Awards, aw-shucks….

very-inspiring

dragonsloyaltyaward

blog-of-the-year-2012

I just wanted to express my thanks to all the wonderful bloggers out there who have recently chosen to nominate my site for these awards. These people are listed below. Please check out their very inspiring blogs:

RobbinsRealm Blog
iSpider
Owls and orchids
The Consortium of the Curious
Legends of Windemere
Sophie E Tallis
Annie’s Blog
The Lonely Recluse
Mari Wells

In keeping with the spirit of these awards, I would like to nominate the following blogs for their edifying content:

Haunted Palace – History, reviews and the supernatural
Maryam Chahine – Death is Maryam’s obsession and comprises much of her work
December Spirit – A lover of winter and water, the sea and snow, holly leaves and glittering moonlight
EssDeeWriter – A creator or magic
Mysterious Milton Keynes – Strange phenomena in the new city

…and also in keeping with the award, a few answers to a few questions:

Favourite film: Don’t Look Now
Favourite children’s TV series: The Children of The Stones
Favourite artist/band: Kate Bush
Favourite look: The 60s
Favourite words: Orange, Bob and Nebuchadnezzar
Favourite family member, favourite own child: …..ooh stop now, that’s getting a little too dark…

Paul

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

I had met Mrs Crowley on three occasions and expected our next encounter to run upon similar lines; but this was not to be. On entering the room, all swish from the multitude of silk and other fabrics beneath her riding coat, I could tell she had no wish to dwell upon trivial matters.

She approached holding the hem of her skirt and briskly made her comfort on the seat beside me.

“Good evening to you Alice, shall we start with tea before I reveal all?”

I was now familiar with her informality and playful tone though not entirely comfortable with it.

“It’s lovely to see you again Mrs Crowley. The children, are they well?”

“Yes, yes, all happy. But it’s you that concerns me.”

I had little clue to what she was referring to and shifted nervously in my chair.

She paused and released her grip on the teapot.

“A holiday! That’s what you need.”

The comment took me by surprise as I had not expected the conversation to turn in this direction. I searched for a suitable response but neither facial expression nor words came to mind, though I was certain at least one was expected.

Mrs. Crowley paused, her brow furrowing momentarily at my immediate vacancy, then she proceeded to elaborate.

“I recall you mentioned that you and the children had not had a holiday since you lost your husband. This somewhat resonated with me — I myself have not had a break in a considerable time; and only a handful of times to my London residence since Albert passed these ten years gone.”

As she spoke, her fingers nervously twisted the beads of her necklace tugging them in quick succession along the thread.

“It occurred to me that this might be a fortunate coincidence: two people in much need of new surrounds. As you are well aware, this is a large house and one that requires constant tending and management. If I am to be elsewhere then I leave in confidence that the tending part is more than adequately covered by the servants and the management by Mrs Ingram our housekeeper. Nevertheless, it is a concern to me that most of the house is absent of life; I should like to leave knowing that it is not just the staff who will be lifting the shutters at the light of day and closing them when it darkens.”

Unconsciously, I had edged my chair a little closer to hers. The candles clustering around our corner of the room cast the face of my companion in varying degrees of light and shade. Stabs of white brilliance came from the silver rings on her upraised hands that caught the flickering light. I looked upon her and considered her ageing beauty: her dark hair unbound, falling upon and caressing the shoulders of a velvet dress trimmed with Mechlin lace. Continue reading

Walk with me…

‘An ineluctable urge suddenly grips him. It nudges him forward, pushing him across the shingle bank, dragging him to the edge of the flats; all the while, his sight is doggedly fixed on the point where he last saw the figure. In a shallow pool, he stands and surveys the vast expanse of muddy platforms.

Ahead, the path looks treacherous, a lonely route through roiled and miry waters; but ultimately he is driven forward, tormented by the possibility that someone is trapped on the sands.

Manning takes a few hesitant steps, but watches in quiet alarm as his boots sink deep into the swamp. A final step drops him several inches into the cloying mire; thick grey-green pools of water, rich with sediment, rush in to fill the grooves around his boots. He stops, heeding the signs, staring at the two pillars of wood that have brought him this far.’

Walk with me (to the estuary) – a ghost story for Christmas

walk with me...

A bolt is thrust aside and one half of a stable door swings back. The sound of a sharp kick announces the peeling back of the second. A bulk of a man steps through carrying a thick meshed bundle of sticks and logs searching for a suitable spot to dump the damp load; his nose is held aloft, at a distance, enduring the sickly-sweet aroma of the mildewed bark. His face fidgets nervously until the wood is set down on a sheet of newspaper, neatly dragged into position by his foot. The dispatching of the load relieves his body, but his expression still retains the weary slump it entered with.

It is almost time for Manning to leave, a suitable moment to consider the sweet restorative powers of a few days by the coast. And with this thought, he finds his spirits lifting. It has been several years since he last visited Leet and walked its impressive shores; he has missed the place. No longer resisting, he succumbs to the pleasantness teasing his lips.

Perhaps you know Leet? It is a south facing sandy beach next to the entrance of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire, a landscape rich in character, with great stretches of open and unspoilt countryside.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

But it is the agents of erosion that have defined this sea-place. The shore is littered with corpses: trees that have finally, but grudgingly, relinquished their fragile grip on the sandy soil, just a few metres above. Tendrils of seeping rainwater and the gnawing effect of the wind have gradually removed the earth, exposing roots to the mercy of encroaching elements. It is a natural decay, but not one that removes all evidence of existence; for old trunks lie entombed in wispy layers of sand, creating fragile barrows on the shore. In the early hours of a wintry morning, the landscape transforms into a surprisingly gloomy affair; the dead bodies of trees are thrust into the greyness, and any living thing roaming amongst the decay looks quite lost, as lost as a child. Continue reading

The Viaduct (A ghost story)

Balcombe Viaduct

I had returned to Balcombe out of instinct, not for pleasure. Though the train had refreshed my memory of its seductive beauty I had a less romantic place for those thoughts to reside. The landscape view of sun-drenched streams and sparkling lakes played like a cinematic trailer, catching the attention of the couple opposite me who immediately sprang into a congratulatory embrace. This only served to heighten my unease with the place.

A sudden lurch of the train announced our arrival, propelling the occupants into a flurry of activity. All around me, day tripping couples leapt from their seats and set about passing bags as elegantly as possible from carriage to platform. With this I allowed myself a wry smile; briefly charmed by the obvious enthusiasm of the new arrivals.

Alighting on the platform I turned and looked down the length of the train, beyond the carriages, towards the track curving away into the distance. Though not visible from this point I knew the rest of the line well; not to mention the shadows that dwelt within its tunnels and archways.

On reflection, it occurred to me that this was an entirely perfect setting for what had happened. With so many trains passing over the structure on the Brighton Main Line, the spirits of men that toiled here could never be far away from the living.

But it is the ghosts of more recent times, just as numerous as those of their Victorian counterparts that I am here to consider. For now his words are clearer to me than at any time over the decades that have passed since they were uttered. This is his tale; one told to me almost forty years ago, when I was a young man living in Balcombe, working on the London to Brighton line. Continue reading

The Shrieking Pit

The shrieking pit

Follow the north coast of Norfolk in early summer and you’ll come across a landscape of cornfields bathed in the rich red glow of poppies. Tucked away from the coastal road, a couple of miles inland from the seaside town of Cromer, you will come to a village that hides a painful secret.

Here you’ll find Hungry Hill, ready to devour the spirit of any traveller wishing to scale its deceptive height.

Half-way up the hill lies an unremarkable lane; travel its lonely path and you’ll come to a deep hole in the ground surrounded by grey-green willows.

The trees guard the pit with sinister outstretched branches entwined in a mesh of green and brown. Battle through the curtains of foliage and you’ll find yourself standing at the edge of a gloomy willow-hung hollow known as The Shrieking Pit.

Even in spring or summer, it’s a far from inviting place; for here, dismal shades bathe a stagnant pool and mournful shapes bow to it. The air is lifeless and leaden, suppressed by the paucity of hope.

The shrieking pit
Visit the spiritless hollow if you must; but if you do, ensure that it is not February 24th when the air is damp and the light so dim that you are barely able to see the edges of the pit. For on this day, you may hear something that quickens your heart and prickles your skin: a wailing voice, centuries old, carried forth on icy air through the creeping branches; the voice of Esmerelda, once so young and fair, back from her grave! Continue reading

The New Short Story Annual 2013

The New Short Story Annual 2013

Delighted to announce that The Monks of Lilleshall will be making an appearance in The New Short Story Annual 2013.

The New Short Story Annual 2013, edited by Hayley Sherman.

“Throughout 2012, writers have been submitting their stories to the short story of the month competition and proving why the short story is such a fresh and vibrant channel for great fiction…A fear-facing game show and Facebook stalker, the mistake-prone proofreader and murderous brother, pride before a jukebox, love on the streets, the monster in the mirror, the fading beauty, the tea-addicted teddy bear, the door to nothingness, regret, longing, nearly meeting Jimi Hendrix, jealously, intrigue, the gun directed at Father Christmas, a perfect painting, an upturned Robin Reliant, the monks of Lilleshall, the Googled baby killer, the attention-seeking pensioner, the tree of hippopotamus, two men, two ducks, one dog and a fish… What more can you ask from a short story annual?”