Sunday, 2 October 2011

Stuart Hill. Third Blog

STUART HILL. THIRD BLOG.

Well it’s October, the month of Halloween and all things thpooky (I’m sorry, something always compels me to say ‘spooky’ that way; I don’t know why.) Anyway, to resume: October, Halloween and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night: I’ve been fascinated by ghosts and the paranormal for as long as I can remember. Whether in book form, on TV or film. As a kid, Dr Who never bothered me, unlike all my friends; science fiction horror left me completely untouched, still does. But give me a haunted house, or an unquiet spirit and I’ve got my place booked behind the sofa.

There’s something completely delicious about the very idea of a revenant that no amount of aliens or mad scientists can touch. The fact that my first e-book is a collection of ghost stories is definitely no coincidence. I’ve been writing them for years, and in fact use them as a sort of exercise to get the literary juices flowing again if I’ve not been writing for a while. Actually, I’ve been wondering what the inspiration and impetus is behind Susan Price’s excellent collection of ghostly tales. Hopefully she’ll let me know.

In truth, I think supernatural horror is my default setting, but over the years this particular niche has been, and continues to be, eroded in the film world by the deeply inferior realm of ‘schlock’. I think the ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’, ‘Nightmare on Elm Street# 1 to infinity’ and any number of imitators that you care to mention, has all but killed the subtlety of the true Ghost Story. And much the same goes for the literary world.
In fact I’d go so far as to say that modern society seems almost embarrassed by the very idea of ghosts and has to explain them away in its literature as psychological aberrations or as some sort of exaggerated mental breakdown.

Recently I read a book by a hugely popular author in which the story cleverly managed to explain away ghosts as the spectres of living people. After all anything is better than admitting to the fine tradition of the spirits of the dead disturbing our comfy little lives. The fact that the novel also managed to lay the blame for all ills at the feet of the main male character I’m sure has nothing to do with the present day misandry that seems to infect all walks of life from art and literature, to science and back again.

Excuse me while I pause for a while; ranting always takes it out of me.

Right, a Zen-like calm has been regained and I can continue.

M.R. James is, of course, the complete master of the short ghost story, and I’m proud to say that I own two first editions of his works. Interestingly, one of the editors who works at my publishers is the great, great, great niece of Montague Rhodes and has some fascinating stories about the great man.

But when it comes to full length novels, one of my most favouritest books of all time ad infinitum, to infinity and beyond, is actually out of print (of course). It’s called ‘Waiting to Hear from William’ was written in the early 70’s by an author called Babs H. Deal and perfectly encapsulates everything that is right about the ghost story. It’s set in New England (second only to Britain for thpookiness) and takes place in an isolated house in the country. But the cleverly woven atmosphere of down-home cosiness is infected with an unease that slowly grows to a truly satisfying conclusion that answers questions, underlines the real existence of ghosts and the spirit world, and doesn’t feel a need to sneer in intellectual superiority at the very idea of an Unquiet House. If you’re at all interested in ghost stories get a copy as soon as you can. Abe Books on the interweb have a great out of print book search.

Anyway, one of the reasons for this blog is not only to mention my collection of ghost stories again: -‘Tales from Moonshiny Hall’ available from Amazon, - but it does give me a chance of advertising, especially as I have an ambition to sell more than ten copies before Christmas (only seven sold in two months so far). The other reason is to ask my fellow authors if they’ve ever had any paranormal experiences. I’d truly like to hear them if you have. My own encounters range from a ghost mouse, to a disembodied voice in the night-time back streets of Leicester that seemed to extinguish all of the street lights when it screamed and sent the sixteen year old Yours Truly scurrying for home. I’ve had several other experiences but mostly too vague and too easily given a Rational Explanation to be worthy of mentioning.

So if any of you have had such experiences you’re prepared to share, I’d love to hear them. Apart from collecting owls (not real ones), books on Fantastic Literature and hunting down the best real ale in Leicestershire and Rutland, hearing other peoples’ ghostly encounters is my greatest hobby.

There’s just one more thing I want to add to this particular blog, and though it’s not anything to do with ghosts, it does have a wonderful touch of the macabre which I think qualifies it for inclusion:
Way back in the eighties, I knew a Welsh student who went to the local University. He had a wonderful fund of stories and (very forthright) opinions, but my favourite tale was one he said his Gran had told him. Apparently back in the twilight of the past, it was common practice amongst the Welsh hill-farming families to have their dearest departed at home to lie in state in the best parlour before the funeral. But this was in the days before embalming was common practice amongst undertakers, so to counteract any smells that may arise from the corpse, a plate of salt would be placed on its chest to absorb the miasmas.

