The haunters and the haunted

Mount mural 001 April 2011

On the weekend of 10-11 May this year, I was staying at the Premier Inn in Liskeard, a recently built ‘motel’ on the outskirts of the town. On the second night, I awoke in the early hours to see what I thought was my partner, T, walking across the room towards the bathroom. The naked figure stopped near my corner of the bed and busied itself doing something (it was too dark to see details). It was at that point that I realised T was still asleep next to me. This is a ghost, then, I thought (not being prone to straightforward hallucinations, but that is another possible explanation), and watched the figure for a minute or two. It stayed in the same place and was still doing whatever-it-was when it faded away.

I’ve had various paranormal experiences during my life, but this was the first time a straightforward ghost/apparition has appeared in front of me. It’s also the first time I’ve been faced with anything like this without being frightened. I felt no malevolence from the figure; it seemed to be doing its own thing, oblivious of me or at the least totally disinterested.

The Inn has no hauntings associated with it as far as I’ve been able to find out and I don’t know what use the land had before the place was built (although it was probably a field, in line with the surrounding area) or the ancient history of it. Old buildings are classically associated with ghosts, but any building or place can, of course, become haunted. Hopefully one day I’ll find out more about what I saw that night; I may well record the incident with the Society for Psychical Research in London and perhaps they’ll have some thoughts on it.

Rebecca Shadow and the Winter House is now in a complete, typed up first draft format. It’s been a long haul to get it to this state and I’m sure there’s plenty of rewriting to do. The title has now been changed to Perihelion; this is the point at which a planet passes closest to the sun on its orbit. It was appropriate, bearing in mind what happens in the story. The ending makes for a darker dark fantasy than I’ve written for a while, although I feel like writing another full-on horror tale, so that’s probably next on the agenda. UPDATE: a story I wrote some time ago, Scar Tissue, was but never quite happy with, is now in the process of being extensively rewritten. I always liked the story, but the angle I was telling it from just wasn’t working. I spent much of last week with my window open, listening to a chaffinch in a tree nearby, which sang constantly every day. Something about the repeating rhythm and pattern put me in the right headspace (similar to listening to various drone/dark ambient recordings), and I think the story – several years in the making – will finally turn out to be just what I wanted it to be.

In late summer I shall be making another trip to Cumbria, to spend a week in the amazing landscape of the north lakes. It means I’ll be able to visit Castlerigg and Long Meg and her Daughters stone circles for the first time and return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial near Bassenthwaite Lake. My 24 hour visit to the area last year left me wanting much more and, of course, having two faulty cameras with me meant that I only got a handful of shots of the entire trip (I had the second film processed recently and it contained a couple of shots taken at Vindolanda museum/Roman army camp – more than I’d been expecting, but still virtually nothing from such a huge trip) – which was a reminder to always be in the present and enjoy an experience, but needless to say I’m very happy to be going back.

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The starling double helix and the gravestone circle

Near Brentor, Dartmoor

First, a nightmare: a moorland stone circle made up of tombstones. Their inscriptions face outwards, the graves face inwards. On the far side are five demons, whispering to one another. One breaks away from the group and makes it way around the circle towards me.

Second, a mathematical dream: standing on a rooftop in the Barbican, London. Murmurations of starlings fly past, but not in their usual sweeping flocks; one flock makes the shape of a DNA double helix, its twists perfectly replicated. The other flock has taken the shape of a huge rectangular box with spiralling arms reaching out from each side. As one, the shapes split up and scatter and I am surrounded by millions of flying starlings.

I’m considering the first dream to be a warning. Not all sacred sites are ‘good’ places. Be prepared for bad energy, bad experiences, as well as positive ones. Doors open two ways. The dream ended before the demon reached me, and I woke up frightened but grateful that it had not gone further.

The second is a mystery. Flocks of starlings fly past my window at dusk each day at this time of year. I’ve seen small murmurations in Penzance harbour and a fairly large one in Liskeard, but nothing like the massive ones seen in, say, the Somerset Levels. The dream was mind-blowing, and the scientific/mathematical aspect is beyond me right now. Perhaps, if some dreams are astral-travel experiences in real places, it always will be. Or it may be somewhere I’ll go to again some night.

I’m writing a lot. Another week spent in the shadow of Brentor’s great energy not only helped me get another draft of my latest short story completed, but I also made some notes on my next story: Ravens (Darkworlds Part 2), which I’m really looking forward to writing. And whilst walking at the amazing Merrivale (stone rows, a cist, standing stone and stone circle) I found three owl pellets, each a mixture of fur and bone. I took one and it now sits in a glass jar in my bedroom.

[Listening to: Rosa Decidua by Coil. Very, very moving and quite appropriate for dream talk.]

A bird or a shooting star*

A chest infection has prevented me from doing more or less anything (apart from watching the Montol procession, a hearteningly strange event) for around a month, including no more than a few lines of writing. However, the chance of a week’s recuperation on Dartmoor and illness finally loosening its grip has pushed me to type up a new draft of my latest short story, Pieces. It’s now in a fit state to take away and do further work on. There’s plenty still to do before I’ll let anyone see it; the ending, for instance, has the right words but they’re not necessarily in the right order. It’s quite clunky in places but the meaning is there and it’ll flow in time. It’s nice to write about more unconventional characters than I have for a while, too. Not that many of the people I create are ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but I’m mindful of Sarah Waters’ advice and am happy to have a tattooed lesbian couple in the centre of the tale. They’re right for the story, too which of course is the most important thing.

I haven’t been entirely out of the loop, though – thanks to the Acorn Arts Centre in Penzance, I now have a couple of notices on the Dance and Theatre Cornwall website advertising for an actress to do the reading at the Penzance Literary Festival. I’ve also been assured by event organiser Rosanne Rabinowitz that part of a story will be acceptable. Therefore I’m considering Cross Bound for the event, as I ideally want to do a fairly recently written piece that’s been published. And a review of Kzine on Amazon.com describes my contribution (Blue) as “a dark piece of surreal fiction, the kind of thing Thomas Ligotti would write if he was pretending to be David Lynch for the day”. I’m not as familiar with Ligotti’s work as perhaps I should be (I remember reading some of his work many years ago) and this is not my first comparison with him, but he’s undoubtedly a writer with a nicely twisted view of the world, so this is a great compliment. David Lynch, of course, will be known to anyone who might read this blog. It goes without saying that I’m pleased with the review although it’s perfectly possible that the comparisons were not actually meant as a compliment!

And I’ve discovered, via Spectral Press, that congratulations are due to dark fiction writer Alison J Littlewood, whose first novel has been picked for Richard and Judy’s Book Club. Never mind the inanity of R&J, the exposure for her and for some decent dark fiction will be amazing.

I’ve finally been able to listen to Matthew Shaw’s Lanreath album. It’s a good ambient piece, a little lighter than most of the ambient pieces I have – it doesn’t have the sinister quality of the likes of Coil and Nurse With Wound, but playing it had a quite amazing effect. It took me to Duloe stone circle (where some of it was recorded); I had an insect’s view of the stones, from way down in the grass. I also ‘saw’ the fogou at Carn Euny. I think I’d call it life-affirming. As opposed to Coil, who were life-after-death-affirming. Both have their place. I would love to hear it performed at a sacred site. But why choose Lanreath? There’s nothing on the cd cover or the website to say why. The village’s own website mentions local hauntings, but isn’t everywhere haunted by something? He doesn’t give much away and it would be interesting to know of his spiritual beliefs, if any. Perhaps that’s something I’ll question him on at some point.

*from Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine

“Magic prefers circles”*

Troy Books has just published the memoirs/guide to witching by West Penwith witch/wise woman Cassandra Latham Jones. I haven’t read it yet but it’s something I must get hold of. Cassandra led the main parade at Mazey Day for many years, casting a spell for good weather and was teazer for Penglaz at the Montol (Winter Solstice) festival in Penzance. It should be a fascinating insight into modern witchcraft. Hallowe’en is approaching and year by year the real meaning drifts a little further away. The de-Paganing of the event, to the extent that it’s just a fun night for children to dress up as their favourite horror/Harry Potter character and collect sweets, is sad and frustrating. Cassandra’s book would be a far better ‘treat’ gift!

Little People's stone circle

On a recent trip, taking an old friend to Boscawen-Un stone circle near Crows-an-Wra, we found what seems to be another sacred site. Not noted anywhere, but recently cleared, it resembles a burial site of some kind, with a tiny stone circle. The photo above shows the nine stones but not the scale – it’s just a few feet across. What it actually is and when it was created is something I’ve yet to find out, but the ‘vibe’ at the place is amazingly calm and peaceful, the energy even better than at the nearby site.

POST SCRIPT (30 Oct): The comment by Troy Books includes a link to The Megalithic Portal, which has some details: the site is Creeg Tol, a natural rock formation. The stone circle is generally agreed to be reasonably recent, but no one seems to know any more than that. The vibe at the site, especially before it was cleared, is also generally agreed to be quite horrendous. People talk of being watched from the hole in the rocks. I’ll be going back there soon to check it out in more detail.

