Monday, 31 December 2012

The Victorian Way of Death




She looks so peaceful lying there, doesn't she?

Maybe she's having an afternoon nap, before getting ready for a Christmas ball. Any moment, her eyes will open and she will smile, stretch her arms and...

Er, no, actually, she won't. Why not? Because she's dead. Yes, I'm serious.


You see, they did things differently in Victorian times. The advent of the marvellous new invention of photography, meant that, even in death, you could have a lasting memento of your loved one. Not only that, you could even pose with them. The only drawback there could be that, while your beloved recently departed was in perfect focus, the long exposure time would likely result in some slight movement from the living subjects rendering them a little blurred, as in this macabre example.

In the case of a deceased baby, the photograph would be the only chance to capture the image of the child so eagerly anticipated and so quickly lost. Dead babies and small children were often posed along with favourite toys.


Should a mother die in childbirth, she was often pictured with her face shrouded, her child on her lap.

In the example below, a whole family has been laid together, while in the one below, a couple hold their deceased children:



As we can also see from this last example, the practice continued well into the Twentieth Century.

It seems all too macabre to us now but, bearing in mind the high cost of photography, coupled with the fact that few families would have owned cameras, it must have been seen as an important part of the grieving process for those who chose this type of Memento Mori.
  
A mere 100+ years on, how times - and customs - have changed!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Wishing You All A Happy and Peaceful Christmas


Whoever you are, wherever you may be, 

I wish you a Happy, Peaceful and Joyous Christmas

Thank you all for your support and friendship throughout 2012



Sunday, 23 December 2012

Six More From Miss Abigail's Room


Almost Christmas. The perfect time for curling up with a chilling ghost story, so here are six more sentences for Six Sentence Sunday. Poor Becky, the under house parlourmaid, has been ordered back into Miss Abigail's Room to clean up the mess. She's almost finished, when she finds a doll with a darning needle stuck through its heart:

The room became oppressive. She wiped her dripping forehead as the adrenalin swirled.
She had to get out of that room. As fast as she could, she grabbed the dirty curtains and wastebasket with one hand and the bucket with the other. She had just made it to the doorway when she heard a deep, heartfelt, male sigh. 


And she knew, without looking, the sigh had come from that doll. 



You can read extracts from the other great authors participating in Six Sentence Sunday by clicking here


'Miss Abigail's Room' is available from:

Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Omnilit
Barnes and Noble
Kobo

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ghosts of Pirates Past - with Elin Gregory



Where do pirates go when they die? Elin Gregory, my guest today, has been pondering this. Read on to find out more - and how you can win a copy of her exciting new historical romance, On A Lee Shore. Over to you, Elin:


Many thanks, Cat, for so kindly inviting me to your blog to talk about pirates. 


I gave the subject matter for this blog post some thought. What pirate related information would suit best on a paranormal blog? 


Well obviously – ghosts! So I've been googling and searching around for suitably scary stories. There should be plenty of material. Many pirates met miserable ends. 


Blackbeard, for instance, was brought to bay in Okracoke inlet, fought til he dropped, then had his head hacked off to swing from a bowsprit. Apparently his corpse was thrown overboard and it swam three times round the ship before sinking. Now there's a man who would be haunting us if he possibly could. But even though there are tales about a portly black-whiskered gentleman who peers from the top window of an old house it has to be said that the house is USA old rather than European old, having been put up in the 1890s.


Bartholomew Roberts met his end in a crashing thunder storm when a naval vessel was chasing his ship. "A short life but a merry one" he had said and his career was cut short when a marksman shot him through the throat. As he lay dying, his crew in tears, they vowed to ignite the gunpowder they kept near the keel so they could go to the bottom together, but some forced men on the ship held them off.  Roberts' body was wrapped in his black silk flag and slipped overboard still wearing the great gold and diamond cross he had stolen from a Portuguese galleon. You would think that some sailor, keeping watch while the thunder crashed overhead might have seen a tall dark man in red striding the quarterdeck while the lightning drew fire from his diamonds – but no. Apparently not.


One of the saddest stories is of the infamous Captain William Kidd, a fine and honest seaman, who took a letter of marque to sail the Indian Ocean as a legitimate privateer. His crew, unruly and mutinous, gradually took control of the ship until he was little better than a navigator while they boarded and looted ships that should have been allowed to sail unmolested. When they were caught it was Kidd who paid the ultimate price. He was carried in chains to London, tried for acts of piracy on the high seas, convicted and hanged at Execution Dock - twice. The rope broke on the first occasion so they strung him up again! Then his corpse was wrapped in chains, dipped in tar and hung up on Blackwall Point as a terrible warning to young men heading for the sea. Execution Dock was used to put an end to seafaring miscreants for over 400 years, the final executions taking place in 1830. It has long since been built over and a small Underground station stands there now. Despite the hundreds of executions that took place on the site nobody who has been standing on the station platform late at night has reported an eerie chill in the air not anyone whispering a final prayer. 
 

So if there are no pirate ghosts – why are there no pirate ghosts? 


Perhaps there's a pirate equivalent to Valhalla? Where the naval vessels are slow and easily bamboozled, the prizes are rich, ports friendly, doubloons plentiful and the rum never never runs short.


If you were a pirate, how would you like to spend eternity? Comment below for a chance to win a copy of my novel On A Lee Shore





Blurb: “Give me a reason to let you live…”


Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 


Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?


Obtainable here or here if you're in the States.


Excerpt:


He had just finished fitting the desk together when he felt the first real sign of life from the ship.


“Sir George, would you care to go on deck?”


“Why, what’s happening?” Sir George asked, closing his book.


“The hands are weighing anchor,” Kit said. “Can you feel how the ship moves? She knows she’s free. I thought you might like to come up and wave good-bye to Portsmouth.”


“The last glimpse of England, eh?” Sir George grinned and straightened his wig. “That will be most agreeable.”


Sir George was a little unsteady on his feet, and Kit left him holding onto the railing while he went to pay his respects to the captain and ask if there was a corner where the captain’s paying passenger could stand. The captain expressed delight at the request. He sent men running to find a chair for Sir George and promised to join him shortly, just as soon as they were in more open waters.


Kit had no fault to find with the running of the ship. The men moved willingly and the master seemed deft enough. Sir George held onto his wig with one hand and poured out questions, gesturing with the other.


“So that’s what a stay is.” He peered up at the heavy rope thrumming taut between the two masts. “I always wondered. One might be familiar with the term on paper, but it’s good to have some knowledge of the practical application.”


“Indeed, sir,” Kit said.


Sir George’s good humor lasted until they cleared the harbor and Hypatia heeled over as the wind caught her sails properly for the first time. He was looking up, mouth open, as he watched the men aloft, and the sudden tilt of the deck, exaggerated by the swing of the masts, made him go pale.


“Penrose,” he said, “I do believe I’m feeling seasick. What do you advise?”


“Look at the horizon, sir, and try to ignore the ship, if you can,” Kit suggested. “But if you think you may be ill…”


“May be? I feel it is a certainty,” Sir George muttered.


Kit helped his master below and set about trying to make him comfortable. Once the inevitable had happened, a small glass of brandy and a pinch of ginger under the tongue settled his stomach for the time being. Kit left him with a basin and a towel and went back on deck to wash out the bucket and get some fresh air.


Sir George would be all right. He was calm and cooperative and seemed to be accepting the sickness as a natural hazard of travel rather than a terrifying illness, as did some landsmen. As for Kit, he set his feet firmly and smiled as the deck shifted under him, the wind tugging at the skirts of his coat.


