Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Loving A Gothic Ghost Story



 
This week we went to our local Odeon to see Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built and loved it. Before I went, I kind of knew I would. It had all the elements that get me going (in a good way). An eccentric – some might say, veering on the mad – central character, a Gothic house of extraordinary design and stairs leading apparently nowhere, candles, long dark hallways with plenty of polished wood doors, shadowy corners, things moving all by themselves and sudden, scary apparitions.

Set in 1906, the film purports to be inspired by true events. The ever-excellent Helen Mirren plays the real-life reluctant heiress to the Winchester repeating Rifle Company fortune - Sarah Lockwood Winchester – who built rooms to house restless spirits in an effort to help them move on. The result is a most extraordinary house with rambling corridors, precariously perched rooms and building work that continued twenty four hours a day for years.


 The acting, atmospheric set and the whole cinematic experience gave me a riveting 99 minutes entertainment, and I rather think the rest of the audience loved it too.

It gave me the same delicious chilling thrills as the excellent film version of Susan Hill’s classic The Woman in Black.

But what is it about that dark Gothic atmosphere that is so compelling to those of us who are aficionados of the genre? 


 For me, I became hooked at an early age. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan le Fanu, Mary Shelley to name but three, had me hiding under the blankets on cold winter’s nights as the harsh Yorkshire wind howled around the house adding to the ghostly creepiness I had just read. It felt thrilling, frightening - but in a good way. A safe way. This horror was supernatural. It didn't threaten me. It made me want to write stories like that. Shirley Jackson, M.R. James, Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) and Susan Hill absorbed me. I devoured Dracula, the Turn of the Screw, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde… The list kept on growing. It still is.

Now I write my own and doing so has given me a real insight into why I love Gothic horror so much. For a start, it is a chance to slip into a different world, live for a time in a magnificent old house with vaulted ceilings, secret rooms, spectres and haunted objects. Fires blaze in elegantly carved stone hearths, history is engraved in every piece of fabric and furnishing. Clocks tick and chime in deep, rich tones and there are shadows in every corner –and lurking within those shadows. Ah, the expectation, the chill up the spine, the tingling and goose-bumps of anticipation. All of this and more keep me writing, reading and watching my favourite horror genre and ensure I am always hungry for more.

If you love a Gothic ghost story, my novella Linden Manor is now available on Audible as well as the usual ebook formats. You can also find my Gothic-inspired novels - Saving Grace Devine, The Devil's Serenade and The Pendle Curse too. Just click on the link for more details on all of them:

 


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Murder Most Notorious - The Leveson Street Slaughter

For a relatively small city, Liverpool packs a terrific punch when it comes to its rich and varied history. Home to a great cultural heritage, and some of the finest Georgian architecture to be found anywhere in the UK, it also - in common with most locations - has its darker side.

Murder.

In this case, a murder so notorious it caused the local council to rename the street where it occurred. 

It all happened in 1849 in Leveson Street just south of the city centre where, at Number Twenty, Ann Hinrichson lived with her Danish sea captain husband, John. He was away on a voyage and Ann - pregnant with her third child - her two sons, aged five and three and their maid were living peacefully and happily when Ann made a decision that would have fatal consequences. She decided to make some extra cash by renting out one of their rooms.

John Gleeson Wilson, a young Irishman from Limerick, answered her advertisement and, having inspected the rooms, told her he was a ship's carpenter and paid his week's rent in advance. This was on March 28th.

When a delivery boy called the following day, he received no reply to his knock on the door, but he heard someone moaning and, through the keyhole, he could see the feet of someone lying across the hall. he raised the alarm and ran off to find a policeman. When they returned, the neighbours had already broken the door down.

Inside, Mrs Hinrichson's older son and the maid, Mary Parr, had been battered severely with a shovel and left for dead in a pool of blood. Meanwhile, in the cellar, the youngest child lay with his throat cut from ear to ear. The motive appears to have been robbery. Evidently, Mrs Hinrichson had been out when Wilson struck. She had come home to find him in the process of searching through her bedroom drawers. He attacked her viciously with a poker.Mrs Hinrichson and her elder son died shortly after but, unfortunately for Wilson, Mary Parr lived long enough to identify him before she too succumbed to her injuries less than a week later.

Wilson had fled, washed his bloodsoaked clothes in Toxteth Park nearby, and then tried to sell a gold watch to a pawnbroker in London Road. He purchased new boots and trousers and returned to his other lodging house in Porter Street to collect a clean shirt from his landlady. he then calmly walked into a barber's shop for a shave and asked about purchasing a wig as he maintained his hair was falling out. He also made enquiries about buying a £3 ticket to the USA.

The next day his luck ran out Once again he attempted to sell the watch - this time to a dealer in Great Howard Street. Something about his demeanour aroused the dealer's suspicions and he asked his son to take Wilson to a dealer in another part of the city. It was all a ruse. As they passed the Bridewell in Dale Street, the son grabbed Wilson and marched him in to turn him over to the police. The watch had belonged to Ann Hinrichson, as attested to by her mother.

Wilson was unrepentant throughout his trial although during the time he was being held in custody, he was known to have lengthy screaming fits and uncontrollable rages. The verdict required no deliberation on the part of the jury and he was publicly hanged in front of a crowd of some 50,000 people. In fact so many people wanted to witness the end of the notorious killer, that special trains were laid on and a charge of a shilling was made by those wanting a better view.

Wilson didn't go gently to his Maker. The hangman made a mess of the execution. He was a 70 year old stand in called George Howard and he miscalculated the drop.He also failed to position the hood properly and it barely reached his eyebrows. Wilson dropped and writhed in agony, his eyes bulging from their sockets. A number of those with the best views watched in horror as the man's face turned purple and, at one point, he twisted round to face his executioner. This proved too much for some of the crows and a number of them fainted. For fifteen minutes, he slowly choked before he finally expired.

As for poor Captain Hinrichson, he returned home to find his entire family dead. He later rose to become Dock Master at Toxteth, Huskisson and Queen's Docks.

 For residents of Leveson Street, life became intolerable, with sightseers and the sheer notoriety of their street. The council renamed it Grenville Street South. Even so, people would still point at Number Twenty. Gradually the slaughter faded into the annals of history, while all four victims continue to slumber in their graves in St James's Cemetery, nearby.



Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Forest Dancer - Susan Roebuck

My bookshelves and Kindle heave with books I love, from all genres - not merely my own. I love stories where the atmosphere pours from every page, the characters live and breathe and the story keeps me addicted until the last page, and even beyond. Susan Roebuck is one such author who always delivers this for me and she is my guest today, talking about her latest book, Forest Dancer, which I loved.

 Forest Dancer, my new novel, takes place in Portugal as my previous book Rising Tide was. Instead of being on the coast, Forest Dancer is set in the mountains just outside Lisbon in a fictional village called Aurora.

If you know Portugal and particularly the Lisbon area I think you’ll guess that the large town where the main character, Flora, goes frequently and which is called “Serra Glória” in the book is really Sintra.

 Sintra is only about twenty kilometres to the west of Lisbon but, compared to the heat and noise of Lisbon (which is in itself a beautiful city), it is a fairytale land of misty forests, turreted castles and huge megalithic stones that were hurled out of a volcano a millennia ago.

 British Philippa of Lancaster was Queen of Portugal when she was married to Dom João I from 1387 to 1415 and was responsible for bringing about Europe’s oldest alliance – Portugal and Britain which has lasted to this day (the Portuguese know this, but I can’t say the same for the British). She loved Sintra and one of the royal apartments in the town Palace is dedicated to her: the magpie room, which Flora – my main character – visits.

The king and queen are buried in the Batalha Monastery (north of Lisbon) and their tombs depict them holding hands.

With such a wonderful setting it was easy to combine the forest with ballet and music.

Here is the opening extract of classical ballet dancer, Flora, during an audition for Swan Lake:

The music began and she was in her role, bourréeing backwards, her arms suggesting the sensuous flight of a swan. They were then on to their passionate pas de deux, and Flora concentrated, forcing herself to become the evil temptress that Odile was supposed to be. Immersing herself in the blissful string music helped, even though she wished they’d chosen the role of Odette, the naïve, fun-loving white swan, for the first audition. Tomorrow she’d be Odette, and in that role she knew she’d give the other contenders a run for their money by dancing for joy at the innocent music that made her feel skittish and playful.

 Although it’s not mentioned in the book, I think this is my favourite Portuguese music by Madredeus. It sums up the Portuguese way of being – their loyalty and faith. The title is “Haja O Que Houver” which means whatever happens (and then she goes on…I’ll be waiting for you). I think it also sums up the atmosphere of Forest Dancer.


Links:

Forest Dancer (paperback and ebook) on Amazon