Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Cats and Ghosts - "There Are More Things In Heaven and Earth..."

Moving into my third month in a cat-less home – and a haunted one at that – there’s a wealth of things I miss now Mimi is no longer around to keep me in order. One among many is the (probably) daft notion I had that as long as she didn’t stare off into the distance, her attention caught by something - or someone - I couldn’t see, I was safe from any threat of the supernatural variety.

Mimi - laid-back feline protector(?)
OK, send for the men in white coats and cart me off to the padded cell. It’s a hangover from childhood. When I was a small child I read somewhere that cats have a highly developed sixth sense and know about these things. Moreover, they can see ghosts, and react to them and a host of other paranormal manifestations.

This belief has somehow managed to evade any attempt at logic or maturity brought on by advancing years, and a lingering tiny – yet significant – number of brain cells have clung together in the hope that what I read was true. You see, since the age of six, I have only ever spent a grand total of eight, now going on nine, months without a cat to ‘protect me’ from things that go bump, creak and slither in the night.

A number of dog owners I am acquainted with have a similar belief (so I’m not entirely mad, or, if I am, I’m in good company). A few have told me of scary instances of their dogs gazing transfixed into a dark corner of the room, whimpering sometimes. Or maybe it was the humans who whimpered.

Mimi's relationship with any other dimension was to treat it with casual indifference. If it didn't interefere with her daily routine, why bother? Mind you, she was, without a doubt, the most laid back feline I have ever known. In fact, she was so laid back as to be pretty much horizontal. She fell thirty feet from a window when she was a year old and her reaction was to trot off, unscathed, to sit under a car by the front door, waiting to be rescued. She behaved in similar fashion when she fell through a neighbour’s greenhouse roof. She sat on a shelf among a load of plants and did her best impression of a potted azalea, until I found her. To such a blithe spirit, the sight of a ghost would be more likely to be welcomed by a demand for food and a cuddle rather than a hissy fit.
In our haunted flat, she developed a knack for disappearing completely and then suddenly reappearing. I liked to think that maybe she slipped into another dimension and went off for the day with our resident benign and invisible (to us) spectre. All right – I’m digressing into the realms of fantasy. Probably.

 Mimi’s predecessor was a semi feral tabby tom called Jennie (long story). He was not the horizontal sort. Jennie was alert to every aberration, sound and visual disturbance. I can recall a number of occasions when he focused on something I could neither see nor hear. 

In one house where we lived, the open plan staircase came in for his particular attention more than once. His ears would prick and he would stare at it. Hard. His hackles raised and he made that ominous growling that cats use to signal that they are thinking seriously about inflicting actual physical harm if the object of their annoyance doesn’t scarper. Quick. On those occasions, I would watch his gaze follow something that seemed to be making its steady way down the stairs. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. Only Jennie.
After a few minutes, he would stop staring, lick his paw and saunter off. The feline equivalent of shrugging his shoulders. I let out the breath I had been holding, picked him up and cuddled him. I would feel much better. Jennie had seen off the threat from… well I haven’t a clue actually.

 A tiny insect perhaps? Invisible to me, but easily observed by an animal with far more acute eyesight? OK, but when was the last time you saw an insect walk down the stairs? And in any case, insects did not raise the hackles on my cat. He just batted them with his paw.

I am not alone. A quick search on the internet brought up dozens of similar results. I have read multiple accounts of cats staring transfixed at spots on walls where the human could see nothing. One eyewitness said they saw the ghost of their dead cat, Penny, and their current cat chased her. There are accounts of cats interacting with ghosts as if they are being stroked by them. And there are scores of stories of cats returning from beyond the grave to visit with their special humans one last time. Even my own sane and pragmatic mother had a similar experience to this.

I particularly like one (possible) 'cat ghost' story I read recently. It all began some years ago in Pennsylvania – at Halloween. A young man was riding his bicycle in a small town north of Pittsburgh. He heard pitiful mewing coming from the side of the road and discovered a little black kitten, clearly lost or abandoned. The man picked up the tiny bundle of fur and took her home, where he introduced her to his resident cat, Biscuit. Needless to say, the older cat was less than pleased to receive a squatter. Months went by and the kitten – now named Cheddar – grew big and healthy. One day, the man decided to take some photos of the two cats together. As Biscuit had never got over his aversion to the kitten, this was a far from easy task. But the man managed to get them in the same room and snapped away, getting his shots of both cats.

He didn’t develop the film straightaway and, about a month later, Cheddar began to scratch and claw at the door, apparently desperate to get out.  She hadn’t done it before, but the man decided it would be cruel to deny her wishes. He let her out, but she never returned.

Some time later, he took the film to be developed. When the photos were returned he got the shock of his life. Despite his certain knowledge of taking pictures of both cats, there was not one shot of Cheddar. Biscuit was there – but always alone. Any shots that should have shown Cheddar did not contain even so much as the tip of her retreating tail. He double checked the negatives, but that proved fruitless as well. No trace was ever found of the little Halloween kitten.

Personally, I see no reason why animals can’t see beyond what we see. It is entirely possible that our evolution has robbed us of our own ability to sense the unknown. A lot of perfectly sane and reputable academics have conjectured that our ancestors many thousands of years ago were attuned to the earth’s magnetic forces in ways we have since lost. Hence their choice of locations for such gargantuan building projects as Stonehenge, Avebury and a host of other stone circles and megalithic monuments. There have been experiments, using highly sophisticated equipment, that reveal some very interesting and curious results.

Even youngsters seem to sense things adults can’t. There are scores of stories of children describing someone they have seen who turns out to be a dead ringer (sorry!) for a long deceased relative. A friend of my mother’s had an unnerving experience recently when a very young granddaughter asked who the sad lady was who had put her arms around her. There was no one there, but the child was adamant and went on to describe her in minute detail.

So do cats see ghosts? Do they sense presences we cannot comprehend? I keep an open mind. And one eye open at all times, just in case…because I no longer have a cat to alert me to these things.

And, let’s face it, Shakespeare could have been right:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Friday, 12 September 2014

What Waits In The Shadows...

 On October 7th...
Four Become One

Enter if you dare four worlds of chilling Gothic horror. Feel the oppressive heat on a plantation in the Old South, where the spirits of the dead do not rest easy. Smell the salt air in a dilapidated coastal restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay, a restaurant with a very deadly past. Explore a British manor house, but remember, what you find may have been looking for you. Hear the pounding surf beyond the stone walls of a looming castle that shouldn’t even exist. But regardless of the setting, no matter what you may think you hear or see, the truly terrifying thing is... 

My novella, Linden Manor, joins Blood Red Roses by Russell James, Castle By The Sea by J.G. Faherty and Bootleg Cove by Devin Govaere in a paperback anthology, with stunning cover art by Scott Carpenter - an amazingly talented cover artist I love working with.

I feel honoured and thrilled to be in such talented company as Russell, JG and Devin. Now here's a little taster of each of our stories:

The spirits of the dead cry for justice. 

In the waning days of the Civil War, orphaned teen Jebediah Abernathy has been indentured to one of the most notorious plantations in Mississippi, Beechwood. Ramses, the sadistic overseer, rules completely, unchecked by owners driven mad by the loss of their only son. Cruelty and torture are commonplace. And slave boys are mysteriously vanishing. But Jebediah is not completely alone. The ghost of his father and an escaped slave sorceress will lead him to the horrific truth about the disappearances—a knowledge that will probably cost him his life.

 Who knows the secret of Bootleg Cove?
Young widow Willie Douglas recently moved to remote, isolated Bootleg Cove on the Chesapeake Bay with her four-year-old son. Her plan—to renovate and re-open an abandoned restaurant. Almost as soon as she arrived, a handyman showed up out of the blue, offering to help. Then Amanda and Sam, two apparently orphaned teenagers, came to her door in need of help and a place to stay. 

But it’s not just the sweltering heat that’s wearing on Willie’s already fragile emotions.  Her mysterious handyman seems to know more than he’s willing to say, Amanda and Sam are acting very strangely indeed, and Willie’s beginning to realize that all three of her houseguests have more history with Bootleg Cove than she could ever have imagined. Willie is seeing too many things that she either can’t explain or refuses to believe.  But the most shocking revelation about Bootleg Cove is still to come…

How did they get here?  Will they ever get out?

Jason and Erika are having a wonderful time at the Halloween carnival...until their swan boat in the Tunnel of Love capsizes amid heavy waves and blaring, maniacal laughter. When they come to they are no longer in a carnival in Ohio, but standing at the edge of a sea in a raging storm. In the distance, atop a high, barren hill, looms an enormous castle.

