Author Interviews/Guest Bloggers

Graveyards, Ghosts, and Odd Sensations in Bangkok with Author Morgan A. Pryce.

Image of Thai cemetery copyright Morgan A. Pryce

This month sees the release of Among the Headstones, an anthology of graveyard tales, edited by Rayne Hall (see details below). I’ve ordered my copy, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’ve been fortunate so far to have author, Lee Murray, on the blog, where she discussed the macabre act of body snatching, and the inspiration behind her story.

This week, I have the honour of hosting author, Morgan A. Pryce, who shares with us some of the burial rituals of Thailand, as well as one of her own experiences with the paranormal. Her story for the anthology of a mythical creature from Thailand, sounds fascinating. Thank you, Morgan, for sharing and being with us today.

* * * * *

What are Thai funerals like? The pre-burial rituals in Thailand are exciting, entertaining, and creepy.

You get the meditative chant of monks, happy reunions with people you haven’t seen in ages, and of course the inevitable food boxes, and the cremation itself – especially if you are lucky enough to attend a cremation under royal patronage and get to experience the handing over of the flame as it is delivered from the palace.

Some traditions are downright gruesome, such as the fluid used for cremation that turns the body green. Or the custom that some of the deceased forego immediate rebirth and offer their dead bodies to be displayed in a part of the temple for monks to meditate over their decay as a memento mori.

If the deceased person’s ashes aren’t solemnly and beautifully scattered over a river or the sea, the urns are usually placed inside little niches in a wall surrounding the temple or a sacred space around a bodhi tree, the symbol of the path to enlightenment. These niches are sealed with a marble plaque that displays a photograph, a name and the dates of birth and death. And that’s it.

But then there are the old Chinese and Christian graveyards.

According to local tradition, these cemeteries are naturally haunted by all sorts of ghosts, ghouls, and spirits, the benevolent kind who may help you with lottery numbers if you ask nicely, or the not-so-nice kind who might just as well eat you alive, suck you dry, at the very least scare you to death, or drive you mad.

It’s perfectly normal to see one.

Small wonder I feel at home in this country…

You see, in “enlightened” Europe, it is usually best to keep certain things to oneself so as not to be instantly branded a nutcase. It is quite different here in Thailand where people far more likely to consult a soothsayer, a tarot reader, or a monk with supernatural powers than they are to visit a psychologist or a therapist, and where spirits and ghosts are considered a natural part of life who may be consulted for anything from murder to fertility issues to lottery numbers.

How did I find out?

Purely by chance, almost 25 years ago.

One day, I was in my office, which also doubled as my Department’s library at that time. I had started working at my university only a month or so earlier, it was the semester break, hardly anyone was ever on campus, and I barely knew anyone there. I quite liked having the place almost to myself as it gave me the time to sort my books and prepare my first semester: what texts to choose? how to teach my first all-Asian class? And then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman. She was standing in front of one of the book cases, running her hand over the spines. I turned around to see who it was and to introduce myself to my colleague – but nobody was there.

Later that day, I told my Head of Department who had the desk next to mine. Playing it cool, I told her about the incident and laughed it off, thinking I must have imagined things, probably a late aftereffect of jet lag, not quite being accustomed to the tropical heat or something. To my surprise, she was entirely serious and asked if I could describe the person I’d seen.

“Yes,” I said. “She was a rather small lady, very slim, very elegant, wore a black dress,” and so on, down to a particular hairstyle that I now know is that of a lady at the royal court. My boss looked at me, and said, as matter-of-fact as can be: “Ah. You met Ajarn Dussadee from the Spanish Department. She used to come into the library, she loved to look at the books.” And she’d recently died of cancer.

She advised me not to tell my colleagues. “If they know that our office is haunted, they may not feel comfortable here anymore.”

About Morgan A. Pryce

Morgan A. Pryce is a writer and academic who has been living in Bangkok for the past twenty-odd years. In her writing, she covers just about any genre where things get weird and/or someone dies. Although she loves her students dearly, her urge to erase ancient villages (and the odd galaxy) may have its roots in suppressed classroom trauma.

In the anthology Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard Morgan tells a story about a Thai krasue, a mythological creature with the head of a woman whose body consists of floating guts.

About the Book  AMONG THE HEADSTONES: CREEPY TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD

This anthology, 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 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.)

The paperback is already published.

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.

Author Interviews/Guest Bloggers

When Failure is Not an Option.

To help celebrate the release of her Totally Twins series, Aleesah Darlison is embarking on a blog tour.  Today, I’m honoured to have her as a guest blogger to talk about rejection and perseverance.  Thank you Aleesah!

