It’s Ray’s and Sandra’s first family holiday in Greece, on the island of Vasilema. The skies are cloudier than anywhere else in Greece, and they’re intrigued by local eccentricities—the lack of mirrors, the outsize beach umbrellas, the saint’s day celebrated with an odd nocturnal ritual. Why are there islanders who seem to follow the family wherever they go? Why do Sandra and the teenage grandchildren have strangely similar dreams? Has Sandra been granted a wish she didn’t know she made? Before their holiday is over, some of the family may learn too much about the secret that keeps the island alive.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
About the Author
In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky and Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence and The Booking are novellas.
His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You and Holes for Faces, and his non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably. Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal are what they sound like.
His novels The Nameless and Pact of the Fathers have been filmed in Spain, where a film of The Influence is in production. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.
“The Chimney”, World Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1978
“In The Bag”, British Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1978
The Parasite, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1980
“Mackintosh Willy”, World Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1980
Incarnate, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1985
The Hungry Moon, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1988
The Influence, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1989 and Premios Gigamesh, 1994 (for Spanish translation, Ultratumba)
Ancient Images, Children of the Night Award for Best Novel, 1989
Midnight Sun, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1991
Best New Horror (co-edited with Stephen Jones), British Fantasy Award and World Fantasy Award, Best Anthology or Collection, 1991
Alone With The Horrors, Stoker Award of the Horror Writers of America, Best Collection, 1994 and World Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 1994
The Long Lost, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1994
Liverpool Daily Post&Echo Award for Literature, 1994
Premio alla Carriera a Ramsey Campbell (Prize for the Career of Ramsey Campbell), Fantafestival, Rome, 1995
The House On Nazareth Hill, Best Novel, International Horror Guild, 1998
Grand Master Award, World Horror Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999
Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, 1999
Ghosts And Grisly Things, British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 1999
Ramsey Campbell, Probably, Best Non-Fiction, International Horror Guild, 2002 and Stoker Award of the Horror Writers of America, Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction, 2002 and British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 2002
Told By The Dead, British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 2003
Howie Award of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival for Lifetime Achievement, 2006
Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild, 2007
The Grin Of The Dark, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 2008
Honorary Fellowship of John Moores University, Liverpool, for outstanding services to literature, 2015
Letters To Arkham, British Fantasy Award, Best Non-Fiction, 2015
Life Achievement Award, World Fantasy Awards, 2015
The Searching Dead, Children of the Night Award for Best Novel, 2016
Premio Sheridan Le Fanu for Campbell’s career, 2017 (given in Madrid)
The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Read an Excerpt
THE FIRST DAY 20 AUGUST
"Don't joke about it, Ray. I gave you my passport before we got on the plane."
"Sandra, I'm not joking." Once he might have, but no longer. "You didn't give it me," he said, "the last time we had to show them."
When he reached for her capacious tapestry shoulder-bag she swung it and herself away from him. "Just let me have a chance to see."
Beyond her all three queues for the immigration desks were shrinking fast, but he managed not to urge her to be quick, even when she searched the bag a second time. "See, it isn't here," she said, surely not in triumph. "You must have it, Ray."
"I promise you I haven't," he protested, digging in the bag he'd used for carrying his laptop when he had one, and fished out the travel wallet that the agency provided. "You know I always keep them in here. There's just mine, look."
"Don't say we've left it on the plane."
"Wait here." At least this interrupted the panic that seldom left him alone any more. "Row nineteen. Seat D, weren't you? D for, yes, that was you," he said and limped fast to the doors, praying she'd missed some of his utterance.
A blaze of Greek air met him. A planeload of holidaymakers was crowding into the airport terminal with a rumble of wheeled cases just small enough to be stuffed into an overhead locker. Across the tarmac his and Sandra's plane was already swallowing trolleyloads of luggage while departing tourists clambered up the steps to the doors, and Ray hastened back to her. "They mightn't let me on," he panted. "Let me just check your bag."
