Thursday, 23 August 2012

Love and Marriage

Love and Marriage
Go together like a Horse and Carriage
... so the song goes.

I was in Portsmouth, researching for my alternative Regency set novel, when I came across a bridal party by the Square Tower. The bride had arrived by a sweet little coach and was having her picture taken. Among the onlookers was a family from Saudi. I got talking, as you do when horses and small children are involved, and the father asked whether the carriage was an English tradition.

That made me think.

It's certainly seen as something romantic - perhaps something the Disneyfied  bride might hanker after.

via Flickr

And there is the sense of the fairytale, the Princess-for-a-day idea.

via Flickr

But our desire for something old-fashioned, something traditional,  might be just a commercially-driven image. It might be a phantom, part of a great big dressing-up game that hides a rotten secret at its heart, unlikely to end well.

via Flickr

It might be - in the world of the Wedding Ghost.

via Flickr

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Old Ways about Weddings

As part of my research for The Wedding Ghost, I wanted to know about the traditions and superstitions around marriage in Sussex. At modern weddings we throw confetti, and in some places rice - but in Sussex it was wheat.
Ear of Wheat by Michael J. Connors

I've noticed Sussex churches often have lychgates - and so I 'borrowed' a custom  that's found in other counties. Local children, or members of the family, tie up the gates out of the churchyard, and won't let the Bride and Groom out until they pay a ransom.

Bolney Lychgate via John Gasson
Creative Commons
{The block in the middle is where they rested coffins}

Traditionally, there were many ways for a young woman to find out who her husband would be. One of the best nights for such divination was the Eve of St. Agnes (20th January) John Keats wrote a marvellous, rather Gothic and sensual poem about this.
    They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve, 
     Young virgins might have visions of delight, 
     And soft adorings from their loves receive 
     Upon the honey'd middle of the night, 
     If ceremonies due they did aright; 
     As, supperless to bed they must retire, 
     And couch supine their beauties, lily white; 
     Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require 
  Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire. 

'Madeline' by Millais 1850
courtesy of Martin Beek
Creative Commons

Halloween, of course, was another time. In Sussex, a young woman  would place an apple pip on the fire grate, representing the man she might marry. If the pip burned silently - that courtship would go smoothly with a happy ending; if the pip burst, they would break up.
Apple Pip by Mary K. Baird
I think you would have to be quite brave to try this last one. You waited until the first full moon was predicted after New Year's Day, then sit across a stile all alone in the dark. Of course, you had to keep still and silent - and probably go fasting according to most traditions - for the spell to work. When the moon rose you said this rhyme:
All hail to thee, Moon, all hail to thee,
I pray thee good Moon, reveal to me
This night who my husband must be.
Moonlight by Paul Anderson

Then you waited to see his 'glim' or spirit appear.
Would you dare?

Information from Superstitions of Love & Marriage by E. & M. A. Radford, ed. C. Hole, and  A Sussex Garland, T. Wales

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Beauty is in the eye...

So many times I have heard it said 'all brides look beautiful'. It would probably be churlish to disagree but there certainly can be rather creepy images of brides.

This one - is she comatose, or does she completely disdain her husband to be?

Image courtesy of Holly Gramarzio
 (Creative Commons)
How about this? The mannequin looks so sad - was she modelled from life - or death?

Image courtesy of Robyn E. Jay
(Creative Commons)
And as for her, would you trust what she put in your mouth?

Image by Danny
(Creative Commons)

There is a place for the disconcerting, the melancholy and the not-entirely-trustworthy on this site - and in my written work. Please call back for more marital strangeness next week.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Dead White Roses

August 1st is Yorkshire Day and as a Leeds-born lass, I had to mark it somehow. This blog being centred around a ghost story, I wanted to find something eerie.
Dead White Roses by Jeremy Cherfas
I love the elegantly macabre. I'm for the lovely but unnerving, so abandoned wreaths, the bouquets of forgotten brides and the remnants of faded beauty delight me. 
A skeleton form lay mouldering there
In the bridal weeds of a lady fair.
from the Mistletoe Bough by Thomas Haynes Bayley 1884
(Note: I've chosen a West Riding singer for this)

Now the War of the Roses included the bloodiest battle on English soil at Towton near Tadcaster. Not only was it gruesome, it also gave rise to several ghost stories (of Cock Beck running red with blood on the Palm Sunday anniversary, of groaning unseen warriors, and lights seen at night in Lead Chapel, which has no electricity) - and a legend about a rose.

The story goes that wild white roses grew around the site but ever after the battle, they came up splashed with blood from the dreadful battle. See here for more.

So ghosts, brides and roses have a welcome place here, and in my imagination, today and every day. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Black Dog

Dogs  - frightening or friendly?

I've just read a superb ghost story by Penelope Lively called 'Black Dog' in the highly commendable Virago Book of Ghost Stories. It made me think of other Black Dogs:

Anubis, Egyptian God of the Dead
a name for Depression, used by Winston Churchill, and further back in time by Samuel Johnson, James Boswell & Hester Thrale
Guytrash, Barghest and Padfoot - three legendary haunting Black Dogs of Yorkshire
Shucks, Cappels, and any number of other scary  hounds from the rest of the UK
The Guardian Black Dog - a traditional story where the Black Dog saves a man's life - which can be found in K. M. Briggs' Dictionary of British Folk-Tales (a wonderful resource for any fantasy writer)
Monty Hall's mad Black Alsatian Reuben
Do hounds haunt you - or delight you? 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ghost Dresses

I find these enchanting - so delicate and ethereal in appearance - yet made from such a humble material. Sadly, I do not know the original sculptor - if you do, I'll happily credit them.
It occurs to me that hanging these from nylon fishing wire would make an even eerier effect - they were turn as though dancing to unheard music.

There's a link here to a sequence showing the construction of something similar - and spooky.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Where am I?

The first draft of The Wedding Ghost has been completed - and the opening chapter is with Greg Mosse. I feel rather in limbo waiting for for feedback so that I can move on.

It is like being surrounded with mist and listening for sounds. I'm a bit shivery and uncertain where to put my feet.  I hope the voice will lead me in the right direction but I am wary of trusting too much to someone else. Perhaps I may mistake which way to go, perhaps I am deluded. 

It's a scary business, this writing.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Starting off...

Inspirational reading
My current work in progress 'The Wedding Ghost' is taking shape. I am happy to admit that I owe a lot to Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black' which I have loved since it came out in 1983. My story is quite distinct but informed by her structure - the way the mood shifts from beautiful description to eerie scenes and then on to deep fear - and yet there is a surprising amount of happiness too. The reader becomes aware of how much is threatened.
         I love ghost stories and I expect I will discuss a good few more as this blog develops. This first post is to acknowledge the debt that I owe one of my most-read writers. Few others convey that intensity of feeling with precision of observation in my view. It can feel a bit claustrophobic - but that is no bad thing in a supernatural tale, I believe. This strength of emotion is essential to a well-told ghost story - and my intention is to convey a similar psychological state. Prepare to be chilled.