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.