New Ghost Stories Podcast Bonus 2 - The Monkey's Paw

  
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You can listen and download the New Ghost Stories Podcast from a number of platforms.

The votes were counted, and the winner of the poll for the 1-year anniversary bonus episode of the podcast is The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. It beat stories by Lovecraft, Robert Louis Stevenson and M.R. James. I was sure James would walk it, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised – The Monkey’s Paw is one of the most adapted ghost stories ever written.

In his day, William Wymark Jacobs was actually much better-known for his comedies. The volume of stories in which The Monkey’s Paw features was originally named after a story called The Lady of the Barge, a comic tale about two sailors taking a woman, whom one of them desires, for a ride on their boat.

Despite its rather shocking twist, The Monkey’s Paw does include many of the comic observational touches that made Jacob’s work so popular. His father was a manager on the South Devon wharf near Wapping, giving him an ear for the voices and lives of working people. And he himself would work for the Post Office for many years before committing full time to writing.

This led some contemporary critics to compare his work to Charles Dickens. But Jacobs’ style is much more economical; it is a lot less verbose than many writers of his time, giving his work an edge in terms of building suspense, as well as making him a more accessible author for those interested in the classic period of supernatural writing.

New Ghost Stories Volume 3 is out in 2021 at some point (I promise). You can read a preview story here and check out previous volumes here.

New Ghost Stories Podcast 12 - Noisy Neighbour

  
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You can listen and download the New Ghost Stories Podcast from a number of platforms.

The classic image of a haunted house is a ramshackle old building, generations old, somewhere off the beaten track, with broken windows, tiles slipping from the roof and the garden badly overgrown. If someone lives there, they’re seldom seen, seldom spoken to, and only ever whispered about.

We may see or come across such places occasionally, now and then. We may drive past one and be thankful our car hasn’t broken down on some dark stormy night, and that we’ll never have to knock on the door in the pouring rain to seek help.  

It’s all part of the escapist appeal of the ghost story. The cosy terror that gives us chills but never encroaches on reality. It never cuts to close to home.

A real haunting is just as likely to take place in a local block of flats, while the tenant or owner does the dishes and their kids do their homework. Daily life is stressful enough without a ghost to worry about. Getting the kids to pick up after themselves and getting them into bed on time is hard enough without things moving on their own and sudden loud noises in the middle of the night.

Who can really say what causes it? There’s probably no tragic backstory, terrible crime or mystery behind it. It’s just something strange and unexplained. Something that begins as a distraction and gradually becomes more distracting, distressing and disturbing.

Skeptics often point to a decline in the reporting of hauntings, falling ever since the heyday of the spiritualist movement in the first half of the last century, to suggest that it was really the influence of a cultural moment that caused us to see ghosts. Surely if they were real, they’d be ever-present, and not influenced by the changing times.

Research, however, also points to a reluctance to report hauntings – people today are too afraid of the stigma. Skeptics have done a fine job of exposing frauds and highlighting human fallibility, but in doing so they’ve also left those in need afraid to seek help or advice. If a haunting can’t be real, then you must be foolish or losing your mind to experience one.

The sad irony is that we generally think of ghosts as restless spirits, denied peace of mind in death. In which case, we seem to have created a vicious cycle – the unsettled ghosts of the past, unable to rest, now torment the living, who also cannot seek aid for their troubles.

All the more reason to keep our ghosts and hauntings at a comfortable distance, in the old ramshackle houses we would never go near. It’s much less cosy to consider the real implications of a haunting – what ordinary despair might have caused it, and what ordinary despair it might now cause, in a home not so far away from our own.

Every haunting happens to someone. Why not me or you?

New Ghost Stories Volume 3 is out in 2021 at some point (I promise). You can read a preview story here and check out previous volumes here.

New Ghost Stories Podcast 11 - The Storm Walker

  
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You can listen and download the New Ghost Stories Podcast from a number of platforms.

Sometimes you have to draw a line.

I remember distinctly standing outside her door. Wondering whether to knock.

I’d heard so much about her. This story was as much about her as about the subject I’d interviewed, who’d first told me about her. Their two tales were inextricably intertwined.

I had learnt second-hand about the tragedy that had defined her life. That had sent her on countless journeys into the fields and hills when the rail fell. Better yet, when there was a storm raging.

By this time, I’d met many people who had claimed to have spoken to ghosts. But I had never known of someone who appeared to have such an intense ongoing relationship with one.

I had so many questions. But did I have the right to intrude on her life?

