English Heritage - Eight Ghosts edited by Rowan Routh
Publisher - September
Price - £12.99 Hardback
Rooted in place, slipping between worlds - a rich collection of unnerving ghosts and sinister histories
Eight authors were given after hours freedom at their chosen English Heritage site. Immersed in the history, atmosphere and rumours of hauntings, they channelled their darker imaginings into a series of extraordinary new ghost stories….Within the walls of these historic buildings each author has found inspiration to deliver a new interpretation of the classic ghost story.
We love visiting old places around the country. We get that sense of history – how we used to live and behave. Some places seem immune to modern life and when you pass the threshold you’ll feel as if you’re in a different age. But the darker side of our imagination will also imagine that what happened in that place lingers on. The past is there somehow watching and perhaps may not always welcoming our intrusion. In this unusual project English Heritage has assembled eight ghost stories and pleasingly they don’t go for the obvious “in the year of our lord XXXX a gruesome murder occurred”. Instead we see a range of ideas as to what the ghost story is and what it can be used for. It’s a largely successful selection and I think something for everyone
They Flee From Me That Sometimes Did Me Seek by Sarah Perry
A tale of a restoration expert repairing a Jacobean screen that has a reputation for harming those who touch it. It’s a nasty story of a curse with a building atmosphere of isolation and self loathing. It preys on that fear we have that no one really likes us and certainly one of the strongest openings
Mr Lanyard’s Last Case by Andrew Michael Hurley
The next story moves to the past of 1746 and Carlisle Castle. Following the battle of Culloden a number of rebels need to be tried in court (and executed). Mr Lanyard is the prosecutor for down south to perform his duty. He’s a cruel man blind to the condition the castle prisoners are in but over time he loses his composure and its clear something may be troubling him. Probably the most classic ghost story in the selection but it’s done really well as we await the final reveal of what is lurking just out of Mr Lanyard’s sight.
The Bunker by Mark Haddon
Nadine works in a hospital and starts to experience another life hovering around York Cold War Bunker and experiences a world after an apocalypse. Which world will be the real one? For me this didn’t really work it felt more as an SF tale rather than horror and didn’t really feel it suited the anthology.
Foreboding by Kamila Shamsie
A new security guard starts working at Kenilworth Castle. He is an immigrant from abroad and finds the concept of a castle with ghosts unusual. But then he starts to notice a presence that seems to be calling him. I liked how this story balances the traditional castle setting with a tale of an immigrant feeling a violent home and leaving relatives behind. Extremely eerie and that sense of a trap closing builds strongly.
Never Departed More by Stuart Evers
This story is probably the most unusual; Maya is an American actress who wants to immerse herself in the role of Ophelia for a movie to be based in Dover Castle. Maya takes Method acting to the extreme plunging into costume and very much aiming to become Ophelia. But she starts to notice the castle has other inhabitants and a handsome airman offers the chance of a lifetime. This story swirls like a dream with hints of madness and I was not quite sure until the very end where it is going. Very reminiscent of Tales of the Unexpected!
The Wall by Kate Clanchy
Against the setting of Hadrian’s Wall a young family with a troubled teen go on a visit to clear the air. It’s a tale of a family breaking down and the shortest in the collection. But I think the way the emotions of the parents are captured, and that sense of a daughter/mother relationship fraying is really well captured.
As Strong As Death by Jeanette Winterson
Really enjoyed this tale set of a modern-day wedding set in Pendennis Castle. This story makes use of the many stories around the castle to offer a much warmer story about a haunting that shows the harshness of the past against the better values of the present. Very much worth reading to see how these themes are explored but it’s the story that leaves me with a warm feeling at the end of it!
Mrs Charbury at Eltham by Max Porter
The final tale is about an older woman visiting Eltham Palace. A scandal from her society days is coming back to her memory and how does this all tie into the mystery of her missing sister. A tale of rivalry, cruelty and nastiness. All done in a relatively recent setting
On top of these eight fascinating tales there is an article by Andrew Martin on ghost stories and a look at some of the haunted places English Heritage are responsible for. I love a good winter ghost story, and this is a collection I strongly recommend you have a look at. Plus it may give you some ideas for day trips…just don’t go on your own!