One of the most famous and lauded storytellers of all time, Charles Dickens may seem an unlikely character to pop up in a blog about authors who influenced my book of pulp stories, but the way Dickens’s stories contained scenes of poverty and violence which shocked and outraged the public of the time and were serialised in magazines (replete with cliff-hangers) had a direct impact on the later pulp magazines and penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers.
He also had an admirable social conscience and championed the poor and marginalised in both his fiction and journalism.
I wrote Sixpence as a piece for a Christmas horror anthology called O Horrid Night by FunDead Publications, published in November 2016. The idea of the anthology was to revive the old and a little forgotten (except in film) Christmas tradition of sharing ghost stories on Christmas Eve, with the brief naming Dickens and Algernon Blackwood as guides.
I love A Christmas Carol and read it just about every year, also failing to miss the many film and television adaptations of it. (If you’re interested my preferences are The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, the one with Patrick Stewart in it, then Scrooged.) So, I set about writing a Victorian horror piece with creaky old manor house, extravagant food, knee-deep snow and Christmas carollers. Also, of course, ghosts.
More than just the well-known tale, I love Dickens’s language in A Christmas Carol – the ‘Dickensian’ narrator, a character in itself. Some examples of my favourites:
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a wheezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”
“Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
“I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.”
The story also contains, for my money, one of the best opening sentences ever written: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” (I like this so much I referenced it in my novel Dead in Autumn, Buried in Winter.)
You can read an excerpt of my own Christmas horror, The Sixpence in the Pudding, Below.
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Quotes from A Christmas Carol & two other Christmas Books, CRW Publishing Limited, 2004
Illustration: John Leech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Sixpence in the Pudding
Of course there were stories. All old families had stories. And whether you gave credence to them or not said a lot about your character, so thought Annie Jones, and as head house keeper for several renowned families in the past, including the Hadleys, the Smith-Westertons and the Ashburys, she had done her utmost to quash such idle gossip among her staff.
The Idleweathers were no different, and when she first heard the tale related in a conspirational whisper by a silly young scullery maid called Marcy she made her disapproval felt. However, she couldn’t resist a shudder whenever she passed the black-veiled portrait on the second floor, as if her body would not obey the stern ethics of her mind.
It was two months ago when Marcy told the story, during the second week of Annie’s appointment. And despite the tingle on her neck produced by the covered painting on the wall of the second floor corridor, she had put it almost completely out of her mind until the early afternoon of Christmas Eve. The snow was falling heavily outside, the garden already completely buried under thick sheets, blinding in the winter sun, and lying on the leaden crossbars of the windows…