Ghost story takes root

Amazon, books, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, paranormal fiction, Suilven, Sutherland, The Ghost Tree

Ghost Tree sepia

Finding inspiration as a writer comes easily when you live in an inspiring place, rich in scenery, culture, heritage and lore … lots of lore.

My second novel, The Ghost Tree, is due to be published on October 1 this year by Urbane Publications.

Staying true to my unhealthy dislike of genre compartmentalisation, this is a paranormal romance, thriller, crime fiction with its roots firmly planted in a ‘true’ poltergeist account that allegedly took place in the Parish of Rerrick, Auchencairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 1695.

You can read the published account by Alexander Telfair, the minister who performed the two-week-long exorcism, here: http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/dumfriesshire/hauntings/rerrick-poltergeist-1695.html

The old gnarled tree in the picture is all that remains of the haunted plantation in Telfair’s account, then called The Ringcroft of Stocking, where stone mason and farmer Andrew MacKie contended with a violent noisy spirit that pestered his family for a few months at the turn of the 17th century.

There were three trees in living memory. The locals call them ‘The Ghost Trees’. The two beeches died some time ago. This enduring oak was more resilient to the sweeping winds of the Solway hills and has survived both the ravages of time and, if Telfair’s account is to be believed, the poltergeist.

Legend has it that, when the last of the Ghost Trees dies, the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist will return.

My work of contemporary fiction took me to surprising places, from the realms of the dead to quantum physics, and my research on the subject came up with more unanswered questions than solutions to the phenomena of the paranormal and supernatural.

I’m still unsure whether I believe that “a ghost” can be described as a visitation from the dead, a symptom of a vivid imagination or a piece of observable data from a scientific equation. What is evident from all the theories and accounts I have read and all the ‘experts’ I have spoken to, is that many people truly believe that the dead can in some way return from the grave and interact with the living. It is also worrying to note that it seems to take a ritual involving God to remove it.

The Ghost Tree follows the misfortunes of a young man, MacAoidh Armstrong, who unwittingly buys a smallholding on the former subjects of the MacKie plantation. The ghost tree has died and the poltergeist has returned, but the pragmatic and stubborn Highlander does not believe in ghosts.

As the story unfolded during its construction, I found there was far more than the paranormal to contend with when a violent spirit haunts a 21st century home.

The result was a terrifying but fascinating journey for me, especially when I was writing it in the middle of the night with my back to a draughty door.

Whether I believe in ghosts or not, I am still uncomfortable with the inexplicable and, until science proves one way or another that death is merely a transition into another form of existence, I will still need the light on at night when I face the reality of going to the loo.

Amazon, authors, book reviewers, books, fiction, Linda Fausnet, Queen Henry
Linda Fausnet

I’m over at Linda Fausnet’s blog this week talking about the importance of the book reviewer to authors and publishers: http://wannabepride.com/blog/

Originally a screenwriter, Linda’s novel Queen Henry is the story of a homophobic, macho major league baseball player whose participation in a clinical drugs trial alters his life in ways he could never imagine: www.amazon.com/dp/B00LFL3IIO.

Linda is a strong advocate of equal rights and all proceeds of sales of her book go to The Harvey Milk Foundation.

She is also a great supporter of the self-published author and regularly features fellow writers on her blog.

She says: “I … believe strongly in helping other writers. It’s my goal to connect readers with good stories, whether they come from traditional publishers or independent writers.”


Genre Benders: A speculative approach to fiction

Amazon, authors, books, FeedARead, Henlein, libraries, publishing, Smashwords, speculative fiction, writing
THERE was a time when all ‘genre’ fiction was regarded with haughty disdain by librarians and publishers of quality, realistic literary works. As more people learned to read, however, access to books was no longer the privilege of scholarly bureaucrats and popular fiction was born. 

