Some brilliant Halloween themed posts so far. I hope you're enjoying them as much as I am. Here's another one from Middle Grade author, Claire Barker, about the scariest place she has ever been.
I love the idea of ghosts, but this doesn’t mean I actually believe in them. I’m not daft, every photograph I see of supposed spirits is clearly manipulated and every story has a sensible explanation. Even Winnie, the heroine in my series Knitbone Pepper, is very clear on the subject, describing those that believe in ghosts as ‘gibbering loonies’. So what I’m about to tell you sits very uncomfortably in my mind, like a new, scratchy label in the back of a trusty old jumper.
In the autumn of 2014 I was putting the final touches to the first book in the Knitbone Pepper series, a story about a tumbledown medieval house full of friendly animal ghosts. After months of sitting inside in the gloom, crouched over my keyboard and inventing things in my head, I decided it was time to do some research in the real world. To this end I googled:
MEDIEVAL HOUSES, HAUNTED, ENGLAND
Hoorah! My nearest ghost den was in Ilfracombe, Devon, less than an hour away. Checking the opening times I jumped in the car and headed for the seaside – ah the writer’s life. I was hoping for scenes of dark forboding and impending doom, ideally followed by an icecream.
The first thing I noticed, as I walked down the leafy lane to Chambercombe Manor, was that it didn't look remotely spooky. A white-washed house, set in pretty, ordered gardens and bathed in autumn sunshine, it looked more like a photoshoot location for a lifestyle magazine. However I had already parted with my cash at the gate, so that was that. Disappointed, I put away my notebook, decided not to mention my reason for visiting and resigned myself to making the best of it.
I entered the deserted courtyard, knocked on the big studded door and waited. A few cheerful seagulls squawked and fluffy clouds sailed across a blue sky whilst I rocked on my heels. Eventually the tour guide heaved the door open, letting the sunlight pour in. “Welcome to Chambercombe!” She looked out over my shoulder: “If everyone is ready, please follow me.” Bewildered I looked around but - too late – she was off like a rocket.
She led me from room to room, pointing out dented suits of armour and cracked crockery on the way, informing me in practical tones that the place was positively heaving with ghosts. It was SO busy with ghosts, in fact, that Britain's Most Haunted had even filmed there. One man had witnessed a whole medieval scene play out in the courtyard. A lady once fainted in the hallway. People came from all over the country and mediums said it was a hotspot of spiritual activity. Of course, now was their busiest time. Tactfully, neither of us drew attention to the fact that she was talking to an audience of one.
Then it got worse. Every so often the guide stopped mid-sentence, her eyes wide, popping like boiled eggs. She cupped her hand to her ear and gasped dramatically "did you hear that?" or “can you smell lavender perfume?” All I could smell was a distant whiff of scones from the tea-shop.
After a while the stubborn lack of ghostly activity stopped being disappointing and started to become very, very funny. If I’d been on a school trip, I’d have been sent back to the bus.
The end of the tour eventually approached. We climbed the rickety stairs, up to a narrow landing, to visit one final room. Through the doorway I could see a bed, a small table and a set of drawers. So far, so Ye Olde Worlde. But this room turned out to be rather different to the others.
As I crossed the threshold, putting my foot onto the bedroom floor, my whole body began to tingle, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Not just a chilly shudder, or like those times when your follicles prickle when you hear a moving piece of music, I mean as if my bones were buzzing.
‘Eek’ I thought and stepped back out again. The strange sensation promptly stopped, so I put my foot back into the room and it began again. I repeated this experiment several times with the same results. A thought crossed my mind - was it some sort of trick? All I can I say is it wasn’t that sort of place. Maybe it was dodgy electrics? Throwing caution to the wind I walked into the middle of the room, tingling fiercely, only to become suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed with a tidal wave of emotions; sadness, joy, a rush of awful pathos. The tour guide nodded sagely, watching me wipe away tears with the back of my hand, as if she had seen all this before. "Ah yes" she said, "this is the children's room. They are interested in certain visitors. They’re just saying hello. You work with children do you?"
I was shown several things after this but truthfully, it's all a bit of a blur. All I wanted to do was get back in my car and drive home very quickly, leaving Chambercombe Manor and its occupants far, far behind.
Sometimes during a school visit a small child will put up their hand and ask ‘do you believe in ghosts Claire Barker?’
‘Noooo’ I chuckle ‘don’t worry, ghosts are only in stories” and I change the subject. What else is there to say? I’m not a gibbering loony. But still the memory of the children’s room in Chambercombe Manor scritch-scratches away…
Bio: Claire Barker is the author of the Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog series, published by Usborne.
Summary of the latest Knitbone Pepper Dog book.
Meet Knitbone Pepper; the dead special ghost dog haunting Starcross Hall!
Knitbone Pepper's beloved owner Winnie is fascinated by the stars after Knitbone digs up an ancient telescope. So when a heartbroken ghost horse asks for help finding her owner - a world-famous astronomer - Knitbone looks to the skies for a dazzling answer.
To find out more about Claire Barker: