Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - N is For Nuances, E Nesbit, The Nag's Head

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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N is for nuance and one of my favourite children's authors, E Nesbit. Also, I'll introduce you to The Nag's Head, a haunted pub in Shrewsbury. And Part 14 of The Burning Web sees Tris and Julienne discovery Berwick House's sinister past.

N is for Nuances
So, what do I mean when I say nuance in conjunction with creating a ghost story. Well, what I'm talking about is the subtleties of plot and character that add to the back ground of a story and give it substance. Now there are out and out bits of information, not subtle at all, like the discoveries in this part of The Burning Web, that's not what I mean. I mean the character observations, hints about the presence of the supernatural, the little things that might not seem important at the time of reading, but become important, or make more sense later.

Some people may think horror can't be subtle, it's all about the big scare, but there can be moments of subtlety. One of those, although not executed particularly subtly thanks to the inexperience of the filmmakers, is the use of a gift from Ash to his girlfriend, Linda, in Evil Dead. It binds them together, is a link between them, even when she is possessed by a demon, it becomes the way Ash gets hold of the Necronomicon later in the story. It's also important in Evil Dead 2, where it becomes a symbol of strength for Ash when he gets possessed.

Nuances in ghost stories can also be little observational things too: an open book where one was closed; a flickering candle when there is no breeze; a character's breath becoming visible in a warm atmosphere. It's these added extras, the consequences of hauntings, that send the shivers down the spine, In a good spooky story, they are never over the top, not full on terror, well not until the time is right, anyway. Nuances can be used to build the tension slowly, dropping in when we're not expecting them. Used right, I think they're one of the best bits about spine chillers :). 
by Sophie Duncan

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - M is For Mystery, Louisa Murray, Mother Leaky

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Okay, so today, I'm going to tell you about a ghost that scared me throughout my teenage years, Mother Leaky. I'm also discussing working mystery into a good spooky tale, and I'm presenting the works of author, Louisa Murray. And there's Part 13 (unlucky for some) of The Burning Web, where Tris is on the path of the mystery that is Berwick House.

M is for Mystery
Everyone likes a good puzzle, some unanswered questions to wonder about, and ghost stories lend themselves to mysteries very well. I have several mysteries in The Burning Web - why is Abdi haunting Tris, who were Margaret and Kenneth Berwick and what is going on in Berwick House. All of which will be answered as the story goes on. But I am certainly not the first author to shroud my ghosts in mystery :).

The Mist in the Mirror, by Susan Hill, is one long mystery. A man, James Monmouth, returns to England after spending nearly his whole life abroad, unaware of his family history and not knowing his connections to some wild and dangerous places in Yorkshire. His visions of a young boy and his creeping horror of something else, lead him on into the mystery of who his family are.

Dickens too, uses mystery, the mystery of the ghost's identity in The Signal Man, a chilling tale.

Mystery can draw the reader into the story, keep them wondering and make them want to read further, but be careful, making it too impenetrable can just annoy people. :)
by Sophie Duncan

Monday, 14 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - L is For Love, Sheridan le Fanu, Ladies (of varying shades)

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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On to L, and today I want to talk about Love in ghost stories. Plus how will Tris and Xander deal with their fight in The Burning Web. Also I'd like to introduce you to the works of Sheridan Le Fanu and the ghostly ladies of the British Isles :)

L is for Love
Love - a strange topic for a theme of ghost stories you may think. Yet love is a universal driver and can be put to use in a ghost story just as it can in other genres.

There is the tragic love, unbroken by death, sometimes to the detriment of the partner who survives. Although he definitely deserves it, Heathcliffe, in Wuthering Heights, is haunted by Kathy, to his death. I would call their relationship one of obsession more than love, but it does fall into the right category.

Love doesn't always have to be destructive, though, it can be a uniting force. I know I keep talking about The Woman In Black, but it has a lot of strong examples in it (and I've already waxed lyrical about Susan Hill), but the love between Arthur and his wife is a saving theme in the story. In the book, her nursing brings him back from fever, and in the movie, well, she is all that stands between Authur and his son, and Jenett Humphrey.

Love makes the world go round and I'm using it in The Burning Web as a window onto Tris and Xander. :)
by Sophie Duncan

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - K is For Kick, Rudyard Kipling & Knebworth

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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I'd like to tell you about a place close to where I lived for a while, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Also, an author better known for The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling told his share of ghost stories as well. And K is for Kick, in my discussion about writing ghostly tales today. So, join me if you will. :)

K is for Kick
No story should be plain sailing for its characters. No challenges and no hiccups along the way would be very boring :). Relationships, investigations, self-discovery, and much more, can all have their twists and turns and give a story the movement it needs. These can be large, earth-shattering wallops that lead the plot/characters off in a completely different direction, or short, momentary kicks in the pants that add to the depth of a piece.

In ghost stories, these kicks are often dramatic, for example, in Susan Hill's book, Dolly: A Ghost Story, the digging up of the doll in the grave and the discovery of its condition is a hard-hitting blow, which reverberates through the rest of the book and is a foreshadowing of what is to come. However, they don't always have to be that forceful, a domestic argument, a minor quarrel among friends, a little accident, all can be little incidents that lead to something more.

