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Author Interviews/Guest Bloggers

Body Snatching: A Morbid Curiosity with Author Lee Murray

Free image courtesy Attila Lisinszky on Unsplash.

Happy new year, everyone! 😊

To start off 2022, I have the pleasure of hosting multi-award-winning author, Lee Murray, to the blog. Her flash fiction story, Heart Music, appears in the upcoming anthology, Among the Headstones, edited by Rayne Hall (further details below). I’ve ordered my copy and I look forward to reading Lee’s story, along with a host of other talented authors.

Today, Lee shares with us some of the history behind body snatching, including two modern cases that are both shocking and macabre.

Thank you, Lee, for sharing and being with us today.

* * * * *

Body snatching, the theft of a body or body parts from a burial site (as opposed to graverobbing, where sites are excavated for valuable artefacts), is an ancient and macabre practice, and curiosity is a key motivation. Indeed, scientific curiosity, coupled with this morbid practice, contributed much to our early understanding of the human body, for example. While da Vinci is believed to have dissected around thirty cadavers obtained with permission from various hospitals to inform his anatomical drawings, his contemporary, Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius, reportedly pillaged cemeteries for the corpses he dissected, his subsequent book of anatomical drawings, published in 1543, dispelling long-held theories about human biology. In the 19th century when anatomical research was at its zenith, despite the associated cultural taboos, there was a high demand for corpses, so body snatching became a lucrative industry, with the desecration occurring in the few days before the dead had time to decompose. In fact, in many western countries, body snatching for medical use became so commonplace that people took measures to protect their dead, including introduction of mort-safes (iron cage structures), or hired guards.

Body snatching is not confined to the distant past, however. In a bizarre New Zealand case, four young men stole a dead baby’s skull from a Wellington cemetery in 2002. The trio had roamed the cemetery previously, attempting (unsuccessfully) to break into a concrete crypt, stealing a marble ornament instead. Then, six days later, together with another friend, they returned to the cemetery after a night of heavy drinking, this time bringing a spade and a hacksaw. While one of the men served as a lookout, the others broke into two century-old vaults. In the first, the ring-leader—a man named Holland—sifted through an urn of human ashes with his hand. The group then stole the remains of a baby from the second vault, carrying it back to Holland’s flat in the lead lining of its coffin, where they cut a section from the baby’s crown and removed part of its jawbone. Holland went on to use the skull as an ashtray and the infant’s jawbone as a necklace (which he later lost). The group disposed of the rest of the corpse and the coffin lining by throwing them into the harbour. Days later, a man walking his dog through the cemetery reported that the vaults had been vandalised and a subsequent inventory uncovered the missing coffin. In his diary, one of the convicted men confessed to the crime, writing: “We stole a coffin with a dead baby in it and took it back to our place and broke into it. This is as bad as murder; I can’t believe we did it.” He could not explain his involvement, putting it down to madness: “I am deranged. Today has been terrible and we have earned backstage tickets to hell.” However, ring-leader Holland’s explanation for his role in the bodysnatching was that he was “curious”.

While I’m not at all tempted to scour the cemeteries for freshly opened graves, I can attest that my flash fiction tale, “Heart Music”, which appears in Among the Headstones (edited by Rayne Hall) was the result of my own grisly curiosity surrounding body snatching. I was drawn, not to the cemetery, but to multiple news reports of Russian scholar Anatoly Moskvin, who was arrested in 2011 for stealing the remains of forty-four dead girls between the ages of 3 and 12 years. Moskvin mummified twenty-six of the girls in salt and soda and kept the resulting ‘dolls’ in plain sight his parents’ apartment, claiming at a parole hearing in 2020 that he had “brought them home and warmed them up” after their parents had abandoned them to the grave. Some of the ‘dolls’ had music boxes wedged in their chest cavities, hence the title of my piece.

