Friday, 7 November 2014

The story behind the book - The Shadows Call

Why I've written a 'ghost' story as a mystery novel...

When asked if I believe in an after-life or in ghosts, I usually dither in answering, but not through embarrassment, it's simply because I haven't come to a firm conclusion yet, and might never (until I'm dead and find out one way or the other - or don't if everything just turns black). But if anyone asks if I believe in paranormal phenomena, then I don't pause: I do.
That statement might sound contradictory to you.
Well either I believe or I don't right?
No. Not necessarily.
It's all a matter of opinion, in exactly what you refer to when mentioning a ghost or paranormal phenomena. You can have the latter without the presence of a ghost, but not the other way around. But then that statement is slightly contentious in what exactly you mean by a 'ghost'. If you mean a sentient, disembodied spirit of a deceased person, then I'm still sitting on the fence as to if they exist or not. I'm leaning towards not, but am in flux and my belief might change based on evidence I witness or record myself. 
To me there's a real problem in the 'paranormal' world where too much anomalous phenomena is all lumped together under one banner. Sadly, in this case, it only takes one of those sub-categories to be poo-poohed and it throws doubt on everything else. 
Taking ghosts in particular:
Remember a few years ago where every man and his dog was presenting out-of-focus dust, pollen, insects, water droplets and lens flare as proof of spirits, calling them orbs? It has got to a stage now where the subject of orbs makes me cringe. That's a shame, because free floating, seemingly intelligent orbs of light have been seen, witnessed and recorded, but buried beneath the deluge of other misidentified mundane artefacts, the subject has largely been dismissed by most people. 
Also, on too many occasions to count, I've seen videos purporting to show a ghost which is actually an out of focus insect, near to the camera lens, reflecting the light. These have all been dismissed, or derided, and it has only helped throw doubt on possibly genuine captures of 'something unexplained' on film. It doesn't help that - with the advent of Youtube and certain 'caught on camera' type movies - that every prankster out there has uploaded their own fake ghost video or photo to the internet. Again it has buried genuine evidence, and thrown disrepute on the subject matter. 
OK, I'm rambling, but it's just to make a point and it's this: I don't believe 95% of what I've seen presented as evidence of ghosts, but there is still that 5% that makes me consider the possibilities.
With such a small percentage, you'd wonder why I have any interest in the subject at all. Well, evidence is just that, but it isn't proof. And being an open-minded sceptic I demand proof before I'll accept something as real. The thing is, 5% of belief is far weightier than 95% of disbelief, and I admit to having a huge interest in paranormal phenomena in general (ghosts as dead people only being a very small part of it).
You might be confused, and I don't blame you. With 'ghosts' there are too many different kinds of spectral apparitions lumped under one banner, and it only takes one to be dismissed to eliminate any belief in the rest. In my opinion this shouldn't be the case. For instance you have 'replay ghost apparitions', 'sentient apparitions', 'crisis apparitions', 'poltergeists', 'shadow figures', 'negative energy', 'portent apparitions', and many many more, each with their individual and unique traits and mostly little to do with each other. Some I can accept, others I can easily dismiss.
I watch old movies. On the screen are images captured of (mostly) dead people. I listen to old records. On the record is the voices of (mostly) dead people. I look at old photos. On the photos are images of (mostly) dead people. In some respects all are 'ghosts' of the once living, breathing people, who are now (mostly) consigned to history. But they aren't sentient spirits, they're recordings. But is that to say that 'ghosts' aren't recordings either? Are the spectral apparitions, the disembodied voices, replays of moments from the past, perhaps trapped in the atmosphere or some medium like stone, wood or water, that under certain atmospheric or even mental conditions get released and witnessed by an observer? I can accept this. These are the 'ghosts' that seem to be caught in a loop, where they go about their own business, and are unaware of you or even a change in environment. Take the 'white lady' who walks through walls where there was once a door, or the Roman soldiers marching to war, their legs obscured because the road was much lower down in their day.
When a 'ghost' is apparently sentient, and interacts with its observer, this is obviously something else - but a wandering spirit? I'm not sure here.
Poltergeists have taken on some notoriety. But in most Poltergeist occurrences there are no reports of apparitions of 'ghosts', more usually are there loud noises, the movement of objects, spontaneous fires, and other 'playful' but frightening activity. It seems more akin to some kind of kinetic discharge of energy than it does the work of a spirit. Do I believe this possible? Yes, I do. Do I believe it's the work of a spirit? I'm not sure, but am open to the idea - with proof.
EVP - electronic voice phenomena - continues to bewilder and fascinate me. This is where voices are recorded on devices where the voice was not apparent to the listener at the time. It's real. I've recorded it myself. But is it the work of a 'spirit' or of some other unexplainable source? I'm yet to make up my mind on this subject, but I still find it fascinating and a good contender that something 'otherworldly' is going on around us.
I don't buy into Ouija boards and planchettes, (most) mediums or seances - they are too easily influenced through conscious or unconscious fraud. But other methods of contacting and recording plausible phenomena does make me wonder. I've witnessed interesting results while using detuned radio receivers, Infra-red cameras, Ultra-violet cameras, full spectrum cameras, digital recording devices, and still photos. I've yet to catch what I'd definitively call 'proof' but yes, I've found evidence that leans towards it and do intend continuing recording this evidence in the future.
Any way, I'm probably battering on too much, without getting to the actual point of this post. I just wanted you to understand where I stand on the subject before relating how I came to write my latest book: The Shadows Call.
The book has been sitting inside me for many years, demanding release and it's all because of a series of personal events back in the mid 1980's that got me interested in the subject in the first place.
Me and my soon-to-be wife decided to move in together, and being on a budget at the time, we had to take up lodgings in privately rented digs in an old Victorian house on Warwick Road, Carlisle. It wasn't the most salubrious of homes, but it was what it was, and what we could afford. From the outset it creeped me out and I can't quite put my finger on why, but I didn't enjoy being there alone. And while we lived there things only got worse. There was a sense of presence, as if we were being watched: constantly. There were unusual noises emanating from out of the ether. TV channels switched to and fro by themselves, and the TV would turn on and off at random. Doors became stuck and unstuck within seconds, usually thwarting us one moment before sliding open by themselves the next. Ornaments moved by themselves in the living room (witnessed by a number of different friends and family members). Our guard dog, Zeus, a tough German Shepherd was scared to go upstairs and would actually whine if we tried to coax it. My wife suffered a recurring nightmare of being chased by a faceless shadowman throughout the house nightly. On one occasion I'd to save my wife from drowning in the bath after she swore she was pushed under by unseen hands. Something eerie changed after we opened up a boarded up basement and found it to be untouched since the Victorian era, and it was as if we'd released a fresh number of 'entities' into our living quarters. Visitors used to be frightened to progress through the hall, after being certain they'd just witnessed a figure in red hanging from the ceiling (I never seen this myself but plenty others did). Lastly we were wakened one night by loud bangs and thumps emanating from inside a walk-in closet in our bedroom. When I checked, it was empty, but on banging on the back wall I recreated the bangs we'd been hearing. The closet backed on to the wall where numerous people swore they saw someone hanging, so you can probably imagine what went through our minds. This was very frightening and the last straw and we fled in fear of what was coming next. Now then, in hindsight, and with my sceptical head on, I can singly rationalise most of these events now, but when all are added together, over such a small space of time (a few months) it's hard to pass them all off as misidentified natural phenomena. There was something weird going on. For the record we had sole use of the property after business hours and at the weekend (there was a shop downstairs that closed early evening) and had no neighbours, and were on a corner lot. This was back in the old days where people didn't have mobile phones, and there was no such thing as Sunday shopping, and the traffic was lighter. With my sceptical head on I can try to put down some of the events to outside elements (radio signals affecting the Tv for instance, or subsidence or damp affecting the house's structure etc), but at the same time I know I'm being overly critical and don't really believe my own arguments. Also for the record, I didn't see an apparition, but yes, I felt something odd, and also caught fleeting shadow figures nipping just out of sight. Sceptics will say this was down to an over-active imagination (they might be right, I'm a creative person after all and write fiction) or the presence of high EMF or ultrasound, sleep paralysis or other such tripe that's usually dragged out, but that is their right, I guess. (Hey, I'm only having a gentle poke back at the cynics so don't get too het up - remember that I'm a sceptic too).
Any way, I believe we lived in what I'd term a 'haunted house'. It's just 'what' was haunting it that still eludes me. But everything that happened has stayed with me all these years and - like I said - has demanded to be put down on paper. Now, if I'd just written down my story, it might be mildly interesting, but it doesn't contain much drama for the reader in search of entertainment, so I have woven a fictional element into the narrative, telling the story of Jack Newman and how he comes to believe in ghosts and of shadow people in particular. Because I'm primarily a crime thriller writer, there was always going to be a murder at the heart of the story, and I've woven this in too. But the fictional elements are all backed up by real events, and also genuine examples of other paranormal events, as well as practices I've conducted while carrying out paranormal investigations (for want of a better term).
Do you need to believe in ghosts to enjoy the book? No. You just need to enjoy reading a mystery, and come to your own conclusions at the end. I'm not trying to convince anybody one way or another, it's down to you what you think. I just hope you enjoy the read.
The Shadows Call is now available as a Kindle ebook:

Oh, one last thing. I'm not a total sceptic. I do believe in paranormal phenomena, but it is only para (outside) until it is explained, and I think that somewhere down the line some answers will become known to us and what we currently perceive to be weird will be accepted (like the world actually being round even though heretics were once burned at the stake for stating the obvious). Whether that is in proof of 'ghosts' as dead people's spirits is still debatable, but I'm confident that other phenomena like EVP and 'poltergeist/kinetic' activity will be scientifically explained in the future. But then again, what do I know....

Caveat: this is not a debate on individual beliefs, faith or religion. Please do not attack me with your arguments of demons, djinn and angels, or that I must be a loony, drunk or deluded. This is what I think, not what I think you should. Respect.



Col Bury said...

Great post, Matt.

I can't work it all out either, but it could be about the flows of energy. I do firmly believe in the afterlife though.

Hope the book does well. I'll be reading, of course.


Author said...

Cheers Col. Yeah, I do believe it's all about energies. Just haven't quite figured it out yet though. I also have a feeling the make-up of individual human brains has something to do with it too. Some people are more in-tune to apparitions than others, i guess. Maybe creatives are more prone as we live between different dimensions inside our heads half the time. But I dunno. I will keep on looking though.

Les Morris said...

We had some spooky experiences in our old house on Junction Street in Carlisle. Various noises and bangs and, on at least one occasion, physical contact. Was it all in my head? Probably, but it didn't feel like it at the time.

Author said...

Then again...possibly not, Les.