After the funeral the mourners would then return to the family home and a huge ‘High Tea’ would be scoffed. All manner of cold meats and delicious cakes would be eaten. But a special condiment set would be kept in reserve and if anyone the family didn’t like, needed to season their ham or roast pork, they’d be given this condiment set, not knowing that they were sprinkling the salt from the chest of the corpse onto their meal.

I wonder if it added an extra dimension to the flavour.

Anyway, on that culinarily chilling note I will close until next month. But I do hope some of you will tell me your experiences of the supernatural. There’ll be no prize for the best of course, I’m far too poor, but I do promise to spread it around in the hope that it’ll become a fully fledged urban legend with the added, unusual, fillip of it being true.

18 comments:

Nicola Morgan said...

Spirits of the living? While staying in a large hotel in the West Country, I saw across the foyer an acquaintance from London (someone I wished to avoid.) I crept back to our room and told my family that *** was staying in the hotel. Two days later, I bumped into her. "Oh, hello, I saw you in the distance on Friday - wondered if I'd bump into you," I said, smiling innocently. "You can't have done - I only just arrived."

JO said...

I live in a house built in the 1830s. When we first moved in had to make friends with what sounded like footsteps - up and down the stairs, on the landing outside the bedrooms - always at night. I didn't believe a daughter when she said she felt the weight of 'someone' sitting on her bed in the night - till it happened to me.

So the girls went to County Hall, traced the history of the house, and found that someone 'fell off the records' - they couldn't find out if he left, and when. So we made up all sorts of stories. Which was fun. And seems to have satisfied our visitor, as we don't hear him so much now.

(Or - we've got used to the creaks of an old house. I prefer version 1 . . .)

Stuart said...

Hi Nicola; having been dismissive of Spirits of the Living I've been looking them up and there's quite a lot of evidence for them. But I still prefer good old fashioned ghosts!

Jo, you're experiences sound similar to my dad's house. He actually took to sitting on the stairs in the dark and talking to them! Braver than I ever could be!

madwippitt said...

'Thpooky'? You're obviously in touch with your inner Igor ... :-)
(If baffled by this comment, you need to read more Terry Pratchett!)

I met a ghost dog once, which kept me awake half the night, but was a nice rather than scary experience ...
There's a lovely piece about Galsworthys beloved spaniel Chris retuirning to visit one night - I think it's available to read online ...

stuart said...

Hi Madwippitt, the ghost dog sounds intriguing...could you give more details at all?

Katherine Roberts said...

I sold my last house because it was haunted. It was part of an old workhouse converted into flats and cottages and had really bad vibes. The cat hated it there - used to flatten herself to the floor and sweat and hiss, I had countless nightmares, and a mirror jumped off the wall and smashed down the stairs one night, almost killing me on the way (it missed so I got 7years of bad luck instead). Other strange things included a computer that caught fire in my neighbour's flat, strange smells, and weird lights in photographs.

Thankfully, there wasn't a space on the house-seller's form for ghosts, so I didn't have to declare any of these things and sold it really easily and quickly. (The ghost always wanted to get rid of me, so maybe that's why!)

stuart said...

Best so far, Katherine. Can't have been fun to live through though.

Wasn't there a case recently when somebody tried to bring a law suit against a seller who hadn't said the property was haunted? I can't remember any details so perhaps I'm imagining things.

madwippitt said...

Not as exciting as Katherine's which sounds downright frightening ...

I was staying overnight at a friends cottage (proper 14th century thatched and beamed chocolate box job) and I kept getting woken up in the night by a weight on the bed ... it pressed against my legs and kept gently but firmly pushing against them, and rolling me towards the edge of the bed (only a single bed so not much room to roll in!) At first I kept thinking it was due to ancient floorboards being out of true and sloping to one side ... then I realised that I kept being rolled to different sides rather than always the same one. As I got more awake each time it happened, I also became more aware of the pressure against my legs ... and it felt very familiar ... At breakfast the next morning my hosts asked if I'd slept OK. I told them I kept rolling out of bed, and they exchanged glances and told me about the ghost dog that slept up there. They hadn't wanted to tell me in case I was scared, as it didn't always show up. In the morning they would hear ghostly doggy toenails clicking down the wooden stairs: it would pause at their room and push the door ajar, then carry on down the stairs. They assumed it used to spend the day outside in the garden ...

stuart said...

