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:

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

Monday 8 October 2012

Narragansett - Elson Meehan

Today, Elson Meehan, author of the scary short horror story, Black Habits and fellow contributor to Touched by Darkness tells us about a very strange encounter:

I used to live in Boston and on afternoons when the weather was good and I had time to spare, I would walk from the train station to my house. 

In the spring of 2010, I was walking just so and feeling vaguely overheated when I came upon a rough-looking woman drinking beer on a stoop across from the package store. Her hair was auburn. Her jeans were weathered. Her sneakers were white. She probably could have used a better moisturizer, but winter had only just gone and maybe her skin was unusually sensitive to the dry cold. I didn't know. That wasn't really any of my business anyway. 

She had a six-pack of beer beside her and she drank from a can that bore, in an inscrutable font, a proper noun. A place name, I wondered? Was it an American Indian tribe? I didn't know! I had seen this beer before in bars and since it was the cheapest beer, I usually wanted to order it, but I was a rube and I couldn't pronounce its name, so I never did; I didn't want to shame myself. As I continued walking, I tried not to stare too much at the woman with the beer. The sky was blue and bright, the air was clear, the zephyrs were gusting, and children were playing in the community recreation area next to the package store. I wished that I was drinking cheap beer on a stoop, and I thought to myself, in my head as I passed the woman: how do you even say that word?

“Nar-ra-gan-sett,” she shouted after me. 
Oh my god, I thought, she read my brain! How did she know? Justifications for what had happened, both insipid and mundane, did occur to me, but I refused to accept that this moment was anything less than profound. Suddenly, I felt light-hearted. The clamminess about my person no longer troubled me. “Narragansett!” I repeated proudly. I smiled. I gave her two thumbs up. I was giddy. There was magic in the world again, and I was filled with wonder. 

You can buy Black Habits as a standalone short story Here and you can find out more about Elson Meehan Here 

 Touched by Darkness is available from:

Thank you, Katie (aka Elson)!

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Stranger Than Fiction - Julia Kavan

There's something spooky about horror writers. We seem to attract weird and inexplicable experiences! My fellow contributors to the new Horror anthology, Touched by Darkness are no exception, and a number of them have agreed to share their strangest experiences with us. To start us off, I'll hand you over to Julia Kavan - author of Dreaming Not Sleeping:

I’ve had many spooky encounters during my life – one of them witnessed by Cat herself earlier in the year - I’ve heard disembodied voices as a child, I’ve seen ghostly figures walking across the landing at home and we have a phantom cat (or two).

Late one winter’s night I walked up the High Street towards my house, and as I drew level with the house two doors down from mine, I saw the figure of a man walk through the gate and up the steps to my front door (illuminated by the streetlamp right outside), before carrying on up the side path of my house and into the shadows. There had been no one walking up the street ahead of me and I couldn’t say where he’d come from. He just appeared. Stupidly, (don’t try this at home) I followed in his footsteps, expecting to confront someone trying to access the back of the house. There was no one. There was nowhere he could have gone without making a lot of noise – we had a rusty side gate that needed oiling and squealed when opened, and it was impossible to climb over in the dark (don’t ask me how I know that J ). The gate was still shut so I opened it, accompanied by the usual racket from the old hinges, and did a very nervous check of the back garden. Nothing. The only way out was past me and back down the steps.

There had been several nights when I’d heard footsteps walking up the side path – the living room wall backed on to it – and although we had a small window looking out on the side garden in the cupboard under the stairs, I never dared to look through it... just in case someone looked back.

I kind of put it all down to my overactive, creepy imagination. Until the night a friend of mine rang the doorbell. It was late and dark. He told me he was just passing and had just seen a man walking up the steps to the front door before disappearing up the side path...
(He did check the place out for me – there was no one there)

As well as disappearing people, I’ve also had an entire building vanish – at least temporarily. There was a bookshop that I used to visit very regularly – almost weekly – where I would buy books on the paranormal and about magic... except for the day I walked down the hill and couldn’t find the shop anywhere. I walked up and down the hill several times. There was no bookshop. It was as if it had been plucked out of the street and the gap it would have left had sealed up. I gave up looking, deciding that it must have closed down, but puzzled as to why there wasn’t even an empty building. I even remarked to someone I knew who I met later in the day, that it was a shame the place had shut down as it had been there for years. They were as surprised as I.
The following week I walked down the hill to visit another shop....and saw the bookshop sign hanging in the place it always had. I carried on down the hill straight to the door and looked at the display of books they always had in the window. I went inside and bought the book I’d intended to buy and asked if they had been closed the previous week – the owner insisted they had been there as usual, but it had been a quiet day. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t find it....

