Archive for March, 2018

31/03/2018

Beyond A Gothic Love Story

The gothic is not an epithet that fits neatly on the Yorkshire Dales. There are places that encapsulate the sublime, but for every Barden Tower, Penygent and Gordale Scar there are gentle villages, pastoral scenes and idyllic river valleys. Even the moors in the limestone areas have less of the bleakness of the sour moss expanses of the West Yorkshire and Lancashire fells. It elicits a different form of emersion. not one of a monochrome bleakness, and not one of unremitting gloom.

The Dales are a balance between the wild and the gentle. As such, they lend themselves to a more complex reading. There is no overarching narrative into which they fit. It is in this context that I write my short tales. There is no single story. They move from moor top to valley floor, from waterfall to village hall, to the unknown places beyond.

The tales are also – with a few exceptions – written at the human level. These are not stories of a distant otherness. The ghosts inhabit the same many layered universe as the people, the creatures and the settings. The feelings they evoke and their purpose both in the narrative and in the ‘world’ – are equally difficult to pin down. Some of the hauntings are a release, some a revelation, some an invocation, only on occasions do horror and fear surface: not, you could say, typically “gothic”. At root, in a way, they are – together – a love story.

The third and final sampler pamphlet from the Ghosts and Other Tales introduction series, “The Wedding Invitation” is released on April 13th. It will be available in hard copy and Kindle Editions, along with Parts 1 and 2 (“Abandon Hope” and “Ghosts”).

Images of Leeds Liverpool Canal, Gargrave and two images from St Andrews Church Gargrave.

Copyright Gavin Jones

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28/03/2018

Moors, People and Ghosts

The moors and fells of the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas have long inspired tales of horror, fear and the supernatural. The trope on which such tales rely is that of lost souls, wandering the bleak and Romantic misty moors: a sublime and gothic fantasy.

Certainly, when one walks the huge, primarily acidic plateaus of Boulsworth and Haworth moors, the Pendle to Pinhaw ridge, Rylstone and Simon’s Seat over to Nidderdale, it isn’t difficult to figure out where such wilderness literature finds its source. The sense of emptiness, of the inhuman, is palpable. However, even these “wastes” are intrinsically human – managed even – landscapes.

In my short tales (in Abandon Hope, Ghosts and The Wedding Invitation) I have tried to find other locations for my hauntings. These places formed me. I’ve lived in them, and them in me, throughout my life. The moors themselves haunt me, but not in a gothic or macabre sense. Melancholic, definitely, but sublime, no. They are deeply human.

Some of the seeming bleakest moors are in fact post-industrial landscapes, being the sites of lead and coal mines, going back centuries, even millennia. Almost all are farmed, for sheep or grouse shooting (the latter increasingly controversial, as it moves towards something akin to a factory model). These industries – in addition to the wool trade, water management, craft production and, of course, tourism/leisure – have  brought people, and with human beings come stories, tales, myths. And hauntings.

From the rock carvings and stone circles dating back to Mesolithic era, through the subsequent “invaders” who made these areas home and brought their own structures (Roman roads, Celtic field systems, Germanic and Norse villages etc.) to the tarmacked roads, mega-quarries, festivals and visitor centers of today, people have been leaving their physical marks on the moors. They also bring with them their energy, their vitality and their traces.

I find, therefore, the ghosts are to be found in this vital humanity. It is in the very busy-ness of these places, not in their bleakness, that stories emerge. Let the skylarks have their freedom. The spirits seek redemption amongst their fellow humans.

(photographs copyright: Gavin Jones and Garner and Jones)

27/03/2018

Ghosts at the Edge of Blindness

Out of the corner of my eye I see them. Perhaps, for me, that’s not surprising. I am, after all, blind in my right eye. My peripheral vision consequently extends over fifty percent of my eyesight. This blindness, though, provides other sight.

That doesn’t explain what “they” are. I see “things”, fair enough – but what? Tricks of the light? Images conjured by the mind? Genuine phenomena, out there, in the “real” world (but unseen by most folk)? Who knows – but see them I do. They are my ghosts. They inhabit my world as I do (they also provide insights for many of my stories in the “Ghosts and Other Tales” series).

Such vision has  – since the early 1500s – been called “askance” in English. It has an obscure derivation in Middle English, probably from the Old French  word “quanses” meaning “as if”, or “how if”, with links to meanings such as “insincere” or “deceptive”.

