Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Ghostly Tales For Christmas

The weather is turning seasonably cold again. My walk today was accompanied by a stiff breeze chilling my cheeks, turning them rosy, while the sun shone in a clear blue sky. the river level is up and a pair of ducks floated downstream on a leisurely afternoon excursion. Under the bridge, the colony of white doves were settling themselves down - some seemed to have dozed off.

All very gentle and peaceful, but if you're like me, when the sun goes down, and the wind begins to howl as we are promised it will any day now, you will want to curl up with something creepy, ghostly...maybe penned by M.R. James or Edgar Allan Poe.

So, the logs are crackling, the flames and shooting red, range and yellow flames up the chimney. Your favourite cat stretches out her paws and emits a contented rumbling purr. The candles flicker and...what's that moving in the shadows? Maybe it's your imagination. Nothing to be afraid of.

Or is it?

Here's a couple of deliciously scary ghost stories for Christmas:

Have a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas, and thank you for all your support during 2014

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The White Witch of Helston

Her name was Tamsin (or Thomasine) Blight, although she was known to most folk as Tammy Blee, and she was born in the Cornish town of Redruth in 1798. In the 58 years of her life, she developed a fearsome reputation for her alleged magical prowess. 

 She could cure you of whatever ailed you, but equally, woe betide you if you upset her, for she could curse as well as cure. She was known as a ‘Pellar’ – the name given to a man or woman well versed in the methods of traditional Cornish folk-magic.

Tammy Blee became popular with people who believed themselves to be cursed. She could remove spells not just from humans but also from their cattle or horses. Moving from Redruth to Helston also in Cornwall, her reputation spread far and wide. Especially during spring – when her powers were believed to be at their strongest - people would travel great distances, and even from across the sea in the Scilly Isles, to consult her. Queues would form outside her small house. She would sell small bags of ‘witch powder’, earth from graves, bones and teeth – all said to possess special powers. She would also supply written charms which were folded in a special way and sewn into little bags. These little bags would be worn around the neck and were credited with preventing or curing people of fits, and many other unexplained maladies caused – or so it was believed – by witchcraft.

The written charms consisted of various designs but a typical one was this:

S  A  T  O  R
A  R  E  P  O
T  E  N  E  T
O  P  E  R  A
R  O  T  A  S

It can quickly be seen that this can be read the same backwards, as well as forwards, vertically and horizontally.

Other written charms consisted of a word, accompanied by a drawing of some fantastic, mythical creature.

Blight’s husband – James (Jemmy) Thomas – was also known as a ‘conjuror’ of magic, and he too would see clients who turned up at their door. They married in 1835, at the height of Tammy Blee’s fame, but the marriage wasn’t to last. At some time during the 1850s, her husband was reported to the local magistrates in St Ives after he propositioned a man with a view to sleeping with him. Jemmy was forced to flee Cornwall and Tammy Blee publicly distanced herself from him after that.

The White Witch of Helston was well versed in the use of hallucinogens to induce trances, of a shamanic nature, in which she predicted the future and communicated with spirits. She was also called upon to identify malevolent witches. Like many so-called ‘cunning’ women of her time she was knowledgeable about herbs, and able to prepare and provide effective cures for a wide range of ailments in both humans and animals, so many of her clients were farmers.

Another significant group of customers were young women who consulted her about their marriage prospects. Would they marry? Who would they marry? When would they marry? No doubt, they also consulted her over how to get the object of their affections to return their ardour.

Tammy Blee was even purported to have raised the spirit of an old woman from the dead. In the Cornish folk tale, “The Ghost of Stythians”, a male relative of the deceased enlists the services of Tamsin Blight as he is anxious to know where the old woman hid the money she was supposed to have left him. The story tells of the witch creating a charmed ring of protection around him in the graveyard of St. Stythian's Church, before summoning the spirits of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water . Then she staged an impressive display of groans, moans, shrieks, crashing of stones and rending of wood before the ghostly apparition appeared, to be questioned. The story goes onto reveal that the figure in the shroud was in fact Jemmy Thomas. In fact it took a fierce storm to rip off the roof of the man's house and reveal the hiding place of the old woman's valuables.

