Ghost Stories

Creepy House. It’s that time of year again. The shadows grow longer, the days colder. We light fires and candles, close our doors against the night and tell tales to terrify ourselves. Why when the darkness presses against the windows and the winds howl do we concentrate on our fears? The terror of the unknown, the closeness of death and decay?

For the rest of the year we keep these thoughts at bay. It is only when we feel most vulnerable to the in-definable, to the spirits that we don’t really believe in, to the afterlife we hope exists, but of which we can find no evidence, that we indulge in an orgy of spine chilling stories.

We seem to have a need to allow ourselves to be afraid, but it has to be in a manageable way. In the end we know that the story is just that, a piece of fiction, the film is not real. There is no ghost waiting at the turn of the stairs.

Tomorrow the lights will come on, the day will be bright and busy and we will go shopping for pumpkins and plastic bats.

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Adlestrop

Adlestrop.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

An Autumn afternoon and we were staying with my sister, the artist  Anuk Naumann and her husband Roger. While Mike ensconced himself in front of the rugby we went for a long walk. Our starting point was Adlestrop. There was no one around and the village was wrapped in that very still quiet feeling that comes at this time of year, as if the season itself is slowly slipping into a winter sleep.

There is no station now at Adlestrop. Nothing but the sign in the bus shelter, with Edward Thomas’s poem inscribed on a plaque beneath the name.  A symbol of transience, the passing of time, the unimportance of the trivial things that can cause such stress and worry.

And the thought that a powerful poem can indeed last for ever. Cotswold Walk 1

Stalking a Story

Dragon1

Sometimes a story comes fully formed. Sometimes I am presented with a character who will tell their story whether I plan to or not. And sometimes there is a glimpse of an idea which will gradually, gradually find its form.

For me these are the hardest stories to write.

I sit down. I stare at the screen. I write an opening sentence. I delete. I re-write. I force myself to write the first paragraph, then the second and…stop.

Nothing.

I know by now how the story will unfold. That is the most frustrating part of the whole process, because I cannot get it down on paper, or rather onto the screen.

In these circumstances I find the only thing to do is to get up and leave my computer. I find something else to do. I make the bed, dust the living room, wash a floor and half way through the task the next sentence comes and I have to rush upstairs to put it down.

Particularly fruitful is watching TV. However absorbing the programme the story insists on making itself heard and I know that I have to keep pen and paper to hand to write down whatever comes into my mind, which will most likely be the link to the next part of the story.

A story written like this takes days. Whether it I am stalking it, or it is stalking me, I cannot be sure. All I know is that we circle each other, make small feints out of cover and gradually, gradually build enough trust to be laid open for others to read.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

lady-chatterley[1]Having watched the BBC adaptation of the book I was curious to see how my memory of Lawrence’s classic stood the test of time. I last read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” when I was in  my early twenties and even then I wasn’t over impressed. The so called erotic scenes did nothing for me. In fact, like a lot of Lawrence, I found them comical. “Loin worship” and sticking flowers in pubic hair simply don’t do it for me, though the former might if I could work out what it actually meant. In spite of his insistence on the importance of the body and the physical Lawrence can be very vague. I once went to a hilarious reading group session, when a group of us tried to work out exactly what was supposed to be happening in a key scene in “Women in Love.”

Having re-read Lady C I am no more impressed now than I was way back then. In my opinion the book is grossly over-rated. It’s badly written, sprinkled with exclamation marks, over use of  repetition, Sir Clifford turns yellow three times in the space of two pages, and full of expressions such as “her bowels fainted.” This I have to admit to being my favourite and possible material for another blog ie: how do bowels perform that activity? is it a medical problem, or all in the mind, a metaphor for…etc, etc.?

The other thing that struck me was what an angry book it was. The main thrust of the piece, excuse the pun I couldn’t help it, was not the erotic connection between the lovers, but the class war in which both Mellors and Sir Clifford are engaged. Both characters rant on the subject and interestingly enough share similar views about the ghastliness of the working classes.

The theme of industrialisation is also paramount and it is hard not to agree with Lawrence’s view of the devastation of the countryside. His answer that all men should wear red trousers be proud of their legs and live as they did before the advent of machines, somehow does not quite convince.

The upshot of all this, is that it set me thinking about books we rate as classic and those which will endure. I would imagine we could all agree on those that won’t, but which novelists currently writing will be deemed worth studying in the next century?

PS The BBC did a brilliant job. If you haven’t seen it then catch up now.