Posts tagged ‘Ghosts and Other Tales’

26/11/2018

The Ghosts We All Become

Ghosts don’t simply haunt houses. Indeed, few do. Most hang around in tales, waiting to be summoned by their telling. They lived lives as people do, and gradually, over the years, begin to populate the myths and stories of a shared inheritance. They are the ghosts most of us recognise. They are our hauntings. Indeed, they are the ghosts we all become.

Buying and Selling

Back in the 18th Century my ghosts – the ghosts in question here – started a lucrative trade as cattle drovers. They were hill farmers in the Yorkshire Dales, centered above Airton. Their enterprise grew in scale through the end of that century, until it had become one of the largest such businesses in the country. It ended in dramatic fashion in 1841, in a complex and somewhat acrimonious inheritance dispute, settled in the House of Lords.

The business involved buying cheap cattle in Ireland, transporting them to Galloway, where they were pastured on the land of a local Laird. They were then driven to the family’s land in the Dales. Here, they spent a season, before  being driven south to graze in the North Fens, near Boston in Lincolnshire. Here they would fatten before the final leg of their drive, to markets around London. In all, this journey increased the value of these cattle fourfold. It was an enormously profitable business.

This story took place amidst the upheavals of The Enclosures Act. The North Fens were as yet only partly drained, and so – being of little worth – were still “Common” land (that is, unenclosed). At the same time, the South Fens, from Kings Lynn to Peterborough, were Enclosed. This left the ordinary, landless, property-less with  a profound sense of loss. The poet John Clare wrote of this brutal severance with such power. Commoners, without vote, entitlement or voice were simply denied access to that which had sustained them for generations. The land was simply robbed from them, by the flick of a pen.

john clare

Meanwhile, a few miles to the north, my ghosts used the little remaining open access land to their advantage. One of three brothers was set up as the local parish priest, thus ensuring they had grazing rights  for the family. When the patriarch of the family passed away in the late 1830s, the inheritance was to be split between the three sons. This was when the fights began.

Slipping Away

Much of the earned money had been of the “cash-in-hand” variety, making agreement as to the net worth difficult, to say the least. Added to this, there was a trail of creditors all across three countries, who demanded their share. The three brothers were also not in agreement as to the rightness of their personal share. In order to settle the various disputes over what was an enormous amount of money, the Lords appointed Sir Joseph Banks, the famous explorer and naturalist, to investigate. His report, which is now in an archive in San Francisco, was placed before the House of Lords in 1841. In began a slow decline and dispersal of the inheritance.

joseph banks

A couple of centuries later, I’m sat here, half an hour away from the fields on which my ancestor ghosts fed their cattle. Most of the villages around here have streets named after them. I can hardly step out of my house without some reminder of their lives. They are names, activities, scandals and history. They are the kind of ghosts we all know. That they were living, fearing, loving, substantial people is, now, almost impossible to conceive.

And yet, somewhere, there is a patch of ground that is partly comprised of their bones. And here, holding this pen, is a man who is, in part, a continuation of their spirit. I will become, with them, another ghost.

Ghosts

Ghosts and Other Tales, a collection of twenty five short stories set in and around the Craven District, is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle version.

26/11/2018

The Ghosts We All Become

Ghosts don’t simply haunt houses. Indeed, few do. Most hang around in tales, waiting to be summoned by their telling. They lived lives as people do, and gradually, over the years, begin to populate the myths and stories of a shared inheritance. They are the ghosts most of us recognise. They are our hauntings. Indeed, they are the ghosts we all become.

Buying and Selling

Back in the 18th Century my ghosts – the ghosts in question here – started a lucrative trade as cattle drovers. They were hill farmers in the Yorkshire Dales, centered above Airton. Their enterprise grew in scale through the end of that century, until it had become one of the largest such businesses in the country. It ended in dramatic fashion in 1841, in a complex and somewhat acrimonious inheritance dispute, settled in the House of Lords.

The business involved buying cheap cattle in Ireland, transporting them to Galloway, where they were pastured on the land of a local Laird. They were then driven to the family’s land in the Dales. Here, they spent a season, before  being driven south to graze in the North Fens, near Boston in Lincolnshire. Here they would fatten before the final leg of their drive, to markets around London. In all, this journey increased the value of these cattle fourfold. It was an enormously profitable business.

