Halloween is not a traditional holiday in Australia, but even here Downunder, we can’t avoid the influence of American culture. Personally, I’m not into Halloween. It’s all a bit fake and shallow for my liking. I like my ghosts and ghouls a bit more subtle and able to give you a real shiver down your spine. It’s what I’ve aimed for in the final batch of stories from my collection Suburban Terrors. I’ll let you judge how well I have succeeded.
Most of the stories in Suburban Terrors are based on or inspired by true events, but there is one story, Last Fare, based on an urban legend that was doing the rounds at the time, in which a kindly taxi driver gives a dying woman her last look at her old haunts. While the story was prosaic, though sweet, I thought it had possibilities. What if, I thought, there was something uncanny about the passenger, and what if she had some connection to the driver? Now, that, I thought, would make an interesting story.
I doubt that it’s widely known that Jason Donovan’s mother, Sue McIntosh, was a television newsreader during Jason’s heyday, so she had several occasions to read stories about him on air. While they may have been estranged, it must still have been difficult for her to have to read out distressing stories about her own son. This got me thinking about what it would be like for a journalist to discover the tragic truth about his own child in the course of his work, as in Into the Darkness.
As has become all too clear, while new technology can bring great improvements to our lives, it can also cause problems, and the telephone is no exception, although, back in my day, the telephone was mostly used to carry out innocent pranks rather than ruinous scams. Stories of such pranks and strange coincidences abound, but there is one story that has remained with me. It happened to one of my workmates who grew up Russian when there weren’t many Russians in Australia.
One afternoon, on her way home from school, she went into a phone box (remember them?), dialled a random number, and said in Russian, ‘Mum, I’m at the train station. Come and get me.’ And the woman on the other end replied in Russian. ‘Wait there, I’m coming straightaway.’ This little anecdote has inspired two stories. While my one-off short story, Disconnected is a light-hearted look at the mobile phone, the story it inspired for Suburban Terrors,I know what you did, is much, much darker.
I’ve been asked if I have ever thought about turning any of the short stories in Suburban Terrors into full-length novels, but, in fact, the trajectory has gone the other way round. A Cry in the Dark is based on the characters I developed for a series of novelettes, The Soothsayer Mysteries, though I had to change the way the clairvoyant and the police officer got to know each other in order to make the story work as a one-off. I’ve held off publishing The Soothsayer Mysteries on the website as I’m considering expanding them from novelettes into novels. What do you think? Would you like to see more of Marilyn and Mrs Graham?
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