Ghosts: My experiences and thoughts

I spent new years eve re-watching the 1973 film ‘The Legend Of Hell House’. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a haunted house picture based on a novel by Richard Matheson (Incredible Shrinking Man, Twilight Zone.. Etc), which is in turn based on the classic ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson, which was brought to the screen as ‘The Haunting. LEGEND is a great spooky film. Lots of lingering shadows and empty corridors and fog filled exteriors with great performances from Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin, a wonderful actress who never really achieved the fame and recognition she deserved.

Anyway, watching it made me think about ghosts, spirits and all other manner of supernatural occurrences. Mainly, ones that I have experienced first hand. Funnily enough, I had one such ghostly encounter but days ago, which I shall recount later, but for now, allow me to express my thoughts and views on what is commonly referred to as ‘ghosts’. What they are and why we see them. I do, of course, have no evidence to back up my observations or theories, but that’s half the fun of theorizing. With that in mind, first let me begin with some examples of strange occurrences I have bore witness to. Do you have a cuppa? Yes? Good. Here we go then. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Seduction: The lessons I learnt from monsters

Writing is a learning process. Whether you’re an fully fledged bestselling author such as Stephen King or a youngster jotting down the details of ‘what I did during my summer holiday’; the art of extracting, communicating and articulating ones thoughts is a craft that, is at best, delivered competently, but never mastered. There is always room for improvement. Always a way to tell the story better, to describe a scene or setting more vividly and portray events and characters more believably. And as with all arts, in learning to be proficient, one must practice.

There are other avenues that the would be writer would do well to explore though. Reading is obviously the most trodden path on the way to competency, as is being well versed in language, but so too is the examination of others work. It is this that I concern myself with today.

When I first read a book, I simply let it tell it’s tale to me. I allow myself to be swept away by it’s narrative; I place my self at the mercy of the author. I want to be seduced, and it is the writers job to woo me. When a story is told well, I’m left fulfilled, other times the foreplay has me excited but leads to nothing. There are books that leave me cold, and some that have me reaching for a cigarette on closing, yes, a climax can be that good. Each is a relationship between the author and the reader, and just like in the physical plane, the one relating to sweat and fluids, some are worth a second date. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Writing on the fly, the journey and the suited man

I often liken the act of writing a story to that of undertaking a journey. Both are more often than not prepared for in advance, be it the stocking of supplies (coffee?), planning the route to take; perhaps even noting the people we are to meet as well as the events we wish to partake in. Yet, for all the planning, the journey may not go as envisioned. There may be delays, hiccups or events unexpected. But is this not also part of what makes a journey memorable, the turns that lead us off the beaten path into realms unknown to us?

It is this unknown quantity that concerns me today.

Here, sitting in my living room, pen and paper by my side (I am currently without the benefits that a laptop brings … thank you cat), I am about to take my first steps into new territory, where I shall walk along paths that no map has defined, nor explorer discovered. The path is mine alone and my destination uncertain. I am of course referring to – for want of a better – making it up on the fly.

Such an undertaking can be littered with pitfalls; wrong turns, dead ends and roads that whilst on first sight seem an attractive proposition, lead to nowhere. But, just as an impromptu journey in life brings with it the exhilaration and excitement of the unknown, so too can it be with writing.

There’s something enticing in not knowing what happens next; in discovery and the anticipation thereof. What will I see, learn and experience? A planned story (one in which chapters, character sheets and plot points are pre-prepared) can of course be beneficial, especially when it comes to longer works, such as novels. But I have found extensive preparation sees my excitement dwindle and my urge to see the project through to its fruition lessen. Why take the journey if you already know what it to be experienced?

So, here I am, throwing caution to the wind.

I find myself in what appears to be a desert; a wilderness as vast and inhospitable as the night sky that sits above it; dunes rising and falling in each direction, their flow broken here and there by heat shattered stones that sit like bleached whales, dead upon some ancient and long forgotten shore. A place of nullity and silence; a void, desolate and absolute.

No, not quite desolate.

Someone is keeping step with me. Another traveller. A man dressed in a grey suit that at one time would have been considered elegant and fashionable, but now has become worn and outdated, the jackets hem frayed, the sleeves stained. He carries an opened bottle and from the smell of his breath I guess it to be brandy. He raises it to his lips every ten yards or so but offers me none. Not that I would take it. I stop, taking a moment to gather my breath, but the suited man continues onwards, his leather brogues ill-equipped for the journey leaving a trail in his wake. I watch him make his way haphazardly across the landscape; the suited man with the brandy in his hand.

I have no idea where the man is going or what, if anything he will find there amongst the dunes. And that is the beauty of writing on the fly. I am sharing his discoveries, his travels; his adventure. So, I will follow him a while, and come the end of the journey, hopefully I will have a story to recount that is worth the telling.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thoughts on passing time

I seem to be writing about the subject of loss quite a bit lately. Be it people, time, love or innocence. All in some kind of horror context of course, c’mon, what else.  And in doing so, I found out a little more about myself, and here is what I discovered.

