My recent book of short stories, ‘First Christmas’ is out! In fact, with all the goings-on around its release, I failed to mention it on the blog. I think that officially puts me on the naughty list!
‘First Christmas’ has been out for three weeks now and I’d like to thank those of you who pre-ordered or have bought a copy since. I really do appreciate it.
Shortly after its release, and out of curiosity, I snuck a peek at the US Amazon site. ‘First Christmas’ made the Top 100 in the ’30-minute Romance Short Reads’ Category. I had no idea such a thing existed, but I’ll take it! It certainly looked out of place among all those ‘naughty housewives’ though! 😉
Here’s the blurb: –
Christmas spirit comes in the most unexpected ways.
In 1916, young newlywed, Caroline Owens spends her first Christmas alone. Or is she?
Shy nurse, Linda Graham, struggles with a tragic loss. Can a ghost help restore her broken heart?
Normally, I don’t write anything with a particular theme in mind, but this one has a bit of history behind it. And let’s face it, 2020 has been a pretty crappy year.
Before Christmas, 2019, as part of the Romance Writers of Australia, the aspiring group held a competition. We were given prompts in which to write a 1,500-word short story, which was to be judged and awarded prizes. My short story did not get a prize and I didn’t have a problem with it, as I was stepping out of my comfort zone. I was, however, encouraged by the judge’s feedback: –
‘Such a beautiful, evocative story. An emotion-filled tale that would appeal to many readers who like historical novels too.’
After this, I decided with some hesitation, to enter my first RWA ‘Sweet Treats’ competition. There are three judges to this competition and ‘the third judge’ is well known for being not only the deciding factor, but brutal. I called them ‘the hanging judge’ and the feedback I received was indeed harsh. As a result, I can honestly say that: –
It took me a few months before I could look at my story again, as well as read the feedback with a critical eye, and
I won’t be entering any RWA competitions in a hurry. 😉
I, therefore, chose to focus on the positive feedback from the other two judges, which basically said that it showed promise.
‘Plot and characterisation great! The reader wants the MC to be happy after so much sorrow, and that matters. Tightening up the story will let these lovely characters shine.’
Like my first story, I believed in this one too. I didn’t wish to be put off by one judge’s opinion. I wanted readers to decide.
If I worked on it and did a bit of tweaking, I could put them both into a book and publish it in time for Christmas. The end result is First Christmas.
These stories are a bit different to what I usually write, but 2020 hasn’t been the best of years, and I wanted to write something with a bit of hope. Both short stories have a paranormal bent but are romantic in nature.
I’m working on having First Christmas released in November, so watch this space. 😊
Have you received negative feedback in a writing competition? Do you write with particular themes in mind? Given the current COVID-19 situation, have you written something different than usual this year?
After the release of my first short story The Ghost at Willow Creek, I wrote a post about the influence behind it. It had started life in the form of my first bush poem, which I had entered into a competition. I felt compelled and was encouraged, to turn it into a story.
Here, then, is an excerpt of the poem: –
A Mother’s Love
Magpies sang their mournful song as she stood and waved goodbye,
The blistering sun bore down upon her back amongst a clear blue sky.
She did not smile, or yell, or weep as she saw him ride away,
For she knew he would return to do it all again one day.
She watched him disappear into the distance, this stoic drover’s wife,
‘Alone; always alone!’ she cursed this God-forsaken life.
‘If only I were a man with freedom where to roam,
I would sooner go back to England, than call this country home’.
And so, she walked back towards the homestead with its walls of wood and stone;
A haven full of spiders with holes for vermin free to roam.
The furniture covered in dust; the floorboards of red soil,
No amount of cleaning could save her of its toil.
She stopped when she entered the cleanest room of all,
Her eyes took in every item ‘til she saw the picture upon the wall.
Her husband’s face in miniature, full of boyhood charms,
She felt her heart race once again of holding his dead body in her arms.
Today is release day of my short story collection Legacy and Other Short Stories!
Jonathan befriends the new boy in class, but Jonathan has something sinister in mind.
A young boy tests his skills to continue his father’s legacy; a young woman goes to great lengths after a betrayal; a woman confronts her stalker. These stories, along with those of obsession, revenge, and teenage tragedy, explore the dark side of human nature.
Some years ago, despite not being a big fan of poetry, I tried my hand at writing a few; even going so far as to get a couple of them published in a small publication. I even wrote a bush poem. This bush poem would ultimately go on to become my first published short story, The Ghost at Willow Creek.
Some years ago, while visiting relations on their property, I encountered an old grave of a six-year-old boy. Apparently, he had drowned in a nearby creek during a flood. This child was no relation of ours, but my cousins had planned on doing up the grave and taking care of it. Straight away all sorts of questions came into my head. The writer within me thought of the many hardships encountered by our pioneering women and no sooner had I returned home, but I was jotting down ideas.
The loss of a child had attracted me, for having two children of my own (neither one of them easy births), I became empathetic to the parents of this unknown child, especially the mother. The history and the landscape drew me in, and as it would always seem, my fascination with death and the afterlife. I have always had an interest in graves and cemeteries, often finding inspiration amongst them.
As luck would have it, a writing competition soon came up and I thought of writing a bush poem inspired by this piece of history. Before entering, I had even sought the advice of a local poet. After reading my piece, she had suggested that the poem could become a short story. In the back of my mind, I had to agree with this idea because I felt there was more to this story than what could be relayed in a bush poem. In that respect, I was grateful that my poem ultimately, was unsuccessful.
As I wrote The Ghost at Willow Creek, it was not only the death of a young child that got to me, but the effects such a tragic loss would have upon the parents and their marriage. Being a wife and mother, I was following the old writing advice of ‘write what you know’.
The Ghost at Willow Creek is ultimately a story of love, loss and things that go bump in the night. A story my husband labelled my best yet, so I’m pretty happy with that! 😉
Have you ever turned a poem into a story? Do you experiment with different writing styles? Where do you get some of your writing inspiration from?
Some years back, I visited Monte Cristo, Australia’s most haunted house. I visited with my husband and children for the day and even then, managed to have some unusual experiences and may have even caught a spirit on camera.
Next month, as part of my birthday present, I will be returning to Monte Cristo. This time, however, will be for a ghost tour. I’m so excited, I can’t wait! 😊
So, what is it about Monte Cristo that has given it the label of the country’s most haunted house?
Built in 1884, it was the home of rich pastoralist Christopher Crawley and his wife Elizabeth. After his death in 1910, Elizabeth Crawley continued to live in the house until her own death some twenty-three years later. The house eventually became unoccupied for a long period of time, so that thieves, vandals, and the elements almost destroyed it.
The house has a terrible history, including that of a young girl falling from the balcony. It is uncertain whether she committed suicide or was pushed. Another young girl died due to a fall down the stairs. The nanny who was holding the child at the time stated she was pushed from an unseen force. A young stable worker who complained of being too ill to work was burnt to death when his boss set alight the straw mattress on which he lay.
It wasn’t until 1963, when the house was bought by Reg and Olive Ryan, that it came back to life. Only days after moving in, they returned one evening to find lights on in every window in the house. The electricity had not been put on yet and there was one unlit kerosene lamp.
Animals would refuse to enter the house, some dying mysteriously. The sound of a piano being played in the sitting room at night when the room was dark, and empty has been heard. In the drawing-room, objects have been known to have been moved. Visitors have reported encountering figures visiting their bedrooms at night, some being touched or pulled at while they slept. Despite the activity within the house, mediums and sensitives agree that the feeling of evil is strongest at the stables and the dairy.
Some people who visit the house feel the need to leave shortly after they have arrived, others complain of severe headaches. One man said when he arrived, he felt something had attached itself to his chest, and clutched tightly. After the tour of the house, he felt very ill and for several weeks the condition persisted. He eventually saw a doctor who found nothing physically wrong with him and suggested an exorcism. Suddenly one night the pain ceased and whatever it was had left him, yet he could see a faint indistinct form on the other side of the room.
There are many stories of unexplained events, too numerous to mention here, giving Monte Cristo a sinister reputation. It is a popular tourist destination and has been lovingly restored to its former glory by the Ryan family.
Experiencing anything at Monte Cristo that defies explanation is part of its appeal.
Have you visited Monte Cristo? Did you encounter anything unusual? Have you visited a haunted house or ever lived in one?