Dreaming Not Sleeping is available Here and you can find out more about Julia by visiting her website: Julia Kavan 

Touched by Darkness is available from:

Monday 17 September 2012

The Devil and Mr Emmett...

Just returned from an excellent weekend at Booqfest where an eclectic selection of writers gave readings, workshops and conducted book signings at various venues in Northampton.

Thoroughly enjoyed a Creative Writing Workshop conducted by Morgen Bailey whose energy leaves me exhausted. I'm sure for every twenty-four hours the rest of us have at our disposal, she has thirty-six. I don't know how she manages so much creative output!

The highlight for me though had to be Steve Emmett. On Sunday, he gave a riveting talk on Horror as a genre, how he became hooked on it and his early influences. He also gave his audience some food for thought on the perils of dabbling in the Black Art. I found this particularly fascinating as a writer of Paranormal Horror myself. As Steve himself put it, so many people are sceptical of anything beyond what they can see, hear, touch and prove. Yet if there really is nothing beyond the normal - i.e. paranormal - why would there be any harm in playing with ouija boards or indulging in one of the myriad forms of black magic? But the likes of Dennis Wheatley, Rollo Ahmed and the Roman Catholic Church come out vehemently against such practices. Hmm - I leave that one with you to  ponder on.
Rollo Ahmed

Steve ended his part of the proceedings with a reading from his dark and scary novel Diavolino, after which he conducted a book signing. What a great way to spend a Sunday!

Julia wards off the devil - er, I mean Steve

Horror writer,Julia Kavan, moderated and did an excellent job of keeping everything flowing smoothly while we, Steve's audience, fired question after question at him. I asked him about his next novel. My lips are sealed for now, but I can tell you, it's going to be great.

Just a brief word about the venue - 78 Derngate - a hidden gem which just happens to be the only house in England designed by one of my favourites - Charles Rennie Mackintosh - and which is, in my opinion, worth the trip to Northampton alone. I would never have known of it but for going along to hear one of my favourite Horror writers, but now you know, why not go along and give yourself a treat? The restaurant there is well worth a visit too!


Sunday 26 August 2012

Diavolino Arrives at Waterstones!

Steve Emmett, Julia Kavan, Catherine Cavendish

August Bank Holiday with its usual mix of sunshine and showers, coupled with one of the biggest weekends in the city's (horse) racing calendar, saw Waterstones welcome horror writer Steve Emmett to its York store yesterday (Saturday).

Steve was there to sign copies of his novel, Diavolino, which, following on the heels of a highly successful ebook, is now available in print. In case you haven't caught up with it yet, here's the blurb:

 "The chance to build a dream home on a private island in Italy's most beautiful lake offers architect Tom Lupton the fresh start he's been yearning for. But when he arrives with his family on Diavolino, he finds the terrified locals dead set against his arrival. The island, whose very existence has been shrouded in secrecy for half a millennium, has a dark history that no one cares to remember, and as their opposition to Tom grows, so grows a brooding evil that will lead them to the very doors of hell..."

Author,Julia Kavan and I came along to add our support and were soon joined by Louise Cole from Firedance Books. It was the first time the four of us had met up (having enjoyed a 'virtual' friendship for over three years), so we had a great time. Even better, customers came along and bought the book! By the end of the day, with most of the stock sold, Steve pronounced the event a resounding success.

If you missed him there, you can still catch Steve in person at Booqfest
in Northampton on Sunday 16th September, where he will be delivering a talk on horror writing and reading extracts from his novel.

You'll find Diavolino related links here: Diavolino

Ghostly Goings-On At The Golden Fleece


Julia and I, along with my longsuffering other half, Colin, met up at the multi-haunted Golden Fleece pub on the evening before Steve's booksigning. Typical of two writers, Julia and I were soon engaged in animated conversation while Colin - himself a published author (Accountancy in Banking)- amused himself with the pub's various eccentricities. Suddenly, he drew our attention to something a little odd.

Behind the bar, coffee mugs were suspended on inidividual hooks and, while the others remained static, one was swaying and continued to do so, never varying its rhythmical swing. Normally if you set a mug (or anything for that matter) swinging on a hook, it will slow down after a relatively short time and then stop. Not this mug. It just kept on...and on... and on. But nobody was touching it.

