Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Talking Ghosts and Haunted Places with J.H. Moncrieff - and your chance to win!

J.H. Moncrieff and I first met each other at our former publisher, Samhain. Hailing from the frozen north – Winnipeg, Canada – J.H. has a love of all things creepy, ghostly and scary. She also loves to add authenticity to everything she writes by visiting locations all over the world that share one thing in common.

They are all haunted.

Extremely. Haunted.

J.H. goes to places I would think twice about, and I have invited her here today to talk about each of the supremely atmospheric settings for her series  - GhostWriters - featuring Jackson Stone and medium Kate Carlsson. Not only that, she is offering a fabulous prize:

$100 Amazon voucher! 

Read on...

Cat: Welcome. J.H. and congratulations on the first three books in the GhostWriters series. I devoured them and can’t wait for the next instalment. They are so gripping and full of atmosphere. Tell us about the setting for the first one – City of Ghosts. Your abandoned Chinese city of Hensu has quite a history doesn’t it? And you went there to research the background for your story. What were your experiences?

 J.H.: Thanks for having me, and for the kind words. Hensu is a fictional place loosely based on Fengdu, a famous Chinese ghost city. The day I visited, it was rainy and I had a bad cold, so I almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad I did. Like Jackson describes in the book, the tourist attractions—people in costume, the “would you make it into heaven” games, etc.—make it quite cheesy, but I could still see how it would be ominous at night if one was alone, especially with all those looming demon statues. I thought, “What if someone got trapped here overnight?” And that led to “What if they wanted to get trapped here?” The whole idea for City of Ghosts came from there.

Cat: The second in the series – The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts – takes Jackson and Kate to Poveglia off the coast of Italy. I believe you visited there alone. That must have been truly scary – alone with all the ghosts. Can you tell us about the place itself and how it impacted on the way you told the story?

 J.H.: I don’t scare easily, but I was absolutely terrified the entire time I was on Poveglia—about two-and-a-half hours. There’s an ominous feeling to the place, especially inside the abandoned asylum, and because there was a thunderstorm (What is it with these places and rain?), there were lots of strange noises to get used to. My shoulders were up around my ears the whole time, and I definitely felt like I wasn’t alone. In The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts, Kate and Jackson have to go to Poveglia to rescue a girl’s soul, so I pulled from all my experiences—what the island sounded like, looked like, felt like, even the layout of the buildings—to take my readers there too.

Poveglia has a fascinating history, first as a “dumping ground” for people with the bubonic plague, and then as the home of a mental hospital in the early 1900s, where an unethical doctor performed horrible experiments on the patients. The doctor died when he jumped (or was pushed) from a tower, which still stands on the island. It’s estimated hundreds of thousands of people died on Poveglia. It’s a grim place where you can feel the weight of history: all that suffering, all that despair.

 Cat: That must have been quite an experience. Frightening, in fact. 

Now for your latest – Temple of Ghosts. This one resonated even louder with me because of the Egyptian setting. I know you had a fascinating trip there as part of your research. Tell us about your impressions of Egypt and what draws you to the mythology.

J.H.: Like most people, I’ve dreamed of going to Egypt since I was a child, but I never thought I’d write about it. I was actually working on a book set in ancient Egypt, that is previewed in Temple of Ghosts, and I quickly got frustrated. There were so many details I didn’t know. What does the air smell like? What does the sand feel like? It was obvious I needed to go, and I loved it so much, I decided to write a book set in contemporary Egypt as well. That’s where Temple came from.

When I arrived in Egypt in January of this year, I was scared, because I’d had tons of warnings about terrorist attacks. So the first thing that struck me is how safe you actually are in Egypt, and how friendly everyone is. Egypt’s tourism and economy have taken such a hit since the revolution that everyone is SO happy to see you. As you walk down the streets of Cairo, the citizens constantly say hello and “Welcome to Egypt!” They’re extremely kind, welcoming, and warm, but beware of the markets. It’s hard to escape them—the salespeople are relentless. Not rude, but very persistent.

I found being in Egypt surreal. It was like my mind just couldn’t accept that it was real and I was actually in this place I’d dreamed about for so long. Even touching the pyramids didn’t help. This bizarre feeling took several days to go away. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

The Egyptian gods have such incredible stories. Everything about ancient Egypt: the technology, the fashion, the architecture, the temples, is fascinating.

Cat: I agree. I went there some years before you, J.H., and, although the political situation was very different, the one constant in all of this is the history. For me, it was the temples. Especially Luxor - ancient Thebes. To walk there and look up. Always up. It took weeks for my neck to recover!

Coincidentally, in addition to your Temple of Ghosts and my new trilogy (Nemesis of the Gods), Anne Rice has just released her book The Passion of Cleopatra, co-written with her son, Christopher. This is the second in her Ramses the Damned series – the first having been released way back in 1989. Why do you think ancient Egypt has such an enduring fascination for us all even today?

J.H.: Back off, Rice! J It’s hard to say, but it might have something to do with the fact that, as a society, they were so far advanced above their contemporaries, and then that knowledge just disappeared for a long time. When conducting research for the series set in ancient Egypt, I discovered the Egyptians had working toilets and braces and other technology that was extremely sophisticated for the time. There’s so much mystery that still surrounds things like how the pyramids were built. I think it’s that mystery that drives our fascination.

 Cat: So, what next for Jackson and Kate? Where will they be off to next? And what else are you working on at the moment?

J.H.: Good question. I have a few ideas, and I’m thinking of holding a poll and letting my readers choose. Bali, Romania, and Greece will probably be options, and perhaps Hawaii. I’d love to set a GhostWriters book in Scotland, but I’d have to go there first, so if anyone knows of writing festivals that would have me, I’d gladly “sing for my supper.”

I’ve got a few projects in the hopper. I’m finishing up Dead of Winter, a murder mystery with yetis, for Severed Press. Other editors are waiting for me to complete another horror novel I began some years ago, and a psychological suspense. The first book in the new ancient Egyptian series needs to debut next year, and at least one or two more instalments in the GhostWriters series. So I’m going to be busy!

Cat: That's good to hear. Dead of Winter sounds great and I look forward to much more from Jackson and Kate.Thank you so much for being my guest today, J.H. And I am certain Scotland will welcome you. Edinburgh is a great location - and then there's Dundee... Lots of dark history in Dundee and very friendly people too...

J.H.: Thanks again, Cat. Any time. Always nice chatting with you. Congrats on the new release, and thanks for being so supportive of other writers.


The first 50 people to review Temple of Ghosts on Amazon will be entered into a draw to win a $100 Amazon gift card. The details are here: http://www.jhmoncrieff.com/win-100-amazon-gift-card/

Everyone who signs up for J.H. Moncrieff’s Hidden Library gets access to lots of free books, plus a new article about mysterious places, unsolved mysteries, scary true stories, or the supernatural each week.

 Temple of Ghosts:

In the shadow of the jackal…

Medium Kate Carlsson has returned from Poveglia with Jackson, but there’s no time for domestic bliss. Something strange is happening in her sleepy Vermont town—water turns to blood, frogs fall from the sky, and an unlikely stowaway lurks in her kitchen. Even worse, Kate’s friend Eden, a noted Egyptologist, has gone missing.

Darkness surrounds Kate’s protégé, twelve-year-old Lily Walkins, and Lily’s uncle, a soldier who died in Egypt while working on a top-secret government project. Kate suspects the soldier’s untimely death holds the key to the disasters befalling Nightridge.

To solve the mystery and save Lily, Kate and Jackson journey to an ancient temple where the line between god and monster is blurred. With the help of an enigmatic Egyptian psychic, they must face their greatest foe yet.

Connect with J.H. Moncrieff: 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Arsinoe - Treachery, Incest and Murder in Ancient Egypt

 My latest novel - Wrath of the Ancients - is a ghostly story featuring a sinister, obsessed archaeologist called Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, who is determined to find - and reincarnate - the last Pharaoh of Egypt - Cleopatra. My story is of course, fiction, but what of the real Cleopatra and her scheming, ruthless family, the Ptolemies? They lived a horror story of their own making.

 We’ve all learned about Cleopatra – even if only by seeing the 1963 epic film of the same name. Elizabeth Taylor triumphantly entering Rome and sweeping Richard Burton (Mark Antony) off his sandaled feet. But what of the rest of her family – in particular her younger sister (or possibly half-sister), Arsinoe?

Cleopatra and Arsinoe’s family – the notorious Ptolemies- were by any standard an evil lot. Intrigue, murder, incest, torture- and that was among themselves. In short, the Ptolemaic dynasty made Vlad the Impaler look like a pussycat (albeit one with extremely long claws and fangs). They would stop at nothing to gain power and dispose of anyone who attempted to wrest it from them.

In order to keep the bloodline pure, the Ptolemies opted for incestuous marriages; brothers wedding sisters, sons marrying their mothers, and all were expected to produce heirs to secure the dynastic continuance.

