Geoff Brown has been to hell and back. But how he’s lived to tell his tale has stumped many. One of the first comments Geoff received from a publisher who’d read his forthcoming memoir was, ‘how are you still alive?’The vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers Association says ghosts and ghouls aside, there’s nothing that frightens him more than the dark side of people.“I know what people can do. We’re our own worst enemies,” he says.Geoff’s memoir, Hammered, written under the pseudonym G.N. Braun, will be released later this year through Melbourne publishing house Legume Man Books.It tells of the former nurse’s desperate years as a heroin addict, living in a commune in country NSW, then in Melbourne during the thick of the Underbelly years.“Most people who’ve been through that never get their shit together to write about their life and most writers who want to write about that stuff have never experienced it,” he says.“Hammered doesn’t glorify the life at all – it shows how bleak that life really is.”Geoff says when he came clean after 15 years of drug abuse, he aimed to move into social work and help other people living through that same hell.That didn’t eventuate; however, he says if his memoir can deter people from a life of substance abuse, it’s all been worth it.Although already a successful published writer, Geoff is studying Professional Writing and Editing at BRIT. In courses such as these, students are often taught to start writing about what they know.Geoff has always known horror. He began reading Stephen King at just ten years of age and has written dark tales for most of his life.He says his own life experience has given him the gravitas to be able to write realistically in a genre he calls ‘junky noire’.With Hammered almost ready to go to press, Geoff is now working on a realist crime novel set in Melbourne during the gangland years.“I knew quite a lot of people in the Underbelly series because I was knocking around down in Melbourne during that time. I know what goes on in those circles,” he says.“Underbelly was really close to the real thing – a few of the characters they developed were very, very close. “I knew Benji Veniamin – he was only a snotty nosed kid when I knew him.”Geoff says one of the scariest moments of his own life was being chased out of a house by a gun-wielding speed dealer. And then there are the ghosts.“When I was a teenager we used to drive around to the supposed haunted houses of Melbourne,” he says.“One was a massive old mansion in Beaconsfield Parade which was half burnt down and surround by cyclone fencing. All the junkies and street people used to sleep there.“One night we were looking around inside with just cigarette lighters for light.”The group found a door in the back of a closet, which led to a narrow corridor with doors leading off to each side, all locked.Venturing down the corridor, the teens were hit with a gust of foul-smelling wind that blew out their lighters and scared them senseless. “We all freaked out and ran. We never went near that place again,” he says.But not all the ghosts in Geoff’s life have been menacing. He once lived in a farmhouse, once home to a music teacher.Geoff had a recording studio set up in one of the rooms, where the electronic piano would play when the room was empty.“Once we recorded a demo for a country band. They rang the next day to ask how come we put extra vocals on the recording,” he says.Geoff says a woman’s voice could be clearly heard singing in the background. He calls it electronic voice phenomena. He also calls it “freaky”.Fellow horror writer Christopher Elston relies purely on a wicked imagination.Christopher has found success alongside some of the country’s best horror writers in anthologies such as Short and Twisted and Devil Dolls and Duplicates.His e-book Unmasked was released earlier this year through Magellan Books. Life is all coming together for the local writer, who has been seriously penning down the sordid tales for six years.He has traded a career in telecommunications and electronics for life at Collins Booksellers, working among his heroes Stephen King and Dean Koontz.“The opportunity to work in bookstores is extremely rare, so when the offer to work full-time here came up I seized it with both hands,” he says.“The electronic book industry is flourishing at the moment but there are still a lot of people out there who just love the feel of a book in their hands.“Collections are extremely hard to publish in hard copies in Australia so when the opportunity came along with Magellan Books I jumped at it, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to be in print.”Christopher admits his family thinks his hobby is “pretty weird”.“But I’ve got a couple of brothers who absolutely love it,” he says.Which is just as well, as it turns out those brothers can be credited for instilling a dose of fear into Christopher as a kid.“The last short story I wrote was called Hugo the man of a thousand faces,” he says.“It was based on a childhood fear that came from a very deep place. “It’s about a doll but it was more than that when you’re imagination goes into overdrive – especially when my brothers used to chase me around the house with it.”Christopher is fine with dolls these days. Just don’t ask him to deal with spiders.This creep crawl would not be complete without a visit to King of Rings in the House of Mortisha in Hargreaves Street.And speaking of crawling, if you look between the display cases in the store, you’ll catch a glimpse of Morag.“I had to hide her away too because she was freaking too many people out,” proprietor Tracey Marsh laughs.Morag, the sensor-activated mannequin, drags her mangled legs across the floor, eyes flashing. She’s not pretty, but that doesn’t stop her from being loved in this place, where unraveled mummies lurk and cobwebs are welcomed.Proprietor Tracey Marsh’s fascination with the macabre has been with her for 30 years. In that time she’s amassed a remarkable collection of all things ghoulish, including five actual coffins propped up in her bedroom and dining room.They arrived via hearse from the funeral home. Tracey does sometimes wonder what the neighbours think. But she makes no secret of her hobby. Come Halloween Tracey’s home is lit up like Christmas.Tracey says people are becoming harder to shock, as the paranormal begins to infiltrate mainstream culture. Think emo-inspired Bratz dolls and trashy vampire novels.However that doesn’t stop people in Bendigo from sometimes taking a wide berth. “I find if I go down the street into the shops people will avoid me, they’re scared,” Tracey says, especially when she’s dressed in her trademark “witchy” wardrobe.“I go into a shop and no one will ever ask me if I want any help.”Although she says that’s a small price to pay for being herself. So, what scares a woman who sleeps alongside a coffin?“I hate clowns. That’s the one thing I’m petrified of,” she says.“I went to a circus once, and I still remember it as clear as day, the clowns were doing a routine in the ring when they said they were going to pull someone out of the audience.“I slunk down in my chair and tried not to make eye contact, thinking surely they wouldn’t pick me, there were thousands of people there, but they did.”The clown began pulling and pulling at Tracey, trying to physically force her from her seat when he whispered ‘if you don’t get out of your chair we will embarrass you even more’.“They pulled me into the ring and proceeded to make fun of me,” she says. “We live in the middle of the bush and if I saw a vampire in the middle of the night I’d be fine, but a clown? I’d scream the place down.“That Ronald McDonald – I don’t like him at all.”It’s Friday the 13th next week, but let’s lighten the mood a little.According to Bendigo’s resident white witch, Gaye Washington, there’s nothing to be afraid of. “When you go outside on the night of Friday the 13th, never be afraid, the ghosts won’t hurt you because they’re dealing with their own enemies and their own ghosts,” she says, adding it does pay to abide by the ancient rules, “never walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross your path”.“It’s a good time to have lots of black candles around for happiness,” she says.“And because it’s after the new moon it’s a good time for new beginnings, particularly with your love life and health.‘Buy roses – red ones for happiness – and put them with your black candles.“Always toast to happiness and toast to the moon on Friday the 13th. “I’ll have my black candles about and roses and I’ll be saying a blessing for those who are unfortunate and for everyone to be happy, no matter who they are.”- For information on the Australian Horror Writers Association go to www.australianhorror.com- Christopher Elston will be speaking at the Bendigo Writers Council tonight, Monday, May 9 from 7pm at Best Community Development in St Andrew’s Avenue. Visit easywaytowrite.com/magellan/chris_elston.html to purchase Unmasked.