The Little Book of Ghosts

Copyright Maria ThermannWhat’s it about? A while back I decided to start a whole series of books on “creatures of the night” and, as a life-long devotee of ghost stories, I began the series with “The Little Book of Halloween” and “The Little Book of Ghosts”. The concept is to present a blend of 70% non-fiction and 30% fiction, with fun and educational facts about the main topic, followed by two or three short stories inspired by the creature of the night or paranormal/supernatural topic.

I’m not applying the concept of the 70/30% split too rigidly. “The Little Book of Halloween” for example has only two longer short stories, while “The Little Book of Ghosts” will have 3 shorter short stories (around 2,000 words each).

I wanted to inject something of “myself”, or rather my cultural background into each book, so there will be stuff on Germany’s haunted houses and German folk tales about ghosts. There are mainly stories that originated in the North of Germany, most notably in my home town Luebeck, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and birth place of the Hanseatic League that dominated European trade in the Middle Ages.

Copyright Maria ThermannThe Halloween-related book will have many fun facts about pumpkin growing competitions in Germany and what German children say when they knock on doors with their version of “trick or treat”. Naturally, there will also be pumpkin-growing tips and pumpkin-related recipes, as well as general information about the origins of Halloween and what people got up to centuries ago on the night of All Hallows Eve. Halloween wasn’t celebrated at all in Germany, when I grew up there. It wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that this fun autumn festival gripped the nation and is now celebrated widely across Germany. There will also be a brief overview of the creatures of the night that people most commonly dress up as.

What about vampires and werewolves I hear you cry! Don’t they deserve a  book all of their own? Of course they do! Willow the Vampire and her brand new sister Flora Fangs would never forgive me, if their species were to be left out.

Already, I am collecting fun facts about vampires, real ones (fleas!) and supernatural ones, for a future book, which as you may have guessed, will be “The Little Book of Vampires”. Next up in the series is then “The Little Book of Witches”, which should be amazing, since I found a huge amount on witchcraft, witch hunts and trials, not to mention witch museums in haunted castles where the ghosts of murdered women won’t let anyone visit for fear they might end up also being tortured and burned as witcheCovere for Vampire Blind Dates!

I am also working on an ebook with a collection of short stories aimed at an older audience. It’s entitled “Love at First Bite”; a while back I answered the call of a Bookrix.com member for competition entries and, as the theme was “first date with a vampire”, I wrote a short story about a blind date between a vampire and a human. It was so much fun that I thought, why not create a whole book of this, each story based on a different deadly critter?

If you want to read the vampire story, which is set in London in the 1920’s, you need to sign up (for free) to Bookrix, where I’ll be gradually adding to the ebook I have created for the “Love at First Bite” short story. It’s a free download for Bookrix members.

So there, that’s my update.  Am still working away in the background on the second “Willow the Vampire” book, but as I didn’t like the first 4 chapters I’d written some time ago, it looks like I’m having to start afresh. Maybe I’ll turn the stuff I’ve written so far into a short story instead, so it won’t be wasted time. If only we had days with 48 hours in them to get all these projects done…

 

 

Ghostly Paths through dark Forests

ghost in white sheetThroughout history unusual features in the landscape have sent human imagination into overdrive, spawning legends, fairy-tales and myths. I’d like to use the next couple of blog posts to investigate this super-charged landscape issue a little further.

 

My first candidate for natural phenomena are Hohlwege, the German word for well-trodden paths that have literally been hollowed out by generations of feet, hooves and paws as well as by rain and wind, taking several centuries to mature into their creepy and myth-inspiring selves. Such footpaths lead through fields, forests and mountains and typically connect ancient market towns and places of worship and are usually found close to popular pilgrim routes.

 

So close your eyes and imagine you’re on your way to a medieval market to sell your farm produce. Turnips, onions and beets anyone?

 

Travelling through Germany’s Mecklenburg in your top-of-the-range oxcart, you’ll come across a forested area called Hohenzieritz Woods, which sits in spooky silence between the towns of Penzlin and Hohenzierlitz. The ancient Iserputt footpath or Hohlweg snakes through the wood, where it leads overgrown and hollowed out by the weather, with deep and muddy cart tracks left by a hundred generations of market traders just like you and your team of pretty oxen, to the nearest place to sell your wares.

 

Vampire-bats-animatedMake haste and drive on your team of oxen, for at midnight twelve gleaming white men carrying a black coffin will appear out of nowhere and they just might select you as their number thirteen!

 

We can only imagine with what urgency travellers raced along the Iserputt path, their sandals flying over sticks and stones, their feet splashing through mud-filled puddles and their heads full of ghostly apparitions out to get them for whatever sin their superstitious medieval minds could conjure up!

 

Another legend has it an old man on a cart travelled on this path in the middle of the day. Without warning, the cart came to a halt and his horses refused to take another step. The old man got off his cart and went to investigate the source of the delay. He found a tall, black figure on the back of his cart, laughing wildly and terrifying the horses. The old man was furious to have a stranger mocking him, so he whacked the apparition with his whip. To the old man’s surprise the apparition disappeared and his horses took him and his cart from that place as fast as their hooves would go.

 

Ghost below the Sunset?

 

Ghosts, as one rather rude and ignorant blog reader informed me the other day, “do not exist, you idiots”. I dare to disagree! They may not be Caspar and Co. zipping down the corridor in some abandoned mansion or the Ghost of Canterbury having a score to settle with a new set of occupants, but ghosts are likely to exist in our traditions and belief systems we inherit from our forbearers and that makes them very real to us.

 

English: A ghostly Black Dog.

 

As long as humans believe in a soul surviving death, there will be talk of ghosts…they exist in our minds because they might represent our guilty conscience of unfinished business with the dear departed or our longing to see loved ones again or simply express our own hope that there’s life after death despite scientific proof that we’re just ending up as worm fodder.

 

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, M...

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, Mecklenburg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Imagine you’re an uneducated peasant working the fields surrounding Castle Penzlin in Mecklenburg, bringing in your hay in medieval Europe. The drudgery of day-to-day life must have been unbearable for an intelligent, but uneducated person of the lower ranks. How better to while away the time while making hay than to invent little stories about the things that occur in our surroundings – natural or supernatural phenomena, if that’s what you believe.

 

ghostly images in graveyardWhen we see mist rising up from the heated soil after a long, hot day in summer is cooled down by sudden rain, we can easily imagine ghostly spirits are leaving the ground in protest. Morning mist swirling upwards and gathering in clouds around the summits of hills and mountains, the wind changing and moulding their shapes into fantastical apparitions, are perfect candidates for souls rising up to heaven, while pea-soupers in historic towns are bound to be a demon’s breath robbing us of our sense of direction, trying to lure us into a trap.

 

Hohlwege

Hohlwege (Photo credit: crobgun)

 

Naturally, I’m going to use this spooky landscape feature called Hohlwege in my upcoming novel Willow the Vampire and the Wuerzburg Ghosts. Are there any mysterious features in the landscape near you that might inspire a ghostly tale or two?

 

Things that go bump in the Night

We’ve encountered some truly strange creatures of the night so far, from insomniacs to moths, from witches and ghosts to Willow the Vampire herself.

Ghosts come in a variety of guises and the German word Poltergeist describes a noisy, rumbustious type of ghost or goblin that likes to play pranks on the inhabitants of a house or dwelling. The spirit of a deceased moves into a home – for reasons that might not be apparent at first glance – and starts throwing furniture about by invisibly moving and manipulating objects. This is usually accompanied by groaning, knocking at doors and walls, scratching, rattling of chains and eerie screams for good measure.

The ultimate aim seems to be to drive the inhabitants from the dwelling so the poltergeist can have some peace. According to some cultures’ folklore, Poltergeister (German plural) haunt a particular person and recorded incidents date back as far as the 1st century AD.

In severe cases the Poltergeist – presumably if the living human is too thick to notice otherwise – resorts to biting, hitting, pinching and punching their intended victim. Throughout history there are recorded cases (such as Lithobolia 1698, explained on pamphlet in the British Museum, The Bell Witch of Tennessee 1817 to 1872, Rosenheim in Germany in 1967 and Borley Rectory, England in 1937 for example) of people being haunted by a Poltergeist.

In the Harry Potter books J K Rowling famously uses a poltergeist to great comic effect, but I’d like to return to the more sinister meaning of poltergeist activity in my Willow the Vampire novels. Originally Poltergeister were deemed to be malicious ghosts, spirits with an axe to grind.

Although over the  last couple of centuries people have tried to come up with various explanations of this paranormal phenomena – such as stress and anxiety of a householder causing the imagined events – nobody has so far had an adequate explanation that covers all the strange cases recorded over time.

It struck me that a guilty conscience of the householder – having previously committed some crime or grievous offence against someone – could be a good reason for a poltergeist or two to move into somebody’s home to take revenge.

Since Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts is in part about exacting revenge for wrongs done to children, the introduction of this nocturnal avenger seems appropriate. And, as J K Rowling so beautifully demonstrated, one can have quite a lot of fun with such a creature of the night, too.

A 14-year-old domestic servant, Therese Selles...

A 14-year-old domestic servant, Therese Selles, experiences poltergeist / spontaneous PK activity in the home of her employer, the Todeschini family at Cheragas, Algeria, as featured on the cover of the French magazine La Vie Mysterieuse in 1911. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spooky in the best sense of the word, Poltergeister who move objects, make strange noises and jump out at us from behind the curtain are part and parcel of growing up and learning not to be afraid of the night. The night terrors we perceive as children are often little more than furniture bathed in shadow and moonlight, suddenly unfamiliar at night and therefore frightening. When we grow up, we start to recognise what is real and what is imagined – at least most of us do, leaving writers out of this argument…

Looking at things from a different perspective is also a lesson we learn as we grow older. Revenge can sometimes be a good thing, but mostly it blinds us to the underlying causes of our real or perceived misery.

Willow and the Afterlife

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Image via Wikipedia

Whether or not one believes in ghosts, ghouls, zombies, vampires and similar apparitions, writing about them is great fun and has for centuries been a staple source for writers of many genres. As mainly creatures of the night ghosts are supposed to come out at midnight and haunt places and people, where they’ve had an unhappy time, while they were still alive.

As I am preparing the groundwork for Willow the Vampire’s second adventure (Willow the Vampire & the Würzburg Ghosts), I’m reading up on all manner of horrible events that might cause a whole army of the dead to rise up and take revenge.

Ghosts are deemed to be the spirit or soul of a dead person or even animal that can suddenly become visible to the living or return to “life” in the form or shape of other manifestations, such as sounds, smells or a difference in temperature in a room.

Hollywood ghosts might be either cute and cuddly (Caspar) or truly scary (The Woman in Black); they are often depicted as wispy white, floating shapes, like the proverbial fluttering sheet in the wind or a nightgown on legs. Sometimes they are the translucent skeleton jumping out at us, at other times they are the headless zombie seemingly appearing out of a wall, before gliding off down the corridor.

Do I have to believe in the existence of such a paranormal manifestation to write about it? No, I guess not. Do I believe in ghosts…well, not exactly. At least, until I had a rather singular experience some years back I would have said, no, most decidedly not, I do not believe in ghosts or people coming back as spirits to haunt the living, no matter how annoying some relatives of mine might have been during their lifetimes.

Walking back from the supermarket one day when I was still living in London, I was caught out by a heavy thunderstorm. The afternoon turned to night with flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. I hurried home – just a ten minute walk normally, but burdened with heavy shopping bags and an umbrella struggling to stay in my hand I had to fight my way up the steep hill on which I used to live.

To this day I don’t really understand what happened. A picture of my beloved grandmother, who died in 1986, flashed up in my mind. She was trying to say something to me…and as I “watched” with my mind’s eye how her mouth attempted to form a word, I stopped in my tracks, just for a couple of seconds –  but it was enough to save my life!

Lightning struck the car standing to my right hand side. The lightning bolt set off the car alarm and, I guess it bounced off the car, setting off the alarm on the house on the opposite side of my street. The bolt of lightning had struck just 30 cm in front of me – had I not had my grandmother’s vision flashing up in my mind to arrest my steps, I would have been the lightning bolt’s target instead of the car.

Was this a “ghost” or a guardian angel or some kind of friendly spirit protecting me? I shall never now. Once indoors, I stood in my hallway, my hands shaking, trying to make sense of what had happened. The flash of light, the ear-splitting crack as the full force hit the car, the alarms going off right next to me…and my grandmother saying STOP.