Personally, I don't need for it to be Halloween to indulge in ghost stories. I have a particular fondness for abbeys, castles – ruined or not – bleak urban landscapes and the tormented shores of the wintery seaside. I like the colour black, I enjoy exploring the dark side of the psyche and, as a lifelong student of English literature, I have always harboured a passion for gothic novels. Hell, I am even attempting to write one as we speak!
Ghost stories are more than just spooky tales created to scare the masses: it delves in the human race’ s most irrational, visceral fears; it reveals the hidden side of life and takes us back to the history of a person, a place, a country, a people. It speaks of superstitions and passions.
On my book shelves, I have several books of illustrated short stories by infamous writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, M.R. James, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc.
I also have to admit that much like writer, actor and director Mark Gatiss – I love that guy, don’t you? – I actually don’t believe in any of it. I am a cold, stubborn down to earth non-believer.
You just need imagination, a love for history and stories, a weakness for mystery and creativity…
And a tendency to be able to suspend disbelief at will…
But Halloween is great because then we can go to events like this one!
Our evening was hosted by the Chalkwell Pop Up team as well as writers Rachel Lichtenstein –who regularly hosts the excellent “Salon” events at the same venue – and Syd Moore, whose first novel, "The Drowning Pool", will be reviewed in a forthcoming blog.
Attending any event at the wonderful Chalkwell Hall is always a pleasure, even more so on that evening as some of the events were taking place not only on the vast ground floor but also in the attic of the house…
The lights were fittingly dimed and some carved pumpkins were lurking on window sills, some animal parts were floating in jars and some printed ghost stories were awaiting us on the tables.
We were first taken all the way to the attic of the house where Rachel told us about the Grey Lady who supposedly haunts Chalkwell Hall – even a tough a resident artist from New York got spooked a few months ago while sleeping at the Hall! –and read us a gripping extract of the report she had written after having spent a whole night at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff with a team of paranormal investigators. As a regular visitor to the Palace, I was really interested by this side of the building – which Rachel told us, is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the country. This was followed with a personal story from Rachel related to her sojourn on board of
one of the estuary barges – “Beware of The Voices in the Estuary”, she warned us.
The first part of the evening concluded with a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” – one of his shortest stories that reminded me in some way of my first novel, "I Am A Muse".
We made our way downstairs for a break – a “food break” during which the guests could sample the pop up’s homemade food. But before that, a lady called Chrissie - I hope I have spelt her name right - told us about a terrible "haunting" that had supposedly recently occurred in some very contemporary flats not far from the Hall. Strange and disturbing, it was another take on the "normal" "suburban" haunting like "The Amityville Horror".
Myself and my boyfriend made our way to the second room where a shortened version of the 1968 movie “Whistle And I’ll Come To You” based on M.R. James’ story “Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad”. Another – not bad at all, actually – version of this story, starring James Hurt, was shown on the BBC last winter – with quite a lot of alterations to the story and to the ultimate explanation for the supernatural manifestations.
After the break, it was time for Syd Moore to do her bit.
I really like the fact that Ms Moore has taken to doing her readings and signings wearing great outfits made with wonderfully colourful material sporting some lovely little witches illustrations, a clever promo trick for her excellent first novel “The Drowning Pool”, whose central character is Sarah Moore, the Leigh sea-witch. She talked to us about her research and read a passage from her book, as well as one from her second book which will once again deal with witchy goings-on in Essex, this time tackling the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins. This promises to be a great read as well… Watch this space!
On our way out, we were given some wonderfully put together goodie bags full of nice little touches: a pine cone and some cockle shells accompanied by quotes out of Syd’s book – you will have to read “The Drowning Pool” to know what they represent!– some pumpkins and ginger bites and a headless gingerbread man!
Also in the bag was a small plastic bottle with a sticker warning “Ghost in a bottle, open at your own risk”…
… I haven’t yet mustered the courage to open it!
I think therefore I write.
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