I’ll admit that while the reports of Moskvin’s crimes are gruesome and shocking, they hold a certain fascination. Such a macabre story. Moskvin, who suffers from schizophrenia and remains incarcerated, claimed the children “sang to him” and that he did not exhume them until they responded to him, giving him their permission. His motivation for bringing the corpses home? In part, it was because he was getting too old to spend the night in cemeteries, so instead he brought his “children” home where they might be more comfortable. But another motivation was his curiosity, as Moskvin was convinced he would one day discover a way to revive his beloved corpses, either through science or black magic.

With “Heart Music”, I hoped to bring a fresh perspective to the reports, taking the point of view of an imaginary teenager, one who had died before she’d had a chance to live, curious as to how she might respond to the body snatcher’s advances.

References

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/graverobbers-who-used-skull-as-ashtray-jailed/UGSINXO5S543XRMBWMGZDPWWTY/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8904599/Graverobber-stole-girls-corpses-doll-collection-refuses-apologise-parents.html (Warning: Graphic content).

About the Author

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Aotearoa-New Zealand, and a USA Today Bestselling author. Lee’s flash fiction, “Heart Music”, a 2021 Ladies of Horror Fiction Award finalist, first appeared in her Bram Stoker Award®-winning fiction collection Grotesque: Monster Stories (Things in the Well, 2020) Read more at  https://www.leemurray.info/

About the Book

This book, edited by Rayne Hall, presents twenty-seven of the finest – and creepiest – graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.

Here you’ll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.

You’ll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.

Now let’s open the gate – can you hear it creak on its hinges? – and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.

But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement… They may be right behind you.

Purchase Link:  mybook.to/Headstones

The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2021. (After that date, the price will go up.)  A paperback will follow.

This Writer's Life, Writing

Goodbye 2021 – A Year I’d Rather Forget.

Free image courtesy pasja1000 on Pixaby

Another year is almost over and it’s beginning to look like we’re stuck in a perpetual time loop. It’s been another crap year with lockdowns, COVID-19 in its various incarnations, and I’ve had two falls injuring both knees, which I am only now slowly beginning to recover from. After all this, it’s not easy to end the year on a cheerful note and stop being a ‘Debbie Downer!’

To be honest with you, I’ve become physically and emotionally drained, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! 2021 has been a very long, exhausting year, a year where I have really had to push myself to get any writing done, finding my motivation somewhat lacking (and that’s another post in itself). But having said that, I did manage to publish two novellas, so it’s not all bad! 😉

If nothing else, COVID-19 has revealed what’s important in life, which for me is my health, family, and writing. After having read The Relaxed Author by Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre, I believe that as an indie author, the writing is the main thing, and that there is nothing wrong with taking the slow and steady approach.

I feel this way every time I publish!

It’s also been a time to take a step back, analyse, and enjoy the little things. Going out to be amongst nature can be beneficial both physically and mentally. Ever since I was a kid, this has always been my ‘escape,’ and the opportunity to let my imagination run wild.

The epidemic, so far, has taught me not to take anything for granted and to take one day at a time. The future is unpredictable, but it has always been that way. We learn to adapt. The new year brings with it new opportunities and a chance to start afresh.

I hope you have a happy Christmas, and a safe and healthy new year! Here’s to new beginnings!

What things have you done to cope during 2021? Do you have any big plans for the new year, or do you intend to take things one day at a time?

My Books, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Stranger Within

‘The Stranger Within’ Now Available!

Free image courtesy JillWellington on Pixabay

It’s time to bring out the champagne because I’m ending the year on a bit of a high with the release of my fifth book. Yes, my fifth (although, mind you, my idea of celebrating is planning my next writing project).

The Stranger Within, the second novella in the Marsden Hall series is now available!

I’ve received some early feedback from advanced readers and word is – they love it!

Many thanks to my advanced readers and those of you who have pre-ordered their copy. Also, a very big thank you to those of you who have been with me throughout my writing journey on this blog over the years. Honestly, I wouldn’t have got this far without your support (and of-course my wonderful husband).

You can get your copy on Amazon for only $1.50AU/$1.06US. It is the second story in a series of stand-alone novellas.

Dreams don’t always come true.