* Tallis Zawn, Launceston, Cornwall, 2010

Story accepted/Julian Cope and The Modern Antiquarian

Cross Bound has been accepted by Aphelionan American webzine, for their next issue. I’m assuming that to be October 2011 but have asked for confirmation. This is great news for several reasons. I seem to have got a real momentum going which I’m determined to continue. Having five stories published during the course of a year is probably no great shakes to some writers but for me it’s a real achievement. Better access to the Internet has certainly helped me find suitable magazines/outlets, and I’ve been lucky in that the two pieces I had in Kimota magazine were re-printed in the anthology, but I also feel I’m in a better frame of mind for writing. I’d placed just about all my completed short stories when I relocated to Cornwall (and was finishing off Darkworlds) and spent years writing two novels and the initial chapters of a book on punk rock ‘n’ roll band Green Day. When that fell through I returned to the short story. It is not, as someone insisted to me the other day, a way of ‘working up to writing novels’! It is a completely different art form. I wrote the two novels because that was the only way of telling those stories. Since then I have finished one novelette (Cross Bound), one short story (The Ferocious Night – with another editor as I write), have nearly completed another long short story (The Falling Man) and have sketched out a new, more concise horror short, (working title Pieces) that had me crawling out of bed the other morning to make notes on it before it disappeared from my sleepy head. I’m aiming to have this one in at under 5,000 words, mostly because I think that’s all I’ll need to tell the story but also because I want to make sure I can still do such a thing. I’m incredibly relieved to know that my more recent, post-novel, work still cuts it. Cross Bound is very different to everything else I’ve done – as I’ve said before, it’s definitely dark fantasy rather than having a crossover with horror. Some of the references to witchcraft and witch hunts come from the Pendle witch trials of the early 17th century, with bits from German witch hunts of the same era, so thanks to R. Hart’s Witchcraft and The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology for essential details. Also to Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 2, which has provided the soundtrack to the writing. Coincidentally (if you believe in such things) there was a programme on BBC4 a few weeks back about the Pendle witch trials, which was very well done, with some animation creeping over the brooding Lancashire hills and Simon Armitage walking around in the mizzle.

Holy well, St Agnes, IoS. Photo: Teresa Knight

When my family lived in London I would occasionally meet my parents at Regents Park. One time, around my 30th or 31st birthday, they presented me with a very heavy parcel. It was the recently published The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope, in all its blue and orangeness. They’d even got a signed edition. The book has survived many house moves since then and is still in almost perfect condition. Obviously, it’s not a tome that can be taken on trips to sacred sites (and Cope has recently stated that it will always be reprinted in its original format, never as a paperback) but it’s a constant source of information and reference. I’ve always been interested in archaeology but found the more academic work to be dry and without passion. Along with knowing his subject very well, Cope is passionate beyond words. The book has notes written at every site visited, often in howling winds and rain, and he gives a sense of the place, the vibe if you like. It reignited my interest and made me feel that someone like me, who didn’t know the ins and outs of archaeology, could get into it again. And the spiritual side – Paganism, Goddess worship, is as close as you’ll get to where I am – has just exploded in recent years. Try TMA’s website for huge amounts of information on sites all around the UK. The website has branched out to mainland Europe, but I haven’t got that far yet. In another life, perhaps.

Leys: “hokum”?

I don’t actually  believe that at all, but there seems to be a lot of folk rubbishing the theory these days. Of course, there’s tons of writing on the subject, some of which I’ve been dipping  in to, as well as getting through The Old Straight Track, Alfred Watkins’ 1920s book on leys. I agreed with the principle of energy lines, but it only really made sense to me when I read some of Hamish Miller’s guide, The Sun and the Serpent. He followed the biggest ley in Britain, which starts near here just off the Land’s End and ends in East Anglia. He found a curved line of energy like a serpent that linked the same places as the ‘straight track’ does. I’ve got no evidence to support my faith in this except having been to a few of the areas mentioned (St Michael’s Mount, The Cheesewring, The Hurlers, Lydford) and feeling the energy there. A local dowser has talked recently of being on the Mount and finding lots and lots of ley energy there. There, like many of these places, are uphill – I don’t do uphill very well, but walking up to the top of the Mount, like walking up to The Cheesewring, fills me with a great sense of more. And the energy to smile while I’m doing it. Angela Evans, who owned Pengersick Castle for many years until her death, spoke of walking down the great (stone) circular staircase there, with her arms outstretched to touch the walls as she went. It always cured her aches and pains. I certainly use them to help me write. And after the experiences I’ve had it’s something I want to look into more.