Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! Me and Poltergeists

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! Me and Poltergeists

I’ve been skipping down Memory Lane a lot lately; probably a sign of middle age if not worse. A good deal of the events in my books have their roots in real experiences, and real heart-break too. Some have their roots firmly in events that would have most of us humming the tune from the Twilight Zone or possibly reaching for a rosary.

I lived in a Victorian terraced house as a student in Liverpool; it had been divided into four neat bedsits of varying size (each with a fourth share in the bathroom and hot water). During the two years I lived there, I occupied three of the four bedsits. I started in the ground floor front bedsit, moved to the back of the house on the ground floor six weeks later (it was a temporary occupancy) and a year later, following two break-ins that had made me feel unsafe, I moved to the upstairs back bedsit. Like most student digs it was down at heel and scruffy but it was extremely cheap to rent and my landlady was a decent sort. The other girls I shared the house with didn’t give me much cause for complaint (one is a good friend to this day) and given the issues many faced with damp, dangerous properties and uncongenial flat-mates, I was on to a winner.

Except for one thing.

The house had certain problems that are very hard to explain. Things as nebulous as atmosphere are notoriously easy to dismiss as being either figments of imagination (I have quite a good imagination) or the result of old, poorly maintained houses rife with damp and draughts. Small items within each self-contained flat-let went missing, only to reappear in places it was improbable if not impossible for them to have ended up. On one occasion, my door keys vanished from my kitchen table, only to reappear on a shelf so high I had to stand on a chair to reach. If you have read Away With The Fairies, you’ll know the kind of weirdness I am talking about. Had it just been me, I could accept it might have been a sequence of coincidences or imagination, but over the two years, all the other girls mentioned odd things happening. Lights would dip and electrical things would falter; you might hear footsteps and there was no one there. Eerie but not terrifying. Counter to what you might expect, I wasn’t that bothered about any of it, though missing items did make me get very cross.

Until one morning when things took a turn for the worse.

It was about eightish and I’d just woken from the alarm clock and was lying there thinking about getting up and making some tea. I’ve always needed plants and green things around me, so I had a few potted spider plants and that year I’d grown a hyacinth bulb. The flower was splendid that morning, emitting one of my favourite scents at that time. It was growing in one of those glass pots shaped so you can grow the bulb without soil; the reservoir is filled with water and the roots grow into it. I’d put the thing on the chest of drawers across the room from the bed.

Without warning, the plant, glass pot and all, rose up and hurled itself across the room at me, missing my head and hitting the pillow, drenching me with water. I lay there stunned (and wet) and was unable to move. I lived entirely alone in that tiny flat; my fiance lived a few streets away and visited most evenings but went home to bed.

The room felt unusually cold and not just because I was soaked with hyacinth water. Something sort of clicked and I leaped out of bed, dressed rapidly and exited the flat at high speed. I was so spooked, I didn’t stop for a cup of tea or breakfast or even a wash. All I wanted was to get out of the building and among other people. I stood and shook at the bus stop and eventually, a bus arrived and took me in to the university. Over the course of the day, I went through every rational possibility that could perhaps explain what had happened, and nothing worked. In the end, I concluded that something of supernatural origin had hurled that hyacinth at me. Later research suggested a poltergeist; I simply don’t know. We were all slightly too old to be triggering classic poltergeist activity. I was at that time the youngest in the house, and was around twenty one at the time.

Some years later, I saw something that defied explanation. A shop in Guisborough (a small market town in North Yorkshire) had weird things going on; the owner was a pal of mine and she was genuinely worried by it all. Candles that lit themselves at night are causes for worry. I was in the shop one day; my friend’s youngest son was at the till. We had been chatting when he went white and pointed to a shelf near where I was standing. The shelf held a selection of china oil burners; one at the back of the shelf had risen in the air, all by itself, and hovered for a second before hurtling across the room at the lad, only deviating at the last moment to smash on a wall rather than on his head. I can promise there were no fishing wires or booby traps.

You may wonder what I did about my flat. I did nothing. I went back that evening, and carried on as normal. I was unnerved for a few days, slept with a light on and a crucifix under my pillow. I’ve always been a pragmatist and scary as it sounds (and indeed was) it wasn’t scary enough to make me quit a decent flat where I paid around half the rent usual for such a place. But I have often wondered whether the girls who lived there in the years after I left ever had the same sort of uncanny goings-on.

