This time of year brings with it an appetite in me for reading – no, devouring – a certain type of book: the ghost story. It might be the inevitable tide of Halloween and the shadows that autumn sweeps in with its falling leaves, or it might simply be that it’s my favourite type of story and there is no better time to immerse myself in creepy literature than in the darkest seasons of the year. Whatever the reason may be, I was very excited when I heard that author Tom Cox was releasing a book entitled Help the Witch – a series of short stories that explore ghosts, or our ideas and conceptions of them.
I purchased the book on Halloween evening during an author event by Tom Cox, and had finished it two days later. I probably could have finished it sooner – not because it was a short book, it wasn’t – but because I was so immersed in it and didn’t want to rush my way out of these new worlds, brought to life through such beautifully crafted language. I paced my reading of Help the Witch precisely because I enjoyed how drawn in I was to the stories, the characters, the way the tales made me think and feel – and I didn’t want them to end.
The title and the cover art of Help the Witch might leave you thinking that the collection of stories are fully fledged tales of ghastly hauntings, but this book is a different sort of creature. Yes, there are hints of ghosts, wisps of something sinister in-between the pages, but there is something much larger at play. The stories Cox has created seem to go much deeper than ghostly sightings and tapping from unseen hands; yes there are scary moments, however these are stories that offer glimpses of what it is to be human, to be alone, to crave, to yearn and to hope. They dive deep into the mind of characters, they bring the reader to locations so vividly it is as if you are there yourself.
Help the Witch does offer scary moments, but more than that, it provides readers with big questions, with uncomfortable feelings, and with wonder.
I’m a seasoned horror fan. I have been reading and watching the horror genre since I was a child, it’s what I love. When I first heard of Help the Witch, I was excited because I thought I was going to be told something terrifying. This book isn’t terrifying, however it was all the more powerful for the unanswered questions, the bumps in the night and the human experience… those things leave a chill in the air every bit as much as any ghost or ghoul, thanks to Cox’s mastering of language, atmosphere and location. The author has a way of making each story feel so authentically real and important.
(Above, artwork created by Tom Cox’s mother, artist Jo Cox)
Stories that stood out to me were Listings, Just Good Friends and Nine Tiny Stories About Houses.
These stories were gems. My favourite story in the collection was Speed Awareness, a story that I was so in awe of and fascinated with that I have read it over three times already. It’s a special story that explores relationships, death, ghosts and memories. It was beautifully written.
Were there ghosts amongst the pages of Help the Witch? I think so. Though ghosts aren’t always what you expect…they are the unexpected appearance of an old friend….the reliving of a significant memory that haunts you…the loneliness of stark landscapes and unfamiliar empty houses.
I loved Tom Cox’s approach to Help the Witch. I think there is a story in here for everybody, whether you are a fan of ghost stories or not. I highly recommend it.
Link to buy – click HERE
Above – author photograph (copyright Tom Cox)