In order to feed the voracious appetites of patrons and readers respectively, more novels were commissioned and written in a wide variety of subjects, themes, structures and functions. This led to the classification of popular fiction into subject matter or ‘genre’ as we know it.
Publishers rely on strict classification for promotion and marketing. Bookshops require that each new work of fiction is labelled with a ‘genre’ in order to maximise readership and revenue. By placing a book on the right section of the right shelf eases access to buyers’ preferences, thereby increasing sales. Libraries need a classification system by which to help their patrons choose what they want to read.
This has been the traditional way of the fiction market for a very long time and authors whose works crossed those fixed genres had a high chance of being turned down by publishers for the sole reason of failing to belong on a shelf.
Only a few years ago, most speculative, or cross-genre, fiction was sniffed at by many publishers who couldn’t see past their profit and loss accounts to take the risk of baffling bookshops and libraries with works they could not label. A similar treatment was given to erotica which was deemed only to be read by dirty old men in raincoats.
The very word ‘speculative’ denotes conjecture, chance, theory over practicality and a high risk of loss, suggesting that whoever dreamed up that category had a very cynical view of crossing stereotypical classifications. That said, there have been some very successful novels written in this sub-genre of general fiction but they are few in comparison to other more traditional genres.
Speculative fiction, as a concept, has been around for millennia. It was written by the great Greek dramatists and by Shakespeare long before Robert Henlein wrote Life-Line. In fact, every work of fiction can be said to contain a speculative element, no matter how subtle. It is only since the ’40s that the term has been further stretched and distorted to include an element of fantasy, sci-fi, horror or paranormal in the narrative.
The coming of the mighty Amazon, has opened the minds of publishers as well as the locks to their submission gates to speculative fiction as reader trends have demonstrated a hearty appetite for the genre. As superheroes, vampire-slayers and boy wizards wage war against evil in contemporary or dystopian societies – and also on far-off planets – on television, cinema, computer and hand-held screens, spec-fic novels are being gobbled up by new fans and are even appealing to younger readers who would otherwise say that books are for bores and losers.
E-pub websites have revolutionised the publishing business in that readers are now choosing what they want to read as opposed to publishers telling them what they should. The effect has been brutal on the established publishing houses who are all reeling in the wake of the e-book explosion and the movement away from the traditional business model. Without the watchdog of a publisher, however, the absence of quality in many self-published books is a serious cause for concern as is the saturation of the market by thousands of new books being published every day that is giving readers too much choice.
For authors, the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and FeedARead have granted them that freedom of expression that traditional publishing houses have denied them. Now anyone can be an author. Amazon et al have no limitations to their lists, no selection process and no submission constraints. They don’t discriminate on quantity or even quality but instead allow readers to enforce the rules.
Whether this is good or bad is a completely different subject for debate, suffice it to say that now every book has a chance to be read and speculative fiction in all its many guises has an undeniable position on the shelves of quality literature.

Wish I was here?

Amazon, artist, authors, books, Janice Horton, Reaching for the Stars, William Neal
SHINE ON: by William Neal.
THERE are very many places I would like to be at the moment that can mostly be reached from a runway. Yet, a journey that is good for the body and soul does not necessarily require a plane or even a grid reference. Some of the most beautiful and dramatic sights can be experienced on the “viewless wings” of imagination: through books, movies; photographs, poetry and particularly art.  
William Neal is my favourite artist. He paints those evocative landscapes that softly call your name and lure you into the beauty and solitude of their other-worldliness. They are places that cannot be reached in the physical state but, the longer you gaze, the more you are drawn into the landscape and feel yourself there.
The picture here is called Shine On. It is one of the artist’s very fine snowscapes in watercolour. This is a place that will never be ravaged by man and will always remain uncorrupted. You can walk around and hear your boots crunching in the snow without disturbing the pristine beauty of its surface. You can feel the bite of the evening frost on your face and the shimmer of moonlight in your hair. Above all, it’s a place that you can revisit any time or simply never leave. So there’s no need to wish I was there. I already am.
This post is in response to an invitation by my friend Janice Horton. She is holding an online launch party for her new book Reaching for the Stars – her third romantic novel and one that she has been working like a Trojan on for quite some time. After an exhausting sprint to the finish line, the book is out on Amazon in Kindle format. Take a look at it: www.janicehortonwriter.blogspot.com
Janice said: “On Wednesday 14th December just put up a photo or picture on YOUR BLOG of where you wish you could escape to – for a little while – or forever! It might be a paradise island, a secluded beach, a woodland hut, a mountain ski lodge? The possibilities are endless – but fun to imagine right in the middle of December! Then on Wednesday – as well as posting a full list of all the bloggers taking part on my blog – I’ll be visiting all the blogs to see where YOU would like to escape to and to leave a comment!
“There will be prizes and several draws for all those taking part.”