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BLACK DOG is the sixth and (in some respects, at least) final story in CHRISTMAS DINNER OF SOULS, told by the sepulchral Drybone Creathe. It’s his first-person account of heading to the island of Cu Sith to evict an impoverished, savage family from their home. That night, the house receives a visitor he wasn’t expecting – and at the very end, Drybone’s story seems to leap from the past and into Soul’s College itself…

I know exactly how I first came up with this story, which isn’t often the case. It was the line, “Black Dog that comes down the chimney.” It simply popped into my head: I had no idea where it came from, or what I could possibly do with it, but it sent shivers up my spine! I scribbled it down, and promised myself that I would do something with it.

From there, the rest of the story was added in bits and pieces. It was inspired in some respects by a recent trip I’d made to the island of North Uist, one of the Outer Hebridean islands. They’re about as far North as you can get in the British Isles. I’ve never been anywhere like it – the island is beautiful and completely cut off, filled with incredible wildlife and white sand beaches. It felt strangely petrifying looking out to sea, and knowing that the water would simply continue until it reached the Arctic… The Hebrides have a strange, ghostly feel that I wanted to capture in the story. There’s nothing more scary than the feeling of being on your own, miles away from anything – that’s why so many stories place their characters (or victims!) in abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere.

As for the final, terrifying attack of Black Dog, I know exactly what that’s based on too. I used to stay round my friend’s house as a teenager, and his spare room was right at the top of the house. The house was a typical London terraced house – very tall and narrow, with lots of floors. When I used to try and sleep, I’d imagine what it would sound like to hear something racing up the stairs to get me as fast as it could – which is very different to what you normally get in horror stories, where the monster would walk very, very slowly up each step to attack you…

Finally, a huge inspiration of the book is The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. As mentioned before, I like to celebrate each Christmas Eve by staying up late and reading ghost stories, and this one was an absolute belter! It’s the recollections of a man who once spent several days in a grand, miserable house in the centre of swamp, and was haunted by the ghost of the woman who once lived there. The book – and in particular its ending – is terrifying. The tone of the writing, and even many elements of the plot, were a huge inspiration when writing BLACK DOG. I recommend it to anyone brave enough to read it!

“I stood absolutely helpless in the mist that clouded me and everything from my sight, almost weeping in an agony of fear and frustration, and I knew that I was hearing the appalling last noises of a pony and trap, carrying a child in it…”

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