There is one coda, though. It took me about two decades before I ever grew hyacinths from bulbs again. I didn’t want to take any chances.

An Eye for an Eye for an Eye ~subverting and challenging genres

Today’s post comes from Marc Nash. If you remember I was setting sail on a voyage to discover books that are exciting and break the norms; Marc is one of the authors creating such work. You can find his blog here: http://sulcicollective.blogspot.co.uk/

I used to bristle at the word ‘genre’. Apparently I don’t just write ‘fiction’, rather my novels are in the genre ‘literary fiction’. Yet ask for a definition of quite what that is and you’d struggle to receive a coherent answer. At best you might receive woolly assertions that genre novels tend to operate more on the level of plot and story-line, while literary fiction places less emphasis on plot and more on language and character. I’ve never understood why literary novels supposedly don’t overly-concern themselves with plot, nor why genre novels can’t attain high level of literariness through their language. They are not mutually exclusive. I always have the sneaking suspicion, that ‘literary fiction’ is merely the genre tag for when a book can’t be neatly fitted into any of the other genres.

But my new novel “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye” is a bit different for me. Firstly I wanted to write a genre book that also demonstrated a literariness through it’s language and depth of character study. But I also approached the task of writing a genre book that was at the same time also subverting the very notion of genre. Taking the standards of the genres I was working in and breaking as many of those prescriptions as I could. Will the gatekeepers of these literary genres admit my book to their canon, or will they banish it as heretical?

Genre number one: Police procedural. The main character Simon Moralee is charged with clearing up murders, yet he isn’t actually a policeman at all. He’s a member of the public with a special psychic power, who is adopted by the police to make them look good in their clean-up rates. The problem for them is, his mental ability completely obviates the need for any detective work at all, so that he actually represents the death of procedure. The police are demoted into serving as little more than Moralee’s baby sitters, yet he himself yearns for being elevated to a true policeman and bemoans what his gift has done to the solid practises of evidence and deduction.

Genre number two: Paranormal. Well Simon’s psychic gift is notionally a paranormal one. Since he can decoct the last few frames a person sees before they die, which in the case of murder victims is usually the faces of their killers. The book examines quite how the balance of his mind may have been shaped to throw up such a power, while his adversary also offers further, menacing but mundane reasons as to what lies behind such an ability. But the book goes further, as part of its theme interrogates those very last frames in a person’s life as it tantalisingly probes just what happens at the point of death. So a paranormal phenomenon actually serves as the launchpad of the most rooted-in materiality fact, that of death itself.

Genre number three: Dystopia. The definition of ‘dystopia’ is a place where everything is as bad as it could possibly be. Yet you don’t need the post-apocalyptic delight of a zombie invasion, or some viral pandemic, or nuclear catastrophe to bring civilisation to its knees. My inhospitable world is one more of drift and aimlessness, fostered by a collapse of central authority brought about by economic bankruptcy. I was conceiving of a world not too much further removed from the economic problems suffered by certain countries within the Eurozone like Greece and Spain. What might happen were a government forced to adopt such economic stringencies, that citizens no longer saw any benefit in regarding themselves as citizens of their nation? So the dystopia I have created is one that has many recognisable facets of our own society and offers some political slant on where our Western democracies may currently lie in their relationship to us their citizens.

And yes, “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye” not only has a plot, a considerable array of big ideas and themes, but it also revels in its literary language! Now to see what the genre purists make of it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/An-Eye-For-ebook/dp/B00FIP9TEU/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1380867874&sr=1-5&keywords=marc+nash 

http://www.amazon.com/An-Eye-For-ebook/dp/B00FIP9TEU/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1380867874&sr=1-5&keywords=marc+nash 

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Interview with Isobel Trelawny ~ Star of Away With The Fairies

Interview with Isobel..

 

As a writer, I meet some extraordinary people in the course of my work and I get to write their stories for them. Of all the people who have appeared in my books, Isobel Trelawny, whom you may know from Away With The Fairies, has appeared in more tales than anyone else. She’s played best supporting actress in several but she’s the star of Away With The Fairies and today she’s agreed to sit down with me and have a bit of a chat. We’ve got the coffee, but instead of Isobel’s favourite biscuits, (chocolate Hob-Nobs), I’ve only been able to find some ginger snaps.