"I know what's in my own bag," she complained but shrugged it off her shoulder. When he parted the frayed mouth it let out a faint musty perfume. He felt not just intrusive but shamefully condescending as he groped among the contents – the wallet full of bank cards and plastic memberships, not to mention miniature photographs of the children and grandchildren; a tube of lip balm instead of the pink lipstick she used to wear; a comb stuck in a brush along with several grey hairs; a mirror so small it suggested she didn't much care for it, especially since it was smeared with powder ... As he moved aside a tarnished powder compact he'd bought her many years ago in Venice Sandra said "What's there?"
"Where?" His nerves didn't let him sound gentle. "Where do you mean?"
She reached a shaky hand to pinch the side of the bag between fingers and thumb, emphasising a rectangular outline through the canvas. The item must be inside the lining, and Ray was dismayed to think he might have to damage a favourite possession of hers – but she thrust her fingers into a gap and retrieved the passport. "I'm sorry, Ray," she murmured. "I didn't know I'd sprung a hole."
"Good lord above, nobody's to blame. I'll buy you a new bag if you like." This revived thoughts he didn't want to have. "Let's hurry or we'll miss the boat," he said, only to realise that now the lines for immigration stretched back almost to the doors. It took him and Sandra several minutes to shuffle halfway to a booth, at which point the man behind it stood up, indicating that his queue should use the other booths. A chorus of amiable murmurs and mutterings of resignation provoked Ray to blurt "If we don't catch the ferry to Vasilema I don't know where we'll be until tomorrow."
He hadn't realised he'd spoken so loud or seemed so vulnerable, unless it was Sandra who did. Several people gestured them to overtake the queue they'd had to join, and they were making to comply when the man inside the booth ahead knocked on the glass. "Back," he urged. "Back."
A minute took them closer, and another did. In two more they were at the window, where the immigration officer stared at their faces and then at their passports without disclosing an expression. "Vasilema," he said.
"That's if we ever get there." In the hope of speeding up the interview Ray said "Do you know when the last ferry is?"
"No boats out or coming here after dark. Vasilema," the man said again. "You are going back?"
"It's our first time," Sandra said and grasped Ray's arm.
"You leave it late." As Ray refrained from retorting that they were being delayed further, the official closed the passports. He slid them under the window of the booth, murmuring "Long life."
Sandra gripped Ray's arm harder. "Let's find our cases," she said.
He returned the passports to the wallet in his bag as he followed her into the arrival hall. "Which is it?" she said. "Can you see them?"
He heard her attempting to suppress the disquiet he was trying not to find a reason for. None of the luggage carousels was in motion, and he couldn't see a single case. While the further carousel was surrounded by holidaymakers, the flight number on the sign was disconcertingly unfamiliar. "Excuse me," he called as he limped ahead of Sandra. "Is this the Manchester flight as well?"
Half a dozen people turned and shrugged or shook their heads. "That's finished, hon," said a woman who'd tried to make way for him and Sandra at immigration. "They've all took their bags and gone."
"We haven't," Sandra protested.
"They've never lost your bags for you," the woman cried and poked her husband with a fist. "You two sit down and Jack will see what he can do. What's your luggage look like?" "That's very kind," Ray said, "but there's no need, honestly.
Let's see if they come round again."
"Jack, go and find someone who knows what's going on. And you two tell me what to look for. What'll your name be?"
"Really," Sandra said, "you mustn't go to so much trouble." When the woman made to disagree she added "Please don't fuss."
"Suit yourself." As Sandra headed for a gap in the crowd around the carousel the woman said "Is she always like that, hon?"
"No," Ray said as an alarm seemed to voice his state of mind. It was announcing luggage, though the belt took quite a time to start its crawl. Most of its length made a circuit before the leader of the procession – a pink suitcase painted with greenery – butted the plastic strips at the entrance to the carousel aside. That wasn't Ray's case or Sandra's, and nothing on the belt was. The carousel was almost empty by the time another parade edged into the open, led by a large black suitcase rendered individual by a cross of grey tape. Sandra squeezed Ray's arm, only to bruise it as a man on the far side of the carousel swung the case off the belt. "Excuse me," Ray shouted and had to clear his throat just as loud. "I think that's ours."