Instead of answers, Jason and Erika find only more impossibilities within the stone walls. The lavish rooms are lit only by torches and fireplaces, the decorations and furniture are a century out of date, and the mysterious host claims to not own one of those newfangled telephone inventions. Outside, in the storm and the dense mist, lurk strange, threatening figures. Inside, another couple seeking refuge think it must all be a nightmare. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s something much, much worse.

Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body?
All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it.

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last.

Available for pre-order now:

Thursday, 28 August 2014

And The Winner Is...The Nightmare of Zbigniew Rybczynski

I was having lunch earlier this week with a couple of friends of mine. It was a great chance for a catch-up, and, at some point, the subject turned to my writing. One friend had recently read and (thank goodness) enjoyed, Saving Grace Devine. The other friend asked if there might be a film in the offing? Would I even like that?

Would I? Just wrap me up in brown cardboard and post me to Hollywood. Yes! Yes! Yes! I suspect most novel writers would have a similar (if not quite so manic) reaction. If that genuine offer came up, I’d be standing there, pen poised, ready to sign the contract – after I’d consulted a specialist lawyer of course!

Through all my years of writing, I’ve often mused on what it would be like to see my characters up there on the big screen. I’ve frequently ‘cast’ my stories. Suffice it to say that, if my dreams had come to fruition, Meryl Streep wouldn’t have had a minute to call her own for the past twenty-five to thirty years. Inevitably, I suppose, my fantasies have then wandered off into the stratosphere. You now the sort of thing. I have written the screenplay of my novel. It has been a critical and box office success. Now it’s Oscar night.

Picture it. The auditorium is packed with the great and good of the film industry. The award is for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. Liam Neeson (it has to be, don’t ask me why), opens that shiny gold envelope. In his soft Irish brogue, he announces:

“And the winner is…Catherine Cavendish for…”

The audience goes wild. They clap. Stamp their feet. I cannot believe it. People I don’t know are hugging me. Gosh, is that really Robert de Niro? Then I’m up on stage, holding that naked gold statue, and vowing to never wash the cheek Liam Neeson has just kissed. Ah, such is the stuff dreams are made of (or something like that). I finish my gracious acceptance speech without a stumble or a flood of tears. More applause as I exit the stage.

Of course, my fantasy is of the perfect Oscar night. As many people will attest, it is not always such plain sailing. Even if you are a winner.

Take the case of Zbigniew Rybczynski.


You know, the winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1983 for his groundbreaking eight minute film, Tango.

Oh that Zbigniew Rybczynski!

The presenter that night – Kristy McNichol – must have been praying his name wouldn’t come up. It did. She did her valiant best to pronounce it. She finally gave up with ““Zbigniewski Sky.” If only that was the worst of it. But the Law Unto Sod took over and it was downhill fast from there.

Up onto stage, came the, somewhat impoverished, Zbigniewski, dressed in poor quality Tuxedo and sneakers, and accompanied by a translator. He started his speech. The translator translated from his native Polish. “Distinguished members of the Academy, ladies and gentlemen, I made this short film so I will speak very short. I feel honoured to receive this award. I am dreaming that someday I will speak longer from this place…”

At that moment the orchestra started to play the Looney Tunes theme.

“No, no,” the hapless animator pleaded, as McNichol, assisted by Matt Dillon, tried to escort him off stage.

“He has important message,” said his translator.

Rybczynski kissed an astonished McNichol, who backed away from him. He then continued with his “important message”.

“And on the occasion of the film like Gandhi, which will portray Lech Walesa in solidarity.”


Well, that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Rybczynski went outside to have a smoke, still clutching his Oscar. When he tried to get back in, the guard blocked his way. He simply wouldn’t believe that this poorly dressed man could be an Academy Award winner, even though Zbig brandished his Oscar at him. A scuffle ensued and the police were called. According to one report, the director said, “American pig! I have the Oscar!” although whether that was before or after he tried to kick the police officer in the groin is unclear.

These days, Rybczynski can afford better suits – and probably shoes too. He has gone on to make a catalogue of experimental short films and music videos for such luminaries as The Pet Shop Boys, Art of Noise, Mick Jagger and Yoko Ono among many others.

He has also learned to speak English.