 

Viv: I hope the biscuits aren’t too much of a let down.

Isobel (laughing; she does this quite a bit). That’s OK, I’m cool with ginger biccies.

Viv: I’m glad to hear that! Anyway, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

Isobel: It’s a pleasure. Gets me a bit of space in my day, to be honest.

Viv: I gather that can be quite a problem, yes?

Isobel: Well, I know your family is grown up now, but I’m sure you remember how much hard work small children are. Miranda, my oldest, is alarmingly bright and I have to be up to the mark all the time. Luke’s much more laid-back about life. And simply finding the mental space to day dream rather than doing things all the time is really hard. I’m often so knackered by the time the kids are in bed, I really don’t have the energy to paint, or even think.

Viv: You weren’t sure you’d be able to have kids, as I recall?

Isobel: True, which makes me feel guilty about whinging about them when I do. I had a series of miscarriages when Mickey and I first got married. There wasn’t an explanation; there was nothing wrong, as far as the quacks could see. I just kept losing them early on. Then some years later, I woke up one morning not only knowing I was pregnant but also being fairly sure this one would go to term.

Viv: Your parents died when you were pregnant with Luke. How did that affect you?

Isobel (laughing again) You know damn well how it affected me! OK, well, I was shocked and then I was angry. I’d not had a good relationship with them, to be honest. I felt (and I had good evidence about this) that they neither of them approved of me and my life choices very much. I was just at the point in my life when I felt it might be possible for them to start approving of me when they killed themselves. I don’t think anyone really knows how they truly feel about their parents till they’re gone. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t know how ill they both had been. I’d kept them at arms’ length for years, avoiding anything that might bring out any emotional reaction. And when they were gone, suddenly, like that, I couldn’t process it. I was heavily pregnant and people kept telling me to relax and not get upset and so on. Oh and “Think of the baby!” So it was a while later before I could start to even think about it all. By then, you see, people assume you’ve done your grieving and you’re tickety-boo. But I wasn’t. Far from it. I was pretty much at breaking point and yet, I simply didn’t know it. It was killing that deer with the car that was the tipping point that meant I couldn’t go on pretending any longer.

Viv: I know. Since the events of Away With The Fairies, you’ve had some more tough things to deal with, so it does seem a long, and ongoing process.

Isobel: I think what’s gone on since then has been long overdue. I’ve got a streak of wildness that I thought I had under control but it seems not. I’ve always soared from extremes to extremes but never quite as devastatingly as this. 

Viv: Now, your husband Mickey is a clergyman. Looking at you, you seem a long way from any clergy wife of popular but horribly dated sterotypes.  (Isobel has henna’d hair, wears ripped and paint smeared jeans, and a rather wonderful amber necklace that matches her eyes. She talks very fast and with a lot of hand gestures; she’s a comfortable person to be around but she’s not prim and certainly not proper) How much impact does his job have on you?

Isobel: Too much, sometimes. The doorbell and the phone never stop bloody ringing. Oh don’t get me wrong, generally, the vast majority of folks aren’t a problem, but once in a while, I get people making a big deal of the fact that I don’t do anything in church. I don’t get involved in groups or lead anything. The fact that I turn up at all is a miracle some times. My best friend Chloe is a very rare sight in any church, and her husband and Mickey trained together.

Viv: I’ve met Chloe too. Given what she went through at college, I’m not surprised.

Isobel: I feel mildly guilty at times about that. The events of her final year at the vicar factory which ended with her breaking her leg every which way but Sunday were partly down to me. My wild, rebellious streak got out of hand and poor Chloe was the one who got hurt badly. I don’t think she’s ever blamed me, but I do sometimes blame myself.

Viv: I’m sorry to hear it. I know the story and I think whatever you and Chloe had done, it would have ended badly. Possibly worse.  Now, you were able to buy a small place in the country where you could paint. I’m having trouble with my writing and I’d love to spend some time at your cottage. Is it really so spooky as you said?

Isobel: It can be scary, which might be me understating it rather a lot. But it rather depends what baggage you go with. My friend Antony spent some time there a while ago. But apart from stopping his mobile phone working, nothing happened that time. More recently, he stayed, and some deep issues he’d not been able to deal with began to surface. It’s one of those places that has a foot in both realms. In the ordinary, everyday world, it’s a slightly run down, rather picturesque hideaway. But it’s also a place that stands on the edge of the other world, the world of beings that we seldom interact with, and that can be tough to deal with.

Viv: You’re talking about the fairies now? 

Isobel: (grinning now) I suppose I am!

Viv: You’re a pretty pragmatic sort of person from what I know of you, and you’re not at all one of these New Age believe-anything women. So, far as I can see, you’re not the most likely candidate for getting caught up with the whole concept of fairies. Can you tell me what they’re like?

Isobel: I can tell you what they’re not. They’re not anything like what you see in modern depictions of fairies. There’s no glitter or pretty-pretty faces. None of the sparkly magic and so on you see in both kids’ books and the New Age ones you referred to. They’re…..well, primeval is the only word I can think of. Earthy. They’re not what you think and they’re not what you expect. I’m not even convinced I understand them myself. 

Viv: OK, and that brings me to a hard question. How does any of what you experienced in the cottage square with your faith?

Isobel: That IS a hard question. I’m not sure how to answer it. Churchianity tries to give nice neat answers to life’s tough questions and it gets cross and burns people at the stake for refusing to accept those neat answers as all that there is. I don’t believe we can know all the answers, but that we have to keep asking the questions anyway, even after we think we know the answers. Certain branches of Churchianity would tell me that my parents are burning in hell for committing suicide, that by that one act after two good, caring lives they damned themselves forever. And yet, I came to see that their deaths were possibly the most noble things they’d ever done.

Viv: Churchianity? I like that term!

Isobel: So do I. The thing is, God is not bound by human rules and that sadly is what many churches have sought to do: bind God by their rules. That’s like trying to cage the air, and make it obey your rules. Anyway, enough God-talk.

(She’s looking a bit uncomfortable about this, so I think it’s time to move the conversation to something else.)

Viv: OK, so tell me about your painting, your art?

Isobel: That’s tough. Hmm. Let me think. OK, I don’t have your way with words, but I think I paint my stories. You write yours, but I have to paint them. I paint the things I see and I feel inside my head, and I try to use that to tell the greater narrative of life. I can only paint a tiny section of it and hope that it adds to the greater picture somewhere.

Viv: I certainly feel you succeed with it, as much as any of us can. Anyway, can you sum up for us your experiences?

Isobel: You do go for asking the tough questions! I’ll try. Hmmm. Perhaps it’s best to say that there are more things that we don’t know that that we do, and to be open-minded about the world and not get bogged down with dogmatic answers to life’s big questions. Oh and love your family with all your strength. That’s something too easy to forget, that the love you share with family and friends is not an automatic right that’ll be there forever. People die and they don’t always give you any warning of it. So tell those you love that you love them. I never got a chance to tell my mum and dad I loved them until they were gone. Don’t make my mistake.

Viv: Thank you very much indeed, Isobel. I’d like to wish you luck with your continued exploration of the world through your art.

Isobel: It’s a pleasure. Now, do you think we can sneak off for a glass of wine somewhere? I’m parched!

Viv: Sure, but you’re buying!

 

Amazon US

http://www.amazon.com/Away-With-The-Fairies-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1318763160&sr=1-2

 

Amazon UK

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-With-The-Fairies-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318763071&sr=1-3

 

Lulu paperback (will be on both Amazon sites in time)

http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/away-with-the-fairies/17985792

(The events with Chloe will be appearing in a new book this year, titled, Square Peg. From the title I suspect you can guess that one of the themes is not fitting in and being uncomfortable about it. I’ll let you know when it’s ready. Many of the characters in my books appear or connect with other characters in other books, so you can often meet new people and familiar ones in surprising places.)

Most Haunted Live

   On Friday morning my husband rang me from work with the fatal words, “I know you’re probably going to say no but I thought I’d ask anyway….” and then proceeded to tell me that a colleague of his had offered us priority tickets to go and be in the audience for Most Haunted Live. Now if you’re not familar with this programme, I’d suggest you look it up but basically it’s a team of people who visit various sites around Britain that are said to be haunted and conduct what they call experiments in the paranormal and what most people would describe as running around in the dark, screaming a lot. There’s an equivalent programme running in the USA and many countries and they have a faithful fan base who adore their show. The team consists usually of a so-called psychic or medium, a paranormal investigator(often from a university no one has ever heard of) a lot of camera crew, and a tame celebrity or two as well as the presenter. In this show’s case, the presenter is the panda-eyed Yvette Fielding, most famous for screaming an awful lot on this show, and the tame celebrity was Paul Ross, brother of the more famous Jonathan.

I very nearly did say no, as I would have a bus ride to town, then another hour on the bus to get to where my husband works(where he was waiting with the car) and then at least another hour driving through the wilds of Norfolk in the fog and the cold. But I thought, What the heck, it’s an experience, to which my daughter’s comment  was,  “Yes, but then so is getting your tongue caught in the tumble dryer!” 

We had to be there by 6.15 to get our priority seats but due to the fact that there was nothing on our map to tell us where the actual entrance to West Raynham air field was, we drove right round the perimeter one and a half times before finally finding our way in. It was then 6.30, but Nigel wasn’t letting this deter him, nor the fact that despite being told our names would be put on the guest list instead of the friends who couldn’t make it, neither set of names were there. We just stood there looking stubborn and the TV steward woman, flapping a bit at our stony demeanour hustled off and then came back with two wristbands and took our names. We then had to be searched and Nigel got sent back to the car with his two inch Swiss army knife. I hope none of these people ever work properly for security as I had a much bigger Swiss army knife on the belt of my jeans and nobody noticed. They just opened my handbag, removed my tissues from their wrapper so I didn’t rustle and vaguely patted me down. The sawn-off Kalashnikov in my boot went unnoticed too…

We were in a massive air craft hangar, on the disused air base, and it was all set up with sufficient seats for 500 people. Now, clearly I am naive but I was surprised at the optimism of this. How could they possibly expect 500 people to turn out on a filthy night like this, just to be in the audience for a third rate TV show?

How wrong I was! By the time it began all seats were taken and about 100 people were lurking out the back and sides in the hopes of a seat if any of us lucky ones gave up and went home. By the time anything happened, I was already bored.

The premise of the show is that the team go and conduct an investigation of a supposedly haunted site, and this had been going on all week. What the viewer gets to see is the scene in darkness, viewed with night vision cameras, the “crew” talking to each other with torches under their faces to light them up spookily (just as at school camp), the medium telling them what he can sense, then noises and rapping happening, supposedly sounds being heard, etc etc etc ad nauseam. The screaming is all part of it. During the live shows, audience members(carefully vetted beforehand I assume, the public are not to be trusted!) are selected to take part in seances usually with ouija boards and in vigils where they sit in darkness and wait for the ghosts to communicate with them by either touch or by other means.

At this point, I need to point out that I am a firm believer in the existence of paranormal activity. I’ve come across enough of it first hand to be unable to deny it. This then is why programmes like this one upset me so much.

It’s not just the pretentious TV bods, so full of self importance and shit I can’t imagine how they can actually live, or the exploitation of vulnerable members of the public, or the sheer stupidity of what we’re expected to swallow as “research”, or the obvious fakery and trickery that goes on and the contempt for the viewer that is self evident.

It’s the fact that if there are truly spirits trapped between the worlds, they seek to contact them and make them perform like circus animals.

“Can you throw something? Can you touch someone? Can you knock once for yes and twice for no? ”

Oh, please. That should read Oh puh-leeze! Can you imagine how you might feel, finally making contact with someone only to have them demean your plight by asking you to do tricks? I’d do more than throw things, believe me. If you were stuck between life and death, surely you’d want someone to come and help you get unstuck?

This is the arrant cruelty of the show and the paradox. If there really are spirits in this place(or another) then they come along and mock them. If there aren’t spirits in that place then the whole thing is a total sham.

Relax, I can hear some say. It’s only entertainment.

Hmm. I do remember something about bread and circuses, except Roman circuses had gladiators fighting to the death.

