Frightmare

P1090879Last night, on a dark Gloucester farm, we witnessed a group of girls being chased by an axe-wielding monster wearing a creepy mask. And we filmed the whole thing. Their terrified screams were drowned out by our hysterical laughter. No, we weren’t shooting a horror film, we were attending Frightmare, Gloucester’s Halloween scare fest. And it was brilliant.

We’d never heard of Frightmare, but we were invited by Dan Hopkins, Calamityville’s number one fan. Yes, we were shocked too that someone who wasn’t a friend watched the show. In June he told us that he was involved in Frightmare and asked if we would like to go. Does Leatherface like chainsaws? As much as we love Cardiff, it sucks for Halloween events. The whole of south Wales is terrible for Halloween events. The only ones are for children. Every year we struggle to find something scary for adults. So when Dan gave us the link to Frightmare and we saw it had FOUR scary attractions, we were more excited than Freddy Krueger at nap time.

FrightmareWe decided to go as ghost ship pirates and rocked up only to discover we were the only ones dressed up. And everyone stared at us like we were the weirdos. What is WRONG with people? It’s a Halloween event! This happened to us about five years in Tredegar House. Our mum went dressed as a death spirit and we were corpse brides with creepy crawlies hanging from our veils and bouquets and blood streaking our faces. We walked in to find everyone staring at us, because they hadn’t bothered making an effort. Anyway, we headed for the toilets, which were porta loos out the back. While Neen and Cat were in them, a group of girls ran out, screeching like Twilight vampires in a fifty percent off glitter sale. Then an axe-wielding pumpkin man lumbered after them. Lynx was waiting outside the toilets, so did what anyone would do – laughed at the girls and filmed their terror. He cornered them by the porta loo Cat was inside, while they cowered against it, knocking it and almost dying of fright. Think of a scene from any slasher film and that’s what it was like. It was hilarious :D All Cat heard was deafening screams, and pounding on the door as the girls tried to get in. Then the porta loo was jolted. Luckily she’d only just stepped inside so hadn’t even reached the toilet. Did she open the door to save these terrified girls? No. She just hoped when she stepped out, their blood wouldn’t stain her pirate dress.

Frightmare

Fright House

When Lynx went to the toilet, a chav girl of about 18, who had used a foundation shade we can only think of as ‘pumpkin blush’ asked Cat and Neen if they worked there. They said no. She said “then why are you dressed up?” Cat – “it’s a Halloween event.” Girl: “so do you like Halloween?” Why would we be dressed up at a Halloween event if we didn’t like Halloween? That would be like grinches (ok, us) showing up as Santa’s Grotto in full elf regalia. Cat – “yes. We’re Goths, we love Halloween.” Neen – “I’m not a Goth.” Cat – “my twin and I are Goths.” Girl – “why aren’t you a Goth?” Neen – “I’m just not.” Girl – “Don’t you like it?” Neen – “I do like it, I’m just not one. The clothing is beautiful though.” Cat – “until the cats grab your lace sleeves and keep you prisoner.” Girl to Cat – “how long have you been a Goth?” Cat – “since forever.” Girl – “so do you like it then?” *Facepalm* Cat just stared at her for a few seconds, trying to work out if she was putting it on or if her orange dye had nuked some brain cells. Cat – “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it.” We really hope she was drunk. Either that or her skull had been hollowed like the pumpkin she had colour matched herself to.

Frightmare

Pumpkin Boy. He’s actually really tall, but is crouching

We went to our first attraction – Panic. We won’t go into too much detail because we don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t been. We were stalked by a teenage boy holding a pumpkin (he was an actor, not some random boy). As we got to the front of the queue, the guy asked for our wristbands. We stared at him blankly. He explained that when you handed your tickets in, you were given wristbands. We hadn’t seen anyone to hand our tickets to. We were directed to the queue out the front door. Turns out, we’d come in the back way and because we were the only ones dressed up, security thought we worked there and let us in! :D We queued with the rest of the attendees who looked more like they were going to Tesco than a Halloween event. The security guards and staff loved us because we’d made such an effort. One of the actors kept coming up to talk to us whenever we were queueing and Pumpkin Boy stalked us for most of the night. Pumpkin Man lost interest when we didn’t run from him.

We returned to Panic and were put with two teenage girls. Whenever we do this kind of thing, we always end up with teenage girls. And there are always two of them who are both terrified. It was pitch black inside Panic, so we were told to hold each other’s shoulders as we worked our way through the maze of bloodied curtains and concealed actors. We immediately started doing the Conga. The girls didn’t join in. We soon dropped our arms and left each other to possibly be mauled. The girls were so scared that the one behind Neen was practically on Neen’s back, she was holding her that tightly. They shrieked at every actor, we laughed and grinned the whole way though. We particularly liked the bit where you walk through a prison with strobe lighting, because one minute you can’t see anything, the next an escaped prisoner is standing face to face with you.

There was a photographer taking photos of people posing in the stocks. He asked if we wanted a photo. As we deliberated, he said “please can I take your photo? You look fantastic.” It would be rude to turn down a begging man.So we agreed. He was probably sick of photographing jeans and wellies. And his helper was a nice bit of Halloween eye candy ;)

Frightmare

Pumpkin Man

We made our way to the Fright House and caught the attention of Pumpkin Man, who was attracted by the camcorder’s light. We lured him over so he could terrify the rest of the people in the queue. In the Fright House we were put with two lads who were late teens/early twenties. As we made our way through the blood soaked passages, a clown jumped out. A girly shriek echoed around the darkness. It was the guy behind Lynx. Think Ned Flanders’s scream. Lynx had to fight from laughing out loud. There was a girl dressed as a creepy doll in one of the rooms. Her costume was amazing. She was by far the creepiest actor despite the fact she mostly stood in the corner and offered to cut out our eyes.

