Day of the Dead

Red Bull MiniDay 3 of Edinburgh – after one of the worst night’s sleep in a while, we woke to find the Red Bull Mini parked below our window like a love-struck Romeo ready to serenade us and awaken us with the amber nectar that is Red Bull. Now we’re the least romantic people you’ll meet but damn it we fell for his efforts. While Neen and Elaine headed for the cafe on Blair Street for breakfast, we spent our time wisely – harassing the Red Bull Mini. Someone even thought we were the reps. We had to explain that no, we just really loved Red Bull. Is it weird admitting to strangers you’ve written songs about an energy drink?Red Bull Mini

We met up with our fellow travellers in the cafe and headed for the Dungeons. As we reached the doors, Elaine realised she’d left her ticket in Travelodge. We told the Dungeons we would return and we parted ways. Neen and Elaine headed to Princes Street to do some shopping and we returned to Old Town. First stop – Red Bull. Mission accomplished, we toured the closes of Old Town, filming short information pieces on them as they’re the locations used in our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead. One of them happens to be on the street where our Travelodge is. It’s the scene of a double murder. When we discovered our Travelodge was on this street, we were so excited. It’s not often you get to stay in a place where you kill two characters. Maybe their vengeful ghosts were the reason we weren’t sleeping…We’ll put the filming together so when the book is released, people will be able to see the streets featured in it. Obviously they looked a little different in 1645 – there weren’t wheelie bins and scaffolding back then. Though we spent most of our time nearly getting run down by cars or vans. When we’re casually wandering Edinburgh this doesn’t happen, but if we stand in the road with a camera pointing at us, suddenly we become targets. There were 2 people playing Scottish music near the Mercat cross. It’s hard to film a piece whilst trying to resist doing a jaunty jig in the middle of High Street.

Burke's skin card case

card case made from Burke’s skin

We headed for the Witchery Shop where we bought a replica of the newspaper featuring Burke and Hare’s trial, a skull box and 3 keyrings – tombstone, coffin and ghost. Then we found what we had been searching for – the card case made from Burke’s hand skin. Finally we had caught up with the infamous body snatcher. We stared at it in awe, filming and photographing it as the shop worker sat behind it, probably a little nervous at our ghoulish delight. Unfortunately the case was in a glass case so we couldn’t touch it :( But we did chat to the worker about it and our failed attempt at finding Burke’s skeleton. He told us it isn’t in the Surgeon’s Hall like we’d been told but in the anatomy museum of the university. It’s still used as a teaching tool. The anatomy museum is only open to the public on the last Saturday of the month. When we weren’t there. Howls of rage echoed around the tiny shop. Infuriatingly, we’d originally planned to be in Edinburgh on that day but couldn’t get cheap rooms or the flight times we wanted. It seems Burke is outwitting us from the beyond the grave. There’s only one thing for it – we have to return to Edinburgh. And this time, we will plan our trip around the times when we can view the skeleton. People have planned trips around worse reasons.

execution site on Grassmarket

execution site on Grassmarket

Later we headed to Grassmarket to meet up with our fellow travellers. We found them trapped on the bus so waved and turned around, constantly taunting them as they were stuck in traffic :D We met up by the old execution site then ventured into Edinburgh’s oldest pub, The White Hart Inn, built in 1516. In The Malignant Dead, McCrae drinks in here. We filmed the corner where he sits. The guy who happened to be sitting in the corner started looking very paranoid as both us and the camera pointed at him. He was too far away to hear us talking about the book. We decided not to explain what we were doing, instead letting him wonder why he was the focal point for our filming :D A day isn’t complete until we’ve made at least one person nervous.

White Hart Inn

White Hart Inn with nervous man in white t-shirt

After finishing our vodkas and lemonades, we decided to head to a vegan cafe we’d heard about on Bread Street. It had closed down. So we wandered down Morriston Street to find the other vegan cafe we’d heard about. It was now boiling and Morriston Street was very long. We must’ve walked about half a mile when we finally found a sign for the cafe. It didn’t look very existent. In fact, it was starting to look like crack den. But the door to the building was open so we went in. As we were walking up the abandoned stairs, this was feeling more like the start to a horror film than a cafe. Did we do the sensible thing and turn around? No. Stories never start with “so we turned around and went home.” That would ruin the inbred cannibals’ fun. We reached the top to find doors locked and post piling up outside. Definitely closed then. And we’d walked all this way. Our zumba teacher commented on our FB post about this, saying how she loves our unique take on the world – we’ll walk for miles in the heat to find a vegan cafe but get really excited at seeing something made from human skin :D We found a really nice empty pub called The Priory. They had skull bottles on the wall. That was an automatic win for us. The waiter was really friendly, even if he did look like Austin Powers’s son.

The Priory Pub Edinburgh

skull bottles in The Priory Pub

We returned to Travelodge before heading back out to Frankenstein’s! Our favourite waitress, Bec, introduced us to the gloriousness that is chips in  ice cream. She is the first person we’ve met who wasn’t disgusted when we told her about the heavenly treat that is dipping chips in slush puppy. Then we made our way to the Dungeons. Edinburgh DungeonsThey were brilliant as always. Neen once again got put on trial for witchcraft. Not quite sure how this keeps happening. Maybe us constantly pointing at her and shouting “witch!” doesn’t really help. Luckily we’re in the 21 century and not 1649, or Neen’s fate would be so much worse. The only guy in the group got picked on for most of it :D There were 2 girls in their early twenties who were the obligatory screamers you get on every tour. We always have fun with screamers. You can spot them instantly – they’re usually 2 girls in the late teens/early twenties who spend the whole time clinging to each other, too scared to move on, and they shriek at the slightest thing. The girls got made to ride in the front of the boat as we headed to Sawney Bean’s cannibal caves. We love the boat ride, it’s pitch black and really creepy as you hear the cannibals hunting for you. The girls’ terror was intensified when they kept getting tickled. By Neen :D We bought ourselves a cuddly executioner from the gift shop. We named him Ketch, after the worst executioner in British history, Jack Ketch, who took 7 goes to sever James Scott’s head.

Ketch enjoying a Red Bull smoothie

Ketch enjoying a Red Bull smoothie

Edinburgh ghost bus

The Necrobus

9 p.m., it was time to climb aboard the Necrobus! The buses were used as funeral hearses to carry mourners, pallbearers and the coffin to the funeral, until a fire burned all but 2 buses. One is in London, the other in Edinburgh. They used to close the curtains if the coffin was on overnight as people believed spirits could become trapped in reflective surfaces. The bus was incredible. We want one. The tour was brilliant and a thick fog descended, making it eerily atmospheric. The views of Edinburgh were completely shrouded in the fog but we think it made the experience better. The conductor was hilarious. He even let us go downstairs for Neen to take our photo as we pretended to be the spirits trapped inside the windows. We wanted to spend the night on the bus but unfortunately, people seem to notice when we’re not among the group so we never get away with hiding until closing time.Edinburgh ghost bus

Then we finally made it to Banshee’s Labyrinth! Reputedly the most haunted pub in Edinburgh but what excited us was it used to be Bloody George MacKenzie’s house. Yes, the MacKenzie poltergeist we hunted for last year. It used to attack women in the house. And it’s now a pub and situated over one of the vaults where a banshee has been seen. It was stunning.

Banshee's Labyrinth

inside Banshee’s Labyrinth

Purple walls upstairs, red walls downstairs, black gothic furniture. It looked like our house. We found a gibbet in a tunnel so naturally put ourselves inside it. Unfortunately, the only spirit was inside our lemonade.Edinburgh ghost bus

Day at the Museum

National Museum of ScotlandDay 2 started with us finding a Red Bull Mini parked in the Travelodge car park. We were so excited! We decided to inject some culture into our lives and headed to the National Museum of Scotland. Was it in the search for the Ming exhibition? Or Scotland through the ages? No. It was to see William Burke’s skeleton. You see we had heard it was in the museum so we hurried in, excited. So excited we got stuck in the revolving doors and had to force our way free. Not quite the dignified entrance we’d hoped for, but frankly, Cat had left her dignity at the airport when she had to un-padlock our suitcase to get out the spare camera batteries out while the case was about to disappear on the conveyor belt, and Lynx’s dignity was stuck to the bollard with her knee skin. We’d never had a desire to visit Edinburgh until we learned of Burke and Hare. We know, most people want to visit a city because of its architecture, or a romantic ideal. We wanted to see the city where the body snatchers lived.

We’re terrible in museums. There’s always so much to look at it, we never know where to go first, which usually results in us standing still and pivoting until something shiny catches our eyes. And we’re always so excited about the exhibitions that we can’t read the information cards because we’re too impatient, so we never learn anything. Neen warned her mum it was like taking toddlers in. Oversized Gothic toddlers who squeal and clap at the sight of skeletons. Neen grabbed a map and we scanned it for Burke’s skeleton, which we assumed would be the jewel in the museum’s collection. It wasn’t mentioned. But dinosaurs were, so we hurried to the natural world section to look for T-Rex.  National Museum of ScotlandThere was a weighing scales where you could see what animal you weighed as the same as. Turns out, we’re somewhere between an emperor penguin and a komodo dragon. The top animal was a polar bear, so the four of us squeezed on to see if we could reach polar bear. We failed. A mum and her 2 kids were watching so we convinced them to join us. We still didn’t make it to polar bear! We called for more bodies. A little girl hopped on and we cheered as the polar bear target was reached.

We resumed our hunt for Burke’s skeleton and decided to visit Dolly the sheep. For those of you who don’t know her, she was the first ever cloned animal back in 1997. Now she’s in a glass case. Personally, we would have preferred for her to be buried. There’s something about taxidermy that really freaks us out. On the way to see Dolly, we spotted a shiny in the form of an Isetta bubble car and scuttled into the exhibition to look at it. Then we saw a Mini, followed by an early example of car. Then there was a case of typewriters and cameras. We nearly forgot about Dolly until Neen reminded us. In the section with Dolly was a game to test your reaction speed. Neen managed to hit 32 targets, Elaine got 27. Lynx only managed 15, barely beating Cat’s score of 12. In our defence, it was pre-Red Bull o’clock and those lights were really hard to see.National Museum of Scotland

Eventually, after wandering most of the museum, we gave in and asked someone where Burke’s skeleton was. He told us it was in the surgeon’s hall and showed us where it was on the map then went on to their site. It’s closed until summer 2015. A howl of disappointment rang out through the museum. To cheer ourselves up, we went to look at more dinosaurs. Then we spotted a tree tunnel in the kids section so went inside and crawled through, to strange looks from nearby children.

Then we visited a childhood museum. In the window was one of our favourite games when we were kids – the penguin race game. Our nan and grampy bought it for us and we would spend hours playing it. We had to buy it. (We’ve just set it up at home and have spent ages watching the cute little penguins climb the steps and go down the slide repeatedly while making penguin sounds. Mum “I don’t know how that kept you amused as kids.” Us “it’s keeping us amused now.”)

Next we hopped on a tour bus and went to Dynamic Earth. We got over excited at seeing the big plastic dinosaurs outside. Dynamic EarthDynamic Earth was really cool. It teaches you all about how the earth was formed, about volcanic eruptions, glaciers and takes you through different time periods. Normally it’s not a topic that interests us (not enough blood and gore for our liking), but it was a fascinating place and well worth a visit. Even if we did fall asleep during the super volcanoes video. Not through boredom but through not sleeping well and not drinking enough Red Bull. There was one little girl of about 8 or 9 who stared at us so much we were forced to take a different tour. It was either that or charge her a staring fee.Dynamic Earth

We got back on the bus and went to another of our favourite pubs – Jekyll & Hyde. There are cabinets with skulls, medical equipment, there’s chandeliers, gargoyles and the place is painted purple with black furniture. Like our room. The toilets are hidden behind a fake library wall. If we had a castle, the inside would look like this. Then it was back to Frankenstein’s!Jekyll & Hyde

