The Stories Behind the Stories

The Siren and Other Strange Tales – my first foray into writing fiction is a collection of short stories with a supernatural element. The stories were inspired as I suppose all stories are, by a mixture of experiences, events, reading, people I have met and places I have lived or visited, all helped along with a dollop of imagination and occasional dark humour. I thought you might like to know a little about the stories behind the stories. The photos are just teasers related to the content of the stories.

That Cat is a story sparked off by a newspaper clipping about a stray cat that visited a care home to sit with the dying.

The character of Mandy is a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, the staff of the care home where my mother spent the last years of her life provided a loving, respectful environment. However, from time to time scandals do emerge. Further elements came from a story my mother told me. When I was a baby she put me in my pram in the garden. As she was hanging out the washing our next door neighbour’s big black cat crept up onto the pram and snuggled down, almost on my face. She was scared of cats and had to get the neighbour to come an remove it!

Toussaint – set in France where I live.

The bones of the story come from two sources – an Australian report of a car accident where the driver of a passing car is said to have picked up, telepathically, the cries for help from the driver of a car that had skidded off the road. The second element was my meeting at a gallery exhibition with the wife of the featured artist. After several glasses of Chablis, she had a lot to tell me about life with an artist.

Sukie – This is a story based on some of my experiences when, at fifteen, I went on an exchange holiday to France. On my own for the first time, without the security of family around me, I found it a daunting experience but, with hindsight, a formative one. However, my early life bore no resemblance to that of Sukie’s except that I did love my Granny Grapes and the eyebrow raising trick did irritate my mother.

Ste. Maxime is near St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur and, when I was there, it teemed with the overspill of the young and beautiful who couldn’t quite swallow the cost of being seen in that celebrated town. There was a Sean Connery look-alike but alas he had no eyes for a gauche teenager teeming with a heady mix of hormones and unrequited lust.

The Boy with a Harmonica is loosely based on an incident that happened in a village near me during WWII.

This part of France was known as the Free zone and governed by the Vichy government on behalf of the occupying Germans. The Maquis were very active in this Zone and in my area there are numerous tales of derring-do and heroism.

The character of the Boy has elements of a child I knew, labelled “autistic” by the medical profession. He had a remarkable ear for music and could pick out and create the most beautiful melodies on the piano. Clearly a piano was of no use to me in this story but an old guy playing the harmonica outside a cafe in Toulouse gave me the instrument that up until then had eluded me.

The Last Word


My parents together with my Aunt and Uncle held regular Sunday Canasta nights. Their play, just as in the story, would be punctuated with cries of “Why did you play that card?” or “Freda, you’ve frozen the pack again.” I used to like to watch and listen to the interplay between these four.

When my mother moved into a care home I visited her regularly and nearly always found a group of residents playing whist. One of them, Alice was a passionate but rather ineffectual player. As I passed by the lounge where they sat I would often hear her girlish giggle as she cried “I’ll beat you all yet, if it’s the last thing I do.” She was a lovely lady and I wrote this story for her.

The Siren was inspired by the landscape of the Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire – a 32 mile stretch from Flamborough Head to Spurn Point, it is a fragile, sometimes desolate landscape subject to regular cliff falls through erosion. With the cliff falls come stretches of gloopy mud and fossils.


A snippet in the local newspaper about a young girl becoming stuck in one of these mud patches as the tide came in and the efforts to rescue her sparked off the idea of the story and my imagination supplied the rest.

So there you have it – the weird convolutions of a writer’s mind.

My Baby’s Left Home

The Launch of “The Siren and Other Strange Tales” today, 8 May.

Exciting times but rather anxious too. Will anyone buy it? Will anyone like it? Is my baby going to sink or swim?

Time will tell.

PS If you are kind enough to purchase the book it would be great if you could leave a short review on Amazon. It assists other potential purchasers and helps me with my sales ranking.

Ghosts – They’re Out There!

I thought I’d let you know that ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ my book of ghostly stories is now available for pre-order or directly available from all Amazon sites from 8th May.

Today I’m offering you some teaser quotes in the hope that they will part you from something just less than three pounds/dollars/euros. I know cash is hard to splash these days.

So, to summarise: The Siren etc (why did I choose such a long title??)is a collection of six short stories, set in different decades of the twentieth century. Each one has something spooky about it but not to the extent that it will keep you awake with the shivers.

First up is ‘That Cat’ – care worker Mandy meets a mysterious cat that knows when death approaches. But does Mandy?

They walked along the long corridor towards Mrs Beck’s room. The night lights cast little white puddles on the green lino. A whiff of disinfectant lingered in the air. All was quiet.
‘Isn’t it spooky when it’s quiet like this?’ Christine whispered.
‘Whatever are you whispering for?’ Mandy’s clear voice sliced the silence. ‘We can’t wake the dead or the nearly dead, which is what most of these old folk are.’