Frightmare

the guy who was terrorising the girl

We stopped for a drink and were entertained by the actor we’d been talking to, chasing a teenage girl through the marquee. She ran and screamed like a true horror actress. We were practically wetting ourselves laughing. She ran outside then tried sneaking in behind someone. We spotted her and sent the actor after her. We’re helpful like that. She was even scared of Pumpkin Boy and he just stood there, silently staring. We thought it would be funny if we were to do the same – find a group of teenage girls and just surround them, staring. It’s the only time of year we won’t get arrested for it.

FrightmareThe third attraction we visited was Seance. It had a really cool old house front with creepy hands on the wall. While we were queuing there was a clown behind us doing stuff. There’s just no need for clowns. He wasn’t a killer clown, just a regular one in a suit with a sad face which somehow made it worse. The kind of disturbing clown that will haunt your nightmares. When we walked in to Seance, the actor said “it’s the Calamityville girls!” It was Dan! We’ve never met him before, so encountering him in a creepy house in full Halloween costume was a unique first meeting. The seance was brilliant – far more active than any seances we’ve done :D Maybe we need to recreate it for a future episode.

By the time we left Seance, it was time for our Haunted Hayride. Neen stood behind a teenage girl and frightened the life out of her :D We don’t understand why people go to these events if someone in costume scares them, but at least it provides free entertainment for us. The clown was also amusing the queue for the hayride so we were glad when we turned the corner so we wouldn’t have to see him *shudders*. The hayride was a lot of fun. We were in a trailer pulled by a tractor which was speeding over bumpy ground in the dark. Every time it stopped, creepy actors would surround the trailer and some got on board. The girl Neen scared was convinced she was going to wet herself. Then the driver got out to ‘move a tree’ when we were attacked by cannibals. They scared the driver away. The girl was petrified! She kept saying “where’s he’s going? Has he left us? Is he coming back? Why has he left us?” We were laughing so hard we weren’t paying attention to what the cannibals were threatening :D We offered her a cup if she needed the toilet. The cannibals hijacked the trailer and took us to a pitch black barn. It was so dark you couldn’t see the person in front of you. This time we actually obeyed the hanging on to the person in front rule. We somehow managed to get separated from the rest of the group, so the actors were probably disappointed as none of us are the shrieking kind. We laughed and smiled our way through the attacks and greeted the actors with a cheery ‘hello!’ and asked to join their lucrative body parts operation. Being dead, they had no use of us.Frightmare

The hayride dropped us back at the attractions, but we had to go through a corn maze, which was guarded by two scarecrows. After asking one if he’d escaped from Arkham Asylum, he then followed us through the whole maze, trying to pop up and scare us. We invited him to be our man slave and we think we liked the idea because he stuck with us after that. A terrifying scarecrow butler is much better than a man in a suit. We could set him on sales people and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We rounded the corner to find two teenage girls cowering in a corner. One of them was the one who had been pursued through the marquee earlier. When they saw us, they asked if we could go first, clearly seeing us as protectors. So we did what any great protector would do – led them to safety then tracked down the scarecrows and sent them after the girls. No need to thank us, you are most welcome.

Frightmare

us with Dan

Most of the attractions had finished by the time we got back, but we wanted to speak to Dan, so we hung around for half an hour, waiting for Seance to close. Dan eventually left Seance so so we nabbed him for a photo and a chat. There was no way we were leaving without getting to speak to our number one fan. We would never have known about Frightmare if it wasn’t for him. He was really lovely and we’re so jealous that he gets to be involved in something so fantastic. He and Pumpkin Man (Troy) made the Seance house. Dan’s now going to be joining us when we investigate Littledean Jail.

We don’t have many traditions in Calamityville (unless getting lost counts) but we might have to start a new one with an annual trip to Frightmare. We highly recommend it. It’s running ’til Nov 1st so there might still be tickets available. Do it now. NOW! Or we will set Pumpkin Man after you…Frightmare

Deadly Reflections C L Raven, Lizzie Rose*Unashamed plug alert* If you like all things spooky, our ghost story collection Deadly Reflections is FREE from today until Halloween. Get it here – Amazon UK  Amazon US

Recce at the Rectory

Traipsing through fields to find a rectory that doesn’t exist, trespassing, pissing off locals and being stalked by a cat in a graveyard can only mean one thing: Calamityville is back!

Borley churchWe’ve been planning to visit Borley Rectory with fellow writer, ghost hunter and honorary Calamityville team member Lesley (L K Jay) for about a year. Even though we knew it didn’t exist anymore, Borley has been dubbed the most haunted house in England, so we had to visit it. We set off at 7 p.m. Friday evening after our traditional Friday night chip night. The trip to Huntingdon went smoothly apart from being besieged by the most unholy stinks en route. One was caused by a lorry’s smoking tyres, one smelled like manure had been set on fire and the others we can only assume were down to demon manifestations. We made it to Lesley’s without getting trapped on the ring road for the first time ever. We know, it frightened us too.

Saturday morning we were joined by fellow writer Louise West, a mutual  Twitter friend. We’d never met her before, but she’s lovely. As soon as she arrived, we set off to Borley. Lesley drove, which would guarantee no major meldowns on our part. If we have one every episode, people would think we faked them :D

We reached Borley church without getting lost once, which was a relief because when we were in the flat, Lesley’s Sat Nav tried to send us to Borley in France. As pretty as we’re sure it is, it’s not the home of the most haunted house in England. Though the Sat Nav assured us it would take twelve hours of driving time and traffic was steady. But as we’re not in the habit of carrying our passports with us for emergency excursions to Europe, we decided not to chance it. The only French we can speak is “Bonjour, Je’m appelle and Renault 4.” None of which would get us very far.

Borley church catWe wandered the churchyard and discovered a beautiful and friendly local – a grey cat. We spent a while fussing him then he started to lead us off somewhere. Thinking he knew the way to the rectory, we followed. Turns out, he wanted to eat some grass. Left to our own devices, we explored. The cat stalked us. Clearly he’d heard we love animals and wanted to be on the show. Louise managed to find the graves of Henry Dawson Ellis Bull who built Borley Rectory in 1862 and his son, Harry who took over when Henry died. Harry is actually one of the ghosts who haunts it. Apparently before he died, he swore that if  he was unrested after death, he would come back and make his presence known in a violent manner, such as throwing mothballs or glasses. We asked him to throw conkers at us, but he didn’t oblige.

Borley church

Grave of Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. And the cat.

The Ghost Radar mostly sprouted gibberish such as ‘potatoes’ ‘settlers’ ‘Washington’. Not exactly what we were hoping for. Lynx managed to find an old map online of where the rectory was, so after trying to compare it with the modern landscape, we set off across the road into a field. We circled behind a house into another field, then crossed a third field to get back to the road. We have no idea who owned these fields but there were no gates so we doubted angry farmer would shoot at us, despite the Ghost Radar promising us they would. (It said ‘shoot’ in the graveyard). There was no sign of the rectory, or where it once stood. There really needs to be plaques put up where an old sites used to be or you get idiots like us exploring fields. However a yellow blob showed up on the Ghost Radar in the hedge, which apparently means spirit energy is near. Lynx asked if there was a ghost to her left. The Ghost Radar said “Harry.”

The most famous ghost at Borley is the nun who haunts a path known as ‘Nun’s Walk’. The rumour is that she had an affair with a monk from the monastery which once stood where the rectory was. They planned to elope and asked the monk’s friend to drive them in a carriage. The elders found out and captured them. The driver was beheaded, the monk hanged and the nun bricked up alive in the vaults below the rectory. This is a really common ghost story, but at least the monk was also killed. Usually it’s the nun who bears the brutal wrath. The nun was such a frequent visitor to the rectory that Henry Bull bricked up a window to stop her staring through the window at his dinner guests. Nobody wants to see a drooling nun pawing the glass. Three of Henry’s daughters, Ethel, Mabel and Freda saw the nun one June afternoon. Their brother Walter often heard footsteps following him along Nun’s Walk, but there was never anybody there. The phantom coach was often seen driven by two  headless horses or horsemen, depending on which website you read. Footsteps were regularly heard in the rectory walking outside the bedrooms. They’d stop outside a door then three knocks were heard. In old superstitions, three knocks meant a special visitor: Death.

After Harry died, the church had trouble getting reverends into the rectory because of its reputation. The next reverend to move in was Guy Eric Smith and his wife. The first things they experienced were knocks in the bedroom. It didn’t matter which bedroom they slept in, the knocks followed them. One day when she was cleaning, Mrs Smith unwrapped a brown paper parcel. It contained a female human skull. After this, the servants’ bells started ringing by  themselves, despite being disconnected. Objects were moved and reappeared elsewhere. Keys would either be put into locks or taken out of them. They contacted the Daily Mirror and asked them to send someone from the Society of Psychical Research (SPR). They sent a reporter, V. C. Wall and Harry Price from the SPR. Wall saw a light in one of the rooms and sent Smith to investigate. When Smith was in the room, two lights could be seen from the garden, yet Smith didn’t see or hear anything in the room with him.

When Price arrived with his secretary, the secretary kept an eye on things in the rectory while Price and Wall stayed in the garden. Wall spotted the nun and ran over to her. As he got closer, she became more solid, but disappeared when he reached her. Price didn’t see her vanish as Wall was blocking his view. They returned inside the rectory and a pane of glass fell from the roof, narrowly missing them. Price admits this could have been coincidental.  They explored the rest of the rectory and as they were coming downstairs, a red glass candlestick from the Blue Room (where Henry and Harry Bull died) was thrown down the stairs, followed by a mothball.

Borley Rectory

possible site of Borley Rectory, where Cat trespassed

After the Smiths left the rectory, it lay empty for a while until the Foysters moved in. Lionel Algeron Foyster was a cousin of the Bulls. His wife Marianne experienced the most activity in the rectory. There were so many incidents that Foyster kept a diary over a 15 month period. Again the bells would ring by themselves, footsteps were heard, Marianne saw Harry Price by the Blue Room, their daughter Adelaide was locked inside a room with no key. Marianne was struck in the face, leaving a cut below her left eye, but she was alone. She also said she’d been thrown out of bed three times in one afternoon, but again was alone. Pebbles or bricks were thrown, objects were left in random places, a jug of water was poured over them when they slept, Marianne was half smothered by a mattress. One day Marianne took off her watch which was set in a gold bracelet, and set it aside to wash her hands. When she went to put it back on, the bracelet had gone. It was never found. A wedding ring dated 1862 appeared one day. Writing on the wall appeared saying ‘Marianne, please help get me out’. Foyster sent his diary to Price, who returned to investigate the rectory again.

The rectory was empty again after the Foysters left. Price rented it out for a year, but didn’t stay in it himself. Instead he put an advert in The Times asking for ‘observers’. The 48 he chose had no knowledge of the rectory or psychical research. One of his helpers was Sidney Glanville and his son. Glanville’s daughter, Helen conducted a seance in Streatham, London and apparently made contact with the spirit of Marie Lairre, a French nun who’d left her order to marry a member of the Waldegrave family who owned Borley Hall, a 17th century manor house. She claimed she was murdered and bricked up below the rectory. On 27th March 1938, Glanville and his fellow observer, Mark Kerr-Pearse contacted a spirit who swore the rectory would burn down and human bones would be discovered beneath it.

Eleven months later, Captain Gregson moved into the rectory. When he was unpacking, he knocked an oil lamp over. The rectory caught fire. In 1943, Price returned to the rectory with Revered Hanning and a laborer and they cleared the well in the cellar and dug it up. They uncovered the parietal and temporal bones of a skull and the left mandible with five teeth still attached. The bones were believed to be that of a young woman, but the Borley parish refused them a Christian burial due to rumours the bones were from a pig.

