Thursday, 3 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - C is For Contrast, Wilkie Collins and Chilham

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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suitable for all
The offerings I have for you today, brought to you by the letter C, are a varied bunch, but then that's a good thing, because in my writing subject today I'll be discussing contrast as a tool. My author is Wilkie Collins and I'll also be telling you about a village I called my home for 23 years, Chilham, near Canterbury in Kent (UK).

C is for Contrast
So, contrast, the use of opposing somethings to increase the impact of one or both of those somethings, and in my case, being a writing, those somethings can be ideas of place, character, emotion among many others. And contrast can be used to staggering effect in a a ghost story. A common contrast in haunting stories is the use of the figure of a child, an innocent, helpless form juxtaposed with the fact that the child is appearing as a phantom, a source of supernatural fear. Add to that a dreadful death, which is common in many stories from the British Isles and we have tragedy coupled with terror, which can prove very dramatic.

The Lady in White, a spooky film telling the story of a schoolboy who encounters the ghost of a murdered little girl, uses this innocence mixed with horror to great effect. Frankie, played by Lukas Haas, is terrified when he first sees the apparition and witnesses her being strangled. The fact that he is her age, another child, makes the horror of her death all the more dramatic.

Ghost stories are often set against a backdrop of dark rooms, shadows and storms, all very scary and often doom-laden. Yet, without something to contrast this with, it can become very alien and separate from the reader, lessening the impact of the creepiness the author is trying to instil. We all need something to draw us into a story, whether it's the humanness of the protagonist, or a sweet little song that precedes the arrival of a ghost. Something to contradict the darkness, to increase our sense of foreboding, that really makes our hair stand on end when all is revealed. :)
by Sophie Duncan

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The loud rumbling of an engine greeted them as they turned the corner of the house and the image of Abdi had faded to the back of Tris' thoughts in favour of a much more exciting scene. A back patio was covered in machinery, bags of plaster, lengths of wood and all manner of other building materials. The hum was coming from a generator from which long black cables were trailing into the house via an open door, much more humble than the front one, but greatly more welcoming.

They were halfway through the assault course of material when a large figure filled that doorway. Xander straightened immediately, and Tris dropped his arm from around his husband's waist, allowing Xander to stride forward without him, hand held out, and he greeted, "Bill, good to see you again."

"Xander," Bill replied, shaking hands and telling Tris that he was looking at Bill Gregson, their renovations' expert, since he had never met the man, "glad you could finally make it down here."

"This is my husband, Tris," Xander turned and held out his arm.

Tris walked over, quickly swapped the stick into his left hand and held out his right. He found his hand completely enveloped by Bill's large mitt and he looked up into the man's bearded face, despite his own height of six foot. Bill Gregson was, frankly, a giant.

"Good to meet you," Bill nodded as he shook hands firmly, his manner cordial, but unsmiling.

"And you," Tris replied, trying to keep down the excitement that was starting to bubble out of him again at the meeting.

He couldn't help himself, though, when he glanced over Bill's shoulder into the dim interior of the house, while he continued to shake hands. Bill snorted and loosed hands, turning and looking back inside.

"Structural work's complete," he told them with a slight huff of pride if Tris was not mistaken. "You want a tour?"



Tris frowned at Xander's over-protective stare. However, Xander didn't look like he was about to back down.

"I'll let you know if I get tired," he promised, feeling his cheeks heating up as he admitted his weakness in front of Bill, but he wanted the tour far too much not to try the cajoling.

Xander pursed his lips for a second, glanced at Bill, who was standing there, arms crossed, wearing a completely neutral expression, and then looked back at Tris. Tris grinned as he saw a flicker in his husband's eyes that told him he'd won this round.

"Thanks, Bill, a short tour would be great," Xander finally let the builder know their decision and, instantly, the man turned and led the way into the house.

Tris stepped after him and, blinking away the Autumn light, found himself in a high-ceilinged kitchen that could have been right out of costume drama. Opposite the door was a large blacked range in its own recess, and a deep, white, enamelled sink and draining board sat under a window to Tris' left. However, the whole room was dominated by a large wooden table and chairs that was, at that moment, covered in a collection of mugs covered in copious dusty finger marks.

"Kitchen," Bill started, shoving his hands into his pockets and hovering by a second doorway that led into the rest of the house. "Water works, but don't drink it, the mains connection is going in this week. There's bottled water in the cupboard under the sink. No power yet, but the generator will boil the kettle."

