Spooky Isles talks to Lancashire-based author Barry McCann about his new ghost anthology, Now is the Night…
Barry McCann is a Lancashire-based writer, who is well-known to local radio and newspaper audiences for his eerie and spooky tales. He has recently released Now is the Night. a collection of 23 short stories of the paranormal, the metaphysical and the downright weird.
The book’s themes range from mysterious ghostly encounters to terrifying incursions from other worlds, from supernatural romance to insidious entrapment by entities unknown, of the human condition and how it copes with what lies outside natural experience.
SPOOKY ISLES: First question, how did Barry McCann become a writer of ghost stories?
BARRY McCANN: In a sense it is the culmination of a life journey. I was born in Lancashire whose country lanes come very much with tales of boggarts, but I have always been in touch with my Irish, Welsh and Cornish lineage. So I grew up with Celtic folklore tales of Banshees and Buccas, while also in the shadow of Pendle Hill and the dark myths that casts.
This really fostered a fascination with myth as a mirror to the darker aspects of the human condition, equally inspired by a childhood diet of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and M. R. James, and I consequently took Psychology as my first degree.
In my late 20s, I went back to university to read English Literature, and the combination of both disciplines inspired me to begin writing my own tales of the paranormal. Initially these stories explored the prospect of ghosts as manifestations of the unconscious psyche, before experimenting with the wider aspects of the metaphysical, dream interpretation and urban gothic.
You’ve written many articles and stories over the years, why is this your first book (not including Spooky Isles’ Shadow of Pendle, which you edited)?
Like M. R. James, at first I began writing them as private entertainment and began performing them to select small audiences, and then getting them published in the Lancashire Post. I had become the “Folklore Correspondent” on BBC Radio Cumbria due to my research into the subject, and this evolved into performances of my own ghost stories at Halloween and Christmas which I have been doing for over ten years now. I also started appearing American anthologies such as Dark Gothic Resurrected and The Horror Zine, and it was then I began wondering about a collection of my own.
When Spooky Isles granted me the opportunity to edit Shadow of Pendle and work closely with the participating writers, I saw this as a chance to test the water so to speak. And the success of that encouraged me to finally take the plunge and compile a volume of my own work. It was really building up the confidence to do it, because from that perspective it is easy to lose yourself in a mixed anthology of various writers. But when the platform becomes solely yours, then it becomes a different story.
Tell us about the writing process.
Obviously it starts with the germ of an idea, and this can be the most interesting because ideas can come from all sorts of sources. I have drawn from myths and legends, from anecdotes, from suddenly thinking to myself “what if?” But many of my ideas come from dreams, appropriately the gateway to the unconscious. This is probably why a lot of my stories tend to concer bridges opening between the natural world of the protagonists and the unknown territory of a darker dimension. However, I don’t always make it clear whether these other worlds are extraneous or internal. I think the juxtaposition of sanity and the supernatural poses an intriguing equation, and a question I may leave for the reader to deal with.
What did you learn during the process?
The most important thing I have learnt from the writing process is plotting and structuring. Once I flesh out an initial idea into a possible story, then it is a case of mapping out a clear plot and ensuring its elements are relevant to its structure. Also, I usually devise backstories for the main protagonists which do not necessarily feature in the finished tale, but serve to give me a ground from which to build the characters up. For a story to really work, it is important that the characters are relatable and the best way of achieving this is to take the reader inside their heads.
When it came to anthologising, the real trick was to select stories that sit well together and not just randomly picked. The tales in this collection really revolve around the bridge I talked about, whether it is between external worlds of light and dark or opening up the Pandora’s Box of the inner self.
I have just selected another two dozen stories for a second collection which are rooted more in myth and folklore, some quite H. P. Lovecraft in flavour. And preparing them for anthology is exciting and very rewarding.