Young governess, Louisa Campbell, yearns for love and dreams of a better life. She wants nothing more than a happy ever after. When the man she loves denies her that dream and tries to discredit her, she faces an uncertain future.

Meanwhile, the ghosts of Marsden Hall begin to stir, and a restless spirit traps Louisa in its wake. For Marsden Hall has secrets of its own.

Will those secrets destroy her chance of happiness?

If you haven’t read the first novella in the series, now is a good time to get your copy of The Curse of Marsden Hall. It is available on Amazon for the same low price of $1.50AU/$1.06US.

Have a lovely weekend! xx

My Books, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Stranger Within

‘The Stranger Within’ Available for Pre-Order.

Free image courtesy pixel2013 on Pixabay.

This is just a short note to let you know that The Stranger Within, the second novella in the Marsden Hall series, is available for pre-order.

This is a series of stand-alone novellas with a common link and is currently available as e-books.

The Stranger Within will be released on 17 December, but you can order your copy NOW on Amazon for only $1.50AU.

Dreams don’t always come true.

Young governess, Louisa Campbell, yearns for love and dreams of a better life. She wants nothing more than a happy ever after. When the man she loves denies her that dream and tries to discredit her, she faces an uncertain future.

Meanwhile, the ghosts of Marsden Hall begin to stir, and a restless spirit traps Louisa in its wake. For Marsden Hall has secrets of its own.

Will those secrets destroy her chance of happiness?

This Writer's Life, Writing Process

Celebrating Two Years as an Indie Author.

Free image courtesy pixel2013 on Pixabay.

Last year, I wrote a post listing what I learned during the first twelve months of being an indie author. Now, two years after hitting that ‘publish’ button, those points basically remain the same, but with a few added caveats.

Marketing can overtake the writing.

Yes, we want readers to find our books and read them, but sometimes the marketing side to indie publishing can become all-consuming. We can focus too much on all the different ways to market, hop on to the latest trend, spread ourselves too thin, and become obsessed with sales figures, and wonder what we are doing wrong. I’ve mentioned before that writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and the same can be said for the marketing side of publishing. Find something that you enjoy when it comes to marketing, even if it’s just one or two, and start your following from there. Too often, the focus can be on having large numbers, but there are many benefits to having a smaller following.

You need to remember the writing is what’s important.

A few years back, I spent a lot of time blogging, and my writing took a bit of a back-seat. My husband told me ‘I thought you wanted to be a writer, not a blogger.’ As much as I enjoy blogging (I’ve been doing this for twelve years now), he was right, and so I started taking a small step back. Lately, I’ve found myself doing the same thing with other social media – we crave the immediate attention it can bring. We need to find the right balance between writing and marketing, and remember our priority should be our stories.

Trying to maintain work/life balance.

As an indie author, we’re running our own business. We are in control of what we do, which includes our working hours. This can become a business where we work 24/7, if we let it. I admit to working evenings, weekends, and even waking up during the night or the early hours of the morning thinking about it. The thing is, I love what I do and that’s a good thing. Not many people can say they love their work, however, we still need to take breaks for the sake of our physical and mental health. COVID-19 has taught me that this, along with family, is what’s important. This year, I’ve also had two falls, landing on alternate knees about six months apart. I am still not fully recovered, and I guess the long recovery process is one way to tell me to slow down (as well as to unfortunately remind me how old I am)!

Recently, I’ve been reading The Relaxed Author by Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre (I’ll now have to start getting some of his books 😉 ), which has been very timely and confirms what I have been thinking for some months now.

Lately, I have been making plans for the next twelve months, but one thing is certain – the ‘slow but steady’ approach works for me.

What have you learned on your writing journey this year? Has COVID-19 made you reassess your priorities? What writing process works best for you

Horror, Movies/Television

My Top 5 Horror Movies for Halloween.

Free image courtesy Eleni Petrounakou on Unsplash.

A few months ago, I revisited the movie Sleepy Hollow, which is good viewing for this time of year. As Halloween is only a few short days away, I thought I’d share with you a couple more movies that have stuck with me over the years (one way or the other), that is sure to get you into the spirit of the season.