Then, to cap it all, a glass on an unattended table next to us suddenly crashed to the floor and smashed. We were the nearest people to it and were sitting about four feet away. It was, by now, fairly quiet in the bar and nobody had gone past for some time. OK, this is an ancient pub with uneven floors, so you might think it simply slid off the table. That makes sense, doesn't it? So, if we were to place another glass on the table, it too should slide, shouldn't it?  Except another customer, who had witnessed the whole thing, tried that repeatedly with a similar glass. It never moved...

Unable to get a word in edgeways, Colin makes a friend in the Golden Fleece
Don't you just love a haunted pub that lives up to its hype?

Saturday 18 August 2012

A Walk On The Dark Side - with Steve Emmett

 Today, I am delighted to have Steve Emmett as my guest. Here he talks about his early influences, horror and the darker side of things...
When Catherine asked me to follow Aleister Crowley I took it as something of a compliment. Yes, he was pretty unsavoury and surely gave the expression ‘neighbour from hell’ an original meaning, but he is still a big name in the World of Darkness, and it is in that world that I have chosen to spend my career as a writer. But have I ever been tempted to dabble in the occult myself? 
One of my early influences was the British author Dennis Wheatley. He wasn’t exactly a pillar of the community by all accounts. He picked up women in Richmond Park and was a terrible racist and right-winger (traits which sometimes deflect the reader from his stories). He also associated with rather iffy characters like Eric Gordon Tombe, a fraudster with whom Wheatley enjoyed the playboy life, quaffing champagne and, um, picking up women (there is a lovely line, I digress by the way, in Don Giovanni where the eponymous MC puts on his finery, climbs aboard his barge and sings ‘what a wonderful night for going out looking for girls’). Tombe eventually disappeared in suspicious circumstances, leaving Wheatley to draw on his exploits when the latter began his writing career.
One of Wheatley’s other acquaintances was the Egyptian occult scholar, Rollo Ahmed. His book, The Black Art (ISBN 1 85958 048 3) was first published in 1936 by Wheatley’s own publisher as result of Wheatley’s introduction. The book indeed carries an introduction by Wheatley. The Black Art is a wonderful source of information for authors like me. It can be, sadly, hard to find and I cherish my copy. In his summing up, Ahmed says this:
‘No one should ever yield to a temptation to dabble in sorcery, even if only from curiosity or the search for a new thrill. It is impossible to involve oneself in black magic in any shape or form without becoming contaminated; it is impossible to approach it and not risk losing judgment and reason. I have personally investigated it and, speaking from experience, strongly advise no one to do likewise. There is nothing of true value to gain, and everything to lose. It does not matter how light-heartedly it may be entered into as an intriguing pastime, with a tempting spice of the forbidden, the penalty is the same.’

It is well-known that Wheatley continually gave the same warning, stressing that his own works were based on information gained from people such as Ahmed rather than his own personal experiences. And that has always been my position, drilled into me from an early age. I was sent to a Catholic school where talk of the supernatural was a sin (um, so what’s a virgin birth and rising from the dead?) and this is where my obsession – for I do think it is that – with horror and the dark side comes.
Witchcraft and devilry are the necessary and natural complements to organized religion. It has been so for over two thousand years. Organised religion is weakened, it may even cease to exist, without its dark cousin. Good and evil. The contrast of all contrasts. So when people ask how a nice person like me (you’ll have to take my word on that) can write about such bad things, that is the answer I give them. Good guys can write bad things because we experience the contrast. Hitler wrote horror, but it wasn’t fiction; neither did he see it as bad or horrific. Could he have written a decent horror novel? I doubt it.
When I wrote Diavolino I wanted to work with all these ingredients. Most of all I wanted to use the contrast between the beauty of the setting and the ugliness of the growing xenophobia to build the horror story. Naturally, Italy leaves the door wide open for the occult to raise its head alongside The Vatican. If you read Diavolino you will find goodness and beauty is everywhere, always on the surface to be seen. But evil lurks everywhere, ready to grab you when you least expect it.
Diavolino was my first novel (I have just completed my second and have two others part-complete). 
Waterstones, York. Meet Steve here in person Sat. Aug 25th
If you live anywhere near York you might like to come along to Waterstones in that city on 25th August where I will be to sign copies purchased on the day.  A big ‘thank you’ to Kirstie Lount for making the event possible! If you’d like to hear me read from Diavolino and talk about my kind of horror, I’m appearing at the Northampton booQfest on 16th September. More details on my website.

Not long ago an older friend of mine revealed that his even older brother once struck up a friendship with the ageing Wheatley. My friend’s brother maintained that despite his warnings and claims of innocence, Wheatley had, in the name of ‘research’, got rather too close to the Black Art and ‘paid the penalty’. But I’m puzzled by one thing, and I will leave you with this thought. We all agree, do we not, that dabbling in the occult is dangerous? Even the master Rollo Ahmed warned us. So does this mean that the devil, demons, ghosts, supernatural evil are all real? Because if not, if they are purely fiction and superstition, how on earth could it possibly harm us if we did give in to curiosity – just once?
Sleep well!
(If you want to know more about Dennis Wheatley there is an excellent book by Phil Baker called The Devil is a Gentleman: ISBN 978-1907650321 published by Dedalus)

You can find Steve online here:

Here are some places to buy Diavolino:

If you are interested in the Northampton booQfest, here’s the website:

Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Golden Fleece - York's Most Haunted Pub?

Many would certainly say so. Indeed I have taken some photographs there myself and one of them (shown here) contained a rather interesting phenomenon known as an orb. Have a look at the white sphere on the right hand side of the photo.
No, it's not a reflection, a fault on the camera, a mark on the lens, a little Photoshop magic or a dab of Tippex. I don't know what it is but it IS curious.

Of course, one little orb is small fry to regulars of The Golden Fleece, who sup with a bony character called Mr Skellington and report phenomena ranging from the odd footstep to full blown manifestations.

Immediately you enter, you know it's the sort of place that just has to be haunted. Dating from 1503, it is said to be built on stilts, rather than solid foundations, and there are indeed some strange angles and undulations! The building has remained largely unchanged, except for the removal of an archway from the front.

Lord John Peckett, Mayor of York in 1702, once owned the premises, and his wife, Lady Alice, is said to haunt the building to this day. Another famous ghost is that of a Canadian airman, Geoff Monroe, who died while staying in Room 4 of the Inn in 1945. People sleeping in that room have since been frightened by his icy fingers waking them and terrified to see him standing there dressed in full uniform. The poor man threw himself - or maybe fell - from the window.

In 2002, a group on a ghost tour were scared by the appearance of a man, dressed in 17th century clothes, who walked through a wall, across a corridor and towards the Shambles Bar. What terrified them most was that he paused and stared straight at them before resuming his phantom walk.

One of their number was a sceptic.

He isn't any longer. 

The Golden Fleece is a must-visit for all fans of the paranormal and, as you'll see on their website, they're not shy when it comes to introducing you to their spirits of a different kind...

Thursday 29 March 2012

Picking The Paranormal - Keith Pyeatt

My guest today is fellow paranormal author, Keith Pyeatt, whose books are scary, original and unputdownable. I love them!

Here he talks about his writing and how his books have evolved. Over to you Keith:
My novels are hard to pigeonhole, but each one is driven by a strong paranormal element. I like the freedom a paranormal element gives my imagination to come up with unusual threats and creative ways to torment my poor characters. The result is that my novels are a bit...different, which is never more apparent to me than when I hear from old friends who I haven't been in contact with for years. After they get around to telling me they enjoyed reading one of my novels, there's a pause. Then they ask something along the line of, "What kind of weird crap happened to you after you left Texas?"

Strangers and newer friends and acquaintances tend to be more subtle, but the gist of the question I'm asked more than any other is the same: "How do you get ideas for your novels?"
Keith Pyeatt and - friends

My short and snappy answer is to say I'm a scary guy. Maybe I'll make a face to prove it (or make them suspect that I'm also insane), but if someone seems genuinely interested in knowing, my answer is that I start by picking the paranormal. I also pick a broad theme, usually something I can define with one word, like "confusion" or "addiction" or "imagination." I pair up various combinations and see what excites me.

For example, for my most recent release, Above Haldis Notch, I chose the afterlife as the paranormal element, and I paired it with "vengeance" as the one word theme. I brainstormed ideas until I had something more specific, a premise.
 A spirit seeking vengeance against a group of people threatens to kill them and then destroy their souls.

Immediately I saw how I could play up the unusual threat. Not only must my hero protect the lives of her loved ones, she must protect the essence of life that's meant to live on after our bodies give out.  

Then I gave it a setting and began fleshing out my characters and their motivations until I had a developed concept. The hero, Jenna, would be a clairvoyant young mother who recently lost her own mother. Jenna is grieving, but she takes comfort in her clairvoyant certainty that spirits move on to something better. Then she discovers her mother's spirit, along with other departed loves ones, is being destroyed in the afterlife. Only Jenna is equipped to save them, but how? (I already know how at this point, but I'm not telling you. hehehe)

With a concept in mind, I defined my antagonist and protagonist, decided on a setting, added urgency, developed twists... Themes began presenting themselves, and everything worked together to help shape the characters, who shaped the novel... Tada!

See how smoothly that works? Another example: In my novel Struck, the paranormal element is a supernatural power thrust into a common man. The theme-in-a-word is "acceptance." I picked a fascinating setting, found my threats and challenges, and took off from there, much as I did in Above Haldis Notch, in a nice, smooth progression.

So all my ideas just grow effortlessly into novels, right? Wrong!
 Struck became too expansive in the writing of it, and I had to pare down the story and throw away a huge chunk I'd already written.

In my novel Dark Knowledge, I didn't have to throw away written text, but there was plenty of re-plotting and re-outlining involved. I'd picked a personal fantasy world as the paranormal element and paired it with the broad theme "temptation." That pairing led me to create a mentally challenged protagonist with a scary world in his mind that lured him in by offering him the thing he desired the most: intellect. So far, so good. But this theme of "good and bad together" -- highlighting how in life we can't always separate the two things and so must accept the bad with the good -- popped into my head before I finished chapter 1, and I couldn't shake it out. It changed my entire plans for the novel.
 In both cases above, I'm glad the novels changed, because I love the results. Complications happen. Ideas evolve. Unseen opportunities (or problems) suddenly stand up and wave their arms. So I can't always control how I go from a germ of an idea to a premise to a full fledged concept with a theme (or two) running through it, but I always start by picking the paranormal.

Now you know the long answer to the short question about how I come up with my ideas. Aren't you lucky?

A million thanks to Catherine Cavendish for having me here (and for providing me with some excellent entertainment through her novellas). For more information about me or my novels, please visit my website or blog. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, and I even have a newsletter you can sample.

Struck, Dark Knowledge, and Above Haldis Notch are available at online retailers, and a good way to find the format you need on a site you like is to start here.

Monday 19 March 2012

Stalking The 'Highgate Vampire'...

I am indebted to that amusing and informative magazine The Oldie for a fascinating piece in the latest (April) issue.
(l-r: Jean-Paul Bourre and David Farrant at Highgate Cemetery)
It concerns an eccentric character called David Farrant - a multi-published paranormal investigator and President of the British Psychic and Occult Society, which he founded.

Back in the early Seventies, he achieved a certain notoriety as he was said to have stalked a vampire allegedly haunting Highgate Cemetery in London. This he vehemently denies, claiming that he was investigating the existence of an infamous and widely reported ghost, said to haunt the place. Indeed, while he is the Founding President of The Highgate Vampire Society, he denies the existence of vampires! He says the press were responsible for creating the sobriquet, 'The Highgate Vampire'.

His activities in the Cemetery did, however, lead him into serious trouble and he ended up in court, accused of 'indecent behaviour likely to offend the Church'. He was charged with two counts of desecration as a result of activities associated with a seance held in a churchyard in Barnet, where a ghost had been reported, and received a custodial sentence of two and a half years. 

In the years since, he has consistently refuted all charges of wrongdoing, save one. In 1973, he sent two police officers voodoo effigies - stabbed with pins. It was his way of trying to protect someone he cared about who, he alleged, had been the victim of physical abuse by the officers concerned. He received a further two year sentence for this.

In 1974, David Farrant was accused of nude witchcraft rituals and, while in prison, allegedly ran a thriving Coven. His cellmate was a notorious axe murderer, who eventually came to fear him.

Challenged to 'duels'  by other occultists, finding out his scary neighbour was the mass murderer Dennis Nielsen, being accused of placing a hex on musician Joe Meek (which allegedly caused him to murder his landlady and then commit suicide), Farrant has led a colourful life. So colourful, it reads like a film script.

To this day, he continues to write books, articles and conduct investigations into the paranormal. Two volumes of his autobiography (In The Shadow of the Highgate Vampire and Out of the Shadows) are already published and he hasn't retired yet. Who knows what else we might hear from (or about) him? 

If you want to find out more, he has his own fascinating website/blog

 For now, I'll leave you with one final - anecdotal - incident:

In 1974, he was accused of removing a century old corpse from Highgate Cemetery, decapitating it and placing it behind the wheel of a Ford Cortina parked nearby. 

According to The Oldie, the driver observed: 'I should have known this would happen if I left my car unlocked.'