They said the dead can’t hurt you. They were wrong…

Evil isn’t born, it’s built…

This book had such an American feel to it that I was shocked to find it was written by an English author called Peter James, best known for penning crime thrillers and police procedurals featuring his well-loved fictional character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL, a haunted house book, is one of his stand-alone books. He’s obviously a big horror fan and a fan of horror movies in particular. He kills off an entire family, BURNT OFFERINGS-style, within the first few pages of the book, and before they even get a chance to move into the titular Cold Hill House, a run-down but still impressive Georgian mansion in the Sussex countryside.

BURNT OFFERINGS, as some of you will know, is a fantastic and really scary horror film from 1975, featuring Bette Davis, Oliver Reed and horror queen Karen Black. It scared me when I first saw it in 2014, and it’s scared me all the times I’ve watched it since. It’s scaring me now, just writing about it here! If you haven’t seen it, you really should try to find it and watch it. It was on YouTube, last time I checked.

Anyway, the real beginning of the book happens when the Harcourt family move into Cold Hill House, in the modern era of mobile phones, FaceTime and laptops in every home. Ollie is the dad, a web designer who works from home, and he’s really looking forward to the challenge of living in the countryside after being stuck in the city, Brighton and Hove to be precise.

Ollie doesn’t even mind that the house is what the estate agents euphemistically call a real fixer-upper, which in this case translates to a real fally-downy, and he’ll be lucky if the place doesn’t turn into a proper cash-guzzler. The 1986 film THE MONEY PIT, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, is referenced in the book, and I’m sure Ollie can relate.

Ollie’s missus is Caro, a solicitor who’s going to commute to her office in Brighton every day now, and Jade is their teenage daughter, who cares about all the things you’d expect a teenage girl to care about: phoning her best friends from her old school whom she misses terribly, keeping in touch with a boy she likes, and pestering her father for ponies and puppies, now that they’re living in the countryside and have all the space in the world for four-legged friends.

The ghosts in the house make themselves known pretty damn quickly. I’ve read an awful lot of haunted house books over the years and, though I enjoyed this one very much, there wasn’t really a whole lot in it that was new and startling.

A ghostly old lady in an old-fashioned gown is seen gliding around the place by various members of the household, including a friend of Jade’s who sees the malevolent old woman standing behind Jade when they’re on FaceTime together.

The ghost can cause the temperatures to drop suddenly, or to make someone feel like there’s someone standing right behind them, when there’s really no-one there. Shadows abound in the house, there’s a strange man in Jade’s bedroom who looks like her father but isn’t, parts of the house are sopping wet one minute and dry the next, causing the family to have to sleep on couches in the living-room at times. Ollie feels the energy and vitality being drained out of him, something that happened in BURNT OFFERINGS as well.

There are some rather strange people floating around the village as well and there’s a distinct possibility that some of them may be late. As in, a late parrot. Deceased. Dead. Snuffed it. Clogs popped and buckets kicked good-style. You can only imagine what effect this has on an increasingly frazzled Ollie, who tries to shoulder the entire burden of the ghosts by himself in order to protect his wife and child, whom he loves dearly.

The rather grisly history of the house affords Ollie and Caro a partial explanation for the spectral goings-on, but unfortunately no comfort. When they turn to members of the clergy for this comfort and even some encouragement and help, the house reacts violently and makes its views known. And houses really shouldn’t have views on things, should they? They should mind their own business and leaves the opinions to their occupants. (I’m going to be haunted now for saying that, lol, aren’t I…?)

The ghosts have a disastrous effect on Ollie’s web design business too, for which they would have had to learn computer basics such as sending emails and rudimentary mobile phone use in order to be able to send out text messages. I found this to be funny, but also a bridge too far. When a poltergeist starts telling you its evil plans for you via computer or mobile phone, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and give up the ghost, if you’ll excuse the pun.

I think the author had also read/watched Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING (OF HILL HOUSE), the book and the film, and seen THE CHANGELING starring George C. Scott and been influenced by it, and maybe by any other films featuring little hidden or bricked-up rooms within the haunted house itself.

You know that thing where you stand outside your haunted house and you look up at the front of it and count the windows while mentally matching them up to the rooms you know they’re in? Then you discover that there’s an extra, unmatched window, or a little window up there near the top of the house that can’t be accounted for in your calculations?

Then you run upstairs with a mallet and start breaking down walls and you discover a hidden room, and it turns out that the ghosts were either trying to alert you to the presence of this room all along, because it holds the key to the entire haunting, or keep you away from it for the same reason? You do? You’re familiar with this trope? I won’t bother going into any more detail, so…!

The book is quite similar to one I read before Christmas, a haunted house book simply called HAUNTED, which was written by Bentley Little, but, as I said earlier, it’s quite hard to find new stuff to put into ghost stories or haunted house tales.

There are only so many tropes to go round, so that sooner or later you’ll almost certainly have to repeat yourself or even other writers. It’s not what you put in the book that matters, though, as much as how you handle it, and Peter James handles old material pretty serviceably in THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL.

