UK Ghost Story Festival
I'm never quite sure about where I live. The isolation, the wind. It roars across the house some days, a constant thrum, lifting the chairs on the patio, tossing plastic pots, hissing through the gaps in the windows. But it's the dark at night I hadn't expected. How dense it was. I remember my first night, standing in the lane by the front gate, unable to see my own feet. I was surrounded by groaning trees and the disembodied bleating of sheep. Spinning round to the lone crack of a falling branch.
My imagination does me no good. A sack-like figure dangling from the tree, the sodden rope slowly turning. An old fashioned cuff, fingers peeping through, water dripping from their tips to the turf below. My new neighbour told me a story about the field that never sees the sun. The one with a tree in the middle, fenced off from the cows. The tree has been left to grow for almost three hundred years. In 1732, after three hot summers of failed crops, a whole family had been hanged by their landlord, for refusing to pay their rent.
I can see that tree - tall against the skyline, its branches burnt white by the frost. The other trees around it have all died. And there it stands, each strand of mistletoe, the old man's beard, the dead ivy, caught like tattered lace. They say the family still work the field: a man and long-skirted woman and their five children, one by one - I swear I've seen them - on a cold, star-lit night, bent over the soil, like crows searching the ground, a line of black figures, wings spread, beaks wide, moving slowly towards me.
Another ghost story to while away the pub nights.
Why do they fascinate us so much? A shiver down the back, that adrenaline rush, the relief when by mid-morning, the sun has burnt the mist from the fields, melted the frost and I see my neighbour's smart SUV, the one with the blackened windows, slowly gliding past.
Not everyone likes a ghost story. Too disturbing. Whether filled with gruesome detail or a hint of something not yet passed. I don't think these tales will ever leave us, whether based on some grain of truth or not. It's not just the spectre of death that haunts us every day, but the people we fear to leave behind. Our loved ones. The ones we hate. A story half told. A revenge not yet wrought, a love too strong, a hate too fierce, feelings and desires that in life we struggle to confront, or express. An illicit taste of gothic horror with a seductive coil of words that fill the page and build into an unspoken sentence - the one that ends with a tantalising what if?
Join Sophie, author of the award-winning Cuckoo and her own disturbing take on the rural ghost story: Magpie, for a workshop exploring the psychology of "Why we like ghost stories". 2pm, Saturday 18th February. Sophie will also be part of the panel discussing "Location in Ghost Stories" at 12 noon, Saturday 18th February.