Movies/Television

A Return to ‘Crimson Peak’

I originally watched Crimson Peak on its release some years ago and had always considered giving it another viewing. This time around, I managed to pick up on a few things I hadn’t before.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers*

The setting of Allerdale Hall (Crimson Peak) is situated in a remote part of England. Despite its dereliction, it’s a visually stunning house with its tall ceilings and grand staircase. Yet it is the gaping hole in the roof that gives the viewer pause for concern. The hole is uncovered, bringing with it the elements of the weather, including autumn leaves, chill, howling winds and winter snow. The red clay that lies beneath the house, seeps into the floors, walls, and water pipes, and is both unusual and ominous.

Butterflies and moths have also made Crimson Peak their home, entering through various open spaces and nestling within the rooms. It is a strange arrangement of co-habitation, and butterflies feature heavily within the film, even before Edith steps foot in the Hall. Butterflies are a symbol of transformation, change and rebirth, and this theme features in other aspects of the film.

I’ve always been a sucker for set designs. 😉

The clothes are not only gorgeous, but they also show the differences between Edith and Lucille. Edith is a more modern woman, independently minded with hopes of becoming an author, so the clothes she wears are modern Edwardian with puffed sleeves. Lucille is happy within the home, clings to stability and her dependence on Thomas. Rooted in the past, her clothing demonstrates that, as she wears the Victorian bustle (these are the dresses I personally prefer within the film).

Although his machine is designed to help save his home, Thomas reveals his tendencies towards change through his inventions. Creative and forward thinking, he is willing to embrace change by choosing Edith as his wife, and begging Lucille to stop what she is doing – something she has done for years. This then reveals Lucille’s obsession, and a standout performance by Jessica Chastain. Her portrayal is both intense and frightening, and every inch the ‘mad’ woman.

The ghosts within the film are creepy, skeletal figures with long outstretched hands. Edith’s mother is a frightening, black presence (she died of black cholera), while those at Crimson Peak are as red as the soil. They float, walk and crawl throughout the Hall. There is only one white ghost, and they are a sad, lonely figure.

I thought the dog was a sweet addition to the film and I loved to watch it play ball and run through the house, so what happened to it didn’t please me at all. 🙁

I enjoyed the film, but my favourite part would have to be the ending (no, not the gory bits). I love what was said about ghosts in those final minutes where the camera returns to the house. The writing and imagery combine to make something sad, but beautiful. The images during the end credits are gorgeous, and the final image brings a happier, satisfying conclusion.

What was it about Crimson Peak you enjoyed the most? Did you love it or hate it? Do you embrace change? Are you a sucker for gorgeous set design and/or costumes?

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Ghost of Lady Elliot Island.

Free image courtesy ImaArtist on Pixabay.

Lady Elliot Island, located off the coast of Queensland, is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Known for its diversity of seabirds and marine life, the island is also the site of a small graveyard, situated near the imposing lighthouse.

Susannah McKee, a native of Ireland, accompanied her husband, Tom, and four sons to Lady Elliot Island, where Tom took up the position of lighthouse keeper. Due to its location, food and medical supplies would arrive late, and living conditions were cramped. It was an isolated and desolate existence and would eventually become too much for Susannah.

In April 1907, Susannah dressed in her best clothes, walked to the jetty at the end of the lighthouse and threw herself into the ocean. Rumours circulated that her husband, Tom, had pushed her, but this could never be proven. He buried her next to the lonely grave of the daughter of a previous lighthouse keeper, who had died of pneumonia some years prior.

Image courtesy Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

Over the years, sightings of Susannah would appear to visitors and staff; the first sighting taking place in the 1930s. The lighthouse keeper at the time, reported to have seen a woman in white ‘half walking, half-floating’ between the lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage. His daughter encountered a presence in the lighthouse, fearing it wanted to push her down the stairs.

In the mid-1980s, when the lighthouse became automated, the disturbances intensified. In one of the three empty cottages, the resort manager heard phantom footsteps, but could not locate the source. Two resort staff would later occupy the cottage, one being hurled from his bed with great force, and onto the floor. Some nights later, he woke to see the transparent figure of a woman standing by the front door.

There have also been stories of a woman’s face peering through cottage windows, and a white clad woman wandering the island’s airstrip.

It’s uncertain if sightings of Susannah continue to this day, but being a tortured soul, her spirit may well still wander the island she once called home.

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Phantom of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

Image courtesy Mat Connolley, Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

In the early 1990s, I visited the Princess Theatre in Melbourne for a performance of Phantom of the Opera. It was a memorable evening, and the theatre itself is a magnificent building, but behind the glamour lies a different story. The theatre’s history has a tragic past, one that has its very own ‘phantom of the opera.’

Federici was the stage name of English baritone Frederick Baker, who enjoyed success in musicals such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. In June 1887, Federici arrived in Melbourne, with his wife and children, to give a series of performances.

In March 1888, the production of the opera, Faust, premiered at the Princess Theatre, where Federici was to play the role of Mephistopheles. During the final act, Mephistopheles wrapped Faust in his scarlet cloak, surrounded by smoke, dragging him into the fiery depths of hell. A trapdoor had been created on stage for the dramatic effect, but as the trap was reaching the cellar floor, Federici collapsed and died of a heart attack. Despite efforts from a doctor, and yes, even the use of galvanic batteries, he could not be revived.

Interior of the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1865. Samuel Calvert. Published in The Illustrated Melbourne Post. State Library of Victoria. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after he was buried, stories began to circulate of cold spots on and beneath the stage, and people being touched by invisible hands. Over the years, there had been numerous reported sightings of a man’s dark figure within the theatre, either on stage or seated in the dress circle.

One sighting was by a wardrobe mistress and a fireman who was patrolling the theatre in 1917. At 2.30am, they saw a man in evening dress sitting in the middle of the second row of the dress circle, staring at the stage. He sat motionless, his white shirt glowing. They watched him for some minutes before returning to work. About an hour later, the wardrobe mistress returned to the dress circle to find the man still sitting there.

Throughout the years, numerous staff and performers have had encounters, leaving some investigators to believe there may be more than one ghost.

In the early 1980s, The Princess Theatre closed and was eventually bought and restored to its former glory. Despite continued incidents, the owner is happy for Federici to stay, believing he’s a friendly ghost and is considered part of the family.

These days, for every opening night performance, a third-row seat of the dress circle is left empty for Federici, as a sign of respect.

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Legend of Fisher’s Ghost.

Image courtesy geralt on Pixabay.

There are reports throughout the world of ghosts haunting locations to avenge their deaths, or anxious that their remains be cared for. One report, set in Australia during the early 19th century, would go on to capture the public’s imagination.

Frederick Fisher came to Australia as a convict, but would eventually be released for good behaviour, earning what was known as a ‘ticket of leave.’ He acquired 30 acres (twelve hectares) of land in Campbelltown, about 56 km (34 miles) from Sydney.

He became good friends with neighbour, George Worrall, a fellow ‘ticket of leave’ man. At one point, Fisher got into a fight with another man and pulled a knife. The man was not badly hurt, but Fisher was arrested. Fearful his land would be seized; Fisher gave power of attorney of his property and possessions to Worrall. He served his sentence and was released six months later. Shortly after, Fisher disappeared.

George Worrall informed the locals that Fisher had decided to return to London, a story that was believed for a little while. Doubts began to surface when Worrall tried to sell one of Fisher’s horses, using a forged document as proof of purchase. The police became involved and issued an award for the discovery of Fisher’s body.

When questioned, Worrall changed his story, saying he witnessed Fisher’s murder, but was not involved in his death. He named the killers, and they were eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Artist’s impression.

One night, a short distance from Fisher’s home, a farmer by the name of John Farley, saw a figure sitting on the top rail of a fence. Drawing nearer, he discovered it was Frederick Fisher. He was pale, with a blood dripping down his face from a head wound. He let out a loud moan, raised his arm and pointed in the direction of a nearby creek.

Shortly after, a police search was conducted with the aid of an aboriginal tracker. A body was discovered in a shallow grave. It was a gruesome find, for the man’s head was battered and the back of the skull had been struck with a sharp object. The body was later identified as that of Frederick Fisher.

George Worrall was arrested and found guilty. Before his execution, he confessed to the murder, stating that he had acted alone.

There was no mention of the ghost in any documentation, but the story was quickly circulated and became folklore. Sceptics believed that John Farley invented the story as he knew the whereabouts of the body, but on his deathbed, he swore his story to be the truth.

Whether John Farley saw the ghost of Frederick Fisher or not, the incident has gone on to become Australia’s most celebrated ghost story.

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?

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Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Ghost of The Blue Mountains.

Australia’s colonial history has a bloodied past, with some of these stories handed down into folklore. The story of a ghost at Mount Victoria Pass is no exception and had been popularised in Australian literature during the 1890s.

The ghost is believed to be that of a young woman by the name of Caroline Collits. She married her husband, William, in 1840. He came from a respectable family but was generally regarded as a person of ‘weak mind’ and a bit of a spendthrift.

Their marriage was not a happy one, and eventually, Caroline left him and moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, John Walsh. Caroline’s new housing arrangements caused rumours that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law and was regarded as a woman of ‘loose character.’

There was talk of a reconciliation with her husband, and together with her brother-in-law, met William in a local tavern. After leaving the tavern, John Walsh attacked William Collits. Caroline intervened, allowing her husband to escape and called after him to run for his life. This was the last time she was seen alive.

The ghost at Mount Victoria is Australia’s own ‘woman in black’.

Caroline’s battered body was found the following morning near the road on Victoria Pass. Her skull had been smashed in with a large stone, which had been found nearby, covered in her blood and hair. Despite his pleas of innocence, John Walsh was arrested for her murder. He was later convicted and hanged.

In the years that followed, rumours of ghostly encounters surfaced as travellers used the road on cold, windy nights. One such encounter involved a couple of young men whose horse became so spooked, it refused to go any further. As they moved closer to the bridge, the figure of a woman appeared, dressed in black. She did not move or utter a word. One of the young men described her eyes as if ‘there were sparks of fire in ‘em.’ She then went on to raise both her arms and open her mouth, making a noise which ‘sounded like no ‘uman or animal I ever ‘eard.’ The horse bolted, taking his male companions down the road with him.

This story would influence the poet, Henry Lawson, some years later when he came to live in nearby Mount Victoria. One of the verses described the incident as follows: –

Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.

‘The Ghost at the Second Bridge.’ Henry Lawson (1867-1922).

These days, the road is part of a busy highway, where the old bridges are barely visible. It would then come as no surprise that sighting of Caroline’s ghost in the area have not occurred for quite some time.

She may yet wander the road alone, her mournful cries unheard, but her story continues to live on.

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

The Ghosts of Bungarribee.

I love a good ghost story and I consume as many books on the subject as I can get my hands on. A couple of years ago, while perusing one of our local second-hand book shops, I found another book to add to my collection. It contained a few Australian ghost stories I had never heard of before. One of them, about a haunted house that was once located in Sydney’s western suburbs, would become the inspiration behind my novella The Curse of Marsden Hall.

In 1821, Major John Campbell arrived in Australia with his family, soon buying land around Eastern Creek. At the time, it was believed the site was where a battle between two warring Aboriginal tribes took place, some believing it was a sacred site. These have since been disproven and ‘Bungarribee’ means ‘creek with cockatoos’ or ‘creek with campsite’.

In 1822, the house was convict-built, with some convicts dying during the construction. It is believed that one was murdered there. As the house was nearing completion in 1826, John Campbell’s wife died. The last section of the house, a round drawing-room and tower, began the following year. It was during construction that John Campbell, himself, died less than twelve months later. After his death, the house would change hands many times. Rumours began to spread that the house was cursed, or even haunted; the first reference dating back to 1838.

Legend has it that the next death after the Campbell’s was that of an army officer. It is believed he lost a duel and shot himself in one of the tower rooms, his body in a pool of blood. Another army officer was later found at Bungarribee, his body discovered on the grounds. Apparently seeking refuge and escaping creditors, it is believed the words ‘died of hunger’, were written beside his body.

Bugarribee Homestead during better days.

A number of strange events seem to focus on the circular drawing room and its tower. In the room where the officer shot himself, bloodstains appeared on the floor. Despite the best efforts of housemaids, they would reappear the next day. Muffled sounds, scratching, and scraping would be heard in the tower, as well as the clanking of chains at night. While sleeping in one of the tower rooms, people would wake up feeling cold hands around their necks or be touched.

There have been reported sightings of a young woman, dressed in white, crying outside the circular drawing-room. Sometimes she would be seen clawing at the glass as if trying to gain entry into the room. There are also reported sightings of convict ghosts, lights in the tower rooms (when not occupied at the time), and animals, such as horses, refusing to go near the house.

By 1910, Bungarribee began to deteriorate with age and neglect, and the land was subdivided. By the early 1950s, despite some attempts at restoration, the house was a complete ruin. The Government bought what remained in 1956, and the house was demolished a year later.

Today, the site where the homestead once stood is a public reserve called Heritage Park. The ghost stories of Bungarribee continue to be handed down into folklore.

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This Writer's Life, Up Close & Personal

Author Interview – Halloween Edition.

Free image courtesy QuinceCreative on Pixabay

Hi everyone! I’ve had another author interview, this time with a Halloween theme.

This week I speak to fellow RWA member, and author/blogger Davina Stone. It’s a short, fun interview, with myself and two other authors of paranormal romance. I talk about my inspiration, my upcoming release, and a Halloween party guest of honour. Many thanks to Davina for letting me be a guest on her blog!

You can read the full interview at Davina’s website Spellbound! Fall in love with Spooky Romance this Halloween. Oh, and I also dress up for the occasion! 😉

And for those who celebrate it, Happy Halloween!

This cracks me up every time!
First Christmas, Ghosts & The Paranormal, My Books, The Story Behind the Story

‘First Christmas’ is Coming.

Yay, my next book is coming!

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: –

  1. 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
  2. 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?

Image courtesy Unsplash