Sunday, September 09, 2012

Does Downton Abbey have a Ghost? By Alison Stuart

I’m thrilled to introduce author, Alison Stuart. Lawyer by day, writer by night, a fantastic volunteer at all other times, and a woman with a penchant for men in uniform, she loves losing herself in the world of historical romance.  She’s here today to talk about her latest novel, Gather the Bones which is a fantastic story about a house, a ghost and two people trying to rebuild their lives.

Hello! A huge thank you to Lee and the girls of Tote Bags n Blogs for inviting me to blog this Sunday.

I’m not Fiona Lowe (for those that were expecting her) but she is a very dear friend of mine and I had all the excitement of being her ‘date’ at the RITAs in Anaheim. The mad Australian screaming like a teenager at a Bieber concert when Fiona’s name was announced...yes, that was me (the photo is of Fiona Lowe (left)  and myself at the RITAs). If you haven’t read BOOMERANG BRIDE yet, do yourself a favour. It’s a lovely read. 

I was recently tidying my bookshelves (actually it is still a major work in progress) and as I started to sort my books into categories, I noticed that the “ghosts” pile was looking alarmingly high. I had no idea I had accumulated so many “real life” ghost stories. From York in England to New Orleans, I have tramped the dark streets of many an old town behind someone in costume carrying a lantern and while I haven’t, to my knowledge, ever encountered a ghost face to face (as it were), I have been in places where I have felt extremely uncomfortable. Nothing, but nothing, will induce me back into the dungeons of Warwick Castle and the arches in Edinburgh was a dark, evil place.

My interest in ghosts probably stems from one of my mother’s stories. As a young woman she toured the Youth Hostels of Wales by bicyle. In one old castle she was woken in the night by the sensation of someone brushing her cheek. She opened her eyes in time to see, quite clearly, a woman vanish through the wall next to her bed. Now my mother is not a superstitious woman (as long as you don’t have peacock feathers in the house, spill salt on the table or wear an opal), at least certainly not given to flights of fancy.
I have worked in two very well documented haunted buildings.  Both buildings had originally been fine 19th century homes but had been occupied by the Australian Army for many, many years. “Esmerelda” the ghost of Grosvenor, reputedly the ghost of an unhappy servant girl murdered by the butler, wafted around the corridors of Brigade Headquarters. Her nightly prowling had reduced the Brigade Regimental Sergeant Major (a grizzled British Army veteran who had seen active service in Northern Ireland) to the point where nothing would induce him to spend a night in the building. She satisfied herself by keeping my little office permanently cold and switching my computer on and off.  My offsider (a man of no imagination who certainly was not acquainted with her story)  is the only person who actually saw Esmerelda-- to the fury of the regular staff who had been secretly hanging out for a sighting.

My own little town is one of the oldest settled sites in Victoria and in its day was a rough port area. Convicts were housed in rotting hulks off the point and laboured in the blue stone quarry. The ghost of the cruel overseer murdered by the convicts is often sensed by visitors on our own Lantern Ghost Tours (which I have yet to go on!).  Every pub (and in its heyday there were hundreds of them) has its own ghost story and, according to my friend who runs the Lantern Tours, not all of them are Casper the friendly ghost.  I often think it is quite a good thing that I’ve never actually seen a ghost!

I have also lived in Singapore and in the Chinese tradition August is Hungry Ghost Month. During this month, it is believed the king of hell opens the gates of hell to allow ghosts to visit the living world. It is the only time of year that ghosts are released to freely roam the Earth. They have to pacified with offerings and during that month, the scent of burning incense papers hangs over the island like a pall. Not surprisingly, even for a tiny island, Singapore has enough ghost stories to fill several books with a few local vampires (the bomoh) thrown in for good measure!

There is something about the story surrounding the unrequited spirit that cannot find rest that really appeals to the writer in me. I have published a couple of short stories but never tried a full length novel and the first seed of Gather the Bones was sown. I already had the setting, a wonderful old medieval moated manor house called Baddesley Clinton  (in Warwickshire) and I invested it with its spectral inhabitants (although I’m sure it has plenty of its own). 

The terrible impact of the Great War gave me the time period and although my story was written long before Downton Abbey hit the screens, there are resonances of the fading glory of the British Empire. I deliberately set it in 1923, just on the cusp of change when the “bright young things” (of which my grandmother was one) changed English society forever. 

So  we have GATHER THE BONES - a “Downtonesque” novel with ghosts, romance and a mystery to be solved... 

I have a giveaway of one of my earlier books, the award winning BY THE SWORD . To be in with a chance to win, tell me about a  ghostly experience or, if you prefer, talk about your favourite fictional ghosts.

To read one of my short stories THE PROMISE (and it is only short) click HERE. 

Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of historicals with heart.  Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or wayward ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who strive against adversity to find their happy-ever-after. 

Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.  She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads.  Gather The Bones (Lyrical Press) is available now at Amazon, Nook and all other eBook retailers. 


Linda Henderson said...

The only ghostly experience I can remember having is waking up once around midnight and someone was standing in my bedroom doorway. When I flipped the light on, there was nobody there. Talk about being freaked out. I didn't sleep the rest of the night. It never happened again but I was glad to move out of that house.

traveler said...

When we once rented a country house for a week in the summer a strange ghostly experience happened. We locked the screen door at night and during the night I heard some sounds and in the early morning the door was unlocked.

petite said...

When I was young I used to watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I loved that show and the ghost was wonderful.He was my favorite ghost and still is.

katsrus said...

Beautiful cover on Gather The Bones. Don't know if I would care for a really chilly room and the computer going on and off. LOL. I worked in both a hospital and assisted living and of course both does have some death. At the hospital I always felt like I was being watched in the old business office. Was in a bathroom cleaning and heard my name plain as day. Answered cause I thought it was the boss and no one there. Happened more than once. Had many other things like that too. The asisted living you would see shadows at night and hear noises while everyone was sleeping. Even some of the elderly people living there would mention seeing things in their room.
Sue B

erin said...

Thanks for a great post :) I don't really believe in ghosts but I do like reading about them. I can't think of any time that I had a "paranormal" event.

Pat Cochran said...

My sister was taken from us by breast
cancer in the mid-70s. Some years later,
while sitting at my desk,I was surround-
ed by a cloud of scent. After the sur-
prise of the incident, I realized that
the scent was my sister's favorite Nina
Ricci perfume. She would visit every so
often for years. We theorised that she
was stopping by to visit her daughter who
lived with us. This happened for years
until Shan was an adult with a son of her
own. Then Audry moved on to visit Shan

Pat C.

Alison Stuart said...

I bet you were, Linda! That's why I'm kind of glad I've never actually met one "face to face". Not sure how I would react! Much more fun to write about them.

Alison Stuart said...

Goosebumps! Did you stay the whole week?

Alison Stuart said...

We were discussing fictional ghosts at my book launch and nearly everyone nominated the Ghost and Mrs. Muir. For me it will always be the old black and white movie with Rex Harrison and the beautiful Gene Tierney. If you've never seen it, do try and track it down!

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks, Erin. Glad you enjoyed the post :-) Writing about them is just as much fun.

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you for sharing that story, Pat <3. It sounds like the visits from your sister brought you and you niece great comfort.

Alison Stuart said...

I thank my publisher for the lovely cover :-) It was probably not what I had in mind when I wrote the book but I have grown to love it!
I can imagine hospitals and care homes where death is a daily occurrence would have their share of unrequited spirits. Hearing your name would have been quite unnerving! You don't often hear stories of vocalising.

katsrus said...

It was unnerving after I figured out I was alone. LOL.

lag123 said...

I feel my mother's presence quite often. She just passed away in March. During her illness she would say that she wanted to be free as a bird. The night she died, there was a bird singing in a tree outside her window around 1 AM. It then flew away and I took comfort from that.

lag110 at mchsi dot com

Leah Weller (leahluvsmedieval) said...

We live in an old house and the doorknobs are all porcelain. I was sitting in the living room one night and the doorknob to the basement door started jiggling. My cat jumped down and ran over to the door and sat there looking up while my heart beat out of my chest. Two hours later, my DH came home from work and we walked around the basement and found no windows broken and the door was locked so there is no explanation other than something ghostly. I know the man who lived here before us died in our dining room so maybe it was him, LOL! I didn't feel any sense of unease, it just scared me to death.

I am such a medieval lover and Baddesley Clinton looks absolutely wonderful! I haven't read anything by you yet but am looking forward to delving into them now. They are on my wishlist. I love when I find "new to me" authors! :)

Thank you for the chance in the giveaway.

Alison Stuart said...

That's a wonderful story. When my father was dying the cat who was resident in the home where he lived never left the garden outside his window. They say animals are very empathetic.

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you, Leah. Most of my ideas for stories come from old buildings first. I think it began when my grandfather took me to Harvington Hall near where he lived in Worcestshire when I was 11. It stuck with me and became Seven Ways in By the Sword.

I must do a blog on the real life love story of Baddesley Clinton. It's a wonderful tale of Victorian devotion.

Jiggling door handles would freak me out! Again animals can be very empathetic to supernatural activity. In one of the old buildings I worked in, a dog who had been sleeping quite peacefully, jumped up and started growling at a pillar.

Kerry said...

Hi Alison

We had the best time on a Ghost Tour of The Rocks in Sydney. When we were in the last building the guide was telling us the story of a child who had died and I felt a cold touch on my hand which felt like someone patting me on the hand. It wasn't scary but quite comforting. Each time we visit Sydney I am drawn to the Rocks - maybe there is a reason!


Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for calling by, Kerry. I have heard the Rocks tour is particularly atmospheric. I have done the Quarantine Station at Manly which was not of those places that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable.

There is supposed to be the ghost of a large, motherly figure in of our local, deserted pubs - a woman who used to take in the homeless or lonely seafarers. People have reported feeling comforted by her presence.

Annie West said...

Alison, you must have had such a wonderful time researching this story. It sounds terrific. No ghostly experiences for me - I don't know whether to be disappointed or pleased.

Kandy Shepherd said...

Hi Allison, congratulations on the launch of GATHER THE BONES--it sounds like a wonderful read.

I haven't seen a ghost or even a hint of one! Thank heavens as I think I would be terrified. However I do like to read ghost stories!

Lory Lee said...

It wasn't really my experience but my mom's, it occurred when I was still a kid. One night, my mom suddenly woke up and she saw my grandmother (she already passed away during that time) sitting in our bed looking at me (I was her favorite grandchild). But she wasn't scared, because she knows, she won't do anything harmful towards me. :D

Eli Yanti said...

i never saw ghost and i hope i will never see ghost but mostly i heard sound : people bath, washing plate in middle of the night

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you to two wonderful Aussie friends, Kandy and Annie, for dropping by. I can't imagine any ghost messing with two such wonderful people!

Alison Stuart said...

Another "comfort" ghost, Lory? We think of ghosts as having unrequited reasons for hanging around but love is just as powerful an emotion.

Alison Stuart said...

I think even hearing ghostly activity is unnerving, Eli! (particularly if they are using your bathtub!)

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you to everyone who dropped in on my first Totes Bags 'n Blogs post. I had fun.
The winner of a copy of BY THE SWORD is 'traveler'. If the prize is not claimed by Friday, I will draw again.