halloween ( 1977)
- Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
- Night of the Demon (1957) (name changed to Curse of the Demon)
- A Night in the Lonesome October – Roger Zelazny
- Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
- Harvest Home – Tom Tryon
William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries.
He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines.
He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company.
When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.
The Green & the Black —
A small group of industrial archaeologists head into the center of Newfoundland, investigating a rumor of a lost prospecting team of Irish miners in the late Nineteenth century.
They find the remains of a mining operation, and a journal and papers detailing the extent of the miners’ activities. But there is something else on the site, something older than the miners, as old as the rock itself.
Soon the archaeologists are coming under assault, from a strange infection that spreads like wildfire through mind and body, one that doctors seem powerless to define let alone control.
The survivors only have one option. They must return to the mine, and face what waits for them, down in the deep dark places, where the green meets the black.