It is usually the case that subjects approach me. For a number of different reasons, they want to speak out and unburden. They want to have someone take seriously what may seem impossible, perhaps even prove that it was true.

And now here I was, stood outside the home of someone who could be my most fascinating subject yet. But she had not reached out, and she had not asked to speak to me.

Sometimes you have to draw a line.

I had set up this project to explore people’s experiences. Those that could really be supernatural. Even though her experiences were beyond value, I could not bring myself to cross the threshold. I did not have the right.

Despite what I might have learned, I’m still glad I walked away. The glimpse of this woman’s life that we have in the case no.91 is so intriguing. But if your ambition is to allow people to speak, you have to consider and respect the wishes of those who choose not to.

New Ghost Stories Volume 3 is out in 2021 at some point (I promise). You can read a preview story here and check out previous volumes here.

Time for a project update

Because it's been a while...

Things have been a little crazy of late, and not just because of the pandemic. I keep making plans for New Ghost Stories and they keep being overturned, for reasons both good and bad.

I won’t dive too deep into what’s been happening in my personal life. But asides from my work on New Ghost Stories, I’m a paid copywriter and I work contracts for a couple of clients.

My main contract was due to come to an end last year, and when the pandemic came along, it seemed unlikely I’d be offered a new one. That was a shame, but it would mean I’d have plenty of time to work on New Ghost Stories Volume 3. I was actually thinking I might be able to get it out in early 2021.

But rather than the pandemic bringing an end to my paid work, it ended up getting extended. And extended. My client kept revising their plans so they kept asking me to stick around.

I can’t complain of course. I’ve been extremely lucky to have this income during an uncertain time which has been challenging for so many people.

Last summer I was in a spot where I had 7 stories pretty much ready to go for New Ghost Stories Volume 3. I had the choice of stopping there and publishing the work I’d done. Or I could finish an 8th story which I’d done a little work on already.

Now, this 8th case was a good one. Unlike any case I’d written about before. And most importantly, it was related to one of my previous cases. It would be something unprecedented in the New Ghost Stories archive – my first sequel!

I was nowhere near finished, however, and lockdown was going to make research harder. But with unemployment looming, I decided to hold off publishing and throw myself into it. Because I’d have the time, right?

Oh well. As I said, I can’t really complain. It’s just been tricky balancing my time. I’ve struggled to do much more than put out the podcast every month.

Hopefully, things will be a bit different going forward. I’m engineering a better work-life balance that will allow me to put out book 3 this summer. Can’t commit to a date yet because, even assuming I have more time, the work takes as long as it takes.

I appreciate your support and your patience. I’m going to keep the name of this last story secret, because it’s a bit exciting. In the meantime, the proposed running order for New Ghost Stories Volume 3 is as follows:

  • Coming Home

  • The Accident

  • Roadkill

  • After the Flood

  • No Good Deed

  • How Long Will This Go On?

  • Vandals

  • TBC

Some of these have been available on my Substack already – Roadkill and How long will this go on? are still available to read. I also previewed After the Flood on the Podcast.

I look forward to sharing the rest of the stories with you very soon.

New Ghost Stories Podcast 10 - When it Rains...

  
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You can listen and download the New Ghost Stories Podcast from a number of platforms.

Some have argued against the ethics of what I do. Some I have spoken to could be classed as vulnerable. People with significant mental health difficulties. Am I engaging in an act of exploitation?

It’s certainly plays on my mind. I have declined to proceed with some cases because I felt that the subject was not in a fit state to give coherent testimony. But in most circumstances, I have chosen to at least hear people out and let them tell their story.

I’ve generally not declined to publish cases where the account can be backed up by direct and circumstantial evidence. Even if the subject shows tendencies that make it easy to doubt their word. Either the account stands or it does not.

As I’ve said before, I am not of the view that some people don’t deserve to be spoken to. The subject at the centre of this episode may not be an appealing character – they have almost certainly committed a terrible crime. But that still should not deprive them of the chance to speak.

I don’t believe that anyone has come to any harm because of their contribution to New Ghost Stories. I have always done what I can to anonymise each story. There have been a couple of cases where people have been uncovered by internet sleuths. I have changed my methodology to compensate for this. And I am now candid with subjects that there is always a small risk that they could be uncovered.  

I understand that there is an issue over consent, and there have been allegations about exploitation. But it is ultimately, I believe, simply a case of allowing someone to have a voice. Everyone has a right to tell their story, regardless of their circumstances.

New Ghost Stories Volume 3 is out in 2021. You can read a preview story here and check out previous volumes here.

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