The weather was blustery by the time we arrived late on Friday afternoon at Dean Clough, which is on the edge of Halifax, and parked outside our hotel for the weekend. The Travel Lodge is at the far end of the enormous mill complex, a five minute stroll to where the festival was being held. Fortunately, overnight the weather improved to become fine and bright, if slightly cold, ideally suited for what we had come for.
Our first introduction to the weekend's events was a thirty minute ghost story, Lily Rose by Canadian playwright Aurora de Pena in the gloomily atmospheric Viaduct Theatre, which is literally inside an old, brick-built viaduct with a cobblestone floor. There then followed a kaleidoscopic series of 60-second plays pioneered by Screaming Media Productions, using minimal props and sets, enhanced by the superb choreography of the actors. Lily Rose was a chilling vignette, involving three principle actors. The 60-second plays, each following immediately after the previous one, had barely a pause in between. The overall impression was one of almost delerious horror and all credit must go the the troupe of actors who took part in it for their stamina. A good start to the weekend's events.
After this we went to the nearby Viaduct Cafe Bar, which became a kind of focal point for the festival, where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of house red before retiring for the night.
The following day (Saturday) started at 11 am with a session organised by Tartarus Press. This included a fascinating talk by Mark Valentine on the Yorkshire ghost story writer W. F. Harvey, author of The Beast with Five Fingers, and an illustrated lecture by Gail-Nina Anderson, "The Ghost in the Grave", which followed the curious links between Dante Gabriel Rosette's famous paintings of his wife and so many other well known icons. The session finished with Reggie Oliver's customarily masterful reading of one of his stories, this time Minos or Rhadamanthos, which is to be published shortly by Tartarus Press and recently appeared in The Seventh Black Book of Horror.
There followed a lunch break, after which writers Mark Morris, Nicholas Royle and Conrad Williams read one of their own ghost stories and Stephen Volk showed a clip from his ITV series, Afterlife, as well as giving a brief talk about this and the problems of getting genre fiction on screen.
Following another break, Jeremy Dyson, who has a new West End production running at the moment called "Ghost Stories", read Robert Aickman's The Inner Room, which Tartarus Press have published as a slim softcover limited edition specially for the festival. As you would expect from a professional of Jeremy Dyson's calibre, this was a brilliant experience, though how he managed this reading without pausing for a drink I don't know! There followed a discussion between him and Ray Russell about Robert Aickman, of whom they are both keen fans. After this we were entertained with a rare screening of Aickman's The Cicerones, written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and starring Mark Gatiss.
Fortunately we had already pre-booked a meal in the cafe bar before the next event, and could barely believe how delicious the pumpkin soup, assorted breads, cheese and fruit were. A good preparation for Spirits with the Spirits. This involved actors Fine Time Fontayne and Sandra Hunt reading five horror stories, including The Monkey's Paw, inbetween breaks for the audience to sample different drinks.
After this, at around midnight, we finally made our way once again back through the deserted mill complex to our hotel, a pleasantly eerie experience, enhanced by the lights that shone up the tall, stone-built walls.
Luckily, the clocks went back that night so we got an extra hour in bed, before having to pack our bags and dump them in our car before going to Sunday's events. These started with the Annapurna Indian Dance: After Life, which was a retelling of Hindu myths in the Viaduct Theatre. The costumes and vigour of the performances were impressive, as were the brief explanations provided of the symbolic meaning behind them.
The main event for us on Sunday, though, was the afternoon's screenings of M. R. James' "Ghost Stories for Christmas" from the 1970s. Their director, Lawrence Gordon Clark, was there to be interviewed about them by film critic and author Tony Earnshaw. This was definitely one of the event's highlights, as were the big screen showings of Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and A Warning to the Curious. There should also have been a screening of The Ash Tree, but unfortunately there was a fault with the copy and that had to be dropped.
And then it was over and we had to set off home. It had been a fantastic weekend, though, and one which we thoroughly enjoyed, both in the events we were able to see and in the various people we met. We would like to add that the staff at Dean Clough were exceptional and we would like to give special thanks to Terry, the front desk receptionist who went out of her way to be helpful.
We hope that another event like this will be held next year at Dean Clough. From Gail-Nina Anderson we understand there is every chance one will, though probably later in the year as a Winter Ghost Story Festival. If it is, we'll be there!
Gail-Nina Anderson delivering an illustrated
talk on "The Ghost in the Grave"
Mark Morris reads one of his rare ghost stories.
Jeremy Dyson with Ray Russell
Fine Time Fontaine and Sandra Hunt during the reading of five ghost stories, including The Monkey's Paw
The Viaduct Theatre beneath Dean Clough and, literally, inside a viaduct.