I recently had a message from a friend asking whether my short story ‘The Ice House’ had ever been published. Well, yes and no. It was read aloud to …A Ghost Story for Christmas
I can hear the gales outside. It’s just turned midnight and it feels as though the wind is trying to gain access to the house through the chimney.
I don’t know how that works. The fire isn’t on and the chimney breast rises up to it’s capped peak, but somehow it sounds like the wind is spinning around in there, a dark vortex of dust and ash. That comes over a little dramatic, I know.
I’m a little feverish. That can’t help.
It’s a perfect setting to begin an M.R James story, or one by that favourite of mine, Le Fanu, but I’m feeling weary and bunged up with this head cold. Not exactly conducive for an half hour’s reading.
No, I think I’ll go up. Even if the wind keeps me awake (my bedroom being up in the loft), bed is the best place for me.
Tomorrow I’ll get rid of this four day’s growth of stubble and step outside, blinking, into Ciara’s aftermath.
There is a poem in my second collection, called The Storm Moves Out, which was written in the wake of such a storm. I can’t recall now what that particular storm was called. I’m quite promiscuous like that-forget the last storm as soon as the next one comes along, for what is life but one long line of storms and sunshine?
I’ll take a walk around my town. Dawdle among the debris.
It may not produce a poem, but the fresh air will do me good.
I’m sat on this rainy day in a cafe, drinking coffee and reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales Of Terror.
The title of this post comes, not from Jekyll, but from the included gothic vampire tale Olalla, which has captivated me on this gloomy morning. It’s to stories such as this that I habitually begin to turn to around this time.
Even just out of a heatwave, and the recent cessation of the hill fires, maybe it’s the sensing of those approaching blue, irregular nights that puts me in this frame of mind.
I’ve read before that the oldest surviving work of literature is the Epic of Gilgamesh, engraved on ancient Babylonian tablets 4,000 years ago. But no doubt our need to tell stories goes back beyond this, oral storytelling and art, for example in the form of the ancient cave paintings, both fulfilling this ancient, human desire.
In one of those moments of serendipity, as I was wondering what the oldest stories could be, beyond known written narratives such as Gilgamesh, I came upon a BBC article, Fiction Addiction: Why Humans Need Stories (link below) with this interesting sidebar:
Much in the way that local folklore gives definition to landscape and the world that surrounds us, did ancient man also make sense of his world with such creations?
The examples in the sidebar image are clues passed down to us that survive in written form, but what about before these? If only we could trace the lineage back, the evolution of storytelling, back into those obscuring mists of pre-history to rediscover the very first story, and pay homage to that very first storyteller, maybe sat around a fire or in a flame-illuminated cave, speaking into being the first myths and tribal histories.
Explaining events that gave fuel to a people evolving to wonder at origin and meaning, weaving a magic that still enchants today.
I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.
When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.
Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.
What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.
But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.
My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…
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Here is an interview I gave to highlight the publication of Mythos, an anthology in which I have two stories featuring. Many thanks to Linda for allowing me to appear on her great blog.
With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4…
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We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.
My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.
Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.
Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.
The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.
“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.
“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”
“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”
“You see it for me.”
Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”
“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.
And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.
Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.
The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.
There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC. Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?
Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.
But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.
Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.
The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.
Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.
The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.
I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.
But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.
Give me the crow any day.
On this day in 1900: a real-life mystery. Any theories?
It is well known, I think, that people like to read ghost stories around the Christmas season, but how about a real-life December mystery?
The Flannan Isles are located thirty kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, in the Atlantic Ocean. Celtic monks lived on those desolate islands in isolation, until they were abandoned for a thousand years. There are the remains of a chapel there, said to have been built by the Irish monk St.Flannan. In 1895 a lighthouse was built there, to warn off ships, passing in those treacherous waters.
In 1900, a three man crew of James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur arrived for a two week posting, just in time for the hostile winter to set in.
I am not sure who is who in this photograph, but at least one of those three men is present in it, maybe the other two are, also.
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This time of year is ideal for gathering around the hearth and listening to stories. Of course in this day and age you may not have a hearth, but a cosy nook or corner will do.
Here is a story by a friend of mine, MJ Kobernus, read by Kailaan Carter, also known as The Soliloquy Man. The story is The Gingerbread Man, not the one you may be familiar with, but a comedic/horror one quite suitable for these dark days and nights.
Grab yourself a coffee, set aside seven minutes, and give it a listen. The fire is already crackling.
I have been given permission to show you guys the cover of the first in a trilogy of books being published by Nordland Publishing, inspired by the old tales of the North. This first book is an anthology of stories and poetry featuring aspects of Scandinavian folklore, (the second is planned to be focused upon ‘myths’), and also includes some great illustrations too. I have a poem and a story included in it, but don’t let that put you off. It is a great and varied collection of work that is diverse enough to meet all tastes. I am particularly pleased with my story as, although I have had poetry featured in various collections and publications, this is the first piece of fiction that I have had published, and I think it stands up okay alongside work by more seasoned writers. I will let you guys know the publication date as soon as I get it, and then, if you so wish, we may walk the North road together. Exciting times!