When I look back over my life, it almost appears to be one of two halves. There is a clear divide between the years leading up to when I reached 30, and the ones that stretch to where I now find myself. The distinction is so clear to me, that those earlier years seem like another life entirely, and one which is becoming more fragile as my memories become muddied from the hands of time, moving through the waters.

People I once loved have either become strangers or have faded away; places and events now so indistinct, I’m not sure they even existed, yet alone whether I frequented or experienced them.
Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Update

It’s been a while since I have submitted any stories for publication. There are two reasons for this: The first is of a personal matter that shall remain just that, and the second, is that I have been beavering away on what started as a short story, which then grew into a novella and then expanded further still. At present it is somewhat of a behemoth; sitting on my hard drive like some vast octopus, it’s tentacles spreading out, capturing and devouring every idea in my writing folder. And its presence is a problem.

It just keeps growing you see.

giant octopus

You could say this is due to bad planning. And you would be right, except there wasn’t any real planning to begin with. I just started typing and carried on… and on… and on. And now I’m not really sure what to do with it. One option is obviously to carry on until I reach its conclusion; if there is one. The second is that I put aside and move onto something else and put the whole thing down as experience. Another (the third option), is that I take some of the ideas that stand up, and turn them into shorter pieces. Oh, and there is a fourth option, which is that I just forget about the whole horrid affair and have a cup of tea.

At present, I’m stepping away from it and moving my attention to other things.

The octopus is still there though. Lurking at the bottom of my computer.

Posted in Uncategorized

Snow. It’s good for horror.

I like to watch the snow fall, sitting here at my desk, facing the window. It lends the city an aura of calmness, of quiet, of solitude. Cars are silenced, the hustle and bustle of pedestrians dimmed and even the wind; the sibling of winter months, is softened, it’s breath reduced to a whisper; in awe perhaps of what must be one of nature’s most beautiful faces. And just as some of the most beautiful faces throughout history are, so it is with the snow. Pale, cold and on occasion… deadly.

Which is why snow lends itself so well to horror.

Take for instance John Carpenters 80’s reimagining of ‘The Thing’. Sure, there’s horror to be found in the alien virus and the creeping paranoia, but would the characters situation have worked as well if they had been stranded in the desert rather than the Antarctic? I think not. Snow enforces the feel of isolation, of being cut off from the rest of the world and let’s face it; blood always looks better upon a white background. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Fantasy, school and the importance of balance

Placed inside a drawer by my writing desk is an old school exercise book. It is like a million others, the staple A5 that litters desks the nation, if not the world over. Closer inspection shows this one has my name scrawled across the front preceding the word ‘biology. If you were to scan its contents, your eyes fleeting over the writings and formula penned by what was then a twelve year old boy, you may smile as you see the crosses placed by another’s hand (a teacher’s) as errors were pointed out and instructions written ‘See me’; ‘No, this isn’t right’; and ‘Are you even listening?’. But, by and large a normal textbook with little to offer, the knowledge contained within its pages either muddled, incorrect or more often than not amusing in its failing. Yet, although it is a poor example of my academic prowess it is the only such book I have kept in all my years of schooling. And the reason it has held such a prestige’s place and escaped the fire can be found by turning the first dozen pages or so and looking to the right of a diagram that fills the page. The picture (crudely rendered by my twelve year old hand) shows what can only be described as a rotting zombie and the words (written in red by my teacher of the time) next to it read ‘Richard, if you spent as much time with your studies as you did in your fantasy world, you may actually get somewhere.’ Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Demonic Recession

Recession. I was discussing it with a friend the other day and naturally (well in my world) the talk turned to the supernatural. ‘Ghost, demons, angels. They have it easy really. No worries about bills or losing their job.’ Later, I wondered if what I had said was true. Were these entities so detached from the goings on of our world?

That evening I began writing a little tale questioning just that. Though not the sort of story I normally write, I’m enjoying it. Sometimes it’s nice to break away from troubled souls, murder and guilt and write something with a bit more humour. Hell, we could all do with more of that at the moment. I didn’t really feel this was a suitable piece to develop for submission but it seemed a shame to just leave it festering on my hard-drive, so here it is (well the first part), I hope it may raise a little smile.

Oh, one more thing. Some of this is based on truth. The place Moloch finds himself working at really exists. And if truth be told, it’s even stranger than what I’ve written here.
Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s not that Grimm

Upon entering my living room then looking left you will see three framed photographs of wooden struts embedded upright upon a desolate sandy beach. The sky is overcast; a moment captured no doubt minutes before a coming storm and though each picture at first looks to be different from its neighbour, closer inspection reveals that each photograph is of the same scene, an illusion created by the skill of the photographer; capturing the moment utilizing different angles. I often stare at those pictures imaging myself within that cold unpopulated landscape, and the longer I look, losing myself to the images, the more I get the feeling that there is somebody, or something looking back at me.  I get the notion that one day if I look too hard, the watcher will reveal itself; a face appearing from behind the wooden struts, a grin wide upon its face.  An unsettling image perhaps, but one that I return to time and time again.  You have no doubt encountered something similar , whether it be your eyes returning to the screen displaying something you know will frightened you, but you look anyway,  or perhaps the turning of a page knowing the next line of text will horrify you with its revelation.  Whatever the medium, the act of being frightened, facing the unknown and if I may be crude for a moment: having the shit scared out of us, intrigues, draws and beckons us.  It has always been this way, and I daresay it always will. All of which brings me (in a round-a-bout way) to …. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

‘Nowhere Hall’ by Cate Gardner Review

You may have heard of Cate Gardner, her name is mentioned in numerous blogs, twitter feeds and writing forums.  Her work is published in numerous magazines and books and her collection of short stories titled ‘Strange men in pinstripe suits’ has gained rave reviews and praise for its inventiveness and originality. I’m happy to say Cate isn’t one to rest on her laurels. ‘Nowhere Hall’ published by ‘Spectralpress’ more than fulfills the promise of her earlier work. The strangeness is still present (we wouldn’t want it any other way) so too is her ability to make unnatural events and characters seem as real as the very air we breathe, but this time she has added a layer of melancholy upon each page that is beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

‘Nowhere Hall’ begins with a broken man standing upon the kerb contemplating stepping in to the traffic in an attempt to end the many failures of his apparently pointless life. Ron, it seems is such a failure that even this task is beyond his capabilities. He dawdles, teetering on the edge between hopelessness and extinction, watching others around him, silently wanting to be seen, to be noticed and perhaps to be saved. He turns to look behind him, aware that his actions are being watched; the concierge of a hotel tips his hat in Ron’s direction, a silent gesture telling ‘I see you and your lack of conviction.’ The world it seems does notice him, it just doesn’t care. Feathers caught on the breeze, pulled from a passing woman’s dress rise into the sky and Ron’s eyes follow their ascent, it is here that he captures sight of a black umbrella tumbling down, apparently falling from the nearby hotel. He catches it, and sees a tag attached. Written upon it are the words ‘We want to live. Help us.’  He looks back to the hotel, a moment ago a monument of gleaming gold and polished brick, now it sits neglected, the concierge gone, its windows boarded up, it’s welcoming entrance lost to dust and time.

What follows is open to each reader’s interpretation. Is Ron hallucinating, is it a dream, or did he indeed step into the road and find himself in some strange after-life?  Each person will find their own answer and it is in this tight-rope walk of not giving too much away but just enough that makes ‘Nowhere Hall’ such a fantastic read.  It’s not the only reason of course. Cate’s writing is top notch here. The description is the kind that makes other writers wince at how good it is, the inventiveness imaginative and the prose elegant and intelligent. The ‘Vestibule hotel’ is beautifully rendered taking on a character of its own as Ron walks its halls and tries to uncover its secrets. Its wallpaper peels (revealing the disconcerting image of a spindly man holding an umbrella); its rooms hold ghosts and play out memories, desires, dreams?  And its staircases creak and groan as we (well Ron) move further up eager to understand more of its mystery.

And there is mystery here, just as there is terror and yes, even beauty. All it wrapped together in a dark yet heart wrenching atmosphere that is expertly created in Cates unique style. I’ve read a number of books lately, many by well know authors such as ‘John Connolly ‘, ‘Gary McMahon’ and ‘Ramsey Campbell’ each has been enjoyable and rewarding, yet it’s ‘Nowhere Hall’ that I keep returning to. I find myself thinking about it whilst at work, when I’m standing at the checkout and lazing on my sofa. I find myself haunted just as Ron is and it’s this perhaps that makes Cates outing so special. It stays with you long after you have turned the final page. I look forward to reading more of Cate’s work and advise you to do the same. If this is an indication of what’s to come from her in the future then we are in for a very enjoyable ride.

Right, now the bad news. ‘Nowhere Hall’ saw only a limited print run, all of which sold out very quickly, so unless you have been lucky enough to grab a copy, you’re going to be hard pressed to get your hands on it. Saying that, I have a feeling that it may be taken up by other publishers (I’m looking at you Ellen Daltrow and Stephen Jones) and re-printed elsewhere in the future. I hope this is the case as this deserves a wide audience. Failing that, if any of you out there do want to read it (and if not, why not) then email me directly at beckettbaron@btinternet.com and I will lend (my copy is special to me so I do want it back and failure to return it will mean I will send the demons of hell after your ass) you my copy along with postage for it to be returned. Can’t say fairer than that. See, I bet you’re glad you took the time to visit now.

Cate’s collection ‘strange men in pinstriped suits’ is available at Amazon and also check out her forthcoming Novella ‘Barbed wire hearts’ forthcoming from Delirium books. You can find all about Cate and her work at her website www.categardner.net

Posted in Uncategorized