Waking Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell

Waking Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell (1991) containing “The Guide” (1989) “Next Time You’ll Know Me” (1988) “Second Sight” (1987) “The Trick” (1980) “In the Trees” (1986) “Another World” (1987) “Playing the Game” (1988) “Bedtime Story” (1986) “Watch the Birdie” (1984) “Old Clothes” (1985) “Beyond Words” (1986) “Jack in the Box” (1983) “Eye of Childhood” (1982) “The Other Side” (1986) “Where the Heart Is” (1987) “Being an Angel” (1989) “It Helps If You Sing” (1989) “The Old School” (1989) and “Meeting the Author” (1989): This mid-career collection from Campbell contains a lot of dandy stories published over the space of ten years and written over the space of about 20.

 

It opens with one of the odder ‘inspired by a true story’ horror stories I’ve ever read, “The Guide”, which takes the fact that British ghost-story writer M.R. James also wrote a guidebook to the Lancashire area of England and uses that starting point in one of Campbell’s most Jamesian, antiquarian horror stories. It closes with a tale of a disturbing children’s book writer, a disturbed child, and a story in which the presence of the supernatural remains ambiguous throughout, “Meeting the Author.”

 

In between are some fairly horrifying meditations on childhood horrors (“The Trick”, “Eye of Childhood”, “Bedtime Story”, “The Old School”), zombies (“It Helps If You Sing”), religious nutjobs (“Another World”), writers with major problems (“Beyond Words”, “Next Time You’ll Know Me”), supernaturally altered landscapes (the increasingly malign nature trails of “In the Woods”), guardian angels (“Being an Angel”), and what appear to be a possessed raincoat (“Old Clothes”), a sinister-yet-familar board game (“Playing the Game”), and a malign pub washroom (“Watch the Birdie”).

 

Throughout, Campbell’s eye for telling detail and sympathetic characterization shines. The endings of many of the stories may be ruthless, but the impact of many of them relies on Campbell’s ability to elicit sympathy for a character within the confines of a few thousand words. Highly recommended.

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