The Cadies Witchery TourAt 9 we headed out for the Witchery Tour. It was brilliant. One of the best tours we’ve done. It was led by Adam Lyal (Deceased) and his sidekick “Steve” who at first was dressed as a plague doctor, with football socks and daps. Cat was accused of being a witch and put on trial. Her thumbs were placed in thumbscrews as she protested her innocence, to the cries of “witch!” “Burn her!” and “guilty!” from Lynx and Neen. There’s always one heckler on the tour. As the tour moved through the streets, we were accosted by “Steve” in various disguises, but the football socks and daps were a giveaway. He was hilarious. Don’t think we’ve ever laughed so much on a tour. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen a skeleton monk perform the Smooth Criminal dance and flash his thighs at us.The Cadies Witchery Tour

By the time we finished the tour, a thick fog shrouded Edinburgh. Eerily perfect for a witchery tour. We stopped to take photos and met 3 people who were on our tour. When we returned to Travelodge, the people we’d met were staying in our Travelodge! One of the guys said “are you stalking us or are we stalking you?” Cat replied “we’ve been stalking you for a while now, we’re so good at it you’ve only just noticed.” He replied “we’re on the 4th floor.” Neen said “we know.” After that, we bumped into them at the same spot in Travelodge (the lift) every day for the rest of our visit and even encountered them on the street. But we did learn that the Witchery shop has a card case made from Burke’s skin. So maybe we’ll get a glimpse of him after all…The Cadies Witchery Tour

Auld Reekie

We did what we swore we’d do since last year: we went back to Edinburgh. Neen was travelling up by train from Durham, where she and her family were staying so we flew up to meet her, accompanied by her mum, Elaine. Yes, we had adult supervision. Got to Edinburgh about 6:30 p.m., arriving on match day. We time our trips so perfectly. Neen was stuck in Newcastle waiting for her train so we were posting travelling selfies to each other on Facebook to pass the time. Our Travelodge was lovely and they even let us stash our soya milk in the fridge. Now we wished we’d brought Red Bull with us to save our daily game of ‘find the newsagents’. (On Friday that nearly resulted in an epic meltdown on the Canongate). One of the Travelodge workers was a fellow vegan and also not bad on the eyes. Actually, the number of pleasant-looking gentlemen spotted during the trip was record-breaking. We did a different sort of sight seeing this week ;)

On our way to get something to eat, we passed the Museum of Childhood and saw a penguin race game our nan and grampy gave us when we were kids. It was one of our favourite games. We were so excited that as we rushed over, Cat’s IR light mysteriously fell off the bracket, breaking the battery cover. So after we had been served in Nando’s, Cat asked what is possibly the strangest request they’ve ever had: did they have any gaffer tape. At first the man looked bemused and possibly scared, perhaps wondering whether the innocent question would lead to someone being taped kidnap-style to a chair, but when she explained, he went off to find some, no longer fearful of being complicit in a crime. Fifteen minutes passed and we assumed he’d forgotten all about it. But then he returned and said he’d been hunting for it the whole time but couldn’t find any. That’s customer service for you!

Frankenstein's pubWe headed for our favourite pub – Frankenstein’s. We ventured here every day during our trip.  We reckon they have a higher than average rate of good looking bar staff :D The gothic themed pubs in Edinburgh are incredible. This is something Cardiff is seriously lacking. But then Cardiff doesn’t have Edinburgh’s gothic literature past. We made a barmaid buddy, Bec, from Melbourne who was really cool and even introduced us to the combination of chips in ice cream. And she must be the first person who doesn’t find the idea of chips in Slush Puppy disgusting. For that she has earned our everlasting respect and deserves a pay rise, especially since we got her into trouble by hogging her attention. Frankenstein’s, it’s staff like her who keep people like us coming back. We spent some time playing in an electric chair, pretending to be electrocuted and amusing the guy sitting at the table next to it. In our defence, it wasn’t there last year.

As we left Frankenstein’s, Lynx saw a newsagent’s across the road. While wondering if it sold sellotape, she didn’t look where she was going. SPLAT! Straight into a concrete bollard. She somehow managed not to face plant, but she did graze both knees. Weirdly, although she did it in front of everyone who was sitting outside the restaurant right by her, the only people in hysterics were our group. Unfortunately, nobody was filming at the time, so the most epic fall on Calamityville has gone unrecorded.

Mercat tours blair street vaultsThen we headed for our first tour – the Blair Street vaults with Mercat Tours. We’d visited Auld Reekie’s and City of the Dead’s vaults last year. The vaults were amazing. Really atmospheric. We wish we could’ve spent the night there alone but writing doesn’t pay enough! When we were in the ‘safe’ vault, we stood in the corner where the cobbler is heard. Cat started feeling dizzy but it may have been the wobbly board she was standing on. Pregnant women tend to get pushed in these vaults but sadly there were no pregnant women there for us to test this theory. Even if there was, people get scared when you use the term ‘ghost bait’. We moved into Mr Boots’s vault, so called because of the heavy boots he wears. We stood right at the back in the most active area. The K2 meter, which had been registering 0 all the way around, rose to 1.5 in this vault, then dropped to 1 before rising back to 1.5.

Mercat tours Blair Street vaultsThis is where the tour ended so we loitered while everyone else left so we could take photos and spend some time in the vaults alone. Lynx had gone on a bit ahead while Cat stayed back to photograph the creepy corridors. She heard a scraping sound, almost like sawing and thought it might have been her Dungeons keyring rubbing her bag, so she stood still. The noise was still there. By now, she was the only person in this part of the vaults. She caught up with Lynx then we were standing near a skeleton in the cage when we both heard footsteps, really loudly, like cowboy boots marching through the vaults. We turned around, thinking a member of staff was coming up behind us to throw us out.

Mercat tours, Blair Street vaultsThere was no one there.

Neen came down to look for us as the guide, Lia, wanted to lock up. When we got upstairs, we asked her if there was anyone else in the vaults. She said no. Apparently there was someone else in the shop upstairs, but not in the vaults. We wondered if maybe someone had gone down to blow out the candles or check to make sure everyone (us) had left. Nobody had passed us, but the vaults have a lot of chambers, so it’s possible someone came down when we were in the vaults towards the back. In hindsight we wish we’d gone back down to check, but we were already pushing our luck by staying behind. As far as Lia knew, we were alone down there, but we can’t be sure.

Was Mr Boots trying to force us out of the vaults?Mercat tours, Blair Street vaults

Escaping the Asylum

Today is a historical day for us. Today we will leave the mental health system for the first time in 11 years because our psychologist, Neil, is retiring. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t a little anxious. We’ve never experienced adulthood without the mental health system. We get the sense the strait jacket dresses we bought last Halloween may be coming into use…Neil did offer us the choice to go with another psychologist, but we declined. It’s hard for us to open up to people and we’re not sure another psychologist could tune into our frequency as easily as Neil does.

It was nice knowing that when something went wrong, it wasn’t that long until we saw Neil and he’d help us sort it out. There is something comforting about having someone completely separate from your life who will back you up, help you out, or just listen to you rant and weep. Everyone should have a psychologist :D

We first saw a psychiatrist when we were 15, having been diagnosed with clinical depression at 14. We saw our psychiatrist for 2 years until an incident led to her never calling us back. To be honest, we didn’t find the sessions helpful, although she did prescribe us Propranolol for our panic attacks. Looking back, we weren’t completely honest with her. We were scared that if we told her everything we felt and thought about, or that we’d lock ourselves in our house, armed with knives, in case someone came to kill us, that she would have us locked away in Whitchuch. We were scared of our own minds and what we might be capable of. We tried going it alone for nearly 3 years, but we got worse. In the end we went back to our GP and told him needed help. He put us on the waiting list then when we were 20, we met our clinical psychologists, Neil and Andrew. They decided as we were experiencing the same problems, they would treat us together. Andrew later left to join the CRISIS mental health team. We don’t remember much of the first meeting (our memories are like black holes – the older we get, the more they swallow) but we do remember crying from pretty much start to finish. And it’s rare we’ll cry in front of people.

We haven’t been the easiest patients. Every time Neil would try to praise us or compliment us, our stock response would be “but you’re paid to say that.” Such smartarses :D He described us as ‘exotic’ and ‘paradoxes’. For the first time, someone got us. It took us a while to actually be willing to change. It might seem weird to people who have never suffered from depression or anxiety, but the idea of getting better terrified us. As much as we hated the depression and anxiety, they were familiar. Safe. We knew who we were. We didn’t like who