Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hallowe'en Horrors

A few days ago I was reading the current e-newsletter from Fantastic Literature Limited, a UK bookstore that specializes in "Rare & Out of Print Books." The newsletter is entitled Out of the Woodwork, and the current issue #178, for July/August, can be read online -- though I would recommend subscribing to the newsletter to receive it via email. [Note: I've not yet purchased anything from this bookseller, so this is just a recommendation for the newsletter.]

Toward the bottom of the newsletter is a section on "Obituaries" and it was here that I first read of the passing of author and editor Alan Ryan, who apparently had been ill for a number of years. I didn't know Alan Ryan, and the only book I have of his in my library is his anthology Hallowe'en Horrors: New Tales of Dark Fantasy and Terror, published by Sphere Books Ltd. in the UK in 1987. But there is a wee bit of a tale on how I came to possess this particular paperback.

In early July 1988 I was on my way to Ireland, on business, for Amdahl Corporation. My copy of Locus magazine had arrived in the mail shortly before my trip, so I set the magazine aside to take with me to read on the plane; I also grabbed a number of recent issues of the magazine to read more thoroughly.

While reading the magazines during my flight en route to London's Heathrow Airport -- a stopover and plane change, before my final destination: Dublin -- I came across this little tidbit of news on page 4 of the March 1988 issue:

Hallowe'en Horrors

Despite the official line emanating from Sphere Books' Kensington headquarters that publication of Alan Ryan's anthology Hallowe'en Horrors has been "indefinitely postponed," copies of the book are still in circulation.

The volume's troubled history began in October 1986 when Sphere mistakenly listed it for publication a year early. It caused more red faces for publishers last year when contributors to the volume discovered that their prose had been tampered with. Ramsey Campbell was the first to notice that his story "Apples" did not read quite the way he remembered writing it; when the Sphere staff checked, they discovered that the freelance editor they had assigned to oversee the book had blithely rewritten all the stories—and nobody had noticed before the book was in print.

Realising their error, Sphere quickly decided to destroy the entire print run—but not before advance copies had been sent to reviewers with a note from the Sphere publicity office to ignore the book! Even more mysteriously, copies have been discovered on sale in a London bookstore as late as last December. The edition definitely exists (ISBN 0-7221-7561-2), and is probably one of the rarest genre paperbacks to appear in Britain for many years.

—Stephen Jones, LOCUS, March 1988
I was, at the time, a hardcore book collector and I had every intention to frequent as many bookstores as were available in downtown Dublin -- and as often as I could. Now I really didn't expect to find a copy of Hallowe'en Horrors. As Stephen Jones noted in his Locus article, copies had been discovered on sale in December, but I figured word would have gotten out on this title and any available copies would have been snatched up by collectors and dealers. Besides, this was already July, seven months later since copies were last seen.

Though I was held captive at Amdahl's Dublin facility from 7:30am until about 6:00pm each workday, I had my evenings and weekends free -- though trust me, the only places that were open in the evenings, on weekdays, were pubs and restaurants. I was staying at the Westbury Hotel1 in downtown Dublin, easy walking distance from the shops, particularly those on Grafton Street. At my first opportunity I visited the Waterstones bookstore; I believe it was on Grafton Street -- but odds are that 20+ years later, considering the financial turmoil this bookstore chain has undergone over recent years, I doubt the store is still there, wherever there really was.

But, to the point, much to my surprise (I was shocked, actually), there was a single copy of Hallowe'en Horrors on the shelf in the fiction section. Which I snatched up with eager, greedy fingers. Over the next couple or so years, I had the book autographed by four of the contributing authors: Craig Shaw Gardner, Charles L. Grant, Robert McCammon, and Steve Rasnic Tem. I was surprised that none of these individuals commented on the book when they signed it, i.e. that the book had been withdrawn/pulped. So, who knows if, as Stephen Jones states, Hallowe'en Horrors is indeed "probably one of the rarest genre paperbacks to appear in Britain for many years." Anyone have any additional information?


1. I made two business trips to Dublin in consecutive years, 1988 and 1989, and stayed at the Westbury Hotel both times. During my first stay at the hotel, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were performing in Dublin -- the Tunnel of Love Express Tour -- and apparently the Westbury is the place to stay when you are a musician and performing in the city. The day of the concert, July 7, 1988, the hotel lobby was packed with people trying to get a glimpse of The Boss. But by 9:00pm, people were asked to leave unless they were a guest at the hotel. I decided to stay up that night just to see what I could see. By the time midnight rolled around, there were probably only three other people in the hotel's lounge area. About 2:15am, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa entered the hotel, arm-in-arm. (I think Patti was actually supporting Bruce; he looked exhausted -- or drunk!) I figured what the hell... I caught up to the two of them just as they were entering the elevator; I handed Bruce a flyer from the Westbury Hotel and asked him if he would kindly autograph it for me. He actually growled at me, but then he smiled, and signed the first page of the flyer (below).

The following year, Bob Dylan was performing in Dublin (June 3 and 4, 1989) and stayed at the Westbury during the same time that I was there. Unfortunately, about all I could ever see was a hooded, bearded face within the center of a gaggle of very large bodyguards.


  1. That's the story I'd heard about that particular edition of Halloween Horrors. It's a fact that at least some of the stories, if not all of them, were modified. Somewhere around here I have a list of the changes made to Robert McCammon's "He'll Come Knocking On Your Door."

    While the book was supposed to be withdrawn/pulped, there are more than a few copies out there. I have two.... But I think it is still pretty rare.

    Webmaster for

  2. Hunter,

    Thanks for your comment, and for confirming details on Hallowe'en Horrors. It's much appreciated. If you ever find that list of the changes made to McCammon's story....

    - marty