After Price died in 1948, three members of the SPR investigated his claims and came to the conclusion that he’d faked some of the phenomena. Although we can’t comment on that, we will say that the rectory had a reputation before Price arrived. Apparently Harry’s children were surprised to learn they were living in the most haunted house in England. They’d fit in well with Calamityville.

Borley Rectory

L-R Lesley, Louise & Lynx searching for the stream.

After failing to find the rectory in the three fields, we went looking for a stream our old map swore was there. We didn’t find it, so headed back towards the church. Louise spotted gates flanked by grey stone pillars. The gates were chained and brambles had been stacked against them. Could this have been the drive to the rectory? A low wall stretched out from the pillars so armed with a camera and camcorder, Cat climbed over and went exploring. Lynx, Louise and Lesley stayed by the roadside, shouting ‘duck!’ whenever a car drove past, and studied the old map as though we were lost. MI5, if you need spies who specialise in ghosts, give us a call. Louise fitted in well with Calamityville’s ‘borderline criminal/unscripted’ style of investigating :D After Cat returned from her trespassing adventure, Lynx found a map dated 1984 which showed the position of the rectory in relation to a more modern landscape. Using this, we concluded the rectory was behind this red brick farmhouse. We studied the map then the house, only to be disturbed by a woman knocking on the window. Louise went over to see what she wanted. Apparently our filming was invading their privacy, despite the fact we weren’t filming their house. The only thing Lynx was filming was the map on the phone.

Borley Rectory

possible site of Borley Rectory

Deciding to call it a day, we finished the hunt in the traditional Calamityville way – in a haunted pub. This pub was The Bull in Long Melford. Apparently two men had been fighting about politics when one stabbed the other. His body was placed in the hall, but when someone returned to it, it had gone. He is said to haunt room 4. We asked the girl on reception about the ghost but she’d only been working there three weeks. We have a knack for finding the newest member of staff and telling them their workplace is haunted.

We headed back to Lesley’s to finish the evening in the best possible way – playing Cards Against Humanity. Lesley’s Taekwondo friends and an old school friend joined us. We’re not normally great in large groups, but Cards Against Humanity is a brilliant ice breaker. We actually met our mate Tom through playing Cards Against Humanity. We crawled into bed at 2 a.m. (after the clocks had gone back) only to be woken at 7:30 by guys moving metal trolleys around outside. Guys, while your early morning enthusiasm is admirable, it wasn’t welcome. We got home at 1:40 p.m., allowing us enough time to bath our iguana, write this blog post and get ready for tonight’s Halloween event – Frightmare. Yes, we’ll be back on the road heading to Gloucester dressed as ghost ship pirates. We cannot wait. The Bull

 

Scardiff

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” was our psychologist’s mantra. We really need to stop listening to him. Because we keep doing it. Yesterday we went to Scardiff, Cardiff’s horror con for the first time. And we were terrified. Yes horror is supposed to be scary, but we were scared for a different reason – because we were pitching one of our novels to the Dragon’s Pen pitching panel. We had three novels to choose from. You can read the post about our deliberation here. In the end we went with Silent Dawn. We knew it would be a big risk because we only finished writing it a fortnight ago and it’s only had one edit. We’re firm believers in the saying “go big or go home.” This was our 50 word pitch:

“Silent Dawn isn’t real. She’s a terrifying computer game character who erodes players’ sanities. Just because she’s been linked to disappearances centuries ago, doesn’t mean she’s real. Just because game aspects appear in reality, or because people start vanishing, doesn’t mean she’s real. Just because she’s standing in the corner…” *cue creepy pointing at corner* Yes we make pointing creepy.

We rewrote that pitch about 5 times and that doesn’t include all the redrafts we did on the 5 different versions. We also had to read the first page. We took our mate Tom with us for moral support. Well, to stop us fleeing. All he’d have to do is ankle tap with his cane and we’d face plant in a pile of curses and chunky chain boots.

Scardiff

us with Honey

As soon as we entered the Masonic hall, we headed straight for the guy with the reptiles. (Animal Zone UK) After harassing the tortoises, we held a royal python. The guy takes in reptiles after people have bought them then realise how big they grow, how much care they need or are bored with them. Kinda like what we do. We were tempted to slip him a business card and tell them there are vacancies at Casa Raven, especially for anything tortoise-shaped. He asked if we wanted to hold an even bigger snake. Naturally we said “hell yeah” so he fetched a lemon Burmese Python called Honey. Think we were the only people who squealed at her cuteness. She weighed 4 stone which is over half our body weight. We wore her like a scarf and would’ve gladly kept her on all day. The guy also had tarantulas but we were already petrified about the upcoming pitch and didn’t fancy having a panic attack whilst holding a constrictor.

author A.S. Cummings

author A.S. Cummings

We then wandered, checking out all the stalls. There were a lot of authors there with stalls so we spoke to a few of them and bought their books/comics and got them to sign them. We even joked that one author now had to get himself hit by a bus so we could make a fortune from his autograph. We’re hoping to try and get a stall ourselves next year to sell our books but as we’re unknown, we don’t think this is likely. We met a girl who recognised us from when we wrote a review on Monstrous Productions’ play of Mort in the new year. She’s going to be in their upcoming performance of Wyrd Sisters, which we’re going to.

Scardiff

one of the sfx people

We sat and composed ourselves with Red Bull before heading back downstairs. We had twenty minutes to go until Dragons Pen started. By now the nerves were devouring our stomachs. We hadn’t eaten all day. There’s only one thing that helps calm us – animals. Luckily, we knew exactly where some were. So it was back to Animal Zone UK. This time we cwtched an Argentine black and white Tegu. Luckily we’re used to our iguana’s claws so we didn’t mind the scratching. He was easier to cwtch than Kyler ‘cos he was bigger and not so rough and spiky. We now realise there’s a Tegu-shaped hole in our lives to match the tortoise-shaped one.

Lynx with the Tegu

Lynx with the Tegu

It was time.

P1090830We entered the temple, which was decked out in dark wood with throne style chairs. We wanted them. But we thought we’d be noticed trying to sneak large thrones out of the hall then stand around outside while we wait for a lift. We spoke to one of the organisers, Rebecca, who we’d been in email contact with about the pitch. Turned out, she saw us walking Bandit on Friday! We still had our turquoise hair then and were wearing our long military coats, but she recognised us. We had to sit at the front, right by the dragons. Tom was a few rows back, armed with our video camera to capture what we were sure would be our public humiliation. We were fourth up. We couldn’t stop shaking. We’ve done loads of readings, hell, we’ve even read at a literary festival, but this was worse. This was before publishers who could tear into our work and leave us with the feeling we should quit writing completely. We don’t even recall what the first pitch was as  we were too nervous to tune in, made worse by the fact we were sitting so close to the dragons. We can’t make eye contact with people. It’s one of the many issues our therapist is working on with us. By ‘working on’ we mean she keeps encouraging us to do it and we keep refusing.

Scardiff

the dragons

Luckily the dragons weren’t critical of anyone. We presumed that pitching to publishers meant there was a chance someone would be taken on, but it wasn’t that at all, it was just a critique session. If we’d known that, we probably wouldn’t have been that nervous. We’re narked with ourselves though because everybody else had printed out their pitches for the dragons to read while they narrated. We’ve not come across this before – it was a pitch, not a reading session. We weren’t told to do this yet everybody else seemed to know about it. And one of their criticisms to us was that they wanted to read it themselves. Which made us even more furious with ourselves for not printing it out. We think “we’d have liked to have read it” was code for “your speech problems and weird Cardiff accents meant we couldn’t understand a single word.” It’s often been said that we need to carry flash cards with us so people can understand us and we’re beginning to think they’re right.

They said our writing was evocative and poetic, they liked the asylum setting and said it was a big idea but it didn’t go into the character immediately. The opening page sees Drake playing the game. But it’s not actually Drake who features, it’s his computer game character. The game is the focus for the opening scene because it’s an important element of the story, as that’s Silent Dawn’s world. The opening doesn’t go into Drake’s character because it’s not really him. But at least they didn’t tell us to scrap it/never darken writing’s door again which is what we’d feared. As soon as all the pitches were done and the session ended, we legged it. Think some of the pitchers stayed to speak to the dragons but we fled like coulophobes from clown college.

We hung around outside waiting for our lift and chatting to Tom’s ex housemates, who were totally nuts. We liked them :D The wind was really strong so we had to battle it while wearing dresses, fishnets and underwear that wasn’t public appropriate. One of the organisers (we think) hunted us down and told us we’d done a good job, which was nice. Will we pitch next year if there’s one? Not sure we can stand that level of fear and nerves again!

Dark Moon Rises

We finally have somedark moon digest issue 17 good news to share – our plague doctor short story, City of the Dead is out now in Dark Moon Digest Issue 17. You can get it here – Amazon UK  Amazon US. Many thanks to the talented Anya Breton for beta reading this version and the novella version. Your expertise is invaluable, especially pointing out when you can’t see the scene because we haven’t described it. We forget not everyone can see into our minds :D

Synopsis: City of the Dead is a gothic horror set during Edinburgh’s 1645 plague outbreak. The plague doctor dies from the disease after a week, so the Council hires student doctor Alex McCrae, promising him one hundred pounds to cure the wretched pest. However, they can’t afford to pay McCrae and hope he’ll succumb to the disease. Unknown to them, McCrae’s friend, James created an immortality elixir. When McCrae fights for the money he’s owed, the Council decide the plague isn’t the only way to kill a man. But in the city of the dead, it’s not just ghosts who return.

Word of warning though – after writing this story, we extended it into a novella, which is currently unpublished, so if you don’t want to know how the novella ends, don’t read the short story, because the ending is the same.

In other news, October is meant to be the month for all things scary and on October 19th, Cardiff is having a horror con – Scardiff. We’re very excited about it, but we’re also terrified because they have Dragon’s Pen, a pitching panel for writers to pitch their novels to four people in the publishing industry: Adam Nevill, horror author and commissioning editor; Scott Harrison, writer, editor and screenwriter; Dan Coxon, editor of literary magazine Litro; and Christopher Teague, owner of Pendragon Press. The idea is you read a 50 word pitch and the first page of your novel. That’s not the scary part. The scary part is you have to do it in front of an audience, with the potential of having your book torn apart by these guys. In front of everyone. That’s the bit that’s terrifying us. It’s much easier to write a 50,000 word novella than it is to write a 50 word pitch. Ever since we put our names forward, we’ve regretted that moment of boldness and what came over us. It was probably anger. Most of our bravery and productivity is achieved when in a fit of rage.

We’ve been trying to choose between Bleeding Empire, our urban fantasy about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and The Malignant Dead, the novella version of City of the Dead *points* (we changed the title because there are way too many books called City of the Dead.) The synopsis above is actually the 100 word version of the pitch, because we were originally told it was 100 words, but now the website says 50, so we’ve done both. Bleeding Empire went down well at the Salem literary festival in May, but we’re not sure it’s horror enough for the panel. Yes people die brutally, but the comedy outweighs the horror. We’d written a pitch for our latest novella, Silent Dawn, which is about three teenagers addicted to a computer game, Silent Dawn: Asylum but the more they play it, the more Silent Dawn erodes their sanity, until they can’t tell reality from illusion. We loved writing the story and it’s straight horror, but we’ve only just finished the first draft, so if they liked it and asked to see the rest of it, we’d be buggered.

Or we can disguise ourselves, give ourselves fake names and read all three and see which one they prefer. If it was just a case of doing a reading, like we did at the festival, it wouldn’t be so bad. But this could potentially land us a publishing deal. And if we pick the wrong book, we could completely jeopardise our chances. This is a massive decision. We can’t make that kind of decision! We struggle to decide which chocolate bar to eat for a snack! Perhaps we should consult the Magic 8 ball, although its advice is often harsh.

“Magic 8 ball, will the pitching panel like Bleeding Empire?”

Magic 8 ball “you may rely on it.”

“Will the pitching panel like The Malignant Dead?”

“YES”

“Should we risk Silent Dawn?”

“Better not tell you now.”

Glares. “Should we risk Silent Dawn?”

“Without a doubt.”

You’re not helping Magic 8 ball!

 

Long Live the King

Berkeley castleWhen most people visit a castle, it’s to see the building or to absorb the history. We went to hear a king’s dying screams.

On September 21st in 1327, King Edward II was murdered in Berkeley Castle, and on the anniversary of his death, his screams are said to echo around the room. His murder would not be out of place in Game of Thrones and would probably be the plot had Cersei married Renly instead of Robert. Edward married Isabella in 1308 when he was 24 and she was 13. Edward was known to have male lovers, known as his ‘favourites’. One of these was Piers Gaveston. Edward’s father disliked Gaveston and had him exiled but when Edward II took the throne in 1307, he recalled him to England. Gaveston had too much influence over Edward and was exiled again. He disobeyed the order, believing Edward would help him. In 1312, Edward’s cousin, the Earl of Lancaster kidnapped Gaveston in Scarborough Castle and took him to Warwick Castle. He was marched to Blacklow Hill, run through with a sword then beheaded. His ghost haunts Scarborough Castle and lures people off the battlements.

Edward found a new favourite – Hugh Despenser the younger. There’s no evidence to suggest theirs was a homosexual relationship, but he had as much influence over Edward as Gaveston had. Isabella hated Despenser and it’s rumoured he tried to rape her. In 1321, Lancaster seized Despenser’s lands and forced Edward to exile the Despenser family. In retaliation, Edward led a short military campaign against Lancaster and executed him before calling Despenser back to England.Berkeley castle

In 1325, Isabella went to France on a diplomatic mission and fell in love with Roger Mortimer, an exiled opponent of Edward’s. Mortimer’s grandfather had killed Despenser’s grandfather and Despenser vowed revenge against him. In 1326, Isabella and Mortimer invaded England with an army of 1500 and the English nobility’s support. Edward’s habit of taking people’s lands to give to his favourites made him unpopular. Edward and Despenser were captured in Neath. Despenser was ordered to be hanged as a thief, drawn and quartered as a traitor, disemboweled for procuring discord between the king and queen, and beheaded for returning to England.

Edward was imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle before being moved to Berkeley. Any nobles who were wanted dead but not murdered were kept in a windowless cell next to a 28ft deep dungeon where animal carcasses, excrement and the occasional peasant’s corpse were thrown. It was hoped the smell would kill him. Although Edward fell ill, he recovered. Eventually the order was given to kill Edward but leave no marks. He was taken to a bedroom and pinned face down to the bed. A horn or funnel was inserted into his anus, followed by a red hot poker. It was a common execution for homosexuals.

Calamityville Horror at Berkeley castleNeen is still working on the film set, so we took our mate, Tom. He’s never been ghost hunting. We texted him saying we were running late as we’d been in our grampy’s attic looking for squirrels. He said from anyone else it would sound like a fake excuse. From us, he knows it’s real. The trip started badly when our tablet malfunctioned and our documents disappeared. It took several panicky minutes of checking every folder until we found them. Strangely, we didn’t get lost, even though Tom is worse with directions than we are, despite living in Gloucester for most of his life. This wasn’t looking hopeful, especially as we’d left our directions in the boot. We rocked up to the castle and immediately spotted a dressing up area. We probably should’ve warned him a day out with us is like herding cats. We spot something exciting and go running off, usually in different directions. We rushed over and dressed up – Lynx as a knight with a card crown and Cat donning a fancy gown. We did our filming piece about the ghosts whilst wearing these costumes. You have to look smart when you meet royalty. Then Tom dressed as a knight for our group photo. Coming out with Calamityville means you get sucked into the crazy whether you want to or not.Berkeley castle

We weren’t allowed to wear the dressing up clothes inside the castle. Probably just as well because Cat’s gown was proving very dangerous. We told one of the volunteers we were there because it was Edward’s anniversary and we wanted to hear his dying screams. She revealed that every year on his anniversary, somebody would leave a red rose outside his cell and also at his tomb at Gloucester cathedral. They never knew who did it until one day it stopped. She warned us and a couple that the steps leading up to the castle were deliberately different heights to trip invaders. We made the couple go first and told them we would be watching. Sadly, they didn’t trip. However we did on several occasions.Berkeley castle

We entered the Keep where Edward was held and spent a long time doing an EVP session at the dungeon. Then Tom spotted Edward’s cell. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside it as the room was sealed and we’d forgotten to bring our grappling hooks to enter from the outside. (Note to selves, always pack a grappling hook). We asked Edward to scream for us. He refused. He had the opportunity to star on Calamityville and he turned it down. One tortured scream, that’s all we asked for. Guess our reputations have reached the spirit world.

dungeon at Berkeley castleWe eventually explored the rest of the castle, which is beautiful then we headed into the gardens. Tom found a narrow passageway in the wall so went in – already adopting the Calamityville attitude of exploring away from prying eyes. We followed then there was a right angle turn and the passage narrowed. Cat went on ahead in the dark and said “I can’t see what I’m standing on.” Then she fell down a drain. We all made it to the end to find we were under the castle. Tom picked up his first Calamityville injury by bashing his shoulder on a low piece of wall and Lynx also fell down the drain. In the garden was a small stone building that we intend to use as a writing shed when we conquer the castle. There were also cool trees so we climbed them, even though our long skirts were not practical for tree climbing. There was also what we all dubbed ‘the evil tree’ as it was all twisted and set in a circular ditch, clearly having crawled its way out of hell. Cat swung off it and hurt her wrist, verifying our belief in its evil. Then we remembered we’d forgotten to use our new Ghost Radar Legacy app on our Nexus by Edward’s cell. Cursing, we switched it on and were discussing the tree. The Ghost Radar said “branch.” We returned to the castle and Edward’s cell and Lynx filmed the Nexus. The Ghost Radar said “camera.” Other than that it had nothing to say.Berkeley castle

