The Haunting of Hill House – Why is it so good?

Hill House Shirley Jackdon.jpg

I stayed up late the last few nights reading Shirley Jackson’s excellent novel The Haunting of Hill House. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now I’m pondering why it works so well. I’ve come up with the following reasons.

Cast of characters:

Despite many people having been invited to Hill House for Dr Montague’s ‘analysis of supernatural manifestations’, only two arrive, Eleanor Vance and Theodora. They are joined by Luke Sanderson, heir to Hill House. Limiting the cast means we don’t waste time on the unnecessary development of characters that aren’t needed. In the final third they are joined by two additional characters but only because they serve to advance the plot.

Each character has a necessary role so there is no flab, and the relationships between the characters are also crucial in their development.

Eleanor is an excellent protagonist for a haunting because she is carrying emotional baggage upon her arrival, and we are immediately concerned about her ability to carry the additional weight of the Hill House.

There is an attempt to rationalise Hill House’s effect:

Dr Montague is a man of science. Yes the doors of Hill House close by themselves, but this could be a feature of the design, where each angle is slightly off. This is what gives the rooms that unsettling feeling. When cold spots are identified in the rooms, there are suggestions of subterranean waterways. But alongside this, these is so much that cannot be explained, and rather than seeking to disprove a haunting, Montague wants to understand why it is evil.

The effect of the haunting is psychological:

Shirley Jackson shows us the horrors of Hill House, and then we get to experience how it effects the characters, particularly Eleanor (whose first thoughts upon arrival are: “Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.”) This is not a rationale thought, but horror is not a rational genre. In science fiction and crime, characters who follow logic tend to be our heroes and tend to win. The best horror is built upon the emotional reaction, harking back to gothic romanticism. The emotional response to the horror is what engages a reader as we are taken along for a ride with the character.

While all of the characters experience some of the inexpiable horrors of Hill House, it is the effect this has on Eleanor that keeps us interested. Jackson starts subtle, and turns the horror up and we see the effect on Eleanor growing until we reach the conclusion.

The ending:

I’m giving nothing away, but it’s the only way it can end – the culmination of all that went before. Jan de Bont’s 1999 movie adaptation The Haunting ends with Lili Taylor shouting ‘Go to Hell’ to a ghost, thereby stopping the haunting, while Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones look on.

If you’re interested in horror, haunted houses and the supernatural and you’ve not read The Haunting of Hill House, I urge you to do so.

There’s a new TV adaptation of coming to Netflix soon. The first series will contain 10 episodes. The cast already looks bloated, and the fact that they’re specifying ‘the first series’ suggests that they’ll drag it out and dilute its effect.

I don’t hold out much hope for it getting inside my head the way the book did.


It’s Coming Home

We still believe.  We still believe. We still believe. We still believe.

That’s the opening to Three Lions ’98, coming two years after that devastating penalty shootout defeat to Germany.

And we did. Every tournament, we believed. We talked of a golden generation and world class players. But there were no more semi-finals, and at some point we simply stopped believing.

What the England squad have done in this tournament is phenomenal. It’s not phenomenal because they’ve played great football or defeated old adversaries (it’s almost like those old battles are not our battles anymore), it’s phenomenal because it has brought the belief back.

My novel, Dead Branches, takes us back to the summer of 1990. The 10-year-old protagonist, Thomas Tilbrook watches the World Cup, Italia ‘90, and he believes. He believes that if England can get out of the group, then there’s a chance that his best friend, John Glover, might be alright. John’s missing, you see.

He exists in a world where footballers are heroes, and they are beyond human. In everything we must have parity, however, so if there are things out there that are super-human, then there must be a flipside; there must be something truly monstrous out there. What if that truly monstrous thing has John? That’s Thomas Tilbrook’s concern.

The novel’s climax comes on the night of that semi-final, back in 1990.

Now, it doesn’t matter if our chances of winning the tournament come to an end in the next 24 hours. The spark has been relit, and the belief is back.

This world cup has surely made us believe in magic again. This tournament has made us believe in heroes.

But if the magic is back, so are the monsters. Fingers crossed that we don’t fall afoul of them.


While My Guitar Gently Bleeds – A Teaser


Music has the power to soothe the soul, drive people to obsession, and soundtrack evil plots. Is music the instigator of madness, or the key that unhinges the psychosis within? From guitar lessons in a graveyard and a baby allergic to music, to an infectious homicidal demo and melancholy tunes in a haunted lighthouse, Crescendo of Darkness will quench your thirst for horrifying audio fiction. is proud to present fourteen tales of murderous music, demonic performers, and cursed audiophiles.


Please enjoy an excerpt below from Crescendo of Darkness.

“While My Guitar Gently Bleeds” by Benjamin Langley
A rock musician is visited by an undead band member and
forced to pay for his crimes against rock ‘n’ roll.


Bursts of incoherent chatter, like the babbling of demon tongues, interrupted the hiss of static from the radio in the corner of the recording studio and caused Dallas McCann to stir in his leather recliner. More asleep than awake, he placed a hand to his face and smeared drool from the corner of his mouth into his bushy beard.

He glanced at the framed platinum disc on the wall as the fugue in his head cleared. The frame had been knocked askew at some point, so his younger face stared back from the cover of the Dark Disciples debut album at a slight angle. That was when there were still four of them. He was on the left, posing with his first guitar, a turquoise Charvel Surfcaster. Woodstock was at the back, holding his drumsticks aloft. On the opposite side was Gerry, holding his guitar like a weapon, his mop of hair covering his face. Dead centre was Tyler, his face half-hidden by the smoke billowing from his mouth.

Dallas jumped at a crack of thunder and turned his chair toward the window where lightning illuminated his modified, metallic black Porsche sitting alone in the parking lot. Another rumble of thunder followed a second later and then a high-pitched whine came from the radio. It was as if someone had set off a fire alarm inside Dallas’s skull. He massaged his temples for a second and pushed himself out of his seat, stumbling toward the radio, oblivious to the bottle of Vintage Vodka on the floor which he’d paid so much attention to earlier. It rolled when his foot landed on it and he went along. He had no chance of regaining his balance with an alcohol-soaked head and he crashed onto his back. Then the static was replaced by a laugh.

That’s right, and we’ve got more killer hits right after these messages.

Dallas yanked the plug from the socket to kill the radio mid-jingle. The silence relieved him enough to stretch from side to side, cracking his neck and setting his spinal column aflame. He muttered under his breath and eyeballed the radio. Maybe it was time to call it a night. The mixing could wait until Gerry and Woodstock were back in the studio with him. He rubbed his neck and glanced at the platinum disc on the wall.

The young Dallas McCann never used to get aches and pains. When did he get so old? He looked down at the empty vodka bottle. Was it the drink that had made it impossible to charge around the stage without fearing his heart would batter a hole through his rib cage? He picked up the bottle, placed it in the wastebasket, and cursed under his breath.

As he headed for the door, he reached into his pocket to pluck a cigarette from his pack. He figured they hadn’t helped either, but he wasn’t about to give them up.

As he sparked his lighter, something wet and fleshy squeaked on glass behind him. Dallas spun to the window separating the control-room from the live-room. He flicked the switch to light up the room on the other side of the glass. There was something on the window. A fingerprint. A burning sensation passed through his chest. He reached toward the print, unable to stop himself from pushing his own finger against the mark. It was warm and smeared when he touched it.

As Dallas looked at his finger, bloodied from the mark on the glass, static burst from the radio. Every muscle in his body clenched. He turned and glared at the plug dangling far from the socket.

We have some awful, breaking news… The DJ’s voice quavered.

Dallas moved across the room with one enormous step, grabbed the radio, and shook it. The rear compartment flapped open and batteries tumbled out. Again, there was silence. He gawked at the faint, red smear on the glass.

Static buzzed from the radio and with it, a shock of electricity zapped strong enough to make Dallas drop it to the floor. The casing cracked on impact.

To repeat Dallas McCann has been found dead in his recording studio.

Shocked, Dallas kicked the radio. The plastic casing shattered as it struck the wall and the speaker unit came loose and fell forward, muffling its output.



To read the rest of this story and thirteen

other horror music shorts, check out:


Crescendo of Darkness

Direct link:

Edited by Jeremiah Donaldson

Cover by Carmen Masloski Press


Let music unlock your fear within.


They See Through Your Eyes

It’s Bird Box meets Alien. That’s what I’d say about my story, ‘They See Through Your Eyes’ which was recently included in the updated edition of Deadman’s Tome anthology, Final Contact.

If you don’t know Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, you’re missing out. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a world terrified by creatures that no one can stand to look at. When you see them, you go crazy and seek your own death by the quickest route possible. Therefore the best way to avoid the creatures is simply to close your eyes. It’s an incredible novel; it does sensory deprivation so well, and it is so tense.

And if you don’t know Alien, then… wait, nobody doesn’t know Alien.

When I saw Deadman’s Tome’s open call for Final Contact asking for claustrophobic sci-fi horror I immediately thought of the way that Ridley Scott made the ship’s corridors and quarters seem so enclosed and oppressive. What could make that worse? Having to navigate that space without your vision.

I have to say, sci-fi isn’t my usual genre when it comes to short fiction, but I enjoyed the challenge of creating a believable premise. In a society obsessed by observation, it made sense that in the future we’d be filming directly through the eyes. However, if someone could tap into that feed, someone hostile, someone that could use that information to locate you, and then kill you, the only option you would have is to shut down that function. Hence, most of the story takes place in the body of a character with their eyes closed.

How could I make this even more unsettling for the reader? While some readers find it off-putting, I’m a fan of using a second-person narrative. I’ve done it before in ‘Aren’t You Danny Mann?’ which was published in The Manchester Review, and one of the first stories I ever had published in Skive, ‘So What Then?’ (which, unfortunately, is no longer available online). In ‘They See Through Your Eyes’, I thought it was a perfect fit.

Check it out and see if you agree. It’s available here.DeadmansTome


On this blog you’ll find links to all of my published work on the Writing page as well as news about my writing and some other bits and pieces.

Putting this together has made me think about some of those pieces which are no longer available. The first short story that I ever had published was called ‘One Hell of a Battenberg’. It told the story of a woman who was willing to sell her soul to make better cakes. I’ve not read it in years, but maybe, one day, I’ll dig it out and publish again here.