The man spent some moments in deciding he had been addressed. "You think wrong," he said and strode away, towing the suitcase.
Ray was about to chase him when Sandra caught his arm again. For a disoriented moment he thought she was so desperate for peace that she would even give up their luggage, and then he saw that two more cases marked with crosses had emerged from hiding. They weren't quite as black as the one he and Sandra had misidentified. "Sorry," he called after the man, "just an old fool," which earned a look from the determinedly helpful woman. He hauled one suitcase off the belt and would have hastened to prevent Sandra from lifting its twin, but the man called Jack did. "Have yourself a time," Jack said. "Try and not lose anything else."
"Just don't lose each other," said his wife.
Ray didn't look at Sandra, because they had to find the travel representative. He put on all the speed he could with the heavier case and tramped into the airport concourse. At least a dozen people were brandishing clipboards with names or messages, but for long enough to let panic regather in his guts he could see nothing he recognised. Surely their contact hadn't given up on them, and at last Ray caught sight of the Frugogo uniform, an orange T-shirt with the syllables stacked on it, the lower pair overlapping. The girl was matching new arrivals with names on a list, and renewed her polished smile for Ray and Sandra. "Where are we taking you?" she said.
"Vasilema," Sandra said.
"Mr and Mrs Thornton. You're the last ones for the island." She crossed them out before saying "I'm afraid I've had to let the coach go. He did wait as long as he could."
Ray found he was bruising his fingers on the handle of his suitcase. "We were delayed. What are we supposed to do now?"
"Take a taxi," the girl said and glanced at her watch. "If you hurry you should still make the connection."
"Could you get it for us?" Sandra said.
"I still have all these people," the girl said with a smile at the gathering queue. "Just get a receipt and give it to your rep on the island."
Ray thought she might have asked if they had Greek money, which they had. He made for the exit as fast as Sandra could keep up with him. Beyond the glass doors his breath tasted hot at once, and he might have proposed covering their heads if the hats hadn't been in the suitcases. The handle of the case grew clammy in his grasp as he hauled it past the airport building to a rank of cars in various stages of dustiness. All the drivers were leaning against the wall of the terminal, but as soon as Ray lifted a hand one of them strode to him. "Where for you?"
"We need to catch the ferry," Sandra said.
"Must be quick." The swarthy moustached man seized both cases and sped them to the foremost car, then opened the door wide. "Sit quick."
Once Sandra was seated she set about hitching herself across the hot upholstery until he thumped on the roof. "No time," he shouted as he slammed the boot, "other side," and Ray had barely limped around the car and climbed in beside Sandra when the driver sent the taxi forward. By the time the Thorntons managed to persuade the tags on their seatbelts to reach the sockets and fit into the slits, the car had left the airport and was racing down a dusty road between fields of grass gilded by the low sunlight. "Which boat for you?" the driver said.
It seemed to be Ray's turn to say "Vasilema."
The rosary that dangled from the driving mirror appeared to describe a sign in the air as the taxi swung around a bend. "Not Sunset Beach," the driver said.
"Too lively for us. That's for the young folk. We're just along the coast at Teleftaiafos."
The driver's eyes gleamed, perhaps with the low sun. "I find you room here."
"No need, thank you. We're all booked."
"Very nice room in town. Very clean."
"As I say, we're going to the island. It's all paid for, the ferry too. It's a package."
"Why you not on coach?"
"It left without us. Now if you don't mind – "
"Why they don't pay for me?"
"They will." Absurdly, Ray felt implicated if not accused. "They'll reimburse us," he said, "if you give us a receipt when we get to the ferry."
"Maybe they have to pay for room in town."
"Is it someone you know?" Sandra said with a forgiving laugh.
"Brother." The man plainly failed to find this humorous. "If you stay one night," he said, "maybe you like."
"It's all right," Ray said, though his tone was at odds with the words. This was among the elements of travelling abroad he welcomed least – having to refuse an offer again and again. From feeling embarrassed he'd grown used to saying no as soon as anybody accosted him, but he could do without it on this trip. "I'm sure it's splendid," he said, "but we're expected on the island."