It's good to derail your story a little, put a few obstacles in the way of the plot that would otherwise run straight to the end.:)
by Sophie Duncan

First Part | Previous PartNext Part | Last Part
Lying on the sofa and chewing on a breadstick, Tris typed in yet another search on the keyboard on his tablet. He'd only been home a short while after having lunch with Julienne and taking a gentle stroll around the village in her company. They had talked surprisingly little about Berwick, having decided to start their searches properly the next day, and had instead just enjoyed a lovely Autumn afternoon. However, the train journey home had left him itching to get started, and so he'd begun to explore what the internet had to say about Berwick House. The answer was, almost nothing.

He hit enter and was waiting on the results from the new search when he heard the front door opening.

"Hi, Hon," he greeted, not bothering to look over his shoulder and the arm of the sofa at Xander's entrance.

Thus, the first he knew of anything to do with his husband's mood was when the door closed with a crash. He sat up and round as fast as was sensible to see Xander dumping his bag on the floor and glaring back at him.

"What's the matter?" he asked, almost certain the ire was aimed at him.

"I called Bill on my way home, just to check on progress. He asked me if you were feeling better after your fall yesterday."

"Oh," Tris worded the shock of realising he hadn't mentioned it and he stood up.

"'Oh,' is that all you can say? You had a possibly serious accident yesterday and you didn't feel like mentioning it?!" Xander charged, pacing up to Tris and gesticulating wildly.

"I'm sorry, I forgot," Tris tried to head the tirade off at the pass.

Xander, however, was not to be placated. His dark eyes were shining with emotion as he let rip, "You can't pretend like this stuff isn't happening, Tris!"

"I didn't," Tris denied quickly, but Xander wasn't listening.

"You're recovering from a life-threatening condition. You can't do everything you used to."

"Don't you think I know that?!" Tris spat back, his skin prickling as his defences came up.

"Hiding stuff is only going to make your recovery longer," Xander waved his hands dismissively.

"I wasn't hiding anything," Tris defended himself hotly now. "I just forgot. It wasn't a bad fall, I just lost my balance."

"You are in no position to judge what is good and bad!" Xander was not taking any excuses.

"So who is? You? I have to come crawling to you for my exit pass, do I?" Tris snarled, fed up with being treated like a child.

"Yes you do!" Xander yelled back.

"You're not my doctor," Tris denied, turning away.

Xander grabbed him by the arm, squeezing tight even when Tris tried to pull away.

"No, I'm your husband," he corrected and then ordered in a low growl, "and I am telling you not to go back to that house without me."

Tris glared back at Xander, no more words to say, but making his disgust at being told what to do very clear. Xander let him go, the rage flickering out of his eyes, being replaced with hostility. His stick was leaning against the table out of reach behind Xander, so Tris turned away again and hobbled towards the bedroom. Once inside, he slammed the door and threw his tablet across the bed.

First Part | Previous PartNext Part | Last Part

Author Info: Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling is best known for The Jungle Book, the tale of Mowgli, the mancub, raised by wolves and delivered to the village of man and safety by other animals of the forest. However, Kipling also told a ghost story or two, set in India with a definite tone of the British Raj.

At The End of The Passage begins in true Kipling style, setting the scene for a group of four men, testy in the heat and in each other's company because they are the only white and, in their own minds, civilised men for miles around. Kipling has a real flare for atmosphere and I was already feeling the heat of that place by the second page, even though I was sitting in a suburban house in wintry UK. From their conversation, we learn of the cheapness of life, even for the civil servants of the Raj and then we are dragged in a story of nightmares.

Another of his that I enjoyed was The Phantom Rickshaw, which can be found in The Phantom Rickshaw & Other Ghost Stories.

British Hauntings: Knebworth (Herts)

Knebworth House, or rather, the park, is better known for hosting a pop festival, which could be heard in Stevenage, just down the road, where I lived for a while as a jobbing student. However, it wouldn't be in this post if it didn't boast a few ghosts as well :).

 The famous ghost of Knebworth house, unfortunately for ghost hunters, no longer walks abroad, since the part of the house she haunted no longer exists. Jenny Spinner was imprisoned in the east wing of Knebworth House, and to keep herself going, she worked hard on her spinning. She spent so much time locked up in the house, she gradually went insane. When she died, the sound of her spinning wheel began to be heard all over the east wing. This only stopped when that wing was demolished.

The gardens of the house are stunning and well worth a visit, but it is the lakes that draw the attention of any paranormal investigators. One is lovely, but the other is murky and knotted with weed. It is said that there are various nighttime visitors to its shores. Not a place for the faint at heart, especially after midnight!

I'd love to hear your own spooky stories, add them to the blog comments. :)

A few of us discovered that we all had supernatural themes for the AtoZ so we got together and did a mini list. If you also have a supernatural theme (ghosts, monsters, witches, spells etc), please feel free to add yourself to the list.

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Friday, 11 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - J is For Jeopardy, M R James and Jamaica Inn

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Jeopardy, danger, threat, all part of ye olde ghost story, so how can we use them in our own work without sounding clichéd? And yes, the Jamaica Inn I am talking about today is the one made famous my Daphne Du Maurier - Cornwall, coast to coast smugglers and spooks :). Finally, I'm recommending M R James, a prolific writer of good, unsettling ghost stories.

J is for Jeopardy

Not every ghost story, but most of the spine-chilling kind, involve some kind of threat to life, limb, or sanity, maybe all three. That's what makes us scared when we read them, it is the danger of the supernatural, the unknown creeping into the human world with its own agenda.

Ghosts, spirits, presences, whatever you want to call them, in these stories, they have their own motives, conscious or unconscious and, whether intentional or not, those motives usually provide a good fright. Kathy from Wuthering Heights is there to drive Heathcliffe mad, to possess him in death as she never did in life. The legend of the corpse candle appearing in a graveyard to prophesy who will die next is a macabre idea, where, ultimately, the curious man will meet his own doom. So the jeopardy in a story can be of either the ghost, or another's doing.

When it is human against ghost, flesh is hopelessly outmatched. That is what makes the idea so thrilling. How can natural beat supernatural? The Poltergeist and Amityville movies are all about normal people having to handle dangerously paranormal occurrences and I have always thought the Poltergeist did this extremely well as the haunting moves from amusingly bizarre to dangerous so rapidly. The Paranormal Activity movies are the next step in this kind of genre. Recovered footage movies, they purport to be real, and their matter of fact presentation including day to day mundane life spiced with odd happenings makes them all the more fun. At least in the first movie, it had me on the edge of my seat waiting to spot the next subtle or not so subtle supernatural event.

That's the point of jeopardy, to keep the reader or watcher on the edge of their seat, turning pages or hooked on the next scene and ghosts are a gift to the writer for that extra little frisson. :)

The Burning Web 
Part 10
by Sophie Duncan

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - I is For Is It Real?, Peter Ibbotson & Islay

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Some authors leave a lasting impression, even with just one story, and Peter Ibbotson is one who left a mark on my childhood. I'm also posing the idea of 'is it real?' in spooky stories, and finally I'm talking about haunting moments on the Scottish island of Islay.

I is for Is It Real?

I touched on the idea of doubt yesterday when I was discussing keeping characters human. The question of 'is it real?' is a specific part of the doubt that frequently runs through ghost stories. It is at its most potent when  faced with the bizarre, the ridiculous, or the terrifying. I try to put myself in the shoes of my protagonist when it comes to the strange and supernatural, thinking about how I would deal with it. I think I'd know what I'd do if I really did see a ghost, I probably run a mile in the other direction, screaming. ;P

However, there's something that I'd be thinking first - is it real? I'm a rational person, so are most of my protagonists, and Tris from The Burning Web is a police officer, a natural sceptic. When I see a flash of movement at the corner of my eye, I don't immediately assume 'ghost', well not unless I've been overdosing on spooky stories. Also, I'll assume a clump of mist in front of my eyes is a defect in my eyesight rather than something ethereal unless it proves to me otherwise. So would Tris. Outside, I'll assume weather conditions responsible for unusual effects, not the paranormal.

In fact, if it weren't for rational explanations, I could claim to have already seen a ghost! Once, when I and my parents were closing up the church for the night, we had some lights on, but not all, and we were about to go and put out the rest of them down the back when, looking down the church, we saw a dark, shadowy figure in the open space at the back of the church. We were standing together and more than one of us saw it. Then, we stepped to the side of the spot we were in - the figure vanished. HOWEVER, step back into the right spot, and the figure was there again. We did this several times, testing out the trick of the light. Sadly, it wasn't a ghost.

In stories, ghosts can be much more easily real, but when I want to face someone with a spirit, I always remember to ask is it real?
by Sophie Duncan

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - H is For Human, Susan Hill & Hairy Hands Ghost

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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I get to talk about one of my favourite authors today, Susan Hill. But to balance that, the ghosts I'm talking about today give me the real creeps. Hitch-hikers and their cousins are interactive and all the more scary for it. And, looking at story creation, I'm musing on humanness and how it can aid the grounding of a supernatural story.

H is for Human

However spectacular a ghost story becomes, one thing that every author has to remember is to ground the reader, to remind them that their protagonist is human. Otherwise, if things become too surreal and there is no perspective, the spookiness can lose its punch. Relationships, normal everyday things, emotions, among other things can give characters their humanity. In The Woman In Black, it is Arthur's family who ground him for us. He's married, he has a wife and/or child(ren), depending on the version of the story and his love for them, the fatherly things he does, the interactions with his wife, all add to his humanity and take use away from the supernatural, until, inevitably, the two cross.

One added bonus about reminding your reader that your protagonist is only human is that it can also reinforce the element of doubt. Seeing things, hearing strange noises, not being sure if they are real, or some element of the imagination. Without humanity we wouldn't be fallible and there has to be that element of doubt in the reader's mind as well, else where is the thrill, the risk? Being real is all important when presented with the paranormal.
by Sophie Duncan