The Longest Night: Ghost stories, Booker-shortlisted writers & mince pies

Susie Stubbs

Jenn Ashworth, Emma Jane Unsworth and friends go DIY with their latest, limited edition anthology.

Friday the thirteenth is unlucky for some. But not, we hope, for a group of five authors who have chosen Friday 13 December as the launch date for their latest book. Said book is an anthology of winter-tinged ghost stories, and its title – The Longest Night: Five Curious Tales – feels entirely fitting, given that the authors have made what at first feels like a curious connection between Christmas and the supernatural.

“I’ve always liked ghost stories and Christmas, and the connection between the two,” argues Jenn Ashworth, one of the writers behind The Longest Night. “There’s a tradition of writers producing ghost stories and giving them to their friends as presents at this time of year, and Richard [Hirst] and I wanted to do something that recaptures that idea.” The title of the book also, of course, refers to the Winter Solstice, that longest night whose darkness we attempt to hold at bay with a mass of overenthusiastic Christmas lights, sparkle and glitter.

The short stories, all set in December and all featuring an element of the supernatural, have been written by an impressive set of writers. Ashworth has been lauded by the BBC’s Culture Show as one of its best new novelists, while her fellow contributors all hold various awards – including, in Alison Moore’s case, a place on the 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist. What’s particularly intriguing about this book, however, is less the calibre of its writers and more their approach to producing what turns out to be a literary one off.

Short stories are like a drive-by glimpse of something potentially terrifying

“We thought it would be really nice to make something lo-fi, that was illustrated and presented as a limited-edition paperback; we just thought it would be something quite different,” says Ashworth of a collection that has been written, illustrated, produced, marketed and distributed entirely by its authors. “We wanted to create a beautiful object, in a day and age when everything is more electronic,” agrees fellow contributor, Emma Jane Unsworth. The end result is a handsomely produced anthology that feels almost handmade – each book features bespoke illustration and is individually numbered and signed, “and when they’ve run out, that’s it, there are no more,” adds Ashworth.  That original idea of a story performed to friends on a winter’s night also means that, alongside the book itself, there is a tour. “The stories are like an antidote to the cosy glitter of Christmas, whereas the tour is quite jolly, with mulled wine, mince pies and a bit of atmosphere,” says Unsworth of a series of live readings at libraries across the north. “It’s good fun, this band of travelling writers going on tour; we’re like the Traveling Wilburys only a bit more gothic.”

Yet it’s the gothic, that sense of menace darkly blooming in the long hours of a winter’s night, which really makes this anthology worth tracking down. “I’ve always loved horror films – and I think a lot of people like the idea of there being something magical beyond the everyday,” says Unsworth. “It’s an inspiring idea for a writer and it gives you so much more scope for storytelling. Filmmakers have a bag of tricks they can use – sound effects, visual effects, motifs – but as a writer you only have words on a page. I haven’t been as scared by a book as I have a film, but the ideas I’ve read have preyed on my mind much more.” Unsworth pauses for a moment, then says: “Short stories are like a drive-by glimpse of something potentially terrifying – that sense of something much, much bigger is the thing that stays with you.”

Culture Guides

Cinema

January brings a focus on women-centric cinema, classic revivals and international hits.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: making the Glasgow Style at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool

Exhibitions

On the brink of the new year, here’s a couple of the major exhibitions and smaller gems we’re looking forward to in 2019.

A World Inside A Book courtesy Suzi Corker

Families

January ain’t dull. Create with light, become forensic archeologists, sculpt with mud, step inside books and find a giant piglet with a coat made from dosh.

Literature

January, February, March, April, even May… we’ve plenty for you to look forward to live literature wise as 2019 unfolds – from performance poetry and soundscapes to readings from magazines, memoirs and award-winning short stories.

Music

Some of the most singular voices in contemporary music are to grace northern stages in the coming months.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Five-star musicals, acclaimed site-specific performances and two-week-long eclectic arts festivals? There’s nothing dry about January.

Tours and Activities

This month we are highlighting some of the top multilingual tours and activities Manchester has to offer.

Things to do right now

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Everyman Rock 'n' Roll panto The Snow Queen
Families 24 November 2018–19 January 2019, from £15.00

Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto: The Snow Queen at Liverpool Everyman

Mandy Barker: Hong Kong Soup at CFCCA Manchester
Exhibitions 12 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

Mandy Barker: Hong Kong Soup at CFCCA

Charwei Tsai: Bulaubulau at CFCCA
Exhibitions 12 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

Charwei Tsai: Bulaubulau at CFCCA

ReFrame at Manchester Art Gallery
Exhibitions 20 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

ReFrame at Manchester Art Gallery

Cinema 7 December 2018–20 January 2019, from £5

Slapstick Film Season at HOME

HOME at Christmas
Festivals 13 December 2017–20 January 2019,

HOME at Christmas

PUSH Festival 2019 at HOME
Festivals 11–26 January 2019,

PUSH Festival 2019 at HOME

LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY at Site Gallery
Exhibitions 29 September 2018–27 January 2019, FREE

LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY at Site Gallery

Craft Beer Tour Around Manchester
Food and Drink 1 November 2018–1 February 2019, from £30

Craft Beer Tour Around Manchester

Motion Sickness at STOCK Gallery
Exhibitions 12 January–1 February 2019, FREE

Motion Sickness at STOCK Gallery

The Producers - A Mel Brooks Musical at the Royal Exchange
Music 30 November 2018–2 February 2019, from £10.00

The Producers – A Mel Brooks Musical at the Royal Exchange