cell where Edward II died

Edward II’s cell

We hung out near the dungeon while a guide gave a tour. She said there were 3 versions of the story – the poker, he was smothered or he escaped and lived happily ever after. We glowered like Gorgons. No. He got the poker treatment. We refuse to accept any other version. We didn’t come to listen to muffles. The Radar was showing coloured blobs in the dungeon, which apparently means a ghost is near. When we moved back to Edward’s cell, we offered Tom as a gift to Edward. We’d Google imaged Edward’s ‘favourites’ and Tom didn’t look like them (they were unattractive with ridiculous hair) but we thought it was worth a try. A red blob glowed on the radar, which meant a strong presence. Clearly Edward was pleased with our offering. Probably should’ve warned Tom he would be offered as a gift to a murdered ghost. But that’s what happens when you’re a guest on Calamityville: there is a strong possibility you will be sacrificed.

We drove to Gloucester cathedral, again without getting lost or nearly dying. We happened to show up when there was an art exhibition on. This type of thing always happens to us. Though we usually turn up at someone’s wedding.  We bought filming and photography permits then dashed through the cathedral to join the crypt tour. We’d imagined the crypts to be filled with cobwebs, winding passageways and mummified corpses just waiting for us to awaken them and unleash them on the unsuspecting our guests. Like our tomb will be.

Gloucester cathedral

Gloucester cathedral

There were lots of statues from the exhibition. One of them looked like a Targaryen dragon egg. We wanted to sneak it out and hatch it in a fire. We’ve never owned a dragon and setting fire to our enemies would be a great party trick. We tracked down Edward II’s tomb and got out the Ghost Radar. We couldn’t do an EVP session as the organ was deafening, but the Ghost Radar helpfully supplied us with words such as “coal” and “cotton.” We think it was a bit confused. We found amazing skull sculptures and a wheel made of broken metal skeletons that we wanted to buy. However there’s no way we could ever afford to buy something that come from an exhibition and getting it home in the Mini would be tricky.

Gloucester cathedral crypt

the crypts

We walked to Blackfrairs Priory, which is rumoured to be haunted by monks. Monks are very keen on haunting places. Leading deprived, pious lives is clearly a one-way ticket to ghosthood. Unfortunately the priory was closed, despite the website telling us otherwise. So we found some big foam dominoes and spelled out C.A.T.S. to alert people to our visit. Though we couldn’t put the full stops in, so people won’t think ‘ooh C.A.T.S. Calamityville Horror have been here’, they’ll think ‘someone really likes cats’. And thus ended our first ghost hunting adventure since the beginning of August. We brought Tom home with us to meet the animal army though 3 cats were AWOL and the snake went into hiding but the others made an appearance.P1090542

It was so good to get back out there instead of just lurking in our writing shed like we’ve done all summer. It was a fantastic day and even better – Tom wants to come back out on more adventures! So you’ll be seeing a lot more of him on Calamityville. Though we probably won’t sacrifice him every episode.

Edward II tomb at Gloucester cathedral

us at Edward II tomb

The Big Bang

We leave the house for half an hour and return to find the main road outside our street barricaded off because someone put a bomb in the tax offices.

We did not expect that on a cloudy Thursday morning.

Oddly, the police officer let us drive through the barricade to reach our street. Everyone else was turned away. The other drivers must have thought we were superheroes, dashing to the rescue in our hot pink Smartcar, canine sidekick at the ready. Or that we were bomb fodder. While most sensible people would probably be trying to find safety, we were desperate to get home. You see, the tax offices are opposite our street. And our animal army were all at home. Our sister Sarah also happened to be out and about in Llanishen – on the other side of the tax offices to where we were. By now police had evacuated the tax offices and Morrisons supermarket, which is next door to them. But not the residents. Guess we’ll just have to perish then. They hadn’t even told the residents why all of a sudden Llanishen was the place to be. It hasn’t been this popular since…well, never. People were gathered on the Glider field. Which is the worst place to stand as it’s right by the offices and if they exploded, those people would be the first ones wiped out. But the two local pubs were doing well out of this. Ty Glas Road was lined with ambulances, riot vans and the bomb squad. And they’re doing gas works all along Ty Glas Road too. This is the most excitement Llanishen has ever seen. And to think we used to think it was dangerous having the ammunition factory across the road 20 odd years ago. Was it something to do with the anniversary of 9/11? Or was someone really sick of filling out their tax form?

Our sister managed to hoodwink a police officer and he confirmed that there was a suspicious package inside the tax offices and that everyone had been evacuated. We hoped to Red Bull they wouldn’t attempt to evacuate us. For the first time ever, we realised amassing an animal army could result in us being scattered across Cardiff in tiny pieces. Sarah offered to lend assistance should the evacuation order be given. We have enough carriers for the cats and rabbits (well someone would have to share. That won’t end well) and there’s a carry case for the snails. That leaves pup, the iguana, the duck and the snake. We’d have to work out an exit strategy, one that didn’t end in a massive brawl with fur, feathers, scales and slime flying everywhere. Never mind our house, we were more upset that our newly dungeonised writing shed might go up in flames.

We then heard through the grapevine that it was a bomb. Things like this just don’t happen in Llanishen. People don’t even know where Llanishen is! (North Cardiff) You mention it and they stare blankly. Then you say “tax offices” and suddenly everyone knows it. Yep. The goddamn tax offices are our district’s most famous landmark. Quite frankly we’re surprised this has been the first ever attempt to take them down. The first time Llanishen gets put on the map is the day it’s nearly blown off it.

Postie was in our street around half one and we overheard him mentioning an explosion. About ten minutes later, there was a bang! Dogs started barking. About five minutes after that, there was an even louder bang! The dogs ignored that one. The bomb squad had been there for about 4 hours now. They all started leaving after that. The tax offices are still standing. Here’s the news article link and the update. They did do a controlled experiment and said the package turned out to be harmless. Perhaps they bought it from ACME. Really hope they didn’t just spend five hours barricading Llanishen only to detonate somebody’s lunch.

tax offices, Llanishen

the tax offices, as seen from our house

Puppy dog tales

We’ve not been great at blogging lately. Mostly because things on the writing side can be summed up with “nothing happens.” We could post regular updates on the rejections but that would be boring and we’d run out of space. And we haven’t been ghost hunting since early August so there’s nothing happening there either. Mostly we’re waiting for things to happen – for rejections to come in and for ghost hunting to begin again, which will probably be November. But then November has NaNoWriMo, so that will hamper things.

So instead, this post is about a new addition to the animal army. Seven years ago, we lost our 12 year old Staffy cross Lab, Bruce. No, he wasn’t a Staffrador or a Labdfordshire or whatever stupid combination names people give to dogs that are clearly cross breeds, just so they can sell them as a breed and get more money (think Cockerpoo, Labradoodle, Jackerpoo. Those aren’t breeds! They’re cross breeds! Mongrels. It’s not a dirty word.)  We’ve always had mongrels and they don’t need fancy names. Bru’s death was the worst day of our life. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks previously and we were told he had two weeks to live. At the same time, our eldest dog, Jack, a Jack Russell cross with other breeds was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and we were told he had six months. He lived for another 18 months until he was 17 and died 6 years ago. Last year, our sister’s dog, Misty, a Jack Russell cross Spaniel, cross crazy beans, died aged 14. We carry their photos with us in headstone shaped lockets that we wear every day. If the Victorians can have mourning jewellery, so can we. Losing our boys and then Misty (who was a regular visitor) hurt so badly we swore we’d never have another dog.

But things don’t always work out that way.

Our sister, Sarah, wanted another dog and started visiting rescue centres. Our mum decided that as Sarah was getting one, we should get one too, as they’d be spending a lot of time together. We were against the idea. You read that right. For once it was us saying no to a pet. This has never happened. On a weekly basis we’re trying to get around our mum’s pet ban by telling her how cute these baby tortoises were that winked at us, or that an elephant would make a welcome addition to the household and that our house is seriously lacking in the penguin/goat/pig department. But we did not want another dog. We always swore the only way we’d get another dog is if it was from a rescue centre. Breeders see their dogs as nothing more than cash machines to be discarded once they can no longer make them money. The number of ex-breeding dogs in dogs home is disgraceful, most of them less than 6 years old. Eventually, we were persuaded to go to Cardiff Dogs Home to have a look. It was like a prison and upset us for the rest of the day. So much so, we put in a formal complaint to the council, who said they would investigate it. The home wanted us to bring our cats to meet the dogs, in a carrier. Anyone who has ever met a cat, will know how the cat will react to that. The only one of ours that wouldn’t freak out, is Spectre. But she’s 15 and doesn’t deserve that ordeal. It is a stupid idea that will only traumatise the cat. It’s supposed to be so they can see how a dog will react. Dogs react differently to a cat in a carrier to one that is either hissing at them, slapping them or running away. When we mentioned this to other rescue centres, they were horrified.

On Friday we went to the RSPCA in Newport, which Sarah said was a lovely place. It was closed due to NATO. So we went to Crofts Kennel in Bridgend. They brought a 6 month old Lurcher (Greyhound cross with either Collie or Terrier) called Harly to meet us. It was love at first sight. He came straight to us, cwtched up to us and in five minutes, he decided he was coming home with us.

P1090337Who were we to say no?

Then we found out Lurchers aren’t great with small furries, as they’re bred to be hunting dogs. Seeing as we have 4 cats, two rabbits, a duck, iguana, corn snake and 4 African snails, this wasn’t looking good. We’ve been on several Lurcher forums and they’ve all said it is possible to integrate Lurchers with furries. Some even posted photos of their Lurchers lounging with their cats. However we have a rule in Casa Raven: once an animal is here, it will never leave. It doesn’t matter how long it will take to train him not to chase the cats, he is staying.

P1090316As soon as we got him home, we got out the basket of dog toys that we’d kept. He spent ages rifling through it, pulling out different toys. He didn’t know what to play with first. He’s a quick learner and has already been desensitized to the rabbits. He’s not interested in Peking Duck and she’s not bothered by him. Although it’s hard training him not to torment the rabbits when Peking is standing by the pen, trying to peck the rabbits through the chicken wire. He is great with our five year old niece and it already feels like he’s been here forever. Apparently you can be creative with Lurchers’ training, as they’re intelligent and obedient. We’re thinking we could train him to hunt ghosts instead of small furries, so one member of Calamityville will be a professional, because let’s face it, it will never be us. Although we don’t hold out much hope on training him to hunt ghosts when we can’t convince him not to eat his bed.

He just needs a name. A long list was drawn up: Krueger, Jigsaw, Ash, Bram, Frankenstein, Milton, Marlowe, Hamlet, Jensen, Jazz, Cruz, Rogue, Bandit, Zero, Scraps, Bone Jangles, Harker, Messamilano, and our personal favourite, Van Helsing. Our mum has vetoed Van Helsing and won’t negotiate. We then had a shortlist of Jazz, Jensen, Cruz, Bandit and Rogue (and secretly Van Helsing, which we keep calling when we’re alone in the hopes he will answer to it. Mostly he just looks embarrassed). Today we’re down to Bandit or Rogue. We’ve given him the option of choosing his name, but he’s not interested in anything that doesn’t involve eating. He seems to have a fondness for paper, which means our niece will be able to say “the dog ate my homework” and it won’t be a lie :D We’d better keep a close eye on our manuscripts.P1090321

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