That aside, it’s pernicious for several reasons. The first I have mentioned. The second is the fact that this sort of thing diminishes real paranormal research; it makes it seem ridiculous and beyond a joke and despite the fact that valuable research is going on it is denigrated by many. The third is it inocculates the public against the real thing. By this I mean that the majority of viewers see it as probably all a sham and therefore all paranormal activity and research is seen in the same way. This has a knock on effect. It means that fewer people are open to the idea that there might be more to life than what we can see and hear right here, right now. If you’ve seem something on TV, and have drawn your conclusions about it, what need is there for further thought, further consideration of the issues? It’s the same as dismissing all church matters because you’ve heard some priests turn out to be paedophiles.       

Bursting with both laughter and indignation, we waited for a commercial break and sneaked out at about 10.30pm, the show going on till midnight, and grabbed a hot drink and a burger at the van outside(not complimentary either but thankfully not expensive) before hitting the road home. We got home at around 12.30, and it’s taken me since then to put my thoughts together. Did I enjoy it? Yes, and no. It was a very interesting experience to watch the process of making live TV, for which I am grateful. Would I go again? Probably not, unless I had some way of actually contributing my real thoughts on it. As an audience member I was(with 499 others) treated with a certain amount of contempt and general rudeness by the stewards, and really, we were there to give a spurious credibilty to a show that has none of its own. We were there to clap and look enrapt; to verify credibility when we were in no position to actually do so. Watching the ouija board action up on a projection on the wall, it seemed very certain to me that the finger of crew member and presenter Yvette Fielding was the one pushing the glass. I could see her move first; she also had an earpiece on which meant it was an easy matter for someone to direct her to the right letters in the darkness. I can’t prove this but that’s what it looked like to me. And if you ask a reputable spiritualist, they’ll probably tell you the oiuja board brings  pretty low class of spirit…

TV has a lot to answer for.

Ghost Walking

I’ve promised I’d write about the ghost walk last week so here I am. Normally I’d already have gone to bed but now I have finished at work for the moment I’m happy to burn the (not quite) midnight oil and tell you all about it.

Now let’s get something straight: I do believe in ghosts. Not the stupid stuff you get on Ghost Hunter, Ghost Whisperer and Most Haunted. That’s just hokum for entertainment. No. I believe that as far as ghostly goings on are concerned, there’s something real happening. I am not sure what. My dad has long held a theory that some places act as a kind of video recorder and certain people act as a receiver; we may actually be seeing something as a kind of coded playback of events. My dad is a pretty openminded sort of chap about the paranormal; given that for a period of time in his youth he used to dream the names of the winners in the following days’ races, I guess he’d be a bit daft to be closed minded! I do believe in the survival of the spirit after death too and having seen a number of ghostly things over the years, I’m quite happy to accept that indeed, there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio….

Back to the ghost walk.

I wasn’t convinced that taking 39 exciteable Spanish 12 year olds round this town in darkness and telling them ghost stories was the best of ideas but I do what my bosses ask of me. My colleague Dillon didn’t think it was a good idea either and since the Spanish are almost always late for everything, we got to the park where we were to meet to ghost walk guide about 20 minutes late, hoping he’d have given up and gone home. Our boss had said if that were the case we could take them all down to the bowling alley!

The poor brave man was still there and immediately voiced his concerns to us. We told him we agreed but we wouldn’t hold him responsible should anything happen. God knows who would be hauled over the coals; probably me. He took us through the park to the bridge over the ravine and when we’d got the kids to shut up, he told us of one memorable suicide there and of the ghost that still haunted it. He then told of Black Shuck, the red-eyed devil-dog that haunts East Anglia. If you see him and speak of it to anyone something terrible will happen to you, you see.

The vast crocodile of squealing and jostling children made its way down the road, stopping at various points to hear about what ghastly spectre had been seen there. I nearly got crushed against some railings when I said I could see red eyes down in the park below; a screaming mass of kids lurched to try and either see or get away. The eyes were bicycle lights, by the way.

To add a slight frisson to the proceedings, I’d brought along my set of vampire teeth which I would slip in and allow one or two students to see for a second or two before discreetly removing them and smiling back normally. It probably says a lot about me that not only do I have fake teeth but also fake blood stored at the back of the spice cupboard.