Aliens (1986)

With a strong, kick-ass heroine in Ripley, great supporting cast, good lines, and wonderfully creepy Aliens, what’s not to love? Together with the theme of motherhood, this is my all-time favourite horror movie.

Halloween (1979)

It’s just not Halloween without a visit from Michael Myers, and I’m talking the original here. The quiet streets of suburbia hides a silent killer lurking in the shadows of darkness. He could be anywhere, and the creepy music helps heighten the suspense. Totally!

The Exorcist (1973)

The ultimate story of good versus evil, this movie is terrifying as a malevolent entity possesses a young child, the very symbol of innocence. You can literally feel the chill in every bedroom scene. What’s even more frightening is the movie is based on a true story. (If you want to find out more, you can listen to the podcast Inside the Exorcist).

Wolf Creek (2005)

The Australian outback can be a lonely, desolate place, and is the perfect location for a serial killer. You can feel the vulnerability and fear of the backpackers, and after all my years of watching horror movies, there is one scene that even had me horrified. John Jarrett’s performance is both terrific and creepy, but he’s a nice guy really.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I’ve put this one on the list because Halloween is supposed to be fun, and there are plenty of laughs in this one. I’ve always appreciated British humour and I love the characters Shaun and Ed, probably because they’re gamers, like both my kids and my husband. The best zombie movie I’ve seen.

What will you be watching this Halloween?

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Inspiration, Spooky Stories, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Story Behind the Story

The Ghost of Ascot House.

Rumours of a ghost at Ascot House in Queensland, Australia, have been circulating as far back as the 1890s. It wasn’t until some one-hundred years later, that the ghost could finally be put to rest.

Ascot House was built for wealthy businessman and politician, Frederick Holberton, in 1876, and was originally named ‘Tor’. Situated in Newtown, a suburb of Toowoomba, it once stood on 13ha (32 acres) of land. It eventually changed hands, and the new owner renamed it Ascot House, and undertook numerous renovations. Ascot House contained a gothic tower, sweeping staircase and large high-ceilinged rooms.

Many years later, the house would fall into a state of disrepair. During the 1940s, flats had been added, which housed people looking for cheap accommodation. It was not until the 1980s that the house was sold to a successful renovator, who proceeded to bring the house back to its former glory.

Artist impression of Ascot House. Artist unknown.

No sooner had the new owner moved into Ascot House, that she would hear footsteps walking down the hallway at night but seeing no-one. Once, during the early hours of the morning she felt fingertips brush her shoulders. One warm evening, she leaned against a wall where the surface was icy cold. The cold patch lasted for months and defied explanation.

There have been numerous eye-witness accounts, including one man who saw the apparition of a young woman that looked as if her neck was broken. It had been rumoured that a young servant girl had hung herself within the house.

After many years of searching, the owner identified the young woman as Maggie Hume, who had worked at Ascot House as a housemaid under the employ of the original owner, Frederick Holberton. At 23 years of age, she committed suicide, not by hanging, but by taking strychnine. According to the police reports, it was believed she suicided after learning she was pregnant. At the inquest, a couple of male staff members confessed to having ‘connections’ with her.

As a single woman committing suicide, Maggie was buried in an unmarked grave. Now, a headstone has been placed at the site, giving her the sympathy she never received in life.

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Movies/Television

Revisiting ‘Sleepy Hollow’

Halloween is rapidly approaching, so I’ve decided to get in a bit early on watching movies for the season. Recently, I re-watched Sleepy Hollow (1999), and with scary pumpkin heads (amongst other things), makes this a good Halloween movie.

Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a young police constable sent to the village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate some gruesome murders.

Classified as a Gothic supernatural horror film, there is a suitable amount of gore without overwhelming the audience. Beheadings, digging up graves, and dissecting corpses is balanced with the arrival of impending doom of the headless horseman.

Despite the horror, the film has some lighter moments, mainly through Johnny Depp’s character, who at first comes across as awkward, weak and a bit eccentric. It is his unconventional approach to the investigation that helps him to solve the case, as well as become a stronger person.