Last week, I wrote about some of my ghostly encounters at Quarantine Station. Due to the long post, I have broken it up into two parts and this week covers both the Caretakers Cottage and the first class shower block. Both these buildings left me with a rather uneasy feeling and I was quite surprised that in one of them at least, my sceptical husband has been left wondering that there’s ‘something not quite right about that place’.
Further along our walk away from the morgue, we approached what the tour guide referred to as the Caretakers Cottage. As we approached, I thought it looked like a nice old house and I imagine it would look rather ordinary during the day. Our tour guide informed us that we were going to go inside, but told us very little about it. Some of the records regarding the Quarantine Station had burned in a fire and there was very little information to go by regarding the house, other than it had been used as a staff quarters. We were to go through the house in the dark and see for ourselves if we could pick anything up. Once again, my husband and I were the last ones to enter.
As we walked through the first few rooms, our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and found there was nothing out of the ordinary. The house was quite warm and stuffy after being locked up all day and with twenty odd people walking through the house, things got a little bit cramped. At the back of the house were a sunroom, bathroom and laundry, which was north facing. The tour guide began calling everyone together into the lounge room at the front of the house, but my husband and I had not finished our viewing. My husband decided to go to the laundry, while I go to the bathroom and then swap before heading back towards the group.
Once I stood at the doorway of the bathroom, I was rather hesitant to enter as I had a bad feeling about it. Even though there was no light and my eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, somehow, the bathroom was darker than the other rooms. Despite my hesitancy, I entered the room and on my left was the bath which had a window over it. As I approached the bath, the temperature dropped and I put out my hands towards it. I could feel a breeze circulating around my hands and it was then that my husband came up behind me. I asked him if he could feel anything and once again he said no. I told him I had to get out of there as I didn’t like the feel of it. I went straight towards the laundry, which turned out to be the coldest room in the house. It felt like walking into one of those walk in freezers. I didn’t waste any time in leaving the room and together my husband and I joined the group in the lounge room.
Being the last of the group, we stood in the doorway facing the lounge room with our backs to the back of the house. No sooner had we arrived, I felt something touch my back and from that moment, I stood side on with my back against the doorframe. At this point, I noticed my husband had done the same. From such a position, I could see into the lounge room as well as keep a constant vigil towards the back of the house.
The tour guide explained certain things about the house, including the belief from various psychics that someone had been murdered in the bathroom (in the bath) and that there was a bad spirit named Samuel. Some tour guides refuse to enter the house or take tour groups inside. During his talk, the EMF meters were said to have been going off the whole time and one of the group members asked to leave the building and was the only one to do so before the rest of us left. My husband later told me he was one of the other sceptics.
Standing in the doorway, I had the feeling that someone was watching and they weren’t very nice. I felt they were angry and wanted us to leave. I felt most uncomfortable and kept looking towards that back room, where at one point I heard something drop upon the wooden floor. I said nothing about it; the tour guide did not notice it either, but it wasn’t until talking it over with my husband a few days later that I discovered he had heard it too. I left the house shivering with cold, with goose bumps upon both arms. As we walked away, I couldn’t help look over my shoulder towards the house, but I could not see anyone in the windows watching us leave (which has been reported to have happened once).
The last building on the tour was the first class shower block. When people came off the ships they were required to have a shower, which were supervised and each shower cubicle had tiny holes placed in each one to make sure the people showered properly.
Once again, we were to wander this building in the dark and foolishly, I was the first one after our tour guide in which to enter. It was only after taking a few steps inside that I didn’t like the feel of it and I was overwhelmed by the strong smell of urine (the tour guide later told me this was the chemical, carbolic acid, that was used on the patients). We were to stop midway and after we were all assembled, I saw a dark figure coming towards me. I instinctively moved back and the figure continued coming towards me, only to discover that it was our tour guide. He then proceeded to inform us about the various spirits within the building, including a ‘Gollum- like’ creature that if you walked into it, feels as if you have walked through cobwebs.
Given its history, I was not at all surprised to feel like I was being watched in here and I felt exposed and vulnerable. This was why I needed my husband with me and he took my hand as we walked in single file around the showers. He walked in front of me and I told him to slow down as I looked in at the shower cubicles. Down one in particular, I caught a quick glimpse of some dark shape that didn’t look completely human.