With that, Bill turned and strode off through the inner door. Tris hooked his arm through Xander's, gave him a stupidly exuberant grin and then pulled them both off after their guide.

Bare floorboards squeaked under their feet as soon as they stepped off the flagstones of the kitchen floor, and the walls were a mixture of bared plasterboard and wires in the hallway outside, but that didn't stop Tris' sense of pride as he walked into his future home. There was a doorway off to the right almost immediately and, even though Bill was way up the corridor, Tris dragged Xander through it. The room into which they stepped would have been unimpressive, being much the same as the corridor outside, unfinished and bare, but there was a modest window looking out over more abandoned meadow. However, this time the view stretched back much further, the pine border being shrunk into the distance and the old garden, at least a couple of acres of it, was lit by bright Autumn sunshine.

It was Xander who led them both over to the window and Tris watched his husband's captivated profile as Xander gazed out at the wild view.

"If I ever try to tell you again that we shouldn't have spent all your payout on this place, bring me here," Xander murmured, clearly losing himself in the sweeping beauty outside.

Tris didn't get to see his doctor husband's romantic side all that much, so he indulged the moment, letting the magic of the view take over Xander a little more before he pushed his luck.

"Then let's stay here tonight, in this room," he whispered as he leant close to Xander's ear.

Xander tensed at that and Tris regretted his haste as the moment broke. They'd had this argument already back at their London flat and neither of them had won, which is why there was a blowup mattress and an overnight bag in the boot of the car. His husband frowned at him and his wobble at the side of the house meant Tris was almost ready to back down and return to the city after the tour. Yet, there was something in Xander's look that told Tris he might not have to argue too hard. He smiled again at Xander, not the over-excited schoolboy grin this time, but still a genuinely happy expression and he laid his palm on Xander's arm as he pushed, "Just one night, our first in our future home."

Still nothing, just a conflicted stare, so Tris decided on the blatant truth.

"I know you want to, I can see it in your face," he risked all on his final gambit, "and you don't need to worry about me. Staying here will be less stressful than London traffic on a Saturday, anyway."

Tris added the last bit with a playful shrug and then waited. He could see the responsible doctor and the once adventurous man he had fallen in love with warring for supremacy on Xander's features. Mentally crossing his finges he really hoped that, after a long time in decline thanks to the struggles of the last two years, the latter would win out.

"Butler's pantry," Bill interrupted the moment and Xander took a rapid step back from Tris and took in a breath as he looked over to where their guide was filling another doorway.

"We'll discuss it later," Xander stalled, which gave Tris a little hope he hadn't lost yet, but then the moment was truly over as Xander turned back to Bill.


Tris took a mouthful of water from the bottle, swilled it round his mouth and then spat the remnants of toothpaste into the big old kitchen sink. He then ran the tap to clear the basin and watched the brown water splash away his spit. Like everything else about Berwick House, the water was old and dirty and, if he was honest with himself, impractical, but that didn't stop Tris revelling in it all. There hadn't been a lot of work going on on a Saturday, and as soon as the one worker on site other than Bill had left, they'd turned off the noisy generator, relying instead on a couple of battery powered storm lanterns that Bill had provided as the light began to fade. Thus, Tris stood straight in the well of light by the sink and listened to the old house creek and move. He wasn't afraid of the dark, not even the deep shadows in the corners and the high ceiling that the lantern couldn't reach. This was his home, however much in need of TLC, and her nighttime groans were something he wanted to get to know.

As his ear became used to the quiet, Tris began to pick out particular noises. A pink-pink of pipes here, the occasional muttering from Xander in the pantry next door there, but slowly, he concentrated on the sound of wood settling. The whole house except the kitchen was floorboarded, all of it now sound thanks to Bill Gregson's team, but, old, or new, it was all creaking at odd times. As he listened, Tris smiled wryly to himself as the little sounds coming to him down the hall even made it sound like someone was walking down the stairs. It wasn't quite the sound of footsteps, but the aching of the old house still gave Tris goosebumps as it progressed down the stairs, into the open hall and then the boards in the corridor outside began to settle as well.

That was a little too much for Tris, so, picking up his lantern from the draining board and taking hold of his stick, he decided to join Xander in their makeshift bedroom. The corridor that ran along the back of the house was completely empty and black as pitch beyond the reach of the lantern, and Tris ignored the fact that the creaking stopped as soon as he stepped into the space. Instead, he ducked into the pantry as quickly as legs and stick could take him.

Xander looked up from where he was throwing a double sleeping bag over the now inflated mattress and was about to say something, but stopped as he saw Tris' face. Tris tried to smile, but found he'd freaked himself just a little too much to manage it.

"Remind me not to listen to random noises in old houses," he quickly answered the question in Xander's face and huffed a breath.

He was strangely relieved when his husband's face broke into a grin and Xander laughed. That put his imagination into perspective and Tris snorted a laugh as well. Walking further into the room, he put his lantern down by his side of the mattress and lowered himself down. He landed a little harder than he intended as his right leg failed to support him all the way down, but it was not his worst manoeuvre since his brain injury. Xander knelt up behind him then and, leaning over his shoulders, held out a handful of differently coloured, shaped and sized pills from one side and a smaller bottle of water from the other. Tris recognised a couple of the pills, one anti-seizure and another for regulating his blood pressure, but his memory had been affected by the haemorrhage and he was damned if he could remember what the others were for that evening. That was why Xander handled his meds. Tris took the pills, knocked them to the back of his mouth and took a swig from the bottle. They went down with practised efficiency and Xander patted him on the shoulder and kissed him on the back of his head.

"Night, night."

"Night," Tris added as Xander shuffled to his side of the bed and pulled back the sleeping bag.

He mirrored the action himself. However, as he lay down on the surprisingly solid mattress, the wonderful reality of it all hit him again and, staring at the ceiling, he breathed, "This is really all ours."

Xander rolled onto his side, propping himself up on one arm, and smiled down on Tris.

"All six bedrooms and five acres of it," he agreed, rubbing his hand across Tris' chest.

Tris reached for the fingers catching on his T-shirt and entangled them with his own. He gripped just a little tighter than comfortable and looked up into his husband's wide gaze.

"What are we going to do with this place?" Xander asked, not for the first time, but there was still a curl to his lips.

"Fill it with kids," Tris let out the thought before his brain had caught up with his mouth and his heart leapt into his throat.

Xander's jaw dropped.

"I mean, eventually, when we're settled," Tris began babbling before Xander could object.

"You want to have kids?"

That question stopped Tris dead and the hope in Xander's voice made his stomach do a somersault. Vaguely, he nodded.

"But you always said not while you were still in your twenties, that we had plenty of time," Xander repeated words that made Tris cringe now he could see the pain they caused in his older husband.

He squeezed Xander's fingers with one hand and rubbed the side of his head with the other.

"This gave me a long hard look at my own mortality and I realised how selfish I was being."

Xander was going to object again and Tris knew why, so he laid a finger quickly across Xander's lips and continued, "And, no, this is not some selfless idea. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do now my job's just a bunch of red tape and redder faces, but I do know I want to put that compensation to good use for our future and I do want to be a dad."

Xander had never been the overly emotional type, he kept things contained, so when Tris saw tears glistening in his husband's eyes, he knew he'd said the right thing.

"You have to get well first," Xander was trying to sound calm and in charge as usual, but his face split into an uncontrolled grin, which was joined by those tears and Tris pulled him down to him.

Xander gasped a few breaths into Tris' shoulder and Tris wrapped him in his arms, stunned by the impact his outburst had had on his put-together doctor partner. They'd only talked about kids a couple of times, mostly, Tris had thought, in jest, but he was glad his career blinkers were now off.

"Rehab, house, then kids," he promised and smiled unsurely to himself as Xander huffed into his chest.

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Author Info: Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins is probably most famous for having written The Moonstone, which is considered by many to be the first detective novel written in the English language. However, he also wrote good ghost stories, including some in conjunction with Charles Dickens. Collins contributed to a short story The Haunted House, which is in fact several stories by different authors. Collins' offering was The Ghost in the Cupboard Room. In fact, there are no ghosts in these stories, more the characters are haunted by emotion and their own regrets.

However, Collins did write some of his own ghost stories. Miss Jeromette and The Clergyman is a rather long-winded story, which mainly consists of a relationship between a Englishman and a mysterious young French woman who will not tell him her past, only that there is a man in her life who she loves dearly, but who will be the death of her if he ever returns to her. Events separate the young man and his friend, as he becomes a clergyman at the behest of his dying mother, and a coincidence brings the unnamed rival Miss Jeromette's affections into the clergyman's life. He tries to save his friend, but fails, and on his return from London, he is accompanied home by a white mist. And the reason this story sticks with me is Collins' description of that mist taking form into the beauty the clergyman had once known.
Soft brown eyes, tender and melancholy, looked at me through the unearthly light in the mist.
I will not spoil the ending and tell you what happens, but Collins' has a way with language that evokes imagery with apparent effortlessness and he well worth a read.  You can find some of his spooky tales in The Haunted Hotel & Other Stories.

British Hauntings: Chilham

I lived in Chilham for 23 years. It's a small village nestled comfortably between Ashford and Canterbury which, although at the fork of two main roads, is pleasantly isolated from both. Chilham has a castle, more of an impressive manor house, which stands off of a picturesque square also boasting a pub and the church, St Mary's. It is the pub, The White Horse, and the church in conjunction, which are responsible for the first ghost. His name was Sampson Hieron and he was the vicar of the parish in the mid 1600's. His name appears on the list of incumbents hung on one of the pillars in the church itself.

In life the Rev Hieron was a colourful character, as can been seen by the fact the his name on the list of past vicars says he was evicted from the living because, being a Puritan, he wouldn't use the new prayerbook of 1662. He was still buried in the church yard of St Mary's when he died in 1677. His ghost now appears next to the inglenook fireplace in The White Horse, according to tradition, at 10 minutes past 10 in the morning, having been seen by many people, who just think they're looking at an ordinary elderly gentleman.

The castle itself does not have any really famous ghosts, although, when it hosted mediaeval banquets, there was the occasional sighting of a woman in period dress who turned out to be not so solid as the other guests. :)

I'm going to add a personal anecdote here that you won't find in any ghost guides about Chilham. I have felt for a long time that the area around the organ console in Chilham church holds, if not a ghost, then an atmosphere/presence. The console is up next to the North Door, so I'm not talking about cold spots, or drops in temperature, I'm talking about a feeling I have had many many times when I've been locking the church up after choir practice that when I am standing in that spot, I am not alone. It's not a pleasant feeling, but it's not horrific either, just something out of the ordinary. An organist, a friend of mine, died while playing that organ (ironically, for a memorial service of someone else who had died) and I sometimes wonder if he left a little part of himself behind.

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. Wow BW#3 ending was intense. I loved the last line. Well done.

    1. Thanks :) I wanted to bring out Xander and Tris' relationship, to explore them.

  2. I love The Lady in White. It's one of my favorite books. You're right about contrast. Contrasting elements in stories usually prove to be my favorites.

    1. Thanks for commenting. It's great to hear about people's favourite books/films, I've found some real gems to read/see that way, even when I already know the writer/film maker. Contrast is a useful tool, like every tool in a writer's arsenal, used to the right degree :)

  3. You know all my spooky stories :) Great post, didn't pick up the book this time though ::g::
    Tasha's Thinkings

  4. Great post! I am loving all the great ghost stuff you give us every day.

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

  5. Replies
    1. British folklore has always been aimed more at ghosts and spirits (and the odd witch) than some of the European traditions like vampires and werewolves - we've always had a few of the latter, but ghosts seems to be the British Isle's thing :)

  6. I would love to travel to England at some point. So many great stories! :)

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

  7. I worked in an old convent that had been remodeled into a prison. Weird stuff going on there.

    1. Oh that must have been creepy. All the places I've worked have been modern buildings, which I'm very glad of, because I don't think I'd be acting very professionally if I saw a ghost. :)

  8. Love ghost stories. Growing up, I lived in the turret of a castle-but all I disturbed in my rafter climbings were the doves...Now, all I can offer is a real ghost ship woven into my latest novel - outlined under my "A" - great to be here.

    1. Wow, a castle turret - that is sooo cool :) I remember visiting my sister's godmother who lived in what I thought was a huge, huge house, the kind where you walk down a corridor and then have to go up a couple of steps to get to another corridor and more rooms - I loved that house.
      Thanks for stopping by :)

  9. Contrast does indeed help make a great ghost story. Great post!

  10. I love a good ghost story! It's so fun to be scared when it's not real ... or we think it's not!

    1. Yeah, I agree, when it's not real, it is so much fun - it's afterwards when I have to turn on every light in the house that I wonder if it was worth it ;P yeah - I'm a coward like that!

  11. The Burning Web is coming together nicely. Loved the description of the creaking house, and so glad we're getting to know Tris and Xander a little more now.
    Oh, and it wouldn't matter if you worked in a modern building. If something had happened there before it was built, the essence of the event could still be lingering in the present. Not that I'm out to scare anyone, of course. ;)
    Another great post, will be returning for sure. :)

    1. Thanks, glad you like the story.
      Oh, don't say things like that about modern buildings, ::shiver::, I'm enough of a scaredy cat as it it ;P


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