For the second story we move to France for ‘Toussaint’ when egotistical artist Gavin is given some ghostly marriage guidance.

‘Why do you hate chrysanthemums’ I asked, inconsequentially.
‘What? Oh, haven’t you noticed? All the shops are full of them at the moment – flowers of death I call them – always at funerals and gravesides. Me, I prefer roses.’
‘Roses? At this time of year… you’ll be lucky.’ I couldn’t help but give a huff of half-laughter. ‘I am going mad. Here I am talking to a ghost about bloody flowers. It’s surreal.’

Staying in France, we move to the Swinging Sixties when rebellious teenager Sukie receives one life-lesson too far.

Once they left I ordered a glass of white wine and lit up one of my duty-free ciggies. Oh I felt so sophisticated. I cast what I hoped was a sultry glance across at Sean Connery Mark II. With hindsight I probably looked more like a hungry hippo in search of its first good meal for a year. Whatever! It worked and Mark II slid his chair across to my table and in a rich melted chocolate voice asked,
‘May I join you Mademoiselle?’

German-occupied France provides the setting for a tale of collaboration and betrayal.

As he stood at the window the smell of smoke grew stronger. In the reflection of the panes he saw a dark shadow standing behind him. Forcing himself to turn around he let out a terrified scream. In front of him, emitting little puffs of smoky sooty breath was the charred and blackened figure of the Boy.

Back in England in the Roaring Twenties – what could be more normal than a genteel game of whist for four middle-aged ladies?

‘For heaven’s sake, can we get on with it’ Enid snapped.
‘Yes, for heaven’s sake, let’s’ Doris chirped and picked up the pack. Expertly she shuffled the cards, riffling through them so that they interleaved with each other and for good measure she riffled them back together into a solid pack. Her hands barely seemed to touch the cards. We all stared in silence, mouths agape like trap doors. When, with a flick of the wrist, she dealt out the hands without a fluff or fumble we all knew something strange was happening.

Finally, we meet a stranger in a remote seaside village in the middle of winter. Is it grief or guilt that haunts him?

‘What happened, Adam?’
‘I can’t say Lily. I saw him go past the forge looking like death warmed up so I followed him, quietly like. A sea fret came on sudden and I lost sight of him in the mist. Next thing, I heard him crying out to someone called Sophie and how he had to find her. When I found him he were up to his knees in the mud – he must have tumbled into a patch.’
‘Oh my’ Mrs Lawrence replied, ‘I told you didn’t I? He’s not right in his head. You did well Adam’ she added.
‘Mebbe, but I don’t reckon he thinks so.’

I hope you’ve enjoyed these snippets and that perhaps you might go and have a peep at the book which is on all Amazon sites.

What’s in a Title?

Those of you who are kind enough to follow this blog may remember that a couple of weeks back I held my own referendum…er straw poll about the title of my collection of short stories. The winner was “Spook Me Out”.

I was not happy with the result. I protested. I argued that the demographics of the poll were skewed (as were the participants after copious amounts of the juice of the grape). I pointed out that it was a meaningless collection of words and that titles need impact. In short, I wanted a recount.

Do you judge a book by its cover? Those who are said to know about these things say yes, the cover and the title are a big part of the decision to buy or not to buy. I tend to look at the blurb on the back but it is usually an intriguing title that catches my eye and preferably one that gives me an idea of the genre as well. Quite often the cover design leaves me cold. I’m never moved by the piccys of impossibly handsome muscle men with fine etched six-packs and thighs like tree trunks, wielding their swords with gusto. Well, not on a book cover anyway! Have you guessed by now that fantasy is one of my favourite genres?

Now let’s be serious. A few days after the results of my poll were in some of the participants sidled up to me murmuring that er…perhaps they’d got it wrong; they didn’t like the title any more and perhaps a rethink might be in order.

Much heartened by this chink in the voters’ armour I rethought. It is, after all my book. I have created and disposed of the characters within. Their fate is and has always been in my hands. Is this not the annual occasion when I assert myself? Yes, it is.

And so, a retitled collection of six short stories. It is a simple title – it describes the content. Let me introduce you to:

I was going to use the word ‘ghostly’ rather than’ strange’. Unfortunately the typeface I’ve chosen makes it look, at a quick scan, a bit too much like ‘ghastly’. I shied away from it. The reader might find the stories ghastly but my amour-propre won’t allow it.

Publishing day is now 8th May in the Kindle Store on Amazon and if any of you dear readers feel impelled to give the book a toot on your own social networks I shall be Uriah Heep-ish in my ‘umbleness and gratitude.

