Something Was There: Asham Award-winning Ghost Stories
Edited by Kate Pullinger

Virago 2011
Paperback







" ... there was a man squatting on the roof beam above my head, looking down at me. I stayed absolutely still. Even my breath stopped. He was staring at me with hate in his face: a long, spiteful, white face. The rest of his black-clad body merged into the dark roof space, except where his white fingers clutched the wooden beam, tensed to jump down onto me suddenly like a spider."

(From Kate Morrison, Sam Brown)


Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

As I was reading this collection, the bookselling world was full of news of ghost stories commissioned by women writers for a new imprint, hosted by Hammer Films. Helen Dunmore, Jeanette Winterson and others have welcomed the chance to prove the enduring fascination of the genre for readers and writers alike. The Asham Award-Winning Ghost Stories in Something Was There, edited by Kate Pullinger, demonstrate how rewarding (and rich) the genre can be.

All Over the Place by Linda McVeigh, which won first prize, is a darkly funny story that brings the genre bang-up-date, while still managing to chill us. It's easy to see why it scooped the top prize, given how successfully it slots into modern storytelling. Less successful, but still funny, is The Real Story by Kate Clancy, which introduces Oprah and iPhones to the Bronte family. It's a somewhat forced humour, and I preferred the sly and scary tone to Janet Tchamani's Red Branwen, which reads like a classic revenge haunting, with twists in all the right places.

Elizabeth Iddon's Company is a modern take on the theme of the loneliness of ghosts. Very short and genuinely shocking, Company demands you read it twice to take the full meaning from the tale. The Second of November by Celine West is another story that doesn't give up its secrets easily or soon. West's style reminded me a little of Charlotte Perkins, in its suggestion of a feminist sub-text. A woman haunted by herself, or her appetite perhaps. Like Company, West's story stays with you.

A Rose for Paul by Polly Samson doesn't lend itself to a traditional ghost story structure, despite opening with a funeral sequence. It's a story about loss and betrayal, wrapped in a sequence of unpleasant encounters that keep us wondering about the narrator and her motives.

The collection was pleased to "scoop" a recently discovered story by Daphne du Maurier. The Happy Valley bears enough resemblance to Rebecca to make loyal readers glad of the chance to discover it, although I suspect du Maurier would have considered it juvenilia. The twist isn't as accomplished as others in the collection, and it's pre-shadowed with less subtlety than, for instance, Fiona Law's excellent The Traveller. Another tale with a great twist is Vin Rouge by Caroline Price, which layers the suspense nicely with moments of domesticity that lure us away from the denouement.

On the Turn of the Tide by Jacky Taylor weaves myth and legend very nicely, although the credentials for "ghost story" didn't quite ring true for me. Pandian Uncle and his Ghosts by Anita Sivakumaran tells a legend of ghosts from another culture, with an ear for humour. Jacqueline Crooks' Obeah Blue has a unique voice, but again its credentials for inclusion in the collection struck me as a little shaky.

A stalwart of the genre, the penitent ghost, puts in an appearance in Cold Snap by Maggie Ling, which keeps us guessing as to the narrator's cause for remorse, and promises redemption on its final page. The Courting by Gabriela Blandy opens with a very dramatic sequence at a lake, before leading in another direction altogether. I'd have liked a reprise of the lake at the end, but the author had other ideas.

The collection's best shiver comes in Sam Brown by Kate Morrison (winner of the second prize). The story isn't quite as powerful as it could be, but the descriptions of the devilish creature squatting in the rafters is pure Edgar Allan Poe; exactly what this reader wants in a ghost story.

Finally, The Car by Naomi Alderman is a deliciously menacing story with which to wrap up the collection. Chilling throughout, the only thing missing is a tiny hint early on as to the narrator's likely fate. Arguably, this might've diluted the shock at the end, but it would have amped up the suspense, which seems a fair exchange.
 



Read a story from this collection on AshamAward.com


Sarah Hilary won the Sense Creative Award in 2010, and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize in 2008. Her fiction appears in The Fish Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2009, and Highly Commended in the 2012 Sean O’Faolain short story competition. In 2011, she received an Honourable Mention in the Tom-Gallon Trust Award. Sarah is currently working on a novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory.

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Sophie Hannah "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"


Chavisa Woods "Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind"

Jennifer Pelland "Unwelcome Bodies"

Laura Solomon "Alternative Medicine"

Patricia Highsmith "Nothing that Meets the Eye"

Grace Paley "Collected Stories"

Peter Gordon "Man Receives a Letter"


Patrick Gale "Gentleman's Relish"

Warren Bull "Murder Manhattan Style"

Edith Pearlman "Binocular Vision"

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Editor Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms. In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, one of Canada's most prestigious literary prizes. Her prize-winning digital fiction projects Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel have reached audiences around the world.


The Asham Award was set up by the Asham Literary Endowment trust in 1995 to encourage and promote new writing. It is open to women over 18 of any nationality, provided they are resident in the United Kingdom and have not previously had a novel or a book of short stories published.