One of my all-time favourite quotes is by American actress, Mary Pickford (1893-1979). I keep her words of wisdom taped beside my computer where I work every day and I’ve often used them to motivate me through the tough writing times I’ve faced.

‘If you have made mistakes… there is always another chance for you… you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.’

I get a lump in my throat every time I read that quote. It’s so brilliant, so inspiring, so true. And every time I read it, it makes me want to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going.

I’ve been writing for children for about four and a half years now. During that time, I’ve received over 400 rejections. It’s true, I kid you not. Following the advice of Di Bates, well-known Australian  children’s author and mentor to many aspiring writers over the years, I keep a record of all my submissions to publishers, competitions and magazines in a detailed spreadsheet.

To me, 400 rejections equals 400 failures.

How do I deal with that?

Well, I try not to focus on the failures. They’re all learning experiences. They’re all the attempts I’ve tried to improve my work. And the more failures you have, the more triumphs you are likely to achieve. It’s a numbers game. Right?

What I focus on instead, are the triumphs. The acceptances. Sure, they were non-existent at first and even now I’m a (newly!) published author they seem only to ever trickle in and I still get loads of rejections. But I don’t let them get me down. Not for too long, anyway. There’s always an element, no matter how brief, of grieving the loss of another publication-hope. There’s always that hint of ‘what’s wrong with my story?’ or ‘what’s wrong with me as an author?’.

But you can’t give in to those feelings. They will only hold you back.

Besides, writing is such a subjective field. What one publisher hates, another will love. If one publisher rejects your manuscript, well, it’s an opportunity to send it to someone else.

Believe this, it’s true.

Of course, there were times when I doubted I’d ever make it. There were times, as I watched friends and members of my writers’ group get published and I didn’t, that I thought I’d always be lost in the world of nearly-published, that I’d be forced to spend my life living on the periphery and waiting in vain hope. But I kept going. I had to. All I wanted to do was write. Whether someone published my work or not, my stories still flowed. What else could I do, but keep trying?

Are there sacrifices? Definitely. Like sunny days spent inside my tiny office tapping away at the computer instead of sunbaking by the pool. Like long, wintery nights spent inside my tiny office tapping away at the computer instead of being tucked up in bed. Like hours missed watching my children grow and laugh and frolic. That’s probably the one that hurts the most because I know how quickly their lives can rush by into adulthood. Still, I try to find a balance and still I know I crave this life of a writer so much that I must make it happen. The sacrifices, for me, if balanced well, are worth it.

My first book, Puggle’s Problem, was released in July 2010. It’s a picture book about a baby echidna, a puggle, who can’t get his spines. My second book, Totally Twins: Musical Mayhem, was released in September. It’s about identical twins, Persephone and Portia Pinchgut and is the first book in the Totally Twins series. Both books are selling well.

Now I’ve achieved my dream of becoming a published author, I probably spend less time writing and more time promoting my books. I’m ‘on the circuit’ as an author friend said to me, conducting school visits, author talks, appearing at festivals, running workshops, organising book launches and tours, and driving my own publicity. True, the marketing side of this ‘business’ steals writing time from me, but it’s become a crucial part in the modern author’s artillery to help establish your name and stand out from the crowd.

And I can’t say I don’t love it. Being able to talk to children and adults about my work, having them as enthusiastic and passionate about the stories I write and the themes I address in my books, is amazing and delightful and totally surprising. It’s kind of addictive in a way, this performance side to being an author and again, I must find a balance. I must find some way to fit it all into my life.

I don’t want to think about the wasted years not spent driving myself towards my writing goal. I’m no teen-author, that’s for sure, I’m not even a twenty-something author. But I still have a few good years in me and a few good stories, I hope. So, I won’t look back at the failures or the lost years, I’ll only look forward to the next submission I make and to living in hope that it will be a ‘yes’ this time.

And next time you receive a rejection don’t dwell on it too long, for your time is precious. Just remember my 400 failures and remember Mary Pickford’s words:

‘…this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.’

Aleesah writes picture books and novels for children in the fantasy and contemporary fiction genres. She also reviews books for The Sun Herald. Aleesah’s stories have appeared in the black dog books Short & Scary anthology, The School Magazine and Little Ears. She has won numerous awards for her writing. In 2009, she was awarded an ASA mentorship and was runner-up in the CBCA (NSW) Frustrated Writers Program.

To find out more about Aleesah, visit her website at: www.aleesahdarlison.com.

Next stop on Aleesah’s blog tour is Susan Stephenson’s, The Book Chook blogspot at: www.thebookchook.blogspot.com/ where Aleesah will talk about ‘What’s the Go with Pokemon?’

Images courtesy of Aleesah Darlison