Saturday, 19 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - Q is For Queer, A T Quiller-Couch, Queens

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
This post is
suitable for all
Queer things are happening here today. I'll be introducing you to the collection of dead monarchs we have wandering around Britain. A T Quiller-couch is my chosen author for the day. Plus there's Part 17 of The Burning Web in which Tris gets to return to Berwick House determined to prove Margaret's existence one way or another.

Q is for Queer
I'm using the term queer here in its original sense, strange, unusual. Now, you might be thinking that strange and unusual is the standard definition for ghost stories, but it's not always that simple. Just like building drama into a story, the strangeness has to be developed. Too many odd happenings and you risk them becoming common place, the reader may become immune to the effect you are trying to generate. However, not enough, and the story came come off flat.

One technique to enhance the strangeness of an event is with the reaction of those involved. When queer is used in this sense, it lends itself to things being odd, laughable even, in the minds of the characters. The incident may be shrugged off by most of those involved, but the reader and maybe some of the characters know better. This puts the reader at odds with the accepted wisdom of the majority in the story, generating anxiety. The Sixth Sense uses this juxtaposition of normal and strange very well. There's no laughter in this story, but when Cole and his mother are having breakfast, she's talking to him, everything is set for an ordinary morning. Then she turns round and all the draws and cupboards are suddenly open. She assumes Cole was looking for something, but we, the watchers, and Cole, know better, even though he plays along, keeping his secret.

I'm using a similar construct in this part of The Burning Web, but this one was inspired by a real life event. ;)
by Sophie Duncan

First Part | Previous PartNext Part | Last Part
Tris didn't utter a word as Xander drove them up to the front of Berwick House. It had been eight days since his hospital visit, but he knew his husband was still watching him closely, and he didn't dare show any sign of the excitement he felt returning to their future home. His belly was a churning mixture of gladness to finally be going back and trepidation about what might be waiting for him. More than a week of close confinement to the flat had given Tris plenty of time to consider what had happened to him since starting to visit Berwick House. He had become less and less convinced that Margaret was a figment of his damaged imagination. She had a message for him and he needed to hear it, if only to prove to himself that he was in control of his faculties.

It had taken much whining and pleading and complete observance of the 'no house stuff' rule during his house arrest for Tris to persuade Xander to spend the weekend at Berwick. In truth, the rest had done him good. He was feeling stronger and more energised and it had shocked him quite how much the few days of excitement had drained him. That didn't mean he was planning on sitting on his heels all weekend though: he was never going to get fit again without a little hard work.

Still, Xander fixed him with a look as they came to a halt on the driveway and he measured the smile he returned.

"I'll pace myself," he promised and patted Xander's hand before hauling himself out of the car.

The front door now looked much more secure in its housing and Tris decided it was time to try out the key in his pocket. There were no workmen around this weekend - that was the small thing Xander had told Tris after a phone call with Bill - but they did have running water, albeit cold, since there was no mains electricity for the boiler until the upstairs wiring was finished. That didn't matter to Tris: the place was feeling more and more like home and that was all that was important.

Putting the old-fashioned iron key in the lock that matched the grandness of the door, Tris turned it and the barrel slid back with barely a sound. He smiled and silently thanked Bill for the repairs. Gently, he pushed the door inwards and it swung away from him, hinges balanced and oiled. The sweep of the wood lifted a swirl of dust in the morning light and, with slight trepidation, but determination, Tris peered through it into the shadows beyond as he stepped into his hallway. The gloom at the back of the large space shifted, but only with the natural change in his eyesight as he became accustomed to the inside light levels. Strangely disappointed, Tris paused in the barren space that was now clear of plumbing supplies and turned as he heard Xander coming in.

"Well, this is a change," Xander said with what Tris hoped was a happy tone.

Xander struggled in with all their bags, looking up and round at the empty hall and, as he came level with Tris, Tris reached out to take one of his husband's burdens. Xander, however, snatched the bag out of reach, lurching as he did so and gave Tris a reproachful stare. Tris decided not to argue and just followed Xander up the stairs to where Xander had insisted they take a bedroom if they were staying for the night. However, when he reached the mid landing where the stairs turned, Tris looked out the window and instantly smiled, because a friend was standing in their garden: Julienne, right on cue, turned from looking down over the wild expanse up to his window. He waved and decided grumpy husbands could wait.

"Julienne's outside, I'll go fetch her in and introduce you two," he called up to where Xander was turning the corner onto the main upstairs landing.

There was only a grunt in response, so Tris headed back down the stairs and towards the back door. He'd missed Julienne, if truth be told, probably more than he would have if he'd been a free agent. Still, he was glad she had said yes to coming to lunch when she'd phoned to check on him earlier in the week. He was sure Xander was going to like her too.

Unlocking the door and stepping out, Julienne was already waiting for him on the patio and she walked straight up to him and pulled him down into a hug.

"I was so worried about you when your husband phoned and told me you wouldn't be back soon," she told him emphatically, her grip determined.

Tris, a little shocked by the overload of emotion, just let his friend hold him till she wanted to let go, then he straightened and was even more surprised to see tears in her eyes.

"All better now," he tried to reassure, "I just did too much."

"You are still too pale," Julienne stood back, hands going into her pockets as she assessed him critically.

"Don't you start as well," he rolled his eyes.

"A very sensible woman," Xander's opinion came over his shoulder, but when he glanced back at his husband, he was glad to see half a smile.

Xander walked past Tris, hand out and greeted, "Hello, Julienne, I am Xander."

Julienne was much more staid with Xander, she took his hand and shook it, nodding her head cordially.

"Good to put a face to the voice," she replied, returning her hand to her pocket as soon as the shaking was done. "Quite a handful you have here."

Xander actually laughed at that and Tris raised his hands in protest.

"I'm making tea before you two gang up on me," he announced and retreated into the house.


"I did some more research while you were indisposed," Julienne announced, her eyes twinkling as Tris put mugs in front of her and Xander and then sat down with his own.

Tris was all ears and leant forward over the table. Tris noted that Xander actually sat back, sipping his tea, but his husband did not look like he was going to object.

"I started going backwards into the 1800's. I've found three more odd deaths and that's only back until 1860: one young woman fell out of an apple tree and broke her neck; another shot himself and then the owner after Dr Berwick was bitten by a rabid dog. So you can't really be blamed for thinking this place is haunted."

Tris gulped the mouthful of tea he had just taken and his mug hit the table so sharply it threatened to spill its contents. He glanced anxiously at Xander, but his husband's face was a careful mask of indifference. Julienne looked between the two of them, suddenly aware of a faux pas.

"I didn't say anything wrong, did I? From what you said to me at my house that day, I just assumed that is why you were asking," she said quickly.

It was his friend's worry that made Tris respond. He forced a smile and shrugged.

"Big old house. I'm not used to all the noises and shadows. Just my mind playing tricks," he lied.

Julienne grimaced back and then sipped her tea a little too eagerly. Tris looked to Xander for help, but there was nothing coming from that direction except cool silence. He was searching for something else to say when a loud squeak took them all by surprise. Julienne and Xander, who had their backs to the doorways, jumped in their seats and turned round. Tris just stared as slowly the door to the inner hallway creaked open all by itself. The back door was slightly open, but there was not a breath of wind that Tris could feel and the hairs on his arms stood on end as every instinct he had told him to expect Margaret.

Frozen to his seat, he barely breathed as the door swung all the way in, bouncing gently on its stoppers and the skin on his face chilled. That was not the last of it though, because a second later, the creak crossed the room and the back door began to mirror the movement. Tris' throat went dry and he could not swallow. His senses reached out, examining every shift of light in the bright kitchen, but still he could find no trace of Margaret on the scene, even as the back door gained momentum. He jumped in his seat as the handle banged into the wall and the sound somehow broke the spell.

Xander laughed, an unsure gesture, but Julienne took the hint and joined him.

"Well, that's one in the eye for we sceptics," she half laughed, half sighed.

"Old houses, full of air currents," Xander scoffed as well, shaking his head, but at least finally leaning forward onto the table.

Tris huffed and tried to smile, but ended up looking down into his cup: he'd had far too much of the supernatural to laugh it off as easily as his companions.

"No wonder you thought we had ghosts, Tris," Xander said, trying to sound reassuring. "A doorstop, or two in this place won't go amiss."

Tris hid his disquiet behind his tea mug, from which he managed a noncommittal shrug. Both Xander and Julienne were watching him, and he wasn't that good an actor, but there was nothing Tris could do to shake the chill that was still running up and down his spine.

"My husband never mentioned anything about ghosts when he lived here," Julienne offered her own succour, "and you know what imaginations young boys have."

Awkward silence fell and Tris gulped his tea. Eventually, Xander laughed again, a much more forced sound, and offered, "I think we spooked him, Julienne."

Tris glared at his husband for a second, but there was worry behind Xander's gaze, not tease. He backed down from the confrontation quickly and caught sight of the bag of food they'd brought with them.

"Lunch?" he diverted and reached for the picnic.

First Part | Previous PartNext Part | Last Part

Author Info: A T Quiller-Couch
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was a British writer who is better known for editing The Oxford Book of English Verse than for ghost stories, but I came across his story, The Rollcall of The Reef, the story of which is based on an actual wreck, that of the HMS Primrose.

The story, at first, is that of an unexpected friendship between a trumpeter and a drummer boy, the only survivors of the wreck. The trumpeter has a head injury and is slowly dying, the drummer boy, however, reports back for duty. Before they do, however, they put their trumpet and drum together with a padlock that uses a word to lock it, neither to be played while the other is absent. Thus begins the unearthly part of the story, since, five years later, when the trumpeter is failing, there is a knock on the door of the house where he is lodging, and in comes the drummer, older and pale, and unlocks the trumpet and the drum. He calls the trumpeter to him and the owner of the house rows them out to the shore where those who perished in the wreck were buried. Between them, trumpeter and drummer call reveille, and out from the sea and graves are assembled the company of the dead. Trumpeter and drummer then hail each man, before they return to the sea and the three return to the cottage. Needless to say, the trumpeter and drummer are both dead, leaving behind them only the trumpet and drum once again joined by the lock.

I find this a very moving story, more for the friendship between the drummer boy and the trumpeter, who are from different regiments, but strike up a comradeship that transcends death.

A T Quiller-Couch, also writing as Q, wrote many other fireside tales, alongside his more scholarly work on Chaucer and other literary criticism.

British Hauntings: Queens
With 1000's of years of history, it's not surprising that Britain has a long line of monarchs, many of whom, it is claimed, still walk these shores. Today, I'm concentrating on the female line and the queens who haunt Britain. One of our most famous Kings, and probably the guy responsible for the most ghostly queens haunting the country, is Henry VIII.

Anne Boleyn is his mostly widely travelled queen. He beheaded her for 'adultery' note the quotes, since it was likely a trumped up charge, and she is seen, sometimes with her head and sometimes without, all over England. When it comes to castles, she haunts a few: Hever Castle in Kent, her childhood home, where Anne is seen on the bridge over the River Eden on Christmas Eve; Hampton Court & Windsor Castle where she lived with Henry; Lambeth Palace where her sobbing, pleading voice is heard in the undercroft (this is where she was tried). Anne also haunts the Tower of London, but I'll leave the details of that one till 'T'.

Anne's sister queen to Henry, Catherine Howard (number 5) also has a similar story and is said to haunt Hampton Court, running to her husband to plead for her life. And we don't finish with Queens and Hampton court there, because there is a white lady who walks the Silver Stick Gallery, who is said to be Jane Seymour. Wife number 3 to Henry, she died in childbirth having given him the son he wanted.

So when it comes to dead queens, Henry VIII has a lot to answer for!

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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  1. Blog hopping on the 18th day of the #Challenge. Obvious you are a busy writer. Congratulations. If you have time or interest, I'm writing about gardening and related topics. Hope you can visit.

  2. Oh come on! You can't tempt us with "inspired by a real life event" and not tell! But I think I can guess which part of The Burning Web you were referring to. ;)
    Loving these introductions to authors I've never heard of before. :)
    Oh, you forgot to mention Anne Boleyns haunting visits to Blickling Hall in Norfolk. Home to the Boleyn family for a while. There, she arrives in a carriage (headless of course) driven by a headless coachman every anniversary of her death. Just thought I'd add that one to the list. :)

    1. I will be telling about the real life event, but it's saved for W :)

      Until I started writing, I have to admit that I didn't notice author's names, so if I was reading a story from an anthology, I wouldn't notice who wrote it, but I pay more attention now, and I've found so many authors through reading one or two of their stories in anthologies :)

      I had forgotten about that one at Blickling Hall, which is by far the most spectacular - thanks for reminding me :)

  3. Ooh, I've been to Blickling Hall, but I didn't see Anne. I think that Henry had a lot to answer for - all because he wanted sons.

    1. Yes, Henry did have a lot to answer for. The only good thing he did through his wives was give us Elizabeth I and it's amazing she survived since Anne was her mother.

  4. Thank you for yet more ghost stories I have to read :)
    Henry does seem to be responsible for a lot of ghosts doesn't he.
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    1. If you throw in all the dead monks thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries then his body count goes up even further!

  5. I love the use of the word Queer in the old sense, didn't know its other meaning till quite late in life, and the word lost some of its charm.

    Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2014, My Latest post

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

    1. queer has a more specific meaning to strange - 'a little strange' - so I like it's older meaning as well. words are always changing and adding meanings, I think it's wonderful that language evolves :)

  6. Hi Sophie .. I have a feeling Quiller-Couch was very interested in the Cornish Wells or Springs ... and had written a few stories surround their historical beginnings and hauntings - folklore of early Cornish peoples ...

    Happy Easter .. Hilary

    1. I just did a google and found his book From A Cornish Window - I'll have to take a look - thanks :)
      And Happy Easter to you too :)

  7. Hungary is not big on ghost stories, but even we have at least one queen that haunts a castle. The castle is now situated in Slovakia. When me and my family visited it, the tour guide told us to try calling to the ghost, and started yelling "Barbara!" Of course nothing happened, at which point my father who is an eternal smartass, suggested we should call her real name, which was Borbála... :D

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
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    1. LOL! Point 1 to your father :)
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  8. I would not want Henry VIII's exes haunting me ;)

    1. No, especially since two of them lost their heads, so they can be extra scary! ;P

  9. You're so right! Readers love the unusual, so adding "queer" details will always make them sit up and pay attention. I'll be doing the Tower of London for "T" too! lol

    1. Cool, on 'T' day, we can compare notes on the Tower of London, see if we've come up with the same ghosts :)

  10. What a great post and so much work put into it. Your advice for authors, work for people like myself who just like to write for fun. And is excellent advice for more serious writers. I am very impressed by all the work you put into your posts. I can't wait to read two posts about the Tower of London. I lived in London for a couple of years when I was young. I'm sure it is very different now, but that the Tower and its ghosts remain pretty much the same.

    1. Thank you - I've been having a lot of fun with these posts :)

      There are so many ghosts listed against the Tower, it will be interesting to see if we've picked the same ones :)

  11. I had no idea any of Henry VIII's wives were thought to be haunting parts of England. How cool (although, probably not for the ghosts.)

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

    1. The Tudor ghosts litter the countryside in England ;P Yeah, probably not so cool for the ghosts!
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  12. Interesting that Anne Boleyn appears in so many areas. I'm looking forward to reading about her escapades in the London Tower. It's a shame, though, that Henry VIII got his hands on so many women.

    1. It is a shame that he had so much power over them - I've always admired Catherine Parr for surviving the b*stard.

  13. I feel bad for Tris. I need to keep reading the other installments. On my way now...

    1. He is going through a lot. Thanks for reading.


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