Good luck to Ols, Caro and Jade Harcourt, the protagonists, anyway, in attempting to evade the grisly fates of their predecessors. If BURNT OFFERINGS has taught us anything, it’s that some houses really, truly don’t want to give up their occupants. Well, why would they, when living humans can give so much… energy… to a place…? Enjoy the book, but it might cost you a night or two of comfortable sleep…

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:



Here we are again, and poor Selfie Queen Laura’s love life has dived head-first from the frying pan into the Towering Inferno; will she be able to cope? Just about, until she sees who’s coming out of the Disney Store on Grafton Street one Saturday afternoon . . . ! Someone who shouldn’t has got their beady eye on Fauve’s bouncing bundle of baby joy, and a face from the past returns to upturn Maroon-Vicky’s applecart of Happy Ever After with the dishy Graeme. The frazzled Carl is up to his tonsils in Tara’s Endless Legs and Things, and something very sinister is going on at Becks’s house . . . will her mother’s old summerhouse finally give up its grisly secret? All this and much, much more in THIRTEEN STOPS LATER . . .

Dear Book Reviewers and Bloggers, would you like FREE epubs of THIRTEEN STOPS and THIRTEEN STOPS LATER, the first two books in my Romantic Fiction THIRTEEN STOPS trilogy, in exchange for honest reviews?

If so, please contact Sandra on and we can talk more, I’ll be delighted to hear from you!






I recently discovered this little illustrated gem of a book on my son’s bookshelf, and remembered then having bought it for him when he was younger in an attempt to encourage him to read independently.

Now I’ve had a proper read of it, I’m making an executive decision and totally commandeering it for myself. It’s far too good to waste on the young, lol, and can only properly be appreciated by persons of mature(ish!) age such as myself.

It tells what I call the real Dracula story, as in the one Bram Stoker wrote, with little or no variations, which I like. I like the pure unadulterated story myself, and I tend to get heart attacks when people mess with it, such as in the 2020 New Year BBC television Dracula. Although I could forgive a hunky Dracula such as Claes Bang anything, especially if he’s going to do those delicious nudie scenes…

Anyway, the book starts, as it should, with real estate clerk John Harker making what is possibly the longest fictional journey ever to set the seal on a property deal. He travels to darkest Transylvania in Romania to meet with the mysterious and rich Count Dracula, who wishes to purchase a house near to where John lives in jolly old England.

I think it’s safe to say that the artist who did the fabulous illustrations in the book was a fan of the 1931 UNIVERSAL film version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. He’s created a village very similar to the UNIVERSAL one, which I love because I adore those old movies.

It’s got winding streets, worried villagers clad in sort of Tyrolean dress like they are in the old fillums, and there’s even a barefoot busty blonde maiden crossing the street with her basket of produce who wouldn’t be out of place in a Hammer film.

Hammer Films, of course, had their Dracula-slash-vampire canon which we horror fans will know intimately by now. Christopher Lee was their Count in seven movies made between 1958 and 1972, but they made several other excellent vampire films as well, such as BRIDES OF DRACULA, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and VAMPIRE CIRCUS.

Anyway, above the village on its very own mountain towers Castle Dracula, and when the villagers in the local inn find out that John actually intends travelling up there to meet the Count, they all have collective heart attacks. The portly, pint-pulling innkeeper and the two busty Hammer-esque barmaids are particularly well drawn in the pub scene.

John, as we know, has come all this way to do a job, so he supposes he’d better do it, and he makes his way up to the infamous Borgo Pass- try getting a taxi up there at night and you’ll see what I mean!- where a mysterious coachman with four super-spooky skeletal horses picks him up and takes him to where he needs to go… Castle Dracula…

The Count is waiting. His ramshackle castle looks just like Bela Lugosi’s in the 1931 film and is beyond cool. A crumbling staircase, bats, ancient candelabra, high windows; it’s everything you could wish for in a Dracula’s Castle-type situation. Except maybe for an armadillo or two…!

John has his meal and pricks his finger, making it bleed. Dracula’s strange reaction, and the presence in the castle of the three busty, sexy, negligee-clad corpse brides of Dracula complete with fangs and a raging blood-lust combine to convince poor John that maybe the villagers were right all along. Maybe Dracula is an evil, blood-sucking vampire and he should never have come up here…

By the time John realises this, of course, it’s too late. He’s a prisoner in Castle Dracula and the Count himself is hastening to England, and John’s hot fiancée, Mina. John has only the sex-crazed wives to keep him company, although, as this is a child’s book, the sex is only implied, lol.

Do you know the rest of the story? Dracula, installed in Carfax Abbey; Mina losing more and more of her strength- and blood- every night thanks to his nocturnal visits; the doctors baffled, unable to help her; then the calling in of the eccentric Doctor Van Helsing to accurately diagnose the situation and suggest a solution.

The drawings of the Count’s Carfax Abbey cellar, complete with coffins and his deranged (only deranged BECAUSE of Dracula), bug-eating assistant, Renfield, are so bloody good that they make you feel you’re really there.

Will John be in time to save Mina, and also for the inevitable showdown between Van Helsing and the evil, power-crazed Count Dracula, who wants to suck the blood of everyone in England?

How would that work, anyway? Would it be like waiting for a vaccine, with portals and cohorts and online registration and all that? For something bad, they’d probably (ironically) get it organised super-quick, lol.

None of this old I’ve been waiting six whole weeks to get my blood-sucking and four of my neighbours, who are all younger than me with no underlying health conditions, have gotten theirs first and I’m spitting with rage bullshit. Can’t you just see it?