During her life, Tammy Blee had a loyal following. Her customers returned year after year, for more charms or to get their existing ones ‘recharged’ with the witch’s energy. It was generally agreed that no one – not even the ‘White Witch of Exeter’ – had powers to match those of Tamsin Blight. 

When she died on 6th October 1858, she was sorely missed.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

That Old Black (and White) Magic

Is it me, or are there just too many sparkly witches, demons, vampires and various manifestations of the undead out there? All wrapped up neatly in glorious vivid colour, setting out on missions to save the world when really they should be scaring us behind our sofas?

Let's take just one category. Witches. Okay, I hold my hands up. I loved Bewitched when I was a child, adored Bell, Book and Candle (especially the Oscar worthy performance of the leading character - no, not Kim Novak. The cat. Pyewacket.) I also thoroughly enjoyed Dark Shadows (the old TV series). And my hands remain vertical as I confess to a vested interest. My new novel - The Pendle Curse - is about witches. The scary variety. Not a sparkly one in sight.

 The fact remains that, these days, if there's a film or TV series about a witch, it's almost always a sparkly one. A glorious exception to this was the last series of American Horror Story: Coven. Definitely my favourite so far. These were truly evil witches and I loved it. I was chilled, scared, thrilled and riveted in pretty much equal measure. I even enjoyed the quirky addition of one of my favourite singers - Stevie Nicks. That shouldn't really have worked. It should have been cheesy. But, for me at any rate, it wasn't. Nor did it detract from the overall threatening chill of that series. Delicious!

Only one thing wrong as far as I was concerned. The whole atmosphere would have been even more chilling and threatening if it had been in black and white.

When my publisher asked for my input regarding the cover art for The Pendle Curse, I had no hesitation in asking for a mostly monochrome cover. Fortunately my editor - Don D'Auria - agreed and the result is the most scary representation of Lancaster Castle I have ever seen. I'm going up there early next year and I don't think I shall look at it in nearly the same way as I used to. But imagine if this cover had been in full colour? Not nearly so scary! 

Take The Blair Witch Project. I'm the first to admit I'm not its biggest fan but the parts I find scary are those in black and white. The starkness of that medium just adds tension, atmosphere, chill, right when it's needed. In fact, I venture to suggest I would have enjoyed it far more if the whole film had been shot in black and white!

So here are just three classic films with scary witches at the heart of the story. They don't employ the sort of technical wizardy we've come to expect. They just tell a story. All in full, glorious, atmospheric monochrome. Enjoy the trailers!

The City of the Dead, 1960 (aka Horror Hotel

A college student's researches into the history of witchcraft take her into a small New England village...

Black Sunday, 1960

A gloriously Gothic Italian horror classic, directed by Mario Bava, starring Barbara Steele as a 200 year old witch, put to death by her brother. She returns to wreak revenge on her own descendants. An added bonus is that this is a vampire witch - and she certainly doesn't sparkle!

Witchcraft - 1964

300 years ago, a witch was buried alive. Now her grave is disturbed and she returns with vengeance on her mind...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Pendle Curse - From Beyond The Grave, Vengeance is Theirs

I am delighted to announce that my latest novel, The Pendle Curse, is being published by Samhain - in ebook and paperback.

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there.

But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.
Much of the action in The Pendle Curse takes place on the windwept and stormy Lancashire district know as Pendle Forest. This is ironic as very few trees can survive the harsh conditions.

When I visited there, while I was researching this book, I was treated to typical Pendle conditions. Rain lashed down - almost horizontally owing to the gale-force winds. Pendle Hill itself loomed ominously ahead, dark, forbidding.
This countryside remains little changed since 1612, when ten men and women met their untimely end, enduring the cruel and infamous 'short drop'.

Small wonder they vowed to pursue those who had wronged them...

The Pendle Curse is available for pre-order now: