Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Scaring Ourselves Half to Death

When last have you watched something really scary? As a writer of urban/dark fantasy with a definite edge of spine-chilling scares, I'm constantly looking for inspiration and, last night, my dearly beloved husband and I discovered a prime source for cold thrills.

To give a little background, my husband, Thomas, makes indie horror movies for fun (really). So the two of us often indulge in what we consider research together, devouring an assortment of horror movies and documentaries, when given half a chance.

Well, I must admit, last night I really did have a difficult time getting to sleep. We may not have telly but we do trawl YouTube for anything unusual and we discovered a spine-chilling series called Haunted Britain. Whatever you do, don't watch this before going to bed.

Not only was it well produced but it succeeded in frightening the living bejezus out of me. Being South African and living in sunny, Mediterranean Cape Town, it's not easy getting the chills because we simply don't have the UK's grey skies and ancient buildings dating back to goodness knows when. Sure, we do have our own plethora of spooks but hey, Thomas and I don't live in one of the old Victorian homes closer to the city.

Cape Town's castle dates back to the 1600s and that's about as old as it gets. Earlier this year I arranged for the Admastor Writers' Guild to meet there and embark on a tour and the inspiration for some of the authors was amazing. One of our newish members has gone on to sell her short story inspired by one of the dungeons...

But, back to Britain and its hauntings. So, now I'm inspired. These ghost stories went beyond faintly luminous spectres to focus on tales of truly malevolent status. Cowled monks have never been this frightening and I'm dead set to go visit Greyfrair's cemetery. And this has whet my appetite to take a closer look at my home town's spooks.

So, my challenge to you, if you're a creative person, is to dig a little into the haunting history of your home town. Were any battles fought? Were there any particulary gruesome murders? Which buildings have a... erm... shall we call it a bit too much history?

Often the best stories are those that have a ring of truth to them and sometimes you don't need to look too far to find them.

I'll finish off this blog entry with a little ghostly tale from my own family, that has been farming in South Africa's Western Cape for hundreds of years. My direct ancestors owned a farm called Kronendal—the old H-shaped Cape Dutch farmhouse still standing on Hout Bay's busy main road. The farmlands are, sadly, nonexistent and the house has been home to a succession of businesses, including restaurants. The remaining (living) family members find it very amusing that the supposed ghosts walking Kronendal's rooms certainly weren't there when any of the Van Helsdingens, Van Rheede van Oudtshoorns and Brinks were living there. These stories have built up over the years but the anecdotal evidence from my family suggests that the only spooks spotted were my great grandfather, Oupa Joe, and not the "grey lady" all the Johnny-come-latelies enthuse about. And no lovelorn British soldier hung himself in the oak avenue, either.

Odd. But then I'm pretty keen about the fact that I'm related to the Van Helsdingens. It's suitably apt considering the literature I write.

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