Saturday, 21 December 2013

Ghost stories

I have been asked many times "Do you believe in ghosts?" Technically, the answer is no, as I think of them as spirits not ghosts, in which case the answer is yes. The next question is "Have I witnessed any?" Yes-when my friend Faye passed away in Dec 2009, it was a long time before I accepted her loss and that only came when I saw her spirit in a dream.
 Another question I get asked is "Do you write good ghost stories, because you believe in spirits?" A definite yes, to the question. I believe a writer needs to understand his subject to write well-hence I rarely write about zombies.
  Christmas is upon us and now is your chance to add a little something extra to the stocking, with one of my ghost selection. In the old days, Christmas not Halloween was the time for a good ghost story; two I particularly remember are "The mezzotint" by M. R. James and "Strange event in the life of Schalken the painter" by Sheridan Lefanu.  When I got my Kindle download from Amazon, these were my initial buys.

The M.R. James story is about a man who has been asked to draw an abbey, but as he draws the abbey over a week, he notices somebody moving around inside, although he was told there is nobody inside.

Schalken is a story about a man haunted by the man he killed, to enable him to marry the other man's fiance'.

Schalken is based on the paintings of Godfried Schalken

 Another of my favourite stories is "The Signal-man" by Charles Dickens, this haunting tale of how a man predicts his own death is worthy of many a scary night's read.

  Ghost or Spirit tales are no different too any other genre of story, in that their success or failure is dependant on the writing making the reader believe in the story. In my opinion, few if any of the modern stories compare favourably with the golden age of the B&W films.
 Boris Karloff was the master at playing the crazed scientist, one film I always remember is "The Tingler," in which he planned to kill his wife while she was in a cinema-how?  The Tingler of the title is a nervous release mechanism we have, which in moments of terror allows us to scream and release the tension-but what if you have it removed?
 As much as Christopher Lee is regarded by many as the archetypal Dracula, it was this depiction of the Count which started the craze for making vampires into sex symbols and ultimately led to Twinkles-Twilight-the vampires of old were to be feared; they lived on the blood of their victims, how can a sexy, twinkling boy be seen as scary. Before the fans of Twilight tear me apart, I did watch the first hour of the first film and I rate it with my all-time bores such as "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston/Blackula and Zoltan, hound of Dracula to name a few.
If you wonder why I endured such a bad film for so long, when you are at 14,000 feet above sea level and the air temp outside is -40c, there are few options, but I did consider chewing my fingers to break the total tedium.
Believing is essential to any story, which is why I have trouble with the zombie craze; Voodoo is a religion which has little or nothing to do with comets and outer space. It is about people drugged into a deep sleep by a skilled medical practitioner, there is a story of a man taken from his home and turned into a zombie who returned over 20 years later with no memory of the period.

One of my favourite books of spiritual tales is "Native Ghost Stories."
 As I said, believing is the key to success of a story and many of the stories in the collection are both believable and beautiful, such as the story of the princess who jumped in a waterfall to save her village, or the story of "Thunder without rain" and the touching story of a grandfather taking his grandson away from technology to enjoy the outdoors. There are some which I found hard to believe too, like the story of the children terrorised by the head of  their mother.
 My stories have been compared to the works of Poe and Lefanu and I do tend write in the Gothic horror style of their era, I build up the tensions over a period of time, rather than go for a mass of shocking interludes, which in my opinion would weaken the story line. Most of my readers tell me that my style is good and they enjoy the build up and final moment of terror.

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