He was at sea—home—and even a bucket of vomit couldn’t take the gloss off that happiness.

~~~

Many many thanks, Catherine, for being such a gracious host.

My pleasure, Elin!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Miss Abigail's Room on Six Sentence Sunday


It's Sunday again and time for Six Sentence Sunday

Here are mine, from an early chapter of my latest horror novella, Miss Abigail's Room:

'As the door opened, they stepped forward to enter the room.
Sarah gasped. Becky let out a shriek and almost dropped her bucket. Every single ornament was smashed, and the blood was not only back but smeared over the walls and curtains. Becky jerked backward, heedless of the sloshing water from her dropped bucket. Sarah slammed the door shut and the two women hugged each other, trembling with fear.' 



'Miss Abigail's Room' is available from:

Amazon.com 
Amazon.co.uk
Omnilit
Barnes and Noble

Kobo



Friday, 7 December 2012

Miss Abigail's Room is Here! Dare You Enter?

It wasn’t so much the blood on the floor that Becky minded. It was the way it kept coming back…




As the lowest ranking parlor maid at Stonefleet Hall, Becky gets all the dirtiest jobs. But the one she hates the most is cleaning Miss Abigail’s room. There’s a strange, empty smell to the place, and a feeling that nothing right or Christian resides there in the mistress’s absence. And then there’s the blood, the spot that comes back no matter often Becky scrubs it clean. Becky wishes she had somewhere else to go, but without means or a good recommendation from her household, there is nothing for her outside the only home she’s known for eighteen years. So when a sickening doll made of wax and feathers turns up, Becky’s dreams of freedom and green grass become even more distant. Until the staff members start to die.

A darning needle though the heart of the gruesome doll puts everyone at Stonefleet Hall at odds. The head parlor maid seems like someone else, the butler pretends nothing’s amiss, and everyone thinks Becky’s losing her mind. But when the shambling old lord of the manor looks at her, why does he scream as though he’s seen the hounds of hell?


Miss Abigail's Room is available now from

Amazon.com 
Amazon.co.uk
Omnilit
Barnes and Noble and will soon be available from:


Kobo
and other online booksellers


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

'The Second Wife' is My Next Big Thing



I have been tagged by fellow Horror author, Keith Pyeatt to talk about my Next Big Thing - my current Work In Progress.


As part of this process, I needed to tag some fellow authors and I chose Steve Emmett, a horror writer and editor whose debut novel, Diavolino is an occult thriller set in Italy. I also chose bestselling erotic romance author SUZ deMELLO, who has written over fifteen books, plus a number of short stories and articles on writing. My third author is Rowan Shannigan, author of YA Paranormal novel, Awareness.


 So, here I go,  with my answers to the ten set questions:


 What is the working title of your book?

 "The Second Wife" 

 Where did the idea come from for the book?
 
This is going to sound quite bizarre, but it all started with a Churchill chair. You know the sort, it's for people who suffer mobility problems and has electrically operated controls to tilt it to make it easier to get out of, has a head rest that can be lowered and foot rest that can be raised. The one I am familiar with belonged to someone who died and for some reason I always feel uncomfortable about it and will avoid sitting on it. From there it was a short hop to the rest of the story.

  
What genre does your book fall under?

Paranormal Horror . 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


Charlize Theron
Lovely question. The first wife - Emily - is a ghost, blonde, slender, beautiful in an ethereal sort of way, but there's something far more sinister underneath. I need a strong actress for this role. So, maybe Charlize Theron. 
My main character, the second wife - Chrissie - is very different, so I'm thinking Rachel Weisz. As for the husband - Joe - Christian Bale would be great
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Emily died on Valentine's Day - if only she had stayed dead 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


Rachel Weisz
Neither. I am hoping my present publisher - Etopia Press - will be interested 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


I'm still working on it! 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


Christian Bale
"The Woman In Black" has been an inspiration

Who or What inspired you to write this book?



It all started with an idea that popped into my head one day. I don't know where it came from. Most of my best ideas happen at random moments like that.
 
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?


"The Second Wife" is a scary ghost story about a deceased first wife who will not let go and a current wife who, though scared half to death, is determined to win. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Devil Inside Her on Six Sentence Sunday






I'm participating in Six Sentence Sunday. It's harder thank you think! Anyway, here are my six from the early chapters of my Paranormal Horror novella,The Devil Inside Her:




'The black cloak of dense smoke descended on her, as usual, enveloping her like a shroud. Those voices, constantly chattering and stabbing at her, indistinct but only just. If only she could make out what they were saying. She’d wake up any second now. All she had to do was wait. She closed her eyes.'




 The Devil Inside Her is available from (among others) these online sellers:

Kobo 



Saturday, 17 November 2012

Working For Peace and Understanding - Jerusalem International YMCA


With news of the situation in Israel, this candle of hope continues to burn brightly:

In 1993, the organisation housed in the above unique building in Jerusalem, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, eventually losing out to Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk. So what is this organisation? Answer - the Jerusalem International YMCA.