Arsinoe and Cleopatra’s father – Ptolemy XII Auletes – fathered a number of children including a son, also called Ptolemy. In keeping with family tradition none of the siblings cared for the others, and treated them with a great deal of suspicion. Wisely, as it turned out. By now, the great Egyptian empire had become a shadow of its former glory and waned at the time the Roman Empire was expanding and growing. As a result, Ptolemy XII relied increasingly heavily on Rome’s support in order to remain in power. He bribed, tortured and murdered members of his own family but was driven out of Egypt in 58 BC when, following the death of his wife (who was also his sister), his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, became sole ruler of Egypt. Ptolemy was determined to return to power and grew increasingly in debt to Rome. He gained the support of Aulus Gabinius, pro consul of Syria and returned to Egypt with a Roman army supporting him. He then proceeded to murder his daughter, Berenice and recapture his throne.

He proclaimed his daughter, Cleopatra, his queen but broke with Ptolemaic tradition by not marrying her.

On his death in 51 BC, his eldest surviving son and daughter – Ptolemy and Cleopatra - were proclaimed co-regents. This was never going to work. The two hated each other. Before long, Ptolemy dethroned Cleopatra and she fled from Alexandria to Palestine.

In 48BC, Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria and Cleopatra secretly returned. All the lessons she had learned at her father’s side came into play and she seduced the Roman leader. The mighty Caesar had never met anyone like her before. Clever, independent, strong-willed and determined, she was her father’s daughter.

Ptolemy XIII meanwhile, had also learned from his father – just not as well. He had Caesar’s rival, Pompey executed, and presented the Roman leader with his head. Caesar was disgusted. Such behaviour was barbaric. He had to choose between the brother and sister as to who would rule Egypt. Ptolemy XIII took one look at Cleopatra sitting next to Caesar and knew he had no chance. Petulantly, he threw his crown to the ground and stormed off into the street, calling his sister a traitor.

 Now it was Arsinoe’s turn to emerge from the shadows. Aged possibly around 15 or 16, although her birth date is uncertain, she sided with her brother to topple Cleopatra. Along with her mentor, the eunuch Ganymedes, she led the Egyptian army in revolt against the Romans and proclaimed herself Pharaoh. Months of struggle ensued and, at one time, Caesar and Cleopatra were besieged in the palace when one of Arsinoe’s advisers poured seawater in the cisterns, rendering the water undrinkable.

Arsinoe was now co ruler of Egypt with her brother. But her triumph was short-lived. Roman forces arrived and Ptolemy XIII drowned in a mighty sea battle.

Arsinoe was captured and sent to Rome where she faced the real possibility of a public strangling for her treachery. Cleopatra, in 47BC was once again proclaimed queen.

Caesar spared Arsinoe from strangling and granted her sanctuary at the great temple of Artemis in Ephesus. From there, the younger sister monitored the older sister’s movements, aware that Cleopatra was just as wary of her.

For as long as Arsinoe remained alive, she would remain a real threat to Cleopatra’s power. By now, 41 BC, with Caesar dead, Cleopatra and Mark Antony were living an ultimately tragic love story. The queen bore the rather dim-witted Mark Antony a son. Arsinoe was now too much of a threat to leave alone.

On the orders of Mark Antony, Arsinoe was murdered on the steps of the great temple – in itself an act of terrible violation, widely condemned in Rome.

There she remained until, in 1904, archaeologists discovered a tomb containing bones, housed in an octagonal structure on the site of the ruined temple. What then follows is still hotly disputed. Many of the bones apparently disappeared in Germany during the Second World War but an Austrian scientist, Dr. Hilke Thur, claimed to have found the rest of the bones still in the tomb and performed DNA analysis on them. This proved inconclusive as the fragments were contaminated by so much handling over the years. Nevertheless, Thur maintains the circumstantial and historical evidence strongly supports the theory that the body in the Octagon was that of Arsinoe. The monument itself is said to bear a striking resemblance to the lighthouse (Pharos) at Alexandria – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. From records and photographs taken of the missing bones early in the twentieth century, Thur recreated the head and face of Arsinoe, concluding that her features hint at African descent. Since the Ptolemies were of Greek lineage, this would indicate that her mother was African.

 Given Arsinoe’s upbringing, terrible family example and the culture and beliefs of the time in which she lived, was she more sinned against than sinning? I leave that to you to decide. Cleopatra, meanwhile, still rests in an unknown grave but, if current theories are correct, archaeologists are closing in on her.

In my book – Wrath of the Ancients- Arsinoe appears as a vengeful spirit, determined to make her sister pay for murdering her for all eternity. But then, if you had been murdered at your own sister’s behest, I doubt you’d be too pleased about it either!

Here’s a little more about the story:


Egypt, 1908

Eminent archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert sands . . .

Vienna, 1913

Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr. Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena: strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of hieroglyphics.
Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry. 

Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy . . .

Wrath of the Ancients is available now from: