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.

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! 🙂

Book Promotion, Books, Legacy & Other Short Stories, The Ghost at Willow Creek

Curl Up With a Chilling Read.

Free image courtesy Pixabay.

Hi everyone!

It’s time once again for a little shameless promo.

I’ve partnered with other authors this month to give you some spooky reads. From 1-15 June, our books are either Free on Kindle Unlimited or 99cents each.

The collection is a mix of genres, including horror, mystery, and suspense, so there’s something for everyone.

Both my short stories The Ghost at Willow Creek and Legacy and Other Short Stories are on the list! If you haven’t yet read either, now is a good opportunity to try one – or both! 😉

Click this link for details – Chilling Reads

This promotion is for two weeks only, so grab it while it lasts!

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! 🙂

This Writer's Life, Writing Process

Home is Where the Heart Is.

Free image courtesy David Mark from Pixabay.

This time last year, I entered my first RWA short story competition. Although my entry didn’t place, I managed to step out of my comfort zone. That story, along with one other, would later go on to become ‘First Christmas’, my first foray into the world of sweet paranormal romance. Even though I had fun writing both those stories, when my book was published in November, I felt happy to go ‘home’.

And where is that, exactly?

They say ‘home is where the heart is’, and for me that place is a spooky old mansion, full of dark shadows and forbidden secrets. My home, my real home, is among the darkness. Like many journeys we take, we sometimes need to spread our wings, but we always return to our roots.

In her book ‘Dear Writer, You Need to Quit’ (which I recommend for all you writers out there), Becca Syme says that we need to quit focusing on our weaknesses. Instead, we should focus on our strengths. Once we know what they are, development is the next step.

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s ‘Full Dark, No Stars’, and one of the things he had to say in the afterword resonated with me. ‘When it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart’.

Yes, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, but the dark side is my comfort zone. I have always been drawn to the horrors of what human beings are capable of, as well as the supernatural. I have come to accept it and learned to embrace it.

As we head into 2021, my path leads me into the shadows. I hope you’ll join me.

Where is your natural ‘home’ as a writer? Do you plan on writing in a different genre this year? Have you experimented with other genres, only to return where you’re the most comfortable?

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

Legacy & Other Short Stories, This Writer's Life

Calling Yourself a Writer & Book News.

Sometimes, when I peruse social media, I encounter people who call themselves ‘aspiring’ writers. I have never referred to myself as an ‘aspiring’ writer. If you write, you simply are a writer.

But I get it though because it was only in recent years that I called myself a writer. I’m finally admitting to myself and to others that I write. It’s taken a long time to own up to it. It was just that I was too insecure to admit it. After years of being mocked or derided for creating stories (yeah, let’s not go there), I quickly learned to keep quiet about it and keep it all to myself. It was safer that way, ensuring that my dreams and my stories remained intact.

Perhaps, what these fellow writers really mean when they say ‘aspiring’ is calling themselves author. Now, that, I can understand. Sometimes, I feel I don’t wish to call myself an author until I have a published novel, as I guess it sounds more ‘authentic’ that way. Maybe it’s a matter of whatever term we feel comfortable with. And that’s what really matters. 😉

* * * * *

Speaking of being comfortable, I was recently thrown out of my comfort zone in a very unexpected way. This was such a surreal moment I couldn’t believe it happened!

My short story The Ghost at Willow Creek made it into the Top Ten Best Seller List on Amazon in Australia over the weekend.

*picks self up off the floor*

Good thing I decided to take a screenshot for prosperity! 😉

Does this make me a ‘best-selling author’ now? 😉

In other news, Legacy and Other Short Stories is now available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited. It will be available for FREE from 10-14 February 2020 in Australia, as well as other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

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 and revenge, explore the dark side of human nature.

‘Quirky tales that will stay with you after you’ve closed the book.’
– Amazon review.

* * * * *

When did you call yourself a writer or are you still struggling to call yourself that? Do you prefer to call yourself an author or you don’t think either term really matters?

Main image courtesy of Unsplash

The Ghost at Willow Creek, The Story Behind the Story

Poetic Inspiration & Book News.

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.

© Debbie Johansson

I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at a bush poem. As a teaser, it gives you some background into my first published short story.

Having said that,The Ghost at Willow Creek is now available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited. It will be available for FREE from 3-7 February, 2020 in Australia, as well as various other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Australia, 1886.

Eleanor Mitchell can’t move on after the death of her young son. She begins to question her sanity due to noises in the middle of the night of a child at play that only she can hear.

Has Eleanor lost her grip on reality or does she really hear the ghost of her dead son?

‘A beautiful story. Loved it!’ – Annie Seaton

* * * * *

Many thanks to fellow blogger and author, Priscilla Bettis, for her review on Amazon. It’s very much appreciated! xx

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Legacy & Other Short Stories

Release Day – Legacy and Other Short Stories.

release day Legacy and other short storiesToday 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.

LEGACY EBOOK smaller

Legacy and Other Short Stories is available as an eBook on Amazon for $1.99AUD, as well as other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

If you purchase a copy of Legacy and Other Short Stories, please visit me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and let me know so I can thank you personally. Please don’t forget to leave a review.

I hope you enjoy it!

Debbie Johansson xx

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

The Ghost at Willow Creek, The Story Behind the Story

Turning a Poem into a Short Story.

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.

Wednesday Addams at Red Riding Hood’s grave.

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?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay