- About the Author
- On Active Service
On 25th October I was invited to appear again on Suzie Grogan’s show “Talking Books” On Wiveliscombe’s 10 Radio.
The theme this week, to coincide with Halloween, was “Ghost Stories”. Suzie and I have both written ghost stories and I agreed to read mine, “The Night of the Storm” on air, after her show.
We began by discussing why we like ghost stories and agreed that we all like to be frightened while in the comfort and safety of our own sitting room. Even today we like the idea of ghosts, of a spooky atmosphere, of the “unexplained”. It’s thrilling and exciting. With exposure of the paranormal, especially on TV, more people are coming forward to talk about it and their own experiences without fear of ridicule.
Some people seem more sensitive to atmospheres than others. I live in an old Manor House that has been divided into two separate houses. One afternoon when I was ill I fell asleep on the sofa and I dreamt that two ladies came and showed me round the house when it was all one. I saw the drive that curved around to the front door, lined by trees, the top corridor, the rooms opening off both sides. It was a lovely dream and I was so annoyed when I woke up. I found out later that in fact two ladies did live there just before the house was divided into two parts. They were sisters. Did their ghosts come and show me around the house? Or was I just sensitive to the happenings of the house over the years?
The ghost story flourished especially between 1880 and 1930 when the fashion for spiritualism was at its height. This may in part have been in response to the heavy losses of the First World War. It was also the period when the short story reached its peak as a literary genre, so although there are fine novels about ghosts, it was in the short story that they came into their own.
M.R.James listed five key features of the English ghost story:
On this particular last point Suzie wondered if it’s possible to set a ghost story in the present day. The ones she has written are based in Victorian times. And I agreed there are certain things we expect in a ghost story: a thunderstorm, an old house, a creepy atmosphere. It would be hard to engender the same atmosphere in a modern house.
Finally: ghost or horror? Where does one end and one begin? Is the Americanisation of Halloween responsible for this? Headless corpses and gore have no place in the classic Victorian ghost story (which was traditionally told at Christmas, not at Halloween anyway.) And yet the crossover was underway some time ago. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, belongs far more in the genre of Horror than Ghost Story.
Bethany Askew is the author of five novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days and Poppy’s Seed.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Future projects include a new short story, this one for the young adult market, and another full-length novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.