There is a good cast alongside Johnny Depp, including Michael Gambon and Richard Griffiths (both of Harry Potter fame), Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter, Blackadder), and of-course the legendary Christopher Lee (always a winner in my book 😉 ).

Boo! I love the gloomy atmosphere of this film.

My favourite moments throughout the film would have to be the headless horseman and the outdoor scenes.

The combination of set design and visual effects helps make this film one of the best in terms of gloomy atmosphere. The village is a perpetual dark and eerie place, and the nearby forest is surrounded in a thick fog. The appropriately named ‘Tree of the Dead’ is old and gnarled, with a bloodied past.

The headless horseman, played by Christopher Walken, has a facial appearance every bit as horrific as the rest of him, with wild hair and eyes, and sharp, pointed teeth.

With such a menacing presence, the film comes to a satisfying, but frightening conclusion.

What films do you have planned to watch this Halloween?

Subscribe to my newsletter for regular updates and receive an exclusive flash fiction. I’d love it if you could join the discussion! 🙂

Australian Folklore

The Three Sisters and Their Legend.

About 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of Sydney, lies the Blue Mountains. A mountainous region and National Park, it was listed as a World Heritage area by UNESCO in the year 2000. It is called the Blue Mountains due to the blue-grey colours of eucalyptus trees.

The setting for some of my stories are based within the Blue Mountains as I lived there for several years. I’ve always been drawn to the Australian bush, which is an ideal setting for stories of a Gothic or horrific nature.

One of the region’s best-known tourist destinations is The Three Sisters, a unique sandstone rock formation at Katoomba, and is one of Australia’s most photographed landmarks.

People have been known to climb them, but due to their cultural significance to indigenous Australians, there are some restrictions.

Image courtesy Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay

Aboriginal women would give birth in a cave near Echo Point while the men would watch the third sister for a sign that the birth had occurred. It is believed that this third sister is sacred.

When I was young, one of my favourite books was about a dreamtime story on the Three Sisters. My copy was a Little Golden Book, which I still have to this day. 😊

Once, a wise medicine man named Tyawan, was good at imitating the lyre bird and it was rumoured that he could change himself into one if he wanted by using his magic shin-bone. He had three daughters, named Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo.

One day as he left the girls alone while he hunted, a rock fell over a cliff, waking a bunyip from his 100-year sleep. Seeing the girls, the bunyip went after them. Tyawan arrived back in time to point his magic shin-bone at the girls, turning them to stone. The bunyip chased Tyawan, who turned himself into a lyre-bird, but in his efforts to get away, his magic shin-bone became lost.

The bunyip returned to his cave, but to this day, Tyawan continues to search for his magic shin-bone so that he can turn himself and his three daughters back into human form.

Lyre-bird image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to my newsletter for regular updates and receive an exclusive flash fiction. I’d love it if you could join the discussion! 🙂

Book Promotion, First Christmas, My Books

Comfort Reads & Christmas in July.

Free image courtesy lisa870 on Pixabay

Hi everyone!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, and/or read some of my stories, you’ll know I don’t write romance per se, but some of my stories do have romantic elements. Writing romance was a part of the craft I needed to improve, which is why I joined Romance Writers of Australia.

As it is now winter here, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to be a guest on their blog and talk about my comfort read.

But be warned – my book of choice does not fit the modern definition of a romance novel. 😉

So, grab a cuppa. I hope you join me. ☕

Image courtesy Pixabay

Speaking of romance…

In other news, Christmas has come early!

If you’re looking for a romantic read this month, I’ve got together with romance writers to celebrate ‘Christmas in July’.

In fact, I’ve joined two promotions, so there’s over a hundred books for you to choose from!

My book, First Christmas, is included and contains two paranormal romance short stories.

Click the links below for further details.

Christmas Romance in July

Sweet Christmas Romance in July

These promotions are for this month only, so grab them while they last!

Happy reading and have a great weekend. 😊

Subscribe to my newsletter for regular updates and receive an exclusive flash fiction. I’d love it if you could join the discussion! 🙂