This provides an interesting gloss on the phenomenon. It is vision which questions vision. If such slippery sight occurs at the margins, why is the world “out there” that we see full on, any more reliable? Which, indeed, is the real: the seemingly concrete, or the apparitions which flicker at the edges?

The world we, by common convention, inhabit, has many ways of manifesting itself. Colours shift, change, and are never the same from second to second, or from person to person. Focus and perspective are similarly mobile. It doesn’t take a huge change in perception for all the old certainties to crumble. “Out of the corner of the eye” is but one way this veneer is stripped. When one is drifting off to sleep, or waking up; when intoxicated; when in a highly charged state emotionally; when ill; when meditating; on the brink of death: all of these mind states provide alternative “realities”. And who is to say they are not insights into the world as it truly is?

Certainly for me, my blindness has revealed more at its edges than my so called “good eye”.

26/03/2018

Grief (or the Haunting Process)

Several of my stories – “Dawn Chorus” in Abandon Hope, “The Award” in Ghosts and “Annabel” in the forthcoming pamphlet “The Wedding Invitation” – take grief as a core theme. In doing so, they are following a tradition as old as humanity itself – possibly even older.

Grief is at its heart, a haunting. The living (and some would say the dead too) undergo a process of letting go. Part of this involves a reaction against letting go: a grasping after what once was. The contacts that one had with a person turn abstract. No less real, but different. The person becomes the story of their life, and the remnants of the energy they have left. The grieving process and the haunting process are twins.

Throughout history religions, philosophies and belief systems (humans, in fact) have codified, mythologized and ritualized the process of letting go. Every culture has its ways, superficially unique, but with underlying truths: The Tibetan and Egyptian books of the dead; the many and varied Shamanic systems for calling on Spirit Guides; The Five Steps of Grief; church funeral rites and the following wake etc. etc.. These are, in part, to provide understanding, to give a context, to help.

In the main, they do so. For anyone who has grieved, however, these systems only ever lend a partial (albeit, essential) hand. There is always a profound mystery left. There are always so many unanswered questions. There is always a void left behind.

Objects – often mundane – left by the departed, become stories of their living. Places or activities associated with the dead, still seem to keep them. Birthdays, anniversaries, the date on which they passed, all turn from mere days into remembrances. Letting go involves letting go of a part of oneself: as if the dead were taking a part of the living. Ghosts are not a surprise.

The death of loved ones is heartbreaking. There is no way of escaping that one. It is a universal fact of life. But  in the letting go, and in the void that is left behind, new stories can be told. Life can be given a new meaning.

One common theme in the tradition is the ghosts who seeks to right wrongs, to set things as they should be, to tell the truth. That truth can bring about a harmony, the harmony of peace and rest. To be haunted is to be searching for that rest. The letting go and the clutching close are reconciled by love. Love and stories.

25/03/2018

The Breath of Ghosts

Across cultures, the equating of ghosts and breath is a constant, apparent in language, in ritual and in belief systems. In a number of the stories which make up “Ghosts and Other Tales”, breath plays an important role.  But why breath, when a ghost is – surely – beyond breathing?

Breath in normal circumstances is invisible. It takes cold and damp conditions to render it visible. And yet this barely extant phenomenon is the vital force of a living being. In that breath are the memories, the fears, the loves and – literally – aspirations of a human being.

In meditation one focusses on the breathing. It is the force which signifies living in its most visceral sense. The meditator concentrates on the mechanics of breathing, to center their being, to become aware (in a higher sense) of their life and living. As an act, it encapsulates what it means to be alive. It focusses and calms the mind. Such a powerful, and yet simple, force keeps every one of us alive. It is not too surprising therefore that of all elements of the living being, breath should be viewed as an essential component in so many understandings of spirit.

Nonetheless, it is curious that something so obvious, so real and so human as breath could find itself paired with an aspect of life considered “esoteric”, “mysterious” and “unknown”. This may be down to how people have difficulty comprehending blurred and hazy boundaries. Liminal states – for example, marshes, the shoreline, evening/dawn, ruined buildings, mist and fog – don’t sit neatly into one category or another. They elicit feelings of confusion, rejection and fear. They remind us of our own dissolution. And so it is with breath. It is neither of us, nor “out there”. It is our intermediate self. It inhabits us, and we project it. It both belongs to us and to the world. Breath is therefore the perfect locus for our spirit selves, both real and metaphorical.

We are breathing creatures in life. Is it so outlandish to imagine we might continue so afterwards?