That's actually rather sweet. I wonder if all animal ghosts are as gentle.

My own experience involved a ghost mouse playing on my boots after I'd gone to bed while staying over at a friends. It was white, translucent and very interesting to my friend's large tom-cat who'd decided to keep me company. But as we both watched it just faded away, like one of those fade out shots you get in films. When I mentioned it the next day to my friend she just said 'Oh, yeah, he's been with us for years.' In fact, the little ghosty had actually tagged along when they moved house!

Stroppy Author said...

My house has a poltergeist. It steals things, often keeps them for months, then deposits them somwhere they just could never have been missed - lie in the middle of the dining table or the libary floor. It's been quiet for a few years, but has returned. Sometimes there are voices and footsteps in empty rooms, too. I don't find it scary, but the bints don't like it.

stuart said...

Have you considered exorcism?

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Love reading all the ghost stories! The only ghost I've ever encountered - I think! - was in this village - I was walking my dad's dog, at twilight, and saw an old man on the other side of the road, beside a low wall. He acknowledged me, so I crossed over the road to speak to him, with the dog pulling me over - she clearly saw him as well - only as I reached the other side he quite literally disappeared. One second he was there and the next he was gone! It was so unnerving that I found myself peering over the wall to see if he was hiding down there. Afterwards, when I described him, my husband said that it was 'probably Jock,' He was the village blacksmith and handyman - Alan knew him, but he died just before I came to live here - and he liked to 'keep an eye on things' so he would patrol the village most evenings! Our cafe is named after him - it used to be a restaurant and the former owners said that they were frequently aware of his presence. He really didn't like loud music and would turn their speakers down all the time!

Susan Price said...

What a great post! It's reminded me to look up your book again, Stuart, so it's done its job! I'm bringing out another e-book of ghost stories soon, some of which have notes to say what inspired them.
Kath and Madwippit will know that despite loving ghost stories I put a lot of effort into resisting belief in them. As I lie listening to my dead cat licking his paws beside me, I wonder why I bother - but I'm dreaming of course.
My family have quite a few ghost stories. I have an aunt who seems to have remembered yet another and even more discomforting family ghost story every time I see her. 'The Baby' in my new collection is based on one.
Loved all the stories told here - especially liked the idea of a ghost dog who sleeps on the bed and then spends all day in the garden! What a death!

Stuart said...

I suppose one of the commonest types of ghosts are the spirits of those who for one reason or another can't let go of their former life (obviously). But one that haunts simply to turn down loud music really has to take the 'Golden miserable old git award'!!! It's bad enough when they're scarey, but when they're kill-joys too.....!!! I hope you've recovered from your shock Catherine.
Susan, how can you write such vivid ghost stories and yet not believe!? Surely you must really, even if only secretly. Doesn't the law of averages dictate that after centuries of ghostly sightings, at least a percentage of them are genuine?
Looking forward to the new ghost story collection, and notes on inspiration is a great idea.

Susan Price said...

Stuart, youve inspired me to spend October on my blog telling ghost stories - that's over at http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.com/

Do I believe? When they started the space-race in the 60s, it was predicted that it would take until 2000 to put a man on the moon. It took them half that time. Yet there's been research into the Paranormal since the 1800s and the verdict is still - charitably - 'unproven'. But I still love a good ghost story.

stuart said...

Hi Susan. I know what you mean about the scientific attempts to prove the existence of ghosts. But the space race was essentially an engineering problem, a question of physical nuts and bolts that could be solved by means of pure human determination and know how. Science as a discipline needs to physically quantify the object of its study, and yet the paranormal, by its very nature, is obviously anything but physical. Exactly the same problem exists in the clash between science and faith, one demands calibration and calculation, and the other cannot be subjected to physical law. It seems the twain will never meet. And perhaps the ghost will never be photographed, measured and categorized to the satisfaction of a physically exacting discipline.
Do I believe. Yes, completely. And I also love a good ghost story, so I shall definitely be visiting your blogspot. Happy Hauntings!

Anonymous said...

Can't say I've had any spooky experiences but just had to say I'm one of the seven that have purchased your ebook

Stuart said...

Deeply felt thanks number seven!!!