Before leaving the building, one couple believed they saw something white in one of them. I went with them to help them try to find it, but could see nothing. I heard the tour guide tell them once we were outside that a woman has been spotted in there. One other couple said they had also seen something, but it was different to what this other couple had seen.
‘I saw something too’, I replied. ‘I’m not sure what it was. It didn’t look human’.
‘That sounds like what we saw’.
‘It was a small, dark, shadowy figure. Broad shoulders and it was hunched over, like this’, I replied as I demonstrated (it was very much like the image of Gollum in his cave in the picture above).
‘That’s it!’ the woman exclaimed. ‘That’s what we saw’.
‘Oh good’, I said. ‘I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw it and not going mad’. I had asked my husband if he had seen it and he had not.
It was with that final note that our tour had ended. Of-course in the light of day, I began questioning what I had seen and experienced. Did that really happen? Did I really see what I thought I saw? From the experience I learnt something about myself that I had suspected from childhood and am interested in finding out more.
When we arrived home, my husband looked up the Caretaker’s Cottage on the internet to see if it had been investigated, but it had not. It had certainly piked his curiosity.
‘So’, I said. ‘That was a good start. When are we going back?’
Did you ever experience a ‘bad vibe’ about a particular building or place? What was the scariest place you have visited and would you go back? Have you ever experienced something you can’t explain?
Recently, as part of my birthday celebrations, my husband and I visited Quarantine Station in Sydney. Quarantine Station was established in the 1830s for migrants arriving in Australia who might have had infectious diseases, such as Spanish influenza, tuberculosis and bubonic plague. It ceased operating as a quarantine station in the 1980s. Q Station is now used as a hotel and conference centre. It also has a restaurant and caters for both weddings and ghost tours.
My husband and I were in a group of about twenty people and the first building we came to was the Inhalation Chamber, situated near the Boiler House. Patients were placed here every day to undergo special treatments, using steam infused with zinc sulphate to protect them from such cases as Spanish influenza. Basically, they looked like two cement sheds joined together and our group was broken up into two halves and spent some time within each one of them in the dark. Unfortunately, we weren’t inside for very long before having to change rooms. Once finished, the tour guide spoke to us outside and gave us some information regarding this building. Some people in previous tours, he said had been known to experience smells. It was then I looked at my husband.
‘Yeah, I smelt something’, I said to him. ‘Didn’t you smell something?’
‘The moment I walked into that first one, there was a really strong, sweet smell. I couldn’t smell anything in the second one, but definitely the first’.
My husband simply shook his head. It was at this point, that I interrupted the tour guide and asked the people in the group if they had smelt anything. Their responses were the same as my husbands. Okay, this is weird. The tour guide looked at me and told me that I had passed the smell test. Trust me to be the weirdo amongst the group, I thought! Since my visit to Monte Cristo and being the only member of my family to have experienced something, I had become increasingly suspicious of a long held belief (since childhood) that I may be a ‘sensitive’. As we walked our way towards the hospital, my husband told me he believed that may well be the case.
Within the hospital we were told of some interesting stories experienced by other people during the tours and some of the spirits that occupy the hospital, including a couple of nurses and the matron. As I sat on one of the beds, I felt something prick my hand and looking down I thought it may have been a mosquito, but saw no evidence of one. The tour guide informed us some people have felt the same, as if being pricked by a needle. My husband, the eternal sceptic, who stood nearby said he felt something cold brush up against him.
Later, my husband and I were amongst the last to enter the morgue, which was a small building, so it was difficult to find a place to stand. People stood against the wall and in the middle of the room was the mortuary table. This was the only available spot for me to stand and it was here that I could smell the horrible stench of rotten meat. It was so bad I had to cover my nose and mouth with both hands, but I could not see anybody else picking up on the smell. The mortician, nicknamed Mr Slimy by the staff is believed to frequent the place. Eventually it went away and when the time came to leave the room, I was frightfully cold. I know it sounds cliché, but there were literally goose bumps on both my arms and I had to rub them in order to keep warm.
Our tour then continued within the Caretakers Cottage and the first class shower block, so rather than make this an extremely long blog post, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts. I look forward to telling you more about our ghost tour next time. 😉
Have you ever been on a ghost tour? Did you ever encounter anything unusual? Are you a sensitive? If you’re a sceptic, have you experienced anything that made you question your beliefs?