The Stories Behind the Stories

The Siren and Other Strange Tales is my first foray into writing fiction. The stories were inspired as I suppose all stories are, by a mixture of experiences, events, reading, people I have met and places I have lived or visited, all helped along with a dollop of imagination and occasional dark humour. I thought you might like to know a little about the stories behind the stories. The photos are just teasers for what you might find within each story.

That Cat is a story sparked off by a newspaper clipping about a stray cat that visited a care home to sit with the dying.

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That Cat

The character of Mandy is a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, the staff of the care home where my mother spent the last years of her life provided a loving, respectful environment. However, from time to time scandals do emerge. Further elements came from a story my mother told me. When I was a baby she put me in my pram in the garden. As she was hanging out the washing our next door neighbour’s big black cat crept up onto the pram and snuggled down, almost on my face. She was scared of cats and had to get the neighbour to come an remove it!

Toussaint – set in France where I live. The bones of the story come from two sources – an Australian report of a car accident where the driver of a passing car is said to have picked up, telepathically, the cries for help from the driver of a car that had skidded off the road. The second element was my meeting at a gallery exhibition with the wife of the featured artist. After several glasses of Chablis, she had a lot to tell me about life with an artist.

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Toussaint

Sukie – This is a story based on some of my experiences when, at fifteen, I went on an exchange holiday to France. On my own for the first time, without the security of family around me, I found it a daunting experience but, with hindsight, a formative one. However, my early life bore no resemblance to that of Sukie’s except that I did love my Granny Grapes and the eyebrow raising trick did irritate my mother.

Ste. Maxime is near St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur and, when I was there, it teemed with the overspill of the young and beautiful who couldn’t quite swallow the cost of being seen in that celebrated town. There was a Sean Connery look-alike but alas he had no eyes for a gauche teenager teeming with a heady mix of hormones and unrequited lust.

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Sukie – and no, that’s not the name of the car!

The Boy with a Harmonica is loosely based on an incident that happened in a village near me during WWII.  This part of France was known as the Free zone and governed by the Vichy government on behalf of the occupying Germans. The Maquis were very active in this Zone and in my area there are numerous tales of derring-do and heroism.

 

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Boy with a Harmonica

The character of the Boy has elements of a child I knew, labelled “autistic” by the medical profession. He had a remarkable ear for music and could pick out and create the most beautiful melodies on the piano. Clearly a piano was of no use to me in this story but an old guy playing the harmonica outside a cafe in Toulouse gave me the instrument that up until then had eluded me.

The Last Word 

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The Last Word

My parents together with my Aunt and Uncle held regular Sunday Canasta nights. Their play, just as in the story, would be punctuated with cries of “Why did you play that card?” or “Freda, you’ve frozen the pack again.” I used to like to watch and listen to the interplay between these four.

When my mother moved into a care home I visited her regularly and nearly always found a group of residents playing whist. One of them, Alice was a passionate but rather ineffectual player. As I passed by the lounge where they sat I would often hear her girlish giggle as she cried “I’ll beat you all yet, if it’s the last thing I do.” She was a lovely lady and I wrote this story for her.

The Siren

Wartime observation post tipped over the edge at Mappleton beach

The Siren

Inspired by the landscape of the Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire – a 32 mile stretch from Flamborough Head to Spurn Point, it is a fragile, sometimes desolate landscape subject to regular cliff falls through erosion. With the cliff falls come stretches of gloopy mud and fossils. A snippet in the local newspaper about a young girl becoming stuck in one of these mud patches as the tide came in and the efforts to rescue her sparked off the idea of the story and my imagination supplied the rest.

There you have it – the weird convolutions of a writer’s mind!

 

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Ghosts – They’re Out There

 

I thought I’d let you know that ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ my book of spooky stories is now available for pre-order or, if you can wait that long, directly available from all Amazon sites from 8th May.

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Today I’m offering you some teaser quotes in the hope that they will part you from something just less than three pounds/dollars/euros. I know cash is hard to splash these days.

First up is ‘That Cat’ – care worker Mandy meets a mysterious cat that knows when death approaches. But does Mandy?

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That Cat

We move to France for ‘Toussaint’ when egotistical artist Gavin is given some ghostly marriage guidance.

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Toussaint

Staying in France, rebellious teenager ‘Sukie’ receives one life-lesson too far.

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Sukie

German-occupied France provides the setting for  ‘The Boy with a Harmonica’ – a tale of collaboration and betrayal.

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The Boy with a Harmonica

Back in England in the Roaring Twenties for ‘The Last Word’.  What could be more normal than a genteel game of whist for four middle-aged ladies?

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The Last Word

Finally, in ‘The Siren’ we meet a stranger in a remote seaside village in the middle of winter. Is it grief or guilt that haunts him?

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What’s in a Title?

Those of you who are kind enough to follow this blog may remember that a couple of weeks back I held my own referendum…er straw poll about the title of my collection of short stories. The winner was “Spook Me Out”.

I was not happy with the result. I protested. I argued that the demographics of the poll were skewed (as were the participants after copious amounts of the juice of the grape). I pointed it that it was a meaningless collection of words and that titles need impact. In short, I wanted a recount.

Do you judge a book by its cover? Those who are said to know about these things say yes, the cover and the title are a big part of the decision to buy or not to buy. I tend to look at the blurb on the back but it is usually an intriguing title that catches my eye and preferably one that gives me an idea of the genre as well. Quite often the cover design leaves me cold. I’m never moved by the piccys of impossibly handsome muscle men with fine etched six-packs and thighs like tree trunks, wielding their swords with gusto. Well, not on a book cover anyway! Have you guessed by now that fantasy is one of my favourite genres?

Now let’s be serious. A few days after the results of my poll were in some of the participants sidled up to me murmuring that er…perhaps they’d got it wrong; they didn’t like the title any more and perhaps a rethink might be in order.

Much heartened by this chink in the voters’ armour I rethought. It is, after all my book. I have created and disposed of the characters within. Their fate is and has always been in my hands. Is this not the annual occasion when I assert myself? Yes, it is.

And so, a retitled collection of six short stories. It is a simple title – it describes the content. Let me introduce you to:

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I was going to use the word ‘ghostly’ rather than’ strange’. Unfortunately the typeface I’ve chosen makes it look, at a quick scan, a bit too much like ‘ghastly’. I shied away from it. The reader might find the stories ghastly but my amour-propre won’t allow it.

Publishing day is now 8th May in the Kindle Store on Amazon and if any of you dear readers feel impelled to give the book a toot on your own social networks I shall be Uriah Heep-ish in my ‘umbleness and gratitude.

Stormy Nights and Ladies in White

The church clock struck midnight. Outside the rain fell in torrents beating a tattoo on the porch roof. Wind moaned through a gap in the shutters. In my office the chandelier lights flickered and the computer gave an apologetic “huff” and died only to mysteriously self-resuscitate a few seconds later.

I was researching more ghosts, myths and legends for another set of spooky stories and had arrived at the legends of the Dames Blanches – White Ladies. They’re everywhere in France but especially in Normandy and the Pyrenees. There are two around me haunting Chateaux Puivert and Puylaurens. At Puylaurens, the great-niece of Phillipe le Bel, restlessly walks the battlements. At Puivert (click for the full story) their Dame Blanche appears on rainy nights at one of the tower windows and just over the border in Andorra there is one who defended the principality from a huge wolf which was really an angry bishop in disguise. Goodness knows how many more there are lurking in the shadows.

What’s with it with these ladies; flitting around in the most inclement of weather wearing little more than some flimsy draperies?

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Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio writing in the sixteenth century reassures me. He writes that these ladies are generally benevolent towards we mere humans, they are merely feés appearing in the woods and on the plains. They appear to be kind to animals too as he asserts that often the ladies appeared, carrying a lighted candle, in stables. There, they would let a few drops of wax fall on the incumbents’ manes and tails and then proceed to tenderly and carefully comb and plait them.

Another writer, Thomas Keightley makes me nervous though. In his book “The Fairy Mythology” he recounts tales of the malevolent nature of the Dames Blanches where they lurk at cross-roads, narrow bridges and ravines and insist on forfeits. If you want to pass by you may have to dance with them, get on your knees to them or assist them in some way. Woe betide you if you refuse. You may end up in a patch of nettles and brambles. These unkind phantoms are said to be found mainly in the north of France, particularly Normandy. Did I tell you I’m going to Normandy at the end of April?  Me with my cronky knee. Just my luck.

 

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PS Did I also tell you that my collection of spooky stories – “Spook Me Out” will be available from Amazon at the end of March?

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The Editor’s Oscars

The editing of my collection of short stories is now complete and to celebrate I had a little Oscar Ceremony. There were three categories. Are you ready for this?  Here is category number one.

Nominees in the category for The Most Over-used Word in the Collection:

  • Think
  • Wonder
  • Realise
  • Understand

And the winner is:

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This simple word appeared it its various verb and noun forms a magnificent 100 times in the twenty five thousand word collection. Brilliant!

Nominees in the second category for The Most Empty and Useless Word:

  • Rather
  • Somewhat
  • Then
  • Just

And the winner is:

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“Then” is of course an old friend of the Editorial Oscars and it is reassuring to see its appearance in this collection. An objection made by “Just” on the grounds that it wasn’t fair was overruled.

And finally, the category you have all been waiting for. The nominees for The Best Title award:

  • Haunting Tales
  • Spook Me Out and Other Scary Stories
  • The Haunting of Jacques Ferrier and other Ghostly Tales
  • Simply Ghostly

And the winner, chosen by a bunch of semi-literate, half-sozzled book lovers is – hang on a minute, let me find the right card…

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The judges chose this title for its modern, fresh feel and, as one voter expressed it – “gets away from all that gloomy Victorian stuff“. The author’s protest of “but I like gloomy Victorian” was met with uncalled for mirth and an unprecedented amount of catcalls and jeering. Needless to say, she was overruled.

I don’t know what you think. Does “Spook Me Out” do it for you? Let me know. Drop me an Oscar…sorry, no I mean drop me a line.

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PS “Spook Me Out” (whatever!) will be on Amazon at the end of March at an incredible, unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime little price.

The Story So Far

I’m about to disappear for a week in the wilds of the west of Ireland so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recap on where I am with The Novel. I ‘m about three-quarters of the way through –   60,000 plus hand-written words – (I just cannot write direct to my PC…too many distractions) – building up to what I hope will be a thrilling climax.

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60,000+ hand-written words so far

It has been truly hard labour these past weeks. I have a track record of starting to write a novel and then throwing in the towel at about the mid-point as I always seem to lose my way. This time I have been determined to get past the mid-point. Now I think I know what the ending is going to be so I truly believe I’ll get to the finishing line. (sorry about the mixed metaphors!)

My “baddies” the vengeful Madame Ombrine and the inscrutable Oskar have ridden through the centuries, thanks to…oops no, can’t tell you that (but it’s not a time machine), lying, cheating, robbing and killing to arrive in France in 2013.  As a last throw of the dice in the game they have been playing they open the Nonesuch Club – a club for struggling writers.

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Are these the doors to the Nonesuch Club?

 

 

There they draw in my neurotic protagonist, Richard a writer of ghost stories who is broke, blocked and bedevilled by his past.

In the club’s writing room Richard finds he can shake off his writer’s block and, at the same time, lay some of the ghosts of his past to rest. But all is not as it seems and Richard becomes suspicious as other club members begin to disappear and ….That’s all for now folks.

So, a week exploring the Emerald Isle seems like a fair reward and I feel quite sure I’ll come across a heap of spooky stories to provide new material.

A Devilish Tale

The beautiful medieval Cité of Carcassonne offers rich pickings for a writer of ghost stories and things supernatural.

Within the walls and narrow streets of the Cité phantoms wail, weep and wander, fairly aimlessly by all accounts; cowled monks manifest only to disappear through walls but the tale I particularly like concerns a large well – The Well of the Fairies – which was one of several providing water for the inhabitants.


This photo of Carcassonne is courtesy of TripAdvisor

One dark night back in Medieval days seven archers went on a bit of a binge, roistering the night away in a number of local taverns. Well and truly sozzled they tumbled out of the last ale house and wandered through the deserted cobble streets. Filled with boldness and courage (I’m told drink can do that)they began to chunter among themselves and during their grousing and grumbling they were extremely rude about the patron saint of the Cité, St Gimer, the first archbishop of Carcassonne. They then compounded their discourtesy by dissing the Devil and all his powers.
As they stopped to draw breath after all their shouting and hollering, they noticed something just ahead of them in the narrow street – a donkey no less and one that was blanketed with a rich (and no doubt valuable) cloth.
It did not seem to occur to them to wonder why a richly-clad donkey should be wandering the streets of Carcassonne at that time of night rather they grabbed hold of it and one by one scrambled on its back. As each archer jumped onto the animal, it performed an extraordinary anatomical feat – that of stretching its back so that each man could be comfortably seated. Once all were aboard the donkey set off at a fair old pace, the archers whooping with glee. The donkey headed for the cemetery where the gleeful whoops turned into cries of terror as one by one the graves opened up and their occupants moaned a piteous lament.
‘Sacré bleu’ (and other appropriate French oaths) screamed the men, ‘it’s the Devil himself’ and they tried to dismount and flee but strangely they seemed stuck to the donkeys back by some sort of supernatural glue. The beast then whipped round and charged back through the streets to the great well in the square. There it plunged down the well with its doomed cargo who were never to let loose an arrow again.
If, one stormy night you dare to approach the well, you may find it lit up by the fires of hell and hear the heavy groans, moans and pleas of tortured souls rising up to greet you and if by chance, you are there when the clock of the church of St Nazaire strikes midnight, you too may find yourself transfixed with terror as the chimes resonate with the shrieks of the damned.

Bit of a wicked glint?

Bit of a wicked glint?