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


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Tris was still thinking about his letter-writing couple the next day while wandering around the upstairs of Berwick House unchaperoned. Kenneth and Margaret, who had only begun calling each other by their first names towards the end of their postal courtship, had come very strongly off the page for Tris and, as he absently tried colour charts up against walls in different rooms, his mind kept returning to what he considered a mismatched pair.

Kenneth had been a rather stiff old widower, late forties, formal, lonely and a bit stuck in his ways. A respected member of the little community near the house, its doctor, but somewhat isolated. Tris also had a suspicion the man had still been devoted to his dead wife, whose ghost loomed large in all his letters. Margaret, on the other hand, had come across as an energetic young woman, early thirties, Tris had guessed, at least no older than Xander. Of course, in the 1850's that had meant she was over the hill, a spinster destined for a solitary life, and there was a note of desperation to her courting of Kenneth Berwick, or at least, that is what Tris imagined. Although, by the end of the letters, when the pair had agreed to marry, Tris thought Margaret had convinced herself to be in love with Berwick. He got none of that feeling from the older man.

Tris knew he was letting his imagination run away with him, but the oddness of the relationship that had developed as he'd read all the letters had him intrigued. A younger, slightly desperate woman and her, in effect, sugar daddy, had arranged a marriage based on domestic necessity and a vague idea of companionship in later life. Even the last letter from Kenneth suggested that their first face to face meeting would be just the day before their wedding, which had been planned for the local church in August. As he held up a dozen shades of green against the wall above the hole he'd made the previous day, Tris couldn't help glancing down at the little cupboard.

Bright sunshine was streaming in through all the box room's windows, revealing the recess and the old wall that surrounded it. It was nothing really, just a modest little door, probably locally made by the looks of it, set into the wall. However, in the sunshine, the surround was a lot clearer than it had been the day before, and Tris could see two pairs of screw holes, one either side of the cupboard frame, just above it and the old paint had two circular shadows one each surrounding a pair of holes. Tris wouldn't have known what they were if he hadn't spent ten minutes examining the window surrounds in the room next door and seen their bigger cousins: the marks were all that remained of where a curtain pole had been fixed. So the little cupboard had once been shrouded from view.

For some reason that he could not fathom, Tris decided there and then that this was Margaret's safe place and that she had gathered the letters of her courtship up and hidden them within. Colour charts forgotten, he turned and looked out of the front window, which, even from the back wall, gave a magnificent view over trees and to the river valley beyond, and he just knew this had been Margaret's study. When he heard the rustle of fabric, he wasn't surprised this time and he knew it was the swish of a long dress against itself and the floor. He glanced to his left and was in time to see a shift of shadow against the newel post at the top of the stairs, a swing of a large skirt, perhaps, as a lady descended the flight?

Tris blinked, but the shadow was gone and he paused, waiting to see if his brain would throw anything else at him. Yet, he felt perfectly stable, no bright spots, no dizziness, and the creak of the stair treads joined that whispering suggestion of cloth on cloth. The brilliant light of day meant Tris was more intrigued than perturbed by whatever tricks his mind was playing on him this time, but still he took a moment to gather his courage to head out onto the landing. Heart beating just a little faster than normal, he wasn't sure what he expected to see, but all that greeted Tris when he stopped at the head of the stairs, was dust swirling around in the streams of light coming through the stairwell window.

He huffed a laugh at the way he had scared himself and leant on the banister, waiting for his pulse to settle back to normal. That is when he looked down and saw the shadow slip off the bottom step of the stairs right below him. It was more definite this time, he was sure he'd seen it, and, with a shiver of disquiet, he realised he could still hear the measured swish of cloth on the floor. Tris stared down at the stair for a long, uncomfortable moment, the hairs raising on the back of his neck and his arms. He knew all about the tricks his healing brain could play, and this didn't feel like that, at least not like anything he'd experienced so far. Still, he wasn't sure and there was only one way to know if he was dealing with yet another symptom of his injury.

Taking firm hold of the banister in his left hand and his stick in the other, making doubly sure he was secure in his footing, Tris slowly made his way down the first flight of stairs. He took each tread deliberately, concentrating on his progress, but when he got to the turn in the descent, he paused. His skin was all goosebumps, his breath short, because most of him knew he was not alone. Balling up his courage again, Tris turned and froze, because, looking up at him with a steady, composed gaze was a woman. Her skin was pale, her dark hair tied tightly on the back of her head in a bun and she held her hands together in front of her stomach, which was tightly drawn in by the presence of whale-bone. She was as solid-looking as any person, and if it hadn't been for the style of her elegant, Victorian dress, Tris could have convinced himself that she was real, but he knew by the way his chest tightened that she was not and that this encounter was out of Time.

She stood there in the hallway, looking up over her shoulder at him, no movement, not even a blink, and Tris wondered if he was seeing a fixed shade. Her eyes locked with his own, holding him with their distant beauty and it was not fear that crept up on Tris, it was sadness. He gasped in a hasty breath and suddenly the moment between them was over. The mournful figure turned and walked away.

Tris watched her glide away, every shift of her hip and fold of her clothing so real he could not deny it. The rustle of that simple blue dress of the same colour as the ribbon on the letters, intertwined with Tris' tight breaths as the vision continued. He half expected the unimposing form to fade away in the beams of light from the hallway front windows, but she did not, she merely passed through them, their glow failing to impact on her progress. She turned towards the last door on the left, her walk unimpeded by the scatter of plumber's equipment all over the hall. It was like seeing two events overlaid into one as the solid figure's skirts seemed ignorant of the bags of tools and lengths of pipe, none of it interacting at all.

The woman paused at the doorway, and, frozen, half in fear and half in fascination watching her, Tris shivered when she looked back up at him once more. This was no illusion written on the atmosphere, she knew he was here and her gaze was asking for something. Tris had no idea what, but when she looked away again and continued on her way into the front room, Tris' muscles unlocked and he followed.

Tris picked his way carefully between the debris on the floor, heart hammering in his chest and his ears now ringing with the silence of the place. He could no longer hear her walking and that made him strangely uneasy. No idea what he was about to see, Tris finally reached the open door and, giving himself no time to chicken out, went through.

A curtain of cold air fell through him and Tris came to a halt just inside the room, shivering violently. He leant heavily on his stick and blinked a couple of times as the empty walls misted in front of him and he worried he was about to have a seizure. Yet, his vision cleared again and it was like no seizure he'd ever had. Before him, fading out of nothing, the room went from echoing building site to a well-dressed living room. Sideboards and tables lined the walls, decorated with small ornaments and photographs. A huge portrait of a handsome, middle-aged woman in an expensive gown looked boldly out into the room, hung over the fireplace and it was to this Tris was drawn, not by his own intentions, but because his Victorian vision was standing before it, looking up. Her hands were clasped before her again, but this time, they were moving over each other repeatedly and, although from his position at the door, Tris could only see a small part of her face and the back of her head, he felt her tension.

"Margaret," a low, gruff voice made the young woman jump and she turned hastily towards the door, her eyes round and concerned.

Tris kicked himself for not realising who his vision was earlier, but then took a step back into the door post as another figure, tall, broad of shoulder and of stomach, faded in right in front of him.

"Kenneth," Margaret Berwick greeted her husband with a slight bow of her head.

"I wish to speak with you," Kenneth continued forcefully, so strongly in fact, he coughed suddenly and violently afterwards.

Margaret immediately crossed the room to her husband's side, taking him under the arm and leading him to a chaise by the window. She perched on the edge of the seat beside him and held his hand in her own.

"What is it, My Dear?" she asked, a tremor in her voice that Tris did not like to hear.

Kenneth sat back from his wife, throwing off her touch and, his cheeks already coloured from the coughing, his anger was all too apparent to Tris as the man demanded, "What were you doing with Samuel Brooker in the garden this morning? Do not deny it, you were seen."

"Why would I deny it?" Margaret replied, her shoulders sagging under her husband's wrath. "I was only discussing with him the possibility of a lily pond down under the trees, in the dip where all the water gathers in the winter."

"Lily pond? You were holding his hand!" Kenneth charged, standing up and stalking away.

Margaret watched her husband, her jaw slack with shock. He reached the fireplace and, hand on the mantel, turned, his attitude demanding an answer.

"I slipped on the wet grass, he reached to steady me, that is all," she eventually stammered quietly.

Kenneth bristled at the answer, his face growing redder. Margaret bowed her head.

"You were seen laughing with him, a gardener!" the man bellowed and caused himself to cough again.

Margaret said nothing, making a small figure seated on the chaise, and she kept her eyes lowered throughout his second fit. It seemed like a habitual thing, because as soon as Kenneth could speak again, he continued, "You make too free with the staff, Margaret. You are my wife, you will present yourself with dignity."

He paused there, clearly waiting for Margaret to respond. Tris wanted to object, to defend Margaret, but his own throat was tight. He could not move either, so he had to remain an observer.

"I am sorry, Kenneth, I will do better," she capitulated to the old bully and her sorrow made Tris grind his teeth.

"You will do better," Kenneth agreed, smacking the fireplace. "My Katherine would never have disgraced me with a servant in this way. Sometimes I wonder why I married you."

A sob instantly broke out of Margaret's chest and she fled, straight at Tris. He tensed, but still could not move, so the wall of cold smothered him again as Margaret ran right through him. He gasped, shuddered and stumbled backwards as his muscles all began to work once more. Grabbing the door post, he managed not to fall this time, but he ended up panting and shaking and hanging onto the wooden frame for dear life. The Victorian living room was gone, Margaret was gone, and Tris was left wondering what had just happened.


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Author Info: Peter Ibbotson

Some authors I know really well, others I've only read one story, but it has stuck with me. This is the case with Peter Ibbotson. As a child, I collected lots of different ghost story anthologies. I still have them and I still re-read them. One of those books is the The Fifth Ghost Book by Pan Books, and one of those stories is On a Hallowe'en In Suffolk by Peter Ibbotson.

I don't know any more about Peter than this one story. I can't find reference to him even via the mighty google, but it is a worthy story :). I've always loved being scared, that tingly feeling running down my spine, the desperate need to not look out of a darkened window in case there's a face looming in - it's delicious. However, I also sometimes like to laugh, especially when ghosts are having a bit of a laugh at the expense of we mere mortals. It's a little dated, the main relationship in the story would well and truly be banned now, but that is a mere setting. The story itself takes place in a little run-down village lost in the wilds of East Anglia, so when I first read it, I was all prepared for witches and demons and human sacrifice. However, what I got was a rather whimsical, fun story, which I suppose struck a chord with me, because my father is a vicar and the action is all set around a strange little church with a separate tower.

There are odd characters, olde worlde superstitions and a young couple wandering around unaccompanied, but the story is refreshingly unscary. Just a fun, quirky little read. ;)


British Hauntings: Islay


Finlaggan Islay - Ancient centre of the Lords of the Isles from Islay Photo Blog
Islay, beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland, is famous for, among other things, it's whiskey. It is also a popular tourist destination, and over time, some distilleries have been put to other uses. One such one is now a hotel. This hotel has a ghost, a thickset man seen around the place, in the corridors. However, you have to go back to the time when the place was a distillery to be able to account for his  presence.

One night, a local chancer broke into the place, aiming to get his hands on some whiskey. He succeeded, deciding to imbibe on the premises and he had more than wee dram. When he decided it was time to go home, the burglar was decidedly pickled and it is assumed he could not remember his exact location within the distillery. Thus, he chose to make his exit by the nearest window. The only problem was, he'd forgotten that he'd found the stash of whiskey on the second floor and he was a long way from the ground when he stepped out. He died from the impact!

Guests have reported seeing this man around the hotel and one reported having a recurring dream of falling from a height. That cannot have been pleasant!

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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39 comments:

  1. Like Tris, I'm also left wondering what happened. Excellent post!

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  2. I already know, from past experiences, I wouldn't stop to wonder if it was real. I would freak out, and only later, would I wonder if it was my imagination or not. I think I scare myself too easily.

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

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    1. I'm with you, if I was on my own, I'd freak out first, ask questions later :) With other people around, I think it would depend on their reaction.

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  3. This is funny! Yes, I try to "keep it real" by putting myself in my characters' shoes. However, if I really saw a ghost, I'd be out the door and in the next county! And what drama is there in that? So I make my characters braver than I -- they always stick around, telling themselves "This can't be real..." LOL!

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    1. Yup, my characters are all much braver than me as well. If I heard noises downstairs, or saw a shadow on the landing, I'd be under the covers and wishing it all to go away - not much of a story ;P

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  4. I had some creepy experiences when I was a lot younger, which I would've forgotten about by now but for the fact that I wrote about them in one of my journals when they were still only a few years in the past. One of these instances happened when I was about eight, at night, when I saw what looked like a little man made of ash walking down the hall outside my bedroom door.

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    1. That must have been unnerving, Did see him only the once, or lots of times?

      My bed was in such a position in my room as a child that I could look out down a long corridor to the next room - I always tried not to look once the lights went out.

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  5. I'd be thinking there was something wrong with my glasses. I haven't seen a ghost and I'm happy to keep them in my imagination :)

    Shelley Munro

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    1. I know my imagination has a lot to answer for when it comes to interpreting shadows and things, and most of the time I can be rational, but I do scare myself from time to time. You way is much more pragmatic :)

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    1. Even funnier if it meant he got his haunting all wrong ;P

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  7. Once again, it's your locations that appeal most to me. My parents were from one of the islands, but I've never been to Islay, although I'd love to.

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    1. I love Scotland - I haven't been there enough. I've visited Skye, but not made it onto Islay.

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  8. I've had three separate spooky experiences. One when I was 4 and I saw my grandfather in my garden. Half an hour later we were told he had died 300 miles away. When I was 8 I saw the handle of a door to a locked empty room moving all on it's own. And I used to live in a flat that was haunted. The ghost was a short dark haired man who always wore blue. I saw his reflection in windows and felt him watching me at times. I used to see someone from the corner of my eye but he was never actually there. I felt someone with a cold hand touch my face once too but it was a really gentle touch. My stepdaughter said the same and our dog used to stare at empty chairs and whimper. I never felt scared. Maybe I've just gone mad! I wondered if he belonged to the flat or to us but when we moved he didn't move with us, so it must have been the flat he was haunting. I haven't had a ghostly experience since.

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    1. My mother saw her grandfather after he had died when she was young as well. She said she found it comforting.

      The handle of a locked door moving on it's own would have spooked me, because it's a classic from horror movies, the gentle movement followed by harsh, rapid rattling.

      Sounds like the short man belonged to the flat. I don't think I'd have been able to live with such an active ghost. You're braver than me. :)

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  9. I always wonder what I would do too. I have seen a few spooky things, a black figure consume a room, one in the hallway of my house too (that looked very much like my still alive father)...and once on acid... jokes jokes. I'm also very rational and find explanations for almost every trick of the eye. I'm the stop and stare (and wonder what it all means) type - but I'd run like the wind if something was haunting me.

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    1. I try to be rational, but just sometimes I can't explain things and I get the creeps. :)

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  10. I have heard about Islay. I was doing research on haunted places in the British Ilses. There are more ghosts per square yard in the England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland than anywhere else in the world I think.

    --
    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

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    1. I think you're right there, we do have a lot of ghosts. If they all materialised at once we probably wouldn't be able to move for phantoms :)

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  11. Yeah, there some serious drama going on there. I'm like Tris and want to know what happened.

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    1. All will be revealed...eventually :)

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  12. That island's picture sure was peaceful. Made me want to go there. Not sure if I'd like running into that ghost or not.

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    1. It does look very peaceful. No, I agree, a ghost would interrupt that peace somewhat :)

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  13. Oh I want more!!! :D

    It is very important to ask the "Is it real?" question all the time while writing, regardless of what you're writing, and even if ghosts aren't in the story. I also ask, "What would I do?"Asking that question will help you to keep the story authentic and the characters (as well as their actions) real, and all writers should strive for that. :)

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    1. You make a good point. All genres need to keep it real.

      I'm glad you want more :) Thanks for the feedback.

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  14. that's a great question! i don't believe in them, but i love the idea of them and the stories and possibilities... the unexplained has so much potential in writing!
    happy i day!

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    1. Happy I day to you, too :) I love the paranormal for writing, you're right there are so many possibilities.

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  15. I like when characters question what they're seeing. I think it makes them and the story more relatable to the reader. Also, it adds tension and suspense.

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption
    Minion, Capt. Alex's Ninja Minion Army
    The 2014 Blogging from A-Z Challenge

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    1. It's something that interrupts the flow, and yeah, I agree, it can add suspense. :)

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  16. I get the "is this real?" question all the time when I tell stories. Every storyteller has their own answers to the question, especially for kids. My go-to is "of course it's real." Teachers and parents can sort out the rest. I'm a bad person :D

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

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  17. II guess I can say the chancer in the last story drank himself to death. This post for the letter is another pleasant read. I felt sorry for the woman whose letters Trish has.

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    1. That is a good way of putting it ;P

      Margaret's marriage is certainly not what she hoped it would be.

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  18. Such a great read today! Could Margaret be leading Tris to uncover something? I'm full of "oo and ah's" today!
    On the subject of ghosts, my most vivid experience was in the house that shall not be named (meaning absolutely, kak-your-pants scary. Yes, I actually said scary). Venturing upstairs to my room, at break-neck speed, I turned the corner on the landing and came face to face with one of the ghosts that haunted the place. I can still remember her to this day. Short, red curly hair, piercing blue eyes. Light blue 50's style dress and a half-apron around her waist.
    I ran back down those stairs as though I was flying, terrifying my mum in the process. When she said "you look as though you've seen a ghost", I would've laughed if I wasn't so horrified by what I'd seen. And that's just one of the many happenings in that house.
    In a way I'm thankful with the things I grew up with, because maybe that's why I don't scare so easily now. Except if I see a spider. ;)

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    1. Glad you're enjoying the ghost story :)
      Wow - that must have been an active house you lived in. I only lived with one ghost and he didn't show himself, just made noises and let you know he was there. That was a really vivid apparition you encountered and you have such a clear memory of her - I suppose fear will do that to memory. I never got used to our ghost, but it seems you are a lot braver about these things than me - when it comes to spiders, we're in a par ;P
      Thanks for sharing.

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  19. Is it real? Always look for another explanation before jumping to conclusions! :)

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    1. Yup - most often it is something ordinary - although jumping to conclusions is sometimes fun ;P

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Thanks for stopping by - I'd love to hear from you. :)