by Addy Farmer
What is it about doors? My second ghost story also involves a doorway and the third one well ... but more of that later. I love a good ghost story but the reality of it scares me. I want to be the kid who goes into the haunted room, who dares to uncover the spooky truth but the reality is that I wouldn't have the courage. So, I do the next best thing and write about ghosts and fear so that I can make my hero do the squirm-making thing I would not do. I want my readers guts to shrivel.
Well, I have gathered a few stories and some spooky thoughts and observations from our lovely slushpile readers. Even if you don't like them there are plenty of readers who do. Alice Hemming says, "I do not like reading ghost stories at all because anything too scary keeps me awake at night. Despite this, for the past couple of years in October I have helped Year 6 at my local primary school with their spooky story writing project. They all seem to LOVE writing spooky stories."
So, maybe what follows will inspire the beginnings of a story or illustrate how to frighten yourself or your reader into an early grave.
1. LET'S BEGIN WITH OUR ACTUAL GHOST ...
Tales of the supernatural have been around for a very very long time, right back to Pliny in fact.
"There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night, a noise — resembling the clashing of iron — was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains," disturbances that led to the appearance of a specter "form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled, hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands.I'm not saying that I'd like to meet him but chain-rattling, shrivelled old man sounds more like a Halloween spook to me.
|only scary if you are a cat or three years old|
"I love ghost stories for the shiver of Otherness they bring - the tap on the door on a wild night when you don't expect anyone to call, the footsteps overhead in the empty house. I think less is more - you need to get the imagination of the reader really going - and I'm sure we all have creepy stories to share. Mine is walking home up an unlit country road at two o clock in the morning one very dark night and passing someone who was standing absolutely stone still in the middle of the road, who neither spoke nor moved as much as an inch as I hurried by." Katherine LangrishNo, I would NOT have stopped to warn that unnaturally still being about the dangers of oncoming traffic either because deep down, you just know about the 'wrongness' of some situations. Creeping realisation is a ghastly stomach-plummeting sensation. It is a, was-that-what-I-thought-it-was moment which lasts and becomes the stuff of re-telling.
The best ghosts are the ones which are unobvious.
2. TO THE GHOST HOUSE ...
It would look perfectly normal except that one single thing, perhaps an angle between door and ceiling, would be wrong. One of my old homes. And the ghost there is my former self, or someone I left behind without realising it. Cliff McNishYou may live in such a house and you try and explain it to yourself as the creakings and grumblings of an old house or maybe the gurglings of the unfixed pipes or merely the sun failing to reach the shifting shadows which crouch in certain corners of certain rooms but still they just won't go away. Then they get worse until you have to accept the realisation that your house is a place for the dead and not for the living. Sometimes your worst fear is only confirmed once you have moved ...
I felt uneasy from the start, but dismissed this as I being strange (after living 17 years in the same house) and there being no street lights, so very dark. Odd things happen, like the radio in the kitchen turning itself on in the middle of the night on several occasions, until I turned it off at the plug every night. Things moved while I was out and I heard footsteps upstairs when no one was there. When my daughter - 22 at the time - came back from a year in New Zealand, she spend one night in the guest bedroom then said she wanted to sleep in the other smaller room. After a couple of weeks she confessed she felt there was something in the guest room she had moved out of. She said it was a man and described a lot about him. I knew there had only been one person who lived in the house before us and from what I knew the description could have been him. I asked my next door neighbour about him - without reference to anything about thinking he was still there. Everything my daughter had said matched, a lot of things that had happened tied up to his behaviour too, such as he spent most of his time sitting in the kitchen listening to the radio. Bekki HillShudder. Yes, you lived with the dead for a while.
"I grew up with a grandmother who told the best ghost stories, all of them supposedly true. That sense of things just out of sight and unexplained has always fascinated me and it was inevitable that the supernatural would crop up in my writing. One story my grandmother told me was about a time when she worked as a nurse in a small private hospital in Ireland, many years ago. She had become friendly with a dying woman and often sat with her when her shift was over. One day, when she was on the night shift, she came in to work and walked up through the quiet building to the ward where the dying patient had a small private room. As she reached the landing, she heard the woman calling her name and she hurried to see what the matter was. She found the room empty, and one of the other nurses told her that the woman had died several hours earlier, calling out for her. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, though, a good spooky tale is the perfect reading matter for a winter night by the fire. One of the best supernatural stories I've read in a long time is Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - the perfect blend of icy darkness and subtle threat!" Pat Walsh
"The black darkness seemed to press against his eyes, against his whole body, and with the darkness, the atmosphere of the place ... it was horribly personal. For thousands of years this place had been the centre of dark worship... Marcus felt that at any moment he would hear it breathe, slowly and stealthily, like a waiting animal." Rosemary Sutcliffe
3. THE RIGHT TIME.The obvious time for all those ghoulies and ghosties is at night, in the deep dark, possibly midnight. It works for me.
The dark brings on all those primeval fears of the unseen, the unknown. The final dark that comes with death.
"The first one (ghost), that I remember, was when I was about 10 or 11 and staying at a friend’s house. The house was built round the turn of the last century and was quite a rambling place. I got up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, and on returning to the bedroom, saw an old man coming up the staircase. I knew immediately he wasn’t “real” but I didn’t think he was going to harm me, but he was pretty frightening – small and hunched over and seemed quite bad-tempered – so I hot-footed it back to bed!" Nicky SchmidtYet the daylight can bring more subtle and surprising fear. One of the best short stories I've read was called 'The Clock', I forget the author (don't hate me). It was set on a hot Summer's day and a young person had been given the seemingly innocuous job of fetching a clock from a particular bedroom for his Aunt. It all came together - the increasingly stifling heat, the blinding light, the just-emptied rooms, lingering creaks, the swollen wood of the windows he tried to escape from and the loud ticking of the unwound clock. I was so relieved that the hapless protagonist, clearly given the task by a scared relative, escaped. I shared his horror and relief as he looked back at the sunny face of the house. How had that been so terrifying? Probably because it shouldn't have been and is the nearest sensation to my second story for you, set in Summer and involving a doorway...
|It's just upstairs - it won't take you a moment ...|
4. GHOSTLY PURPOSE.I think you need to give your ghost a reason to live; that it to say, a purpose in coming back. Many short stories are about the given notion that a place or a house is haunted and it is all about how your protagonist comes to stumble into the way of the ghost. Then the flesh on the bones of the story is how he or she reacts to it. Longer stories need to have reasons for why the ghost haunts. In fact, the ghost's story may well be resolved along with any issues the protagonist may have.
"I do come back to ghosts. I think it's because they are such driven characters. After all, they must be desperate for something if they've stayed behind. That makes them instantly intriguing, even when you have no idea who they are yet." Cliff McNishI sometimes feel so sad for ghosts. They are the ones left behind and they don't like it. They are creatures of such powerful longings; lost love, snatched life, unresolved family doings. All these yearnings are sustained by powerful emotions like anger or jealousy or love. By staying behind it seems that ghosts have lost their more rounded emotions and are left trapped in a loop of FEELING and an inability to deal with it. Like, Lindsey Barraclough's, Long Lankin, the monster at the heart of the story has a sad history. It has twisted to become a consuming thirst for revenge. In this case our hero must discover his weakness and defeat him.
"No one but the dead can love life so much. It's wasted on the living." Cliff McNish
5. TELL THE TRUTH.Some 'true' stories become the best written ghost stories.
"Take the curious case of Hinton Ampner. The abbreviated version goes something like this: in 1771, a woman named Mary Ricketts became so exhausted from a parade of inexplicable terrors that she packed her bags and quit her home. Apparitions of a man and a woman had appeared day and night, sometimes looking in through windows, sometimes bending over beds. That she felt her children were in danger is one of the many reasons why this is almost certainly the “lost” true ghost story that was supposedly related to Henry James by the Archbishop of Canterbury, EW Benson, one winter evening in 1895, thereby becoming the germ of the story that developed into The Turn of the Screw."The academic, M.R. James invented a genre of his own, the antiquarian ghost story. In these, the protagonist is an elderly scholar who discovers some ancient artefact which brings down its wrath upon him. His stories are very much based on how he led his own academic life and his readings. One of my favourites is, 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad.'
- Dark Matter - Michele Paver
- The Candle Man - Catherine Fisher
- The Crowfield Demon trilogy - Pat Walsh
- Lockwood and Co. the Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud
- Minty - Christine Banach
- Bad Blood - Rhiannon Lassiter
- Long Lankin - Lindsey Barraclough
- Troll Fell - Katherine Langrish
- Tyme's End - B.R Collins
- Ghost Chamber - Celia Rees
- The Shadow Garden - Andrew Matthews
- Breathe - Cliff McNish
- Shine - Candy Gourlay
I love reading ghost stories because a good ghost story builds feelings of fear that imperceptibly creep up on you, drawing you in and leaving you checking the dark corners of your house even after you finish the last page. Bekki Hill