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 clich├ęd? 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

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Tris looked down at the old receipt in his hand and back up at the cottage which bore the same name. He hoped Julienne was in, because the walk from the house had been exhausting after the shock of what Margaret had shown him and he really needed to sit down before even considering getting on a train home. He forced himself the last few steps along the neat stone path between the flower borders up to the front door and reached up to knock. However, before he could, the door swung rapidly open and Julienne appeared on the doorstep, hair falling in wisps round her face and an expression of deep concern on her face.

"Oh, my boy, you look like a ghost, what happened?" she gushed, taking him by the left elbow and helping him inside. "Come in, come in."

Tris didn't actually reply, he was just relieved to be with a friend and he allowed himself to be guided into a cosy front room. Julienne sat him down in a large arm chair that supported him from all sides. He relaxed with a sigh and closed his eyes for a second.

"You look like you could do with a good cup of tea," Julienne decided, hovering over him until he opened his eyes again.

"Oh, yes please," he agreed and smiled in genuine gratitude.

Julienne immediately disappeared off and Tris was left with the sound of clinking cups and a boiling kettle for company as he shivered away what was left of the tension from his vision in the house. Back in an ordinary room, with a bright day outside and a friend close by, Tris wasn't really sure what he had experienced. It had felt so real, but he knew he'd been obsessing about Margaret and Kenneth all the previous evening and even dreaming about them that night. Abdi always felt so real as well, but he knew that image was only part of his subconscious, and he couldn't help wondering if Margaret was a new aspect of that part of his damaged brain.

He was feeling a lot better by the time Julienne returned with a large tray laden with tea cups, tea pot and a smart stand holding an appetising sponge. Tris had remembered to have breakfast that morning, but he had used up all that energy and he realised his hunger must have shown in his face, because Julienne smiled as she put the tray down on the coffee table.

"Good, I was hoping you'd have an appetite, you look like you could do with feeding up," she told him and immediately lifted a knife off the tray. "Now would you like the whole cake, or do you want to start with a slice?"

Tris grinned, relaxing some more and replied, "Just the slice, thanks, or Xander will have me up on sugar-related charges."

"Xander is your husband," Julienne nodded to herself as she handed over a plate containing a huge slice of sponge. "A doctor, isn't he?"

Tris nodded.

"He's a trauma surgeon," he said with no little pride, and then added, "but the ol' medical degree can make him a bit too interested in my health."

Julienne began pouring tea and Tris bit into his cake. He enjoyed the first taste of vanilla and jam, but they both knew what was coming when Julienne put a cup beside him on an occasional table and then asked, "So, what made you come over all wibbly on my doorstep?"

She moved back into her own seat opposite him, cradling her cup of tea and viewing him thoughtfully, but Tris felt no pressure to spill the beans. In truth, he was feeling a little embarrassed by what could have been his own imagination. Yet, he was almost sure of what he had seen, so he decided to test the waters.

"Are there any stories of Berwick House being haunted?" he began tentatively.

Julienne's expression showed surprise, but at least she didn't laugh, so Tris waited.

"Well, it's an old house out there all on its own," Julienne eventually replied, sounding doubtful, "so of course there have been a few over the years, but nothing substantial. Why? Did you see something?"

At the challenge, Tris instantly bottled it and dismissed, "I think it was a trick of the light. I just scared myself."

At that, Julienne did look dubious, so Tris pressed on before she could say anything, "Did your husband mention anything about his home being haunted?"

His companion looked sad for a moment and Tris regretted his rush.

"We didn't speak about it much," she replied, "Mother and Michael didn't like to."


Julienne took a sip of tea and then put her cup down a little quickly.

"Didn't I say? Michael's mother lived with us after we married. I didn't have any family of my own and she more or less adopted me as a daughter. She was a wonderful woman and she always had me call her 'Mother' too."

Julienne smiled, a watery gesture, but Tris had the feeling she wanted to keep talking, so he prompted, "What was she like?"

"A very strong personality," Julienne continued, "she'd had to be, of course, raising a teenager all on her own and no house to live in."

"What was the accident that forced them to leave Berwick?"

"Her husband, John, was hit on the head by a falling branch and fell in the pond. He was knocked unconscious and drowned," the explanation came rather matter-of-factly and quickly and a hardness flickered across Julienne's blue eyes which warned Tris not to ask any more.

"But your mother-in-law made a good life for herself afterwards," he moved on and sipped his tea awkwardly.

The momentary shields came down and Julienne smiled again.

"Having her with us was like having my own mother back," Julienne replied, "and Michael loved having her close by as well. He was apt to worry about us, 'his womenfolk' he used to call us, when he went off to London to work and he was glad we had each other."

"What did he do?"

"Banker. Just like our son, Jonathan until he set up his new business last year. He now makes and mends clocks in Wales."

"Now that's a big change."

Julienne nodded and picked up her tea again. She sipped it thoughtfully as though considering something and then revealed, "I think our Jonathan has always been an artisan at heart, he just didn't want to disappoint his father. When Michael became ill, he worked so hard, got a promotion just to please his father before he died, but I could see The City was strangling him. That's why, when Michael passed away, I finally decided to sell Berwick House, to give Johnathan the fresh start he needed."

Julienne's love for her son was all over her features.

"That was very generous of you," he observed warmly.

She waggled her head from side to side and pursed her lips at the same time as trying to smile, which gave her a twinkly-eyed, lopsided grimace more appropriate for a child than an adult. Tris liked it.

"It was time to move on. With Mother and Michael gone she needed someone new, someone to bring life back to those old rooms."

"I hope Xander and I do your faith in us some justice," Tris offered. "She's a fascinating old house and I want to find out everything I can about her and her previous owners." And as it occurred to him, he added, "I might write a little history for her."

"That sounds like a marvellous idea!" Julienne agreed, raising her cup in salute. "I would very much like to help you. To Berwick House."

"Thank you. To Berwick House!" Tris agreed and tipped his own cup to the deal.

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Author Info: M. R. James

Montague Rhodes James was an intellectual, a scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge. But, the thing he is most famous for is his ghost stories. He first told them to entertain his friends while smoking cigars and drinking in their social club. Mark Gatiss presented an excellent documentary on him and he's been a popular author for the BBC, who adapted his stories for successive Ghost stories for Christmas. Why we chose to enjoy being scared at Christmas, I do not know, but I'm not complaining as the nights close in and in the darkness we share our spooky stories.

James was a master of Gothic supernatural. I've already references Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad several times, because it is a brilliant subversion of the childish feeling that we're safe under the covers of the bed. It comes from James' book, Ghost Stories of An Antiquary, which is chock full of the macabre, disturbing tales. The Mezotinit, is another deliciously disturbing piece. It tells of an engraving of a small manor house by moonlight, a picture that, when it is not looked at, changes by degrees: first a shape is seen at the very edge of the image, then it is seen crawling towards the house in the centre of the picture. And then...well, I shall not tell you the rest, but all I will say is I would not want to own such a picture!

M R James' stories are easy to read, if at times, to our modern eyes, a little rambling, but he is an expert at describing the sinister, or unnerving. His stories will stick with you.

British Hauntings: Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn, Bolventor is ta very famous pub thanks to Daphne Du Maurier's novel. However, it's not for its links to her that I'm telling you about it now, it's because of its ghosts. It has two.

One is a rather static fellow, a sailor, who sits on the wall outside. The story goes that he was lured outside, mid-pint, and done in there and then.

The second is of more concerns to any guests staying at the pub, because he wanders through one of the bedrooms. This type of ghost is not uncommon in pubs, hotels and guest houses the length and breadth of Britain. This chap appears at the door of the room, stands there for sometime - maybe he's waiting for the occupant's attention. Then he follows the wall towards the wardrobe and walks right through. Not something I'd want to see on a night in a strange room!

For anyone who is interested, The Jamaica Inn run their own paranormal investigation nights.

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. Sooooooo, at first I thought you meant Jeopardy the show and was confused as to how that related to ghosts.

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

    1. LOL - I can crow bar in some really strange topics to these posts, but that one, I think even I'd have difficulty ;P

  2. I love ghost stuff! Really awesome post. thanks!

    1. Thanks for taking the time and stopping by :)

  3. The Jamaica Inn looks like an interesting place to visit!

    1. It does, although I might not want to stay in a room on my own there :)

  4. Kind of funny how the Jamaica Inn has embraced its haunting history. Makes me both want to go there and not go there. :)

    1. I'd love to go on one of their ghost hunt evenings, but I wouldn't want to stay in one of their rooms alone!

  5. Stephen King does the "introducing the extraordinary into the ordinary so well." I think those are some of my favorite types of stories and movies. "Poltergeist" terrified me when I was younger - oh, that tree! that pool! - and now the "Paranormal Activity" type movies do that to me now.

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

    1. One of my favourite mini series is Stephen King's Rose Red - although, in that, for Sissy, the unusual had become mundane, something she had to deal with every day thanks to her psychic sister. Poltergeist really scared me when I was younger, too, and there are still bits that give me the creeps, the bit with the clown, and actually the bit with the table and chairs in the kitchen, which they think is fun, but which has always bothered me.

  6. I like the kind of Jeaopardy that makes you desperate to know what happens next or who does/doesn't survive.

    1. I like that kind of jeopardy as long as I don't have to wait till the next episode/season of a tv show, or the next book of a series to find out - I'm far too impatient to wait ;P

  7. Nice post on Jeopardy. I think it works across genres.

  8. I can't take children in jeopardy. I've never been able to make it through the scene in the movie, Witness, where the little Amish boy in in the bathroom. As for a more psychological jeopardy, there's a scene in Steven King's It where I believe Bev is having tea with a resident of the town, and the woman's appearance begins to subtly change, and Bev keeps trying to talk herself out of believing her eyes. And then she thinks, maybe if I don't show that I've noticed I'll be okay. Chilling! :)

    1. That scene with Bev always makes me shiver, because it's her old house and a friendly old woman - it just shows that It can be anything to anyone.

      Witness is a really great movie - but I know what you mean about putting children in jeopardy, especially so close to the beginning of a movie.

  9. I wrote a post dedicated to writing about ghosts and one of my tips was to give the "human ghost" a goal such as talking to a loved one or finding their killer. It's true that they have their own motives and if you write that into a story the level of jeopardy for ghost and/or the living characters heightens.

    I'm really enjoying your posts. :)

    1. You're right, motive really is important. Will they, won't they achieve their goals, and who will that impact - all adds to jeopardy. :)

      Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying the posts. I came in late to your A to Z posts, but I'm enjoying your insights.

  10. Jamaica Inn is an awesome place, visited it over twenty years ago though. Interesting to hear they do paranormal evenings, just a shame I live so far away.
    Liking the bond forming between Julienne and Tris, although I feel she has a secret to tell. Either that or I'm totally missing the plot (which knowing me, is probably the case). ;)

    1. I would love to go on one of their paranormal evenings at Jamaica Inn :)

      Glad you feel they're getting closer. Julienne grew and grew on me as I was working on the plot. I will let you draw your own conclusions on her, though, not fair of me to drop any hints either way :)

  11. Very good point about remembering to give villains motivation - whether they're ghosts, monsters, or human. Thanks for the info about Kathy in Wuthering Heights. I haven't read it or seen the movie, so I thought it was just a tragic romance. I might have actually paid attention if I knew there was a ghost in there. That's much more interesting!

    1. I've seen many versions of Wuthering Heights and I've read the book - I think the most powerful bit of it is the way Kathy haunts Heathcliffe, just deserts for both of them, since they are both cruel and selfish people.As you can tell, I don't like them.

  12. Jeopardy is a great word for "J" day, that's really creative. A sense of jeopardy can really add to the thrill of a story!

    1. Thank you - it took me a while to come up with a word that I felt fitted.

  13. My curiousity is eating away wanting to know the house's secret. I know Julienne has a lot to tell. Jamaica House looks and sounds intriguing.

    1. Excellent - I've intrigued you :)

      Jamaica Inn does look like a great place to visit.

  14. I'm enjoying your posts and learning new things. I hadn't heard of MR James.

    1. glad you're enjoying the posts. M R James is a master :)

  15. LOL no that is definitely not one I'd want to see when waking up. I'd totally squeal. Especially with him just standing at the door and staring? Gah!

    Happy A to Z-ing!
    herding cats & burning soup.


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