"All our family is coming," Sandra said. "They're meeting us over there."
As Ray glimpsed the sleepily glittering sea across a field the driver said "How much family?"
"Our children and their partners and the grandchildren as well," Ray told him. "The youngest will be very disappointed if we don't show up. I'm sure they all will."
The driver peered at him in the mirror. "Some are young."
"That's what I said."
"You look after them."
It might have been a query or an admonition. "Of course we shall," Ray said.
This seemed to lend the taxi more speed. "Look to sun," the driver said. "Watch what sun does."
Perhaps he meant how the shadows of a line of poplars striped the road ahead. As a breeze set the shadows groping for the car, Ray decided that the driver had been talking about sunburn or sunstroke. He refrained from answering in case that slowed the taxi down, and held Sandra's hand, which felt like sharing too many unspoken thoughts. He let go when at last they saw a ship's funnel ahead.
By the time they reached the port he'd sorted out cash for the taxi and the voucher for the ferry. The driver had to slow down for a crowd on the dock, beside which the vessels looked massively weightless as clouds. Beyond several of these was a boat less than a quarter of their size. The driver honked the horn at it as he came alongside, though passengers were still boarding. Indeed, others hadn't finished disembarking – dull-eyed young couples so encumbered by their backpacks that just one girl raised a hand to greet the incomers, a feeble gesture that might almost have been trying to convey a different message. Ray would have said they needed a holiday to get over the one they'd just had. "Too much night life," he remarked instead as the driver parked in the middle of the road.
Sandra was out of the taxi before Ray succeeded in releasing his seatbelt. "I'll make sure they don't go without us," she said and made for the ferry, tugging her suitcase.
The man heaved the second case out of the boot and gazed at it while Ray paid him. "You use cross."
"It's a way of distinguishing our luggage." Ray felt oddly abashed by explaining "It isn't religious."
"Well, they're some use. You've seen other people with the same idea, you mean," Ray said as Sandra joined the queue at the gangplank. "Forgive my hurrying you, but could you – " The driver wrote the date and time and payment on a notepad with a stubby pencil whose thick lead was worn down almost to the wood, and eventually handed Ray the slip, which at least bore the details of the taxi firm. Ray was pulling up the handle of his case when the driver said "Look after lady too."
Ray felt as if the man had somehow gleaned too much. "What do you mean?"
"Bring her back."
As Ray opened his mouth Sandra called "They need the voucher."
"I'm coming now," he shouted, and the driver turned away as though he'd been rebuffed. Ray made for the ferry as fast as the suitcase allowed, dragging at his arm like a reluctant child. He was halfway to the gangplank when a sailor came to snatch the voucher. "Go on," the sailor said, not much like a welcome at all.
Sandra had dragged her case on board. When Ray followed her he found the deck was trembling with the impatience of the engines. Beyond a muster of luggage several dozen passengers sat on plastic bucket seats in a lounge overlooked by a small rudimentary bar bereft of staff. Sandra trundled her case to the nearest trio of seats and waited for Ray to bring his. "What was he saying to you?" she said.
"Just how he didn't think these crosses would be much use."
The engines began throbbing like Ray's insistent pulse, and the ferry edged away from the dock. As the vessels moored alongside shrank to fit the windows of the lounge Sandra clasped his arm in both hands. "Nearly there," she said with a surge of the excitement holidays had always prompted, "and soon everyone will be."
All summer he'd had the unhappy impression that her eyes had faded like her close-cropped hair, no longer glossy black, and her small face that oughtn't to have room for so many lines, but now her eyes seemed to have regained a brighter blue. While her lips were still pale, she could still smile, and she even wrinkled her long slim nose in the old amused way he'd been in danger of forgetting. She didn't relinquish his arm until he managed to smile, and then he turned quickly to the window. The sun was hovering above the horizon, from which it laid a path of amber light for the boat to follow. Otherwise there was only water as still as the cloudless sky except around the vessel, and Ray didn't know he'd abandoned the view until his head jerked up. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Why, Ray? You've earned a rest. You drove us to the airport when you should have been asleep."