Think of the YMCA and what is the vision that comes into your head? Well, once you've put aside images of men with big moustaches singing about the fun to be had staying there, you're probably imagining a pretty bland building with basic rooms comprising multiple bunk beds. Add to that wholesome, although not too inspiring, food and a general mucking in with housekeeping, along with sporting, religious and recreational activities and the picture would be, more or less, painted. 

Mosaic containing dedication by General Allenby

It is safe to say that, internationally, the movement has moved on and become much more encompassing and inclusive. Sport is still a major feature and there is a far more structured and successful emphasis on providing academic learning and skills training, as well as the underlying promotion of Christian principles and ethos to boys and girls, men and women.

But, in Jerusalem, there are other challenges.

The Jerusalem International YMCA (JIY) was established in 1878 and has been operated by the YMCA of the USA since 1920. During WW2, it supported prisoners of war, providing them with anything from eating utensils to art materials and musical instruments, under the War Prisoners Aid scheme it established.


For many years now, it has been its mission to provide a safe haven for the Jewish, Moslem and Christian people of Jerusalem, and people of all ages 'enjoy the atmosphere of understanding and unity'. Its grand facade houses 56 rooms, air conditioning, and a superb onsite restaurant (I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken schnitzel and salad). The distinctive tower is 152 feet high and overlooks the Old City, providing a famous landmark visible for miles around. Noteworthy on the outside, the work inside is even more remarkable.

JIY - entrance

The JIY is widely acknowledged as a centre for cultural, athletic, social and intelectual life and is visited by more than half a million people annually. Distinguished guests have included Hillary Clinton, Madaline Allbright and Warren Christopher and it even houses a kindergarten where Moslem, Christian and Jewish children play and learn together. The message is one of hope, unity and reconciliation and this extends to the Committee who run the JIY. 

Its work and 'efforts in promoting the dignity of humankind and peace in the region' led to its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. What a shame it had to be the same year as Nelson Mandela!

Forsan Hussein

Comprised of representatives of organisations and companies, drawn from the local and wider community, its current CEO is Forsan Hussein, who says, 'I am a Palestinian - a Palestinian Israeli, a Muslim CEO of a Christian institution in a Jewish country. It doesn't get any better than that!'

On one wall of the boardroom, hang many photographs of previous Chairmen of the Board, including one of my husband, Colin, who was Chairman from 1988-89. A few weeks ago, he returned and is pictured here with Jodie Asaraf (Executive Office Manager). If you look above Jodie's head on the top row, you will see a much younger Colin!
Former JIY Chairman, Colin Nibbs, with Jodie Asaraf, Executive Office Manager

The influence, scope and activity of the JIY continues to grow and you can find out more about them here: http://ymca.org.il/aboutus.html

Surely their mission and work has never been more relevant or needed.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Significant Deaths...with Jasen Quick




My guest today is Jasen Quick, author of the riveting and highly unusual story, The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance. Here's the blurb:
  
"Cage Reynolds wanted to die.

Having survived two world wars, the death of his wife, and innumerable suicide attempts, Cage is lonely and depressed. He has a secret, one that defies modern science, and his life is not as it seems. He's 169 years old, and he cannot die.

On the day that he is pushed in front of a bus by a mysterious man, Cage meets Clementine, a lively young woman who knows more about Cage than she is letting on. She works for Constance Sullivan, a wealthy businesswoman who trades in antiquities. When Cage is lured into Constance's world, he sees something that even he can hardly believe--something that changes his life forever."

I asked Jasen to talk about the inspiration for this story - and the answer was almost as extraordinary as the story itself:

 

Sitting in the classroom, doing the evening shift at the adult education centre, my mind wandered and I found myself staring out the window. I only had two students that night, so I wasn’t overburdened with things to do. As a bus passed by, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be hit by a bus and survive, unharmed.

I started writing down what I thought it might feel like and this eventually became the inspiration for The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance. In the first draft, Cage Reynolds kills himself in many different ways, knowing he cannot die. Jumping in front of a bus was the first and I also wrote chapters in which he jumped off a cliff, shot himself with a Colt Peacemaker, crashed a Cessna aircraft, drowned, was hit by a train, hanged and guillotined.

In a subsequent draft, I introduced the cadavers and realised that a man who kills himself knowing someone else will die is quite selfish, so the suicides became attempts on his life. To make these attempts, I introduced the character of Marcus.

Of all the deaths, I spent the most time researching the bus and I created a file in which I pasted details of bus sizes, lengths and specifications. If he was hit by an Optare Excel, he would be dragged along the road because the bus was designed to be low enough for disabled people to get on and off easily. There would not be enough room to lie underneath the bus and have it drive over. The speed at which buses travel was taken into account and the rate at which they slow down at bus stops. It would be no good to be hit and just bounce onto the floor.

Since the novel is set primarily in Salisbury, I needed to know which buses might be found in the city. At the time, the Wilts & Dorset bus company used Optare Excel 2 buses, which were longer.

 
In the final draft, Marcus pushes Cage in front of the bus in Salisbury:

My face and left knee are the first to make contact. My nose hits the low windscreen, and the force jolts my head back. My fingertips grip the windscreen wiper blade, which I pull off as I am thrown backwards into the road. A fraction of a second later and the bus is looming over me like the school bully who is about to stomp on my face. My right foot goes under the nearside wheel, and I am quickly pulled under the bus. My head and shoulders drag along the road, and my left leg rises into the air, hitting the underside of the bus and making a loud thud. The nearside wheel rolls up my leg, pinning me to the road as the bus drives over me, scraping my coat off my back and twisting my shirt. The wheel rolls across my stomach and over my chest, heading for my throat. I turn my head away from the wheel and press my left hand against the axle as the bus rolls off my left shoulder.

At this point, Cage should die. However, he finds himself lying on the pavement on the opposite side of the road and an unidentified cadaver lies in his place under the bus.

I did a lot of research for The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance, which I felt was necessary to make the subject believable. By contrast, I have just finished my second novel, which has required almost no research.

Salisbury, Wiltshire
 Thank you for sharing this with us, Jasen. I am endlessly fascinated to learn where writers have gained the inspiration for their stories. So often it begins with a tiny, seemingly random, thought which then links with another and another until a whole complex fabric is weaved and a story is born. Yours is just such an example.

The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance is available in paperback and ebook from:
 and most other online booksellers
You can connect with Jasen here:


 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Israel - Challenging Preconceptions

Jaffa - looking towards Tel Aviv
 Nothing ever prepares you for your first trip to Israel. At least, that's what I have learned as a result of last week's fascinating trip.

Of course, I was prepared for heaving crowds at all the major sites, so that was no surprise and I was prepared for the sight of cars rather than camels, roads rather than dusty tracks. I was even prepared for the River Jordan to be a narrow winding affair, little more than a stream in places. But, aside from that, so much has been a revelation. Nor was I alone in this. Although he was better prepared than me - having lived in Tel Aviv for four years during the Eighties - my husband was awestruck at the vast network of motorways and tunnels which have transformed transportation in the larger cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In fact, he barely recognised the area he used to live in! Multi-national companies were conspicuous by their absence in his day. Now they are everywhere. House building has increased substantially and there is a curious preponderance of Russian, occurring on some explanatory and directional signs as the second language (following Hebrew and before English and Arabic).

Nazareth

With so much upheaval, war and negative reporting over the years, I fully expected to find armed guards on every street corner, total segregation of Jews and Arabs and a general undertone of menace everywhere I went.

I didn't.

Instead, I found a multicultural, international society, vibrant and growing. OK, with a long way to go I grant you, but the green shoots of increased integration seem to be there. Since my husband's time, skyscraper hotels have sprung up all over the place, bringing with them thousands of jobs with Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs (both Moslem and Christian) working side by side. In my opinion this lays the foundations for far greater cross-cultural understanding and religious tolerance for the future. I hope I'm proved right - even if it does take a generation.

Leonardo Hotel, Jerusalem. One of many large hotels to have sprung up in recent years

I also wasn't prepared for the relatively short distances between the major historic sites. Tel Aviv has sprawled into Jaffa, and Bethlehem is almost a suburb of Jerusalem as it is right next door. But here there is a great divide. The horrible, infamous high wall, houses Border controls permitting no Israeli citizen to enter. Its elected Mayor (this year, for the first time, a woman), must be Christian. There is graffiti - lots of it on the Palestinian side of the barrier. Most of it is political, but not all - slogans and artwork praising Leila Khaled rub shoulders with three foot high letters 'Make Hummous not war' and 'Olive trees shall be our borders'.

Graffiti on Palestinian side of the wall, Bethlehem


A surreal episode for me was our trip up the Golan Heights (on a tour bus). Practically at the top, we parked for a photo stop. Our view was of Syria, with Damascus just 45 miles away.

Syria from the Golan Heights

Acre (or Akko) was the biggest revelation to me. Its 12th century Crusader fortress is enormous, extending underground to the Knights Halls which were accidentally discovered by a prisoner held by the British in 1947 (during the British Mandate). He was trying to dig his way out and accidentally found himself in the long forgotten subterranean chamber.
The Knights' Halls, Acre

Israel is a country the size of Wales and is an archaeologist's dream. Everywhere you go there are excavations. It is also a gastronome's delight. Fresh fruit and vegetables abound and I have never tasted orange juice like it. A creative array of salads accompany a delicious range of fresh and saltwater fish and the desserts were light, varied and extremely naughty!

I'll put another post up on other aspects of our wonderful trip within the next week or so, including a feature on the most unusual YMCA you will ever have seen - I guarantee it. Not only is it unusual, it was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!

The international YMCA, Jerusalem