Now as well as a healthy assortment of rather dubious spectres, my town has a lot of actual history and while none of it is of any nationwide importance, it’s quite interesting in a general way. Some of the last witches to be executed died here, having been tried by a kangaroo court of superstitious locals and then hanged. We had packed into one of the Scores (narrow steep alleyways that travel from the top of the cliff where the town is to the beach below; made either by fishermen’s feet tramping for centuries or by the action fo spring water) where the ghost of one of the witches is sometimes heard calling for help. Wilde’s Score is narrow and cobbled with flints and descends so steeply it had steps cut into the rock. It’s also pretty dark and when we’d got the kids to shush, he started telling the story. At a crucial moment, a back gate jerked open and one of the students fell backwards into the yard behind, creating wild panic and screaming fit to melt earwax.

After that we took the whole group down Maltster’s Score, which twists and turns as it descends from the high street. Historically it was the Score where you were most likely to meet a violent death as robbers used to simply lurk round the corners and wait for drunken sailors to come from one of the pubs or from their boats drawn up on the beach below( the Harbour wasn’t built until well into the 19th century) and relieve them of their valuables and often their clothes and their life as well. I was last in this mad cavalcade so I could hear the screams and shouts as they made their way down in semi darkness. I was disappointed as the local council have fitted an automatic light halfway along that comes on if someone walks through.

I’m sad to say that no one saw anything remotely ghostly and nothing untoward(beyond the backgate) happened, but sufficient students were scared stiff by the whole experience for it to be a likely memory for most of them. I’m slightly concerned that it might be repeated again but I know I shall recommend that it not be done with more than 20 people. It might be more fun if people could be persuaded to be quieter when the guide is talking but that said, the poor guy did a great job of coping.

I used to work on  nature reserve and it was always frustrating that except on one memorable occasion when a red squirrel started throwing twigs at my head, the wildlife NEVER put it an opportune appearance. It’s just as frustrating that phantoms are even more unlikely to appear just for the amusement of visiting students.

Where’s the Canterville Ghost when you need him???

Contact Points, a book plug

It’s taken me longer than I intended to write this post and for this I apologise.

I’m doing a little bit of a book plug, for a friend. It’s a very unusual little book in terms of its subject matter, and for that subject matter, it’s also unusual  because of it’s down to earth and non-sensational approach to an area that is hopelessly prone to drama and sensationalism.

Contact Points is a series of short essays about the communication of the dead with the living, and was written by Elaine Moss. You can read more about the book and why Elaine wrote it at    http://elainemoss.com/home.html

I’ve known Elaine for quite a long time, really, as the wife of a lecturer who taught my husband some branch of chemistry back in the dim and distant past when he was an undergraduate, but we didn’t meet up until some years later.

Now, part of the reason that my husband and I got to know John and Elaine Moss was because we were feeling increasingly isolated within the wider church, and especially in the Church of England, because of our interests in the paranormal aspects of spirituality. I’ve been a sort of visionary and mystic most of my life and like many before me, found it hard to fit in with a community that is, in essence, terrified of this sort of thing. We had a lovely long chat once day with Elaine and John and felt a lot better  to hear we were not freaks or apostates. 

It was a good many years later before I finally joined The Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies and discovered that I was far from alone. You can find a link to their wesbite if you click on the useful links on Elaine’s website. It’s not kept as up-to-date as it ought to be but it’ll give you more information about them.

Elaine kindly sent me a copy of her book after I read it at my friend Kate’s. Kate has been helping Elaine edit and then market and distribute the book, and I found the book both intriguing and comforting. I dislike anything that hypes up the whole Ghost Whisperer kind of thing and Elaine’s book is delightfully understated and very English in many ways. When I first met Elaine she was working on breeding daffodils; I believe she now works on carnations! You can’t get more English than that!

If you do decide to buy a copy, I’d advise you to buy it direct from Elaine rather than Amazon if you can. This way she gets more money; Amazon don’t pay much! That said, Elaine isn’t terribly interested in making any money back, but Kate, who’s effectively her agent, is keen that the book reaches at many people at possible.

The book doesn’t give definitive answers, something I liked, and it raises a lot more questions too. Have a read through the website, and if it interests you, have a look at the CFPSS website too. It shows the churches in a very different light from the one you may be used to.