Book review: Beside the Seaside, edited by Scott Harrison, Snowbooks
July 27, 2014 | 2:23 pm
Well who’d a thought it: An almost local tourism-level themed anthology confined to a short stretch of English coastline that turns out to be a surprisingly good collection of modern British horror and dark fiction. Of course, it helps if the stretch of coastline you have to deal with is the Yorkshire coast immortalized by Bram Stoker as the landfall of Count Dracula, where the ruins of Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle still lour down from the clifftops. Or if you have contributors like Johnny Mains, himself editor of the superb Best British Horror 2014. (His “The Girl on the Suicide Bridge” is one of the highlights of the book.) Or if you’re writing about an county that has literary associations ranging from Bram Stoker’s Whitby and Alan Ayckbourn’s Scarborough to Alan Bennett’s Leeds and Philip Larkin’s Hull.
A personal confession: There is a lot of my own childhood in this book. My grandparents lived in Bridlington, the “elegant little old town” mentioned in David Nobbs’s introduction, and I passed many weeks and months there as a child. I saw the model battleship duels on the lake in Scarborough’s Peasholm Park, but I never expected them to resurface in a context like Alison Littlewood’s “That’s the Way to Do It,” the book’s opening tale. This coastline is ingrained in my memory, and the stories pick up Stoker’s legacy well enough to confirm a place for it in English fiction alongside M.R James’s East Anglia.
It’s somewhat surprising at first blush, though, that any enthusiasts for Yorkshire should get together on this collection. Based on the tales in Beside the Seaside, if you’re a visitor you might get mauled by an animated sand sculpture, or shot in the head by a rogue assassin, or lured to a suicide bridge, or other and worse fates. It doesn’t exactly read like a Yorkshire Tourism Board-approved product. All the same, Scott Harrison, whose story “The Last Train to Whitby” is another highlight, has picked assiduously and with an eye to quality. There’s plenty of variety, even humor, and a lot to enjoy. An ebook edition will be appearing very soon. You just might want to pack your rosary and ghost detection kit along with your bucket and spade while preparing for this year’s summer holiday, though.