"I don't want to leave you alone."
"You won't, will you? I'll know you're here."
For years he hadn't slept much in the weeks before a holiday – every night his mind would run through all the tasks and items he had to remember, not to mention all the apparently innumerable things that could go wrong – but by now he'd forgotten how it felt to sleep all night or even for a few unbroken hours. "Say you'll wake me if you need me," he said.
"I always need you, but if I need to wake you I will."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Thirteen Days By Sunset Beach"
Copyright © 2018 Ramsey Campbell.
Excerpted by permission of Flame Tree Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What is the book about?
A Greek island has recently opened to tourism, but it hides an ancient undying evil that feeds on the inhabitants. Three generations of a family spend two weeks’ holiday there, only to find that the creature and its servants will change the lives of some of them forever. But is its influence only evil, or has it a gift to give?
What are the underlying themes?
At its core this is a book about the impermanence of life and the temptation to prolong it whatever the consequences. And it’s about the tensions in a family, which blind most of the characters to the uncanny influence they’ve fallen under.
Did you base your characters on anyone you knew?
All my characters are based on observation to some extent, but a character is very rarely drawn from a single real person. It’s more a matter of assembling a new person from traits borrowed from many, and some imagined traits too. What’s most important, especially in a story such as this one that deals with the supernatural, is that the characters should behave as real people might conceivably behave.
Is there any advice you can give someone starting to write?
Don’t despair, even when your work is rejected. Keep writing, and don’t leave work unfinished. Learn to enjoy rewriting as soon as you can – every piece of work needs it, believe me. tell as much of the truth as you can. Always compose at least the first sentence before you sit down to write. Identify your most creative time to write and, if you can, work then – if not, try at least to write some of your new piece every day until it’s finished.
Where did you write?
I’m up at my desk that looks towards Liverpool across the river, and I always see the dawn when I’m working here. Some writers prefer to face a wall so as not to be distracted, but I believe I draw energy from the view, not least the ever-changing sky.
Did you find it hard to write? Or harder to edit your own work?
I haven’t plotted a novel in advance for many years – I gather material until the book feels ready to be started. I believe in letting the tale develop organically and surprise me as it does. The dark side of this is that I can find myself stranded far out in unknown territory with no idea how to proceed, but I trust the novel to rescue me – generally there’s material earlier on that proves to be the solution to where I need to go next in the story. It certainly van be hard to write, but more often it’s rewarding, even exhilarating. I’ve come to regard the first draft as a way of setting out what I need to work with. I’m increasingly ruthless at rewriting and enjoy it a good deal.
Because I’ve always loved the field. I started writing in it to pay back some of the pleasure it has given me and in the hope of adding a little of my own to it. Some of its greatest tales – Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, Arthur Machen’s “The White People”, Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” – ,reach towards awe, and that’s my ambition, however much I may fall short of it.
You’ve been writing horror fiction for more than half a century. Do you ever run out of material?
Not while I live and perhaps not even beyond that. I’ve notebooks full of ideas waiting for development. I believe the field is so wide I’ve by no means found its limits (by which I don’t mean excessiveness, but its ability to contain a great deal). The uncanny, the psychological, cosmic terror, social comment, comedy of paranoia, the monstrous both human and inhuman – they’re all in there, and more.
Isn’t there enough horror in the world without creating it?
Would we say there’s enough crime in the world, and enough tragedy? Yet I’ve never heard those observations used as an argument that people should stop writing crime fiction or tragedies. For that matter, since there is indeed horror in the world, how could some art not reflect that? It’s also true that much horror fiction, whether supernatural or psychological, deals with a different kind than the horror in the news, though some of the fiction does indeed confront everyday experience.
What are you writing now?
I’m completing the third volume of a supernatural trilogy that spans most of seventy years, ending up in something like the present – The Seatvhing Dead, Born to the Dark and now The Way of the Worm.