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.

Inspiration, Writing

Using Cemeteries for Writing Inspiration.

local cemeteryGrowing up in suburban Sydney, I lived near Rookwood Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere. Generations of my mother’s family have been buried there and we would make regular visits. Graves and cemeteries had therefore become second nature; so when I spent a quiet, misty morning some years ago in winter at my local cemetery, I found it to be quite peaceful.

I’ve always been fascinated by death and the thought of an afterlife. It could explain my interest in ghosts and other spooky subjects. I found walking alone amongst the graves intriguing. Each and every one of them had a story to tell. I was surrounded by history; some dating as far back as the 1880s. I was surprised by the number of smaller graves – one child died the day it was born, either still-born or it was too late to be christened. One grave was of a twelve year old girl; another girl dying at eighteen. My curiosity aroused the writer within me. What happened to these children to die so young? How did they die? Who were they?oldgrave

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 and 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 this idea became the inspiration behind my first bush poem.

I entered that bush poem in a competition, without success. Now I have dusted it off and begun to breathe new life into it (don’t throw anything out remember 😉 ). It had been suggested to me before that the poem could become a short story and I am currently trying to work this into either a long short story or novella. I am having fun using Pinterest to help with inspiration for setting, characters and undertaking some research.

So next time you’re struggling for a bit of inspiration, try your local cemetery. I’m sure the residents won’t mind you telling everyone their story.

What unexpected places have you found inspiration for your writing? Are you comfortable around cemeteries? What are you currently working on?

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and never miss a post. You can also follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ and Goodreads.