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

Author Luke Kennard.

Literature

Even more spoken word nights are joining the old faithfuls, there’s a whole lot of poetry and prose including a rare chance to catch performers from as far afield as Paris and Texas, and showcases such as Chester Literature Festival, Chorlton Book Festival and Poetry Emergency will add to your wider reading pile.

Music

Spanning electronic, rock, classical and jazz, November holds a wealth of exciting northern gigs and concerts.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Our theatre guide this month features the striking choreography of Matthew Bourne, a theatrical dining experience and our top picks of pantomime fare. There’s plenty to enjoy. Oh yes, there is!

Cinema

From politically-minded British cinema, to rebooted classics and an animation extravaganza: there are plenty of festivals, film seasons and new releases for you to enjoy this month.

Visitors view work by Michael Dean in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. 26 October 2018 - 20 January 2019. Photo, David Lindsay

Exhibitions

From the dreamy paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to ‘shonky aesthetics’ and a crisis of visual representation surrounding HIV; this month’s exhibitions highlights are as eclectic as ever.

Families

Luminous adventures, festive fixes, Drag Queen Storytime and New Year’s Eve parties with nippers to book now for … look no further for the best things to do with kids.

tours and activities guide

Tours and Activities

Indulge in Manchester’s rapidly growing food culture this November with our top picks of edible tours and activities.

Things to do right now

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Cinema 2–23 November 2018, from £5

Peterloo at HOME

Cinema 9–23 November 2018, from £5

Widows at HOME

Activity 16 September–24 November 2018, from £9

The Modern History of the Northern Quarter Tour

Exhibitions 16 June–25 November 2018, from £5.25

Fusion: Adventures in Digital Art at Eureka!

Cinema 16–30 November 2018, from £5

Suspiria at HOME

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse
Literature 10 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse

The Maids at HOME
Theatre 16 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

The Maids at HOME

Comedy 21 September–4 December 2018, from £8

Mum’s the Word Comedy Club at The Edge