A Devilish Tale

The beautiful medieval Cité of Carcassonne offers rich pickings for a writer of ghost stories and things supernatural.

http://<a href=”https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g187151-Carcassonne_Aude_Languedoc_Roussillon.html#29819955″><img alt=”” src=”https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/c7/04/33/il-castello-delle-fate.jpg” /></a><br />This photo of Carcassonne is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Within the walls and narrow streets of the Cité ghosts wail, weep and wander, fairly aimlessly by all accounts; cowled monks manifest only to disappear through walls but the spooky story I particularly like concerns a large well – The Well of the Fairies – which was one of several providing water for the inhabitants.

http://href=”https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g187151-Carcassonne_Aude_Languedoc_Roussillon.html#189931226″><img alt=”” src=”https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/0b/52/1e/da/plenty-of-affordable.jpg” /></a><br />This photo of Carcassonne is courtesy of TripAdvisor

One dark night back in Medieval days seven archers went on a bit of a binge, roistering the night away in a number of local taverns. Well and truly sozzled they tumbled out of the last ale house and wandered through the deserted cobble streets. Filled with boldness and courage (I’m told drink can do that)they began to chunter among themselves and during their grousing and grumbling they were extremely rude about the patron saint of the Cité, St Gimer, the first archbishop of Carcassonne. They then compounded their discourtesy by dissing the Devil and all his powers.

As they stopped to draw breath after all their shouting and hollering, they noticed something just ahead of them in the narrow street – a donkey no less and one that was blanketed with a rich (and no doubt valuable) cloth.
It did not seem to occur to them to wonder why a richly-clad donkey should be wandering the streets of Carcassonne at that time of night rather they grabbed hold of it and one by one scrambled on its back. As each archer jumped onto the animal, it performed an extraordinary anatomical feat – that of stretching its back so that each man could be comfortably seated.

Once all were aboard the donkey set off at a fair old pace, the archers whooping with glee. The donkey headed for the cemetery where the gleeful whoops turned into cries of terror as one by one the graves opened up and their occupants moaned a piteous lament.
‘Sacré bleu’ (and other appropriate French oaths) screamed the men, ‘it’s the Devil himself’ and they tried to dismount and flee but strangely they seemed stuck to the donkeys back by some sort of supernatural glue. The beast then whipped round and charged back through the streets to the great well in the square. There it plunged down the well with its doomed cargo who were never to let loose an arrow again.

If, one stormy night you dare to approach the well, you may find it lit up by the fires of hell and hear the heavy groans, moans and pleas of tortured souls rising up to greet you and if by chance, you are there when the clock of the church of St Nazaire strikes midnight, you too may find yourself transfixed with terror as the chimes resonate with the shrieks of the damned.

A bit of a wicked glint?
A bit of a wicked glint?

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I have never been able to make my mind up about Ghosts and as a writer of spooky stories and things that go bump in the night this may seem a little odd, (but then I am a little odd). I think I may have had a few supernatural experiences; sometimes a place or building seems to me to resonate with times and people of the past – the battlefield at Culloden in Scotland was one such place; other times I have thought I saw someone or something out of the corner of my eye that just shouldn’t and couldn’t be there. Maybe there is a rational explanation:

1. Over-enthusiastic imbibing of alcohol
2. Over-heated imagination
3. Fatigue

There is just one experience where my rational jury is still out.

I was fifteen at the time and on an exchange holiday in France. I was thoroughly miserable at the time suffering an outbreak of teenage angst. After another day of trying and failing dismally to “fit in” with the crowd of posh teenagers on the beach who formed the circle of friends of my exchange family, I went to bed sore, sunburned and sniffing snuffles of self-pity. I shared my bedroom with Arianne, the seven year old daughter of the family with whom I was staying.

Sometime during the night I woke up. In the corner of the room was a huge ‘peacock’ chair, one of those woven basket-work affairs like a throne, and sitting in the chair was my Gran of whom I was very fond and who had died earlier in the year. She looked at me, smiled and said “don’t worry love, it’ll be alright, just be yourself.” Then she seemed to fade away. It was all very calm and not a bit scary.

I would probably have put this down to a half-waking dream or subconscious thoughts of my Gran were it not for the fact that my roommate, little Arianne asked me in the morning who the nice lady was that I was talking to in the night – the one sitting in the chair. “She had a kind face.”

My Grandmother as a young girl
My Grandmother as a young girl

Now umpty years later as I am writing spooky stories I still wonder – was it a ghost who came to comfort me? I don’t know but whatever it or who it was, my French exchange holiday took a turn for the better.

What about you? Do you believe in or are you a sceptic?