This story took place amidst the upheavals of The Enclosures Act. The North Fens were as yet only partly drained, and so – being of little worth – were still “Common” land (that is, unenclosed). At the same time, the South Fens, from Kings Lynn to Peterborough, were Enclosed. This left the ordinary, landless, property-less with  a profound sense of loss. The poet John Clare wrote of this brutal severance with such power. Commoners, without vote, entitlement or voice were simply denied access to that which had sustained them for generations. The land was simply robbed from them, by the flick of a pen.

john clare

Meanwhile, a few miles to the north, my ghosts used the little remaining open access land to their advantage. One of three brothers was set up as the local parish priest, thus ensuring they had grazing rights  for the family. When the patriarch of the family passed away in the late 1830s, the inheritance was to be split between the three sons. This was when the fights began.

Slipping Away

Much of the earned money had been of the “cash-in-hand” variety, making agreement as to the net worth difficult, to say the least. Added to this, there was a trail of creditors all across three countries, who demanded their share. The three brothers were also not in agreement as to the rightness of their personal share. In order to settle the various disputes over what was an enormous amount of money, the Lords appointed Sir Joseph Banks, the famous explorer and naturalist, to investigate. His report, which is now in an archive in San Francisco, was placed before the House of Lords in 1841. In began a slow decline and dispersal of the inheritance.

joseph banks

A couple of centuries later, I’m sat here, half an hour away from the fields on which my ancestor ghosts fed their cattle. Most of the villages around here have streets named after them. I can hardly step out of my house without some reminder of their lives. They are names, activities, scandals and history. They are the kind of ghosts we all know. That they were living, fearing, loving, substantial people is, now, almost impossible to conceive.

And yet, somewhere, there is a patch of ground that is partly comprised of their bones. And here, holding this pen, is a man who is, in part, a continuation of their spirit. I will become, with them, another ghost.

Ghosts

Ghosts and Other Tales, a collection of twenty five short stories set in and around the Craven District, is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle version.

08/10/2018

Five Quotes

“And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.”

Ursula le Guin – The Dispossessed

“There is no end to the deceits of the past.”

Vernon Lee – Limbo and Other Essays

“Can the beautiful be sad? Is beauty inseparable from the ephemeral and hence from mourning? Or else is the beautiful object the one that tirelessly returns following destructions and wars in order to bear witness that there is survival after death, that immortality is possible?”

Julia Kristeva – Black  Sun

“The generation of atmosphere, the aura of the uncanny, is one of the most important secrets of magic. It contributes to the willing suspension of disbelief, the feeling that, within the circle, or in the presence of the magical shrine, anything may happen.”

Doreen Valiente – An ABC of Witchcraft, Past and Present

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”

Pema Chodron –When Things Fall Apart

 

Five quotes to hold in mind when reading Ghosts and Other Tales (released on 26th October 2018).

Images by Gavin R Jones, with fragments from stories in Ghosts and Other Tales.

07/08/2018

Facing Your Ghosts

“…I can affirm only one thing, that they have haunted certain brains, and have haunted, among others, my own and my friends’… along the dim twilit tracks, among the high growing braken and spectral pines, of the southern country… while the moonlit sea moaned and rattled against the moldering walls of the house whence Shelley set sail for eternity”.

(Vernon Lee: Preface to “Hauntings”. 1889)

We are living in an age where society – and politics in particular – are at core haunted by suppressed death anxieties. Everywhere you look, fear of what certainly will come is to be found. People try to push away that fear with possessions, with cosmetics, with lifestyle choices. They offload that fear, creating false villains, loading blame on to others, creating scapegoats. They hide behind masks of fashion or ideology. They sanitise, refuse to look, and yet in the process create an all-consuming demon that simply will not go away. Worse, in not facing facts, they live permanently  in thrall to their future, and consequently cannot fully appreciate the life they have.

It may seem paradoxical, but ghost stories are needed now, more than ever. Not, however, the “hide behind your fingers at the bogeyman” ghost stories which fit so neatly into the categories of false fear and head in sand fiction as to be a parody. Such stories merely feed the demon. No: the ghost stories for our deeply sick society are those which face, head on, the fears from which people hide. They are stories which truly haunt – which stay with the reader. They are stories which provide questions, not merely shocks. They are stories which are rooted in a sense of place and a continuum of history, They engage which the obsessions and the trivialities of life. They are stories which, in the end, are redemptive precisely because they do not offer an easy way out. They give voice to existential necessities. They are human, in all that entails.

This is not a review post, but if you wish to find out more, I would certainly recommend stories by Vernon Lee, MR James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, WW Jacobs, Willa Cather, Henry James, Daphne du Maurier and Sheridan Le Fanu (amongst many others). You could even try reading mine (he clumsily plugs).

(images, copyright Gavin R Jones, 2018)

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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.