This Is Not A Picture by Howard David Ingham

For years I read a lot of short horror stories (I particularly loved them when I was a child) and some had a great impact on me, but somehow I'd got out of the habit in recent years. I don't know if this is because there are fewer horror collections on the shelves in large bookshops these days, or simply because I drifted away from them, but either way I feel as if the short horror story is something that was quite influential on me when I was younger but which I've neglected in the last decade or two.

I was interested, then, to read Howard David Ingham's This Is Not A Picture. It's a collection of eight stories that deal with "haunted sights and sounds, grief and anxiety, terror and loss". A man meets up with an old friend only to find that he's undergone some unnerving changes since their last meeting. An envelope of Polaroid pictures reveals images of a dystopian parallel Britain. Some 'lost' BBC recordings have a terrifying effect on the enthusiast who unearths them. A tarot pack takes on a life of its own. A terrible family secret refuses - quite literally - to stay buried. 

I'm pleased to say that this collection has really reminded me that the short story is the perfect medium for horror. The brevity of the form means it's necessary to leave quite a lot unsaid, so we're free to imagine what's not on the page. If you're looking for clear explanations and neatly tied-up loose ends, you probably won't find that here - that isn't really the point of these stories, and they're all the better for it.

Although I enjoyed all eight stories, there were some that resonated with me more than others. The Austringer (1969) and So I caught up with Dennis seemed particularly unnerving to me. The former will strike a chilling chord with anyone fascinated (as I am) with old, unrepeated TV broadcasts and the latter reminds of that strange, oppressively unsettling state that sometimes occurs in dreams, in which everything around the protagonist starts to seem increasingly skewed and terrifying, and yet he is either unable or unwilling to question it.

Ingham really knows his stuff when it comes to the horror genre (he's currently working on a guide to folk horror, We Don't Go Back, which I'm very much looking forward to reading) and this collection feels full of influences that some readers will greatly appreciate, but at no point feels in any way derivative. All eight of these highly original stories are hauntingly (and hauntologically) memorable in the best of ways, and there's a dark wit to some of them too, along with an underlying sense of thoughtful melancholy that I particularly enjoyed.