Wouldn’t that be funny, though? A frazzled Dracula would be on the news and all the talk shows, saying: I am doing my best to get around to everybody as quickly as I can, but I am only one man, for the love of God…! Until the government allocate sufficient numbers of flies and bugs for me to entice my helpers with, a good many more people will continue to walk around well and healthy and there will be nothing I can do about it…! Lol, lol, lollity lol.

Anyway, this is the best children’s book on the subject of Dracula I’ve ever come across. The story is simply and accurately told, with none of that nonsense of changing up the details and putting Dracula into the future and seeing how he copes with washing-machines and fridges and stuff.

The illustrations are superb, and evoke both the UNIVERSAL and Hammer-era films, which is amazing for fans of the old films like myself. Pick it up and have a read if you ever come across it; it captures the spirit and essence of the Bram Stoker book perfectly.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:




‘Beautiful, haunting erotic love and an absolutely terrifying ghost story.’

The New York Times Book Review.

A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection.

At the time of writing this book review, I haven’t actually seen the 1988 film that was made from the book, but reading the film’s entry on Wikipedia certainly helped to clarify a few things that were left unexplained in the book, lol.

Not that I didn’t enjoy reading the book. Quite the contrary. I loved reading it. It gave me something to look forward to on those cold dark January nights just gone. It was a fantastic read right up until the last thirty-five pages or so, after which things became positively baffling and I admit I was disappointed by the ending, because I felt that the mystery surrounding Käthe, the joint lead character, hadn’t been resolved at all.

The book is an erotic mystery/suspense novel, written by the guy who wrote WATERSHIP DOWN. You know, the anthropomorphic rabbits? ‘Bright eyes, burning like fire…?’ Song made everybody cry? Ah, you know it. Well, this sexy, bordering-on-pornographic oeuvre was a bit of a change of pace from the poor wee bunnies. It’d really make you wonder how you’d go on to write one after the other…!

Anyway, the book is the story of Alan Desland, a quiet young intellectual Englishman who has made himself an expert in pottery and ceramics after the death of his father, whose ceramics shop he’s inherited.

The cultured Alan lives quietly with his widowed mother, in the very house where he and his sister Flick, now married with a child of her own, grew up. They live in a lovely quiet country town and it sounds idyllic, except for the fact that Alan hasn’t met the right woman yet and he’s starting to wonder if he ever will…

He stops wondering when he meets Käthe, a beautiful, mysterious young German secretary, on a ceramics-related trip to Copenhagen. Without knowing the first thing about the girl (indeed, he never really does), he falls head-over-heels in love with her and proposes marriage to her.

They get married and honeymoon in Florida, on the suggestion and offer of free accommodation from a business acquaintance of Alan’s. Then they come home to England, and straightaway Käthe is a huge success with Alan’s friends and family and even the women who work in his pottery shop.

Käthe really is the perfect wife. She’s a superb cook, she knows how to save Alan a few pennies here and there on the housekeeping, she becomes knowledgeable about ceramics and even acquires for a gobsmacked Alan the pottery find of a century (The Girl In A Swing), although to call it the find of several centuries might be nearer to the mark.

And the sex! My God, the sex. Alan goes from being impotent with her to becoming almost like one of his creator’s anthropomorphic bunny rabbits, rutting with his lovely young wife all the livelong day and night. They even have sex on the kitchen table once, while a whole roomful of acquaintances and friends wait for them just next door in the sitting-room. The dirty beasts!

Alan comes home from somewhere once to find Käthe naked as a jaybird and ready for loving on the swing in the back garden. Naturally he obliges her, and, when she wants them to have sex on the public beach as well one day, he obliges her in that too, the lovesick fool. (Their simple garden swing becomes the ‘sex swing’ of Joey Tribiani’s dreams in sitcom FRIENDS, lol!)

You know the word, uxorious, right? As in having or showing an excessive fondness for one’s wife? Well, that’s Alan Desland for you. As Käthe is unlike anyone he’s ever known before, and possesses a deeply ingrained sexuality that entraps, enslaves and enchants him, she quickly becomes the thing he cares about most in the world, maybe even more than his precious ceramic figurines.

But some things are happening around the young couple which give Alan no slight cause for concern, and which seem to be connected with Käthe in some way. There’s the sound of rushing water in the night, with no visible source for the noise. There’s the sighting of a corpse on a Florida river-bed, and the morphing of a seemingly harmless green cushion into a stuffed green tortoise toy for some reason…

Then there’s the sound of a child crying in the garden, but, if she’s only in the garden, why can’t Alan find her? Whose is the big black dog on the heath, and why is he hostile to Alan but not to Käthe? What’s Mrs. Taswell got to do with the price of fish? And why does she put me in mind of Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock in DAMIEN: THE OMEN (1975)?

Then there are all the dreams of drownings and drowned people, and then comes a night of such horror in Alan’s childhood home that he doesn’t demur when his distraught missus begs him to take her away from their house and bring her to… the sea, of all places. But, what with all the water-based ill omens that have been plaguing Alan so far, what on earth makes him think that the sea is a safe place to which to bring Käthe…?

The book falls apart at this point. Nothing makes sense any more. There’s a REBECCA-style inquest and a shame-faced confession of nudie seaside lovemaking but nothing that explains the dog, Mrs. Taswell or the dreadful night of terror in the house.

As I said, I probably learned more from reading the film’s Wikipedia entry than I did by reading the end of the book. I’d read 325 pages looking for a pay-off that never really came, which was immensely disappointing.

One minute, I’m reading what I feel might be a genuinely spooky piece of folk horror set in a breath-taking countryside location (the countryside is a surprisingly fabulous setting for a good horror story!), and the next, kablam-o…!

Still, the first 325 pages were spellbinding and breath-taking, and you should still read the book if ever you come across it. So long as you know that the end is confusing and doesn’t really explain much.

And that The Girl In A Swing is a real group of porcelain figurines, which lends a good deal of authenticity to the plot of the book. Unfortunately, it’s not authenticity it needs, but some clarity as to what really happens in the end. Oh well. Win some, lose some. It’s all grist for the mill at the end of the day. Happy Swinging…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




‘I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool.’

‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.’

‘Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.’

‘Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!’

‘To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.’

‘Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.’

‘Being adored is a nuisance. Women treat us (men) just as Humanity treats its gods. They worship us, and are always bothering us to do something for them.’

‘Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile…… For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness.’

‘I like men who have a future, and women who have a past.’

‘One can survive anything nowadays, except [Death.]’

It makes me proud as Punch, as an Irish person, to know that the two best horror novels in the English language were penned by Irish blokes; DRACULA by Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. (Go on, argue with that if you dare, lol.)

The latter was published first in LIPPINCOTT’s monthly magazine in July 1890, although the editor had taken it upon himself, without Wilde’s knowledge or permission, to edit chunks of what he considered to be the most morally suspect bits.

The book tells the story of an exceptionally handsome young man, the titular Dorian Gray, who has come into money left him by his grandfather and is free to live the life of a rich Victorian gentleman, unencumbered by money worries or the need to work for a living. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

The two men who help to shape Dorian’s dreadful destiny are the painter Basil Hallward and the toff Lord Henry Wooton. Basil Hallward paints the titular picture of Dorian, and in it the young man’s extraordinary beauty simply shimmers on the canvas. Basil genuinely feels as if Dorian has inspired him to do his best work ever.

This is where the bored, jaded and ultra-cynical Lord Henry comes in. He is the master of the bon mot, and comes out with such witticisms as: ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ And here’s what he has to say about the state of matrimony: ‘The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.’ Oh, how utterly dazzling, Lord Henry, and what a wag you are!

Dorian says to him: ‘You cut life to pieces with your epigrams.’ And you’ll never guess what Lord Henry has to say about the fairer sex: ‘We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated.’ What a jerk, lol. It would surprise no-one, I daresay, to find out that Henry’s own marriage in the book is neither happy nor successful.

It’s Lord Henry, who, when he sees the stunning portrait, rather nastily (and, let’s face it, probably jealously too) reminds Dorian that his physical beauty has a sell-by date that’s approaching stealthily even now. Dorian for the first time becomes uncomfortably aware of both his beauty and its transient nature. Here’s what he says:

‘How sad it is! How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day in June. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that- for that- I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!’

And there you have it. On one glorious summer’s day, the die is cast, the Faustian pact made. The picture will bear the brunt of all of Dorian’s years and excesses, while Dorian himself will remain always as youthful and as handsome as he is now.

In the years to come, heavily influenced by the satyr-like Lord Henry, who is as bad a friend and as base an influence a young innocent boy could ever despair of having around him, Dorian experiments with every vice available to the rich young Victorian gentleman and, as we can imagine, that’s probably a hell of a lot of vices.

The book is sparing on the detail, but we imagine all sorts: women (just look at what happened to the poor tragic little actress, Sibyl Vane!), brothels, sadomasochism and every kind of sexual experimentation known to man, booze, opium and other drugs, gambling, extreme selfishness, manipulating, using and abusing friends, girlfriends and others and ultimately letting them down with a massive bang, to name just a few of the earthly vices. Egged on by Lord Henry, Dorian does it all.

And are there really no consequences? Well, the brother of the ill-used Sibyl Vane wants to avenge his sister: ‘And believe me that if this man wrongs my sister, I will find out who he is, track him down and kill him like a dog, I swear it.’

Also, keeping the portrait a secret from the people in his life proves to be an almost unbearable strain for Dorian. He locks the hideous thing, which changes for the worse every time Dorian commits yet another evil deed, into a disused room in his mansion and puts a screen over it, but it haunts him night and day nonetheless.

It’d be a bit like being put in charge of a stinking decomposing corpse and secreting it somewhere in your gaff, whilst hoping against hope that the stench won’t permeate through the rest of the rest of the house and alert the neighbours…

Dorian finds temporary escape in his intensive study of jewels, perfumes, music, tapestries, embroideries and even ecclesiastical vestments, but nothing can distract him forever from the Portrait in the Attic. His reputation is in shreds all over London: association with him brings shame, ignominy and even death to all who consort with him. And then comes an incident which causes things to unravel at an alarming rate:

‘Alan, in a locked room at the top of this house, a room to which nobody but myself has access, a dead man is seated at a table…’

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Wilde’s only novel, is easy to read and about 256 pages in length. I’ll leave you with another quotable quote from a book that is positively chock-a-block with them: ‘Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins, he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.’ Yes, that was all, indeed…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




It took me several weeks to read this epic doorstop of a novel, 684 pages of densely-written prose with only a few chapter breaks to break up the denseness. I’d seen the 1982 movie SOPHIE’S CHOICE, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, of which I only remembered the bits set in Auschwitz, so a lot of the book was completely new to me.

It tells the story of Stingo, a young white male and wanna-be writer from the American Deep South, who is looking back on his life, in particular the year 1947 in which he wrote his first novel, and who in turn tells the reader the story of the titular Sophie. Sophie is a beautiful Polish Catholic woman who’s spent time in Auschwitz concentration camp during the war and has the tattoo on her arm to prove it.

Stingo (a nickname carried over from his school days) moves into a boarding house in Brooklyn run by a Jewish lady, Yetta Zimmerman, with the intention of ‘working on a novel,’ which he actually does do, in between sticking his nose into the lives of the other boarders, most of whom are Jewish like their landlady.

Culturally shell-shocked by the move from his quiet home in the Deep South to the noisy, more cosmopolitan Brooklyn, Stingo becomes fascinated by and obsessed with his upstairs neighbours in the boarding house.

His first experience of them is when he hears them fucking like rabbits (very vocal rabbits, lol) in the bedroom overhead, and he first meets them for real when they are slap-bang in the middle of one of their many fights. They take to Stingo immediately and quickly become his closest friends, and the people about whom he cares most in all the world.

Who are these people, and why do they exert such a strange and strong influence over Stingo? Nathan Landau is a handsome, dazzlingly charismatic research scientist at Pfizer, one of the companies involved today in creating the vaccine for COVID-19, the virus that all but shut down the world in 2020.

Nathan is brilliantly intelligent, and he and Stingo clash on the subject of slavery in the Deep South almost straightaway. Stingo is extremely sensitive on this subject. Not surprisingly, as the money that allows him to live independently today came from the sale of a slave.

Still, he can’t stay mad at Nathan for long. He shows Nathan his Work in Progress and is thrilled beyond belief when Nathan says he likes it and that Stingo is the best young writer writing in America today. Stingo makes a hero of the older man, even though deep down he has a strong feeling that Nathan is fatally flawed. He just doesn’t know how fatally…

Sophie is the one who really interests the virginal, twenty-two-or-three-year-old Stingo. She is beautiful, blonde, from Poland, with a sexy accent which, even when she mixes up her English words terribly, just endears her to him even more.

Sophie adores classical music, as does Nathan, and she works as a secretary to a chiropractor, a job which Nathan reviles and dismisses as being merely ‘assistant to a quack.’ But for Sophie, it’s just a living, and she needs it.

Sophie and Nathan together are a toxic combination. Nathan is seriously mentally ill and a drug-abuser to boot, although Stingo doesn’t realise this at first. It takes the intervention of Larry, Nathan’s elder brother, to fill Stingo in on the grisly details.

When he’s in one of his ‘moods,’ Nathan is manic, physically violent and grossly verbally abusive. He takes his moods out on Sophie, who has a deeply masochistic streak in her and puts up with everything Nathan throws at her. Literally. It’s not a healthy relaionship.

Part of her masochism certainly derives from her strong feelings of being a ‘bad’ person who’s done ‘bad’ things for which she deserves to be punished. In this instance, Nathan is the one dishing out all the punishment, and Sophie takes it all and almost wears her bruises as some kind of badge of honour, which is deeply disturbing to read about.

Although we writers are constantly being told to show in our writing, rather than tell, William Styron breaks this long-held rule by having Stingo relate Sophie’s personal story back to us, without us having been privy to any of the conversations they have together. He’s telling us something that Sophie told him, in other words, once the events of which she spoke were long since past. It’s a bit weird, but we have several hundred pages in which to get used to it!

Thus, we learn from Stingo that Sophie, whom I’d always assumed was Jewish because she’d been in Auschwitz, is not Jewish at all but a Polish Catholic who’d lived in a ghetto with her two children, Jan and Eva, during the war. She’d had friends and acquaintances who were in the Polish Resistance, but she took no part in it herself as she was afraid for herself and her children.

Sentenced to Auschwitz for the petty crime of meat-smuggling, Sophie’s skills as a stenographer-typist and her superb knowledge of the German language saw her being brought to live and work in the Commandant’s villa for a time.

The Commandant in question was war criminal Rudolf Hoess, whose two stints as the Commandant of Auschwitz saw him perfecting the use of pesticide Zyklon B in the furtherance of Himmler- and Hitler’s- vision for the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’

The Auschwitz scenes were my favourite in the whole novel, and the ones I’d been eagerly awaiting. It is here, at the infamous labour and extermination camp, that Sophie is forced to make the titular choice. Obviously, I wouldn’t ruin it for you with spoilers, but it’s a hell of a ‘choice’ all right, and not a choice at all, really. Whichever side you choose, you lose.

A final word about the sex. Le Sexe. Rumpy-pumpy. Nookie. Hide the Salami. Make no mistake about it, SOPHIE’S CHOICE is a filthy book in that sense. It’s told from the point of view of a twenty-something- year-old virgin who’s always trying to lose his virginity, after all, and is full of his sexual fantasies and longings and his many offerings at the sticky altar of Onanism.

And Sophie herself (please excuse my slut-shaming) is an absolute trollop. I had worked this out for myself, by the way, long before the scene where she bathes her face in a certain man’s ejaculate, declaring spunk to be ‘good for the complexion,’ if you please. The hussy. I didn’t know where to look, honestly.

The book is hard work in places (Stingo sure goes in for the most long-winded of introspections!) but overall worth the effort. Styron, I believe, made Sophie a Polish Catholic rather than a Jew because he wanted to move away from the notion that the Holocaust, and Auschwitz, only affected Jews and no-one else. The book was apparently quite controversial from this point of view, back in the day.

It won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1980, pipping several other worthy contenders to the post. It’d be a great book to read over Christmas, or when you have a decent block of time to yourself. I’m off now to dig out the movie again. Happy viewing!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




I started writing this book in the autumn of 2013 and finished it in March of 2014. Back then, it was known as THE DEVIANTS. It was my first full-length novel and I wrote it intending it for publication.

Prior to writing it, I had been penning poems on the subject of bad sex and failed relationships and performing them live in Dublin pubs and other spoken word venues. (Okay, so it was mostly pubs.) I was attending a writer’s group at the time (sporadically, due to childcare issues) and writing stories and poems there too.

I’d also been writing little comic ‘Letter to the Editor’ type pieces under various false names for the METRO, at the time Dublin’s biggest free daily newspaper. Loads of extremely friendly young Brazilian men and women would stand on street corners in the morning and hand you your free copy with a beaming smile as you hurried past to work, school or college.

The METRO, which started life as the METRO-HERALD, is sadly defunct now, which is probably just as well. In the current atmosphere of coronavirus mistrust, the powers-that-be would probably have found some reason why someone’s distributing a free newspaper on the streets at rush hour was bad for public health.

Anyway, as enjoyable and bohemian as my writing life was at the time, I began to experience a really strong urge to write something bigger and more lasting. My own feelings of mortality probably had a lot to do with my writing the book at that particular time. I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to leave something of mine for future generations to enjoy, or revile, as they chose, before it was too late.

Every writer who’s ever lived probably knows that feeling, the feeling of running out of time and wanting to get so much down on paper before you pop your clogs. Does any writer ever feel that he or she has written ‘enough?’ I doubt it. There’s no such thing as ‘enough’ to a writer.

Probably even Stephen King, the most productive writer who ever lived, is occasionally plagued by feelings of ‘I should be doing more; I should be WRITING more!!!’ Maybe even he too feels the pain of a wasted day, a day spent pricking about on the phone or on social media or watching DVDs when you should be frantically committing words to paper or your laptop.

Oh God, the pain of those awful days! How many times have I guilted myself, reproached myself or mentally beaten myself up for not writing! For being too tired, too emotional, too frazzled after a long day, too lazy or just too disinclined to sit down and write. Some days, after working my ass off, I take a genuinely well-deserved break. All work and no play, after all. But the days I allow myself to just fritter away, well, I always regret those, and rightly so.

I started specifically writing THE DEVIANTS after a trip to the Dublin Writers’ Museum on Parnell Square in late 2013. After seeing all those fabulous old original copies of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA from the actual nineteenth century in their locked display cases, I became determined to leave something of my own behind me when it’s my time to go. My work mightn’t ever make it into the museum, but at the very least I might feature on someone’s Kindle or bookshelf. I went home and started writing. Properly, this time. This time, I was in it for the long haul.

So I wrote the story that had been inside me for so long, waiting to come out; the story of a lonely young woman, Juliet, who meets a lonely married man called Max and starts an ultimately destructive affair with him, an affair that breaks his marriage wide open and leaves Juliet a hollow shell of the person she once was.

Max lives in a big comfortable house in the suburbs with his talented artist wife, his two beautiful daughters and their dog Bruce, but Juliet has a ‘grotty flat’ in an area near or off Parnell Street, just a stone’s throw from the Irish Writers’ Museum.

In the book, Juliet works in a bakery-slash-coffee shop on Parnell Street and she often sits in the fabulous Garden of Remembrance when the weather permits to eat her lunch, or to just sit and daydream about Max, something she does a lot of.

I’ve often sat in there too and felt completely over-awed by the hugely magnificent statue of the Children of Lir or trailed my fingers in the cool blue waters of the pond. (This was back in the days when we were still allowed to touch stuff…)

That whole area up by the Garden and the Museum also houses the Irish Writers’ Centre and the Hugh Lane Art Gallery, and it just speaks to me so clearly of Max and Juliet every time I go there, or to Chapters’ Bookstore on Parnell Street. (I have Max and Juliet meeting in a bookstore on Parnell Street, only I’ve called it Quills.)

Believe it or not, I’d written their story as an actual short story first. It was published in Ireland’s BIG ISSUES magazine and I was so inspired by it (inspired by my own work, lol, what am I like?!) that I decided to make their amour fou, their ‘crazy love,’ the subject of my first full-length novel. I still feel inclined to regard it as the best thing I ever wrote and I still feel that big things, good big things, will happen for it one day.

I just remembered that I actually fell out with a good friend for about two years over THE DEVIANTS. I was serialising it on my blog, a chapter a week, and this friend read it and said it had too much sex in it. She said that, if I took all the sex out, I might be able to interest publishers in it. Anyone who’s read the book will know that the sex is a genuinely integral part of it.

I was so hurt by her remarks about my book-baby that we fell out, or at least I stopped talking to her for about two years, after which we sort of drifted back in to talking to each other again, mainly because I felt very guilty about what I’d done in cutting off relations with her.

That lady is sadly deceased now, and if I had my time again, I would try to handle her criticisms differently. More maturely, maybe. I certainly wouldn’t stop speaking to her again for two years over a book, even if it was my first attempt at sending one out into the world…!

Anyway, I discovered the wonderful world of Kindle Direct Publishing in the winter of 2014 and submitted THE DEVIANTS straightaway. The best review it received likened it to Nabokov’s LOLITA and the worst one advised me to stop writing, immediately and forever, after inflicting such a rubbishy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY knock-off on the world. Heh-heh-heh.

Needless to say, I ignored this advice and, seven years later, am still writing away like a mad yoke, still trying to leave a completed legacy of writings (if a writer’s legacy can ever be said to be ‘completed’) for my readers in the future.

I have two writing tips to share with you before I go: 1. Start writing, and 2. Keep writing, no matter what. I hope that Max and Juliet will outlive me, and that people are reading about them and identifying with them long after I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil and gone to join the angels above. Or the devils below, it’s all good…!

THE YEAR OF MAX AND JULIET is FREE, FREE, FREE from the 15th to the 19th (inclusive) of September. Please download your FREE COPY here!


Max, a bored and unhappy middle-aged man, meets a younger woman, Juliet, by chance in a bookshop. Instantly attracted to each other, they begin an affair. Juliet quickly realises that Max is not like most other men sexually. Lonely, and craving the affection she has been denied throughout her life, she allows herself to become Max’s sexual plaything- and punchbag- in exchange for his love. Max takes full advantage of Juliet’s friendless state and coerces her into doing things that leave her feeling degraded and violated. Afraid of losing Max, Juliet is unable to say no to his demands, and so the game continues until the situation blows up in their faces, and both Max and Juliet have no choice but to confront the consequences of their messed-up love.




The child everybody wants… even the DEVIL…

This book had the potential to be absolutely phenomenal, given its premise- a battle to the death between Good and Evil- but, like the film from 2000 based on this book, it turned out to be a really damp squib, a major disappointment.

Mrs. Margaret Cavan O’Connor is an American widow who owns an antiques business. God has sent her one of the worst of all human trials, a daughter who is addicted to heroin. The daughter, Jenna, missing for a good while, presumably off doing drug addict stuff, turns up out of the blue one day with a baby, her baby, in tow.

Mind her for me, she begs Maggie, then she legs it again to God-knows-where. Maggie, shell-shocked at first, grows to worship her little grand-daughter, Cody, which is why it’s so hard to give her up when Jenna turns up again, three years later, demanding the child back.

Things have changed a lot for Jenna in three years. She now has a husband, a handsome, charismatic billionaire businessman called Eric Vannier, who pulls all Jenna’s strings and keeps her provided with the drugs she craves, so long as she goes along with his twisted plans for world domination…

When an anonymous phone call reveals Eric’s link to a sinister and deadly Satanic cult called Maa Kheru, Maggie becomes convinced that Cody’s life, not to mention her immortal soul, are in terrible danger from this evil, sadistic cult.

It turns out that Cody is a very special child known as the Messenger, and Maggie is the Messenger’s protector, by virtue of her past life as a handmaiden dedicated to the goddess Isis. Maggie accesses this past life with the help of her witch friend, Ellie, who’s into Tarot card readings and the cosmic alignment of planets and all that jazz.

Anyone who can capture Cody, control her and correctly harness the power she possesses can rule the world. You can imagine, therefore, that such a child will be popular with people like Eric Vannier, for whom world domination has always been his primary goal. It’s time to unearth that old cliché, stop at nothing; as in, Eric and Maa Kheru will stop at nothing to get their hands on that little girl and her magical powers.

Maggie enlists the help of a New York detective, Lieutenant Malachy Devlin, a man with tragedy in his past, and Father Peter Messenguer, a questioning cleric who’s sailing pretty damn close to the wind as far as his superiors are concerned, to get Cody back from the Vanniers and Maa Kheru.

She has endless and, it has to be said, endlessly boring conversations with these two men about religion, spirituality, past lives and their beliefs and hers, in which the author shows off the prodigious amount of research she’s done into things like the history of magic, ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, the left-hand path versus the right-hand one, astrology and mysticism.

It’s to her credit that she’s done all this painstakingly detailed research, but you can’t read for too long in the book without tripping over one of the many enormous information dumps she’s left scattered throughout the narrative. Quite honestly, I thought I’d never finish reading this particular book, and I normally love reading about all things supernatural.

There is one really cool chapter in which Eric Vannier authorises for Maggie to be the victim of something truly dreadful called a ‘Sending.’ Maggie barricades herself inside a pentagram chalked on the floor of one of the rooms of her house, while Maa Kheru flex their black magic muscles by ‘sending’ her various demons and nightmarish entities to mess with her head and terrify her into submission.

It’s very similar to the scene in the Hammer horror film THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, based on the book by Dennis Wheatley, in which Christopher Lee as Nicholas, Duc de Richleau, and his friends, are forced to defend themselves against a night of black magic attacks sent their way by Mocata, the charismatic leader of the evil cult trying to lure the Duc’s friend’s son, Simon Aron, over to the dark side.

Anyway, there are lots of extremely cool and interesting references to the various aspects of black magic in the book, but the book as a whole could have done with being a lot less long-winded.

Instead, the writer’s gone and heaved the entire bloomin’ kitchen sink at us, which is why it’s genuinely hard to see the wood for the trees here. Less is more, as the fella says, and, in this case, he might just be right…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




This is my favourite anthology of horror short stories ever, with Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT coming a close second. I’ve read A BOOK OF HORRORS several times now, and it still retains its power to spook me and to make me go to sleep at night facing my bedroom door, rather than with my unsuspecting back to it.

Anyway, it’s fitting that I’ve already mentioned the undisputed King of Horror, Stephen King, because he’s the guest of honour here and his story is first in the book. Entitled THE LITTLE GREEN GOD OF AGONY, it’s the story of a billionaire called Newsome, the sixth-richest man in the world, who survives an horrific plane crash, but broken limbs and daily agonising pain is the price he pays for his survival.

Kat is his nurse, and she’s a little brusque and brisk with her billionaire client, because he seems to think that all his fabulous wealth should really entitle him to live a charmed, pain-free existence. For this reason, Kat is a little less sympathetic towards him than she should be, considering she’s his nurse, or, as he calls her, his ‘Queen of Pain.’

When we come in, a minister from the sticks called the Reverend Rideout, has come to ‘cure’ the billionaire of his constant pain. ‘He was tall and very thin, maybe sixty, wearing plain grey pants and a white shirt buttoned all the way to his scrawny neck, which was red with overshaving. Kat supposed he’d wanted to get a close one before meeting the sixth-richest man in the world.’

The sceptical and battle-hardened Kat, whose gig with Newsome is the best-paid job she’s ever had in this or any other life, doesn’t believe for a second that this ascetic-looking minister from the sticks can alleviate the billionaire’s pain for a second.

In fact, she thinks he’s just another charlatan, come to fleece the rich man of a few million bucks in exchange for some muttered words of spiritual mumbo-jumbo over his shattered limbs. She couldn’t be more wrong…

The book features some really gripping horror stories by such esteemed authors as John Ajvide Lindqvist (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, 2004), Ramsey Campbell and Richard Christian Matheson, the son of screenwriter and fiction writer Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson Senior was a ridiculously talented man, who wrote numerous film and television scripts as well as the novel, I AM LEGEND, which has been filmed under its own name and also as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), starring horror legend Vincent Price.

My three favourite stories in the anthology, apart from the Stephen King one that opens the proceedings, are as follows: A CHILD’S PROBLEM, by Reggie Oliver, in which a young boy called George St. Maur is sent to live with his horrible old uncle in pre-Victorian times while his parents live abroad for a bit.

While at the uncle’s country mansion, wee George uncovers a mystery that seems to involve a black man, Brutus, a black spaniel called Dis, and the most beautiful woman that the young George has ever seen, the late Lady Circe St. Maur, his nasty uncle’s deceased wife, a woman from the West Indies of whom very little is known. A never-ending chess game seems crucial to the mystery also.

George’s life is endangered, the closer he comes to the heart of this chilling mystery. But, child or not, he displays a courage, strength of character and even a coldness, rather like his uncle’s, far beyond his years: ‘He considered whether he could live with the possibility that he might have imprisoned a man alive in a coffin with a corpse. It did not take him long to decide that he could…’ Good for you, Georgie boy, lol.

SAD, DARK THING by Michael Marshall Smith puts me in mind of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and other similar films, not because any kind of massacre takes place but because it features a lonely man, driving round the back roads of America with no particular goal, coming across a rather odd ‘attraction’ in the backwoods that at first fascinates him, but which he may just live to regret ever clapping eyes on…

Finally, NEAR ZENNOR by Elizabeth Hand is a sort of folk horror tale set in Cornwall. It scared me so much when I first read it that I immediately gave the story to my daughter to read, with the words: ‘Do you find this story terrifyingly scary too?’ After reading it, she agreed that she did, and I felt so vindicated that I now re-read the story every summer as a mark of respect for its ability to put the willies up me anew, smoothly and effortlessly, with every reading.

This really is a superior horror anthology. Some of the stories I didn’t really get, but even these ones still scared me and made me really ‘see’ them in my mind’s eye, a very impressive feat, as I hope you’ll agree.

There’s no sweeter feeling than having the heart put crossways in you (Irishism, lol) by a creepy story in a book or by a scary film, when you’re not in any personal danger yourself. It’s why we watch horror films and read horror stories. We get all the thrills, but none of the spills, see? Happy reading…

‘George identified the coffin at last because it was the newest and its wood was covered in green baize pinned down with brass tacks, almost untarnished. Jem would not look, so George lifted the lid and peered in by himself.

The figure in its winding sheet was slender and still retained the vestiges of her beautiful shape. The features, too, were almost intact, though the eye sockets were empty. Black lustrous coils of hair hung down on each side of a face whose exquisite bone structure was covered by a delicate membrane of golden skin. Over the folded skeletal hands, on one finger of which a sapphire ring still sparkled, had been laid a pair of common iron slave manacles.

George picked them up, then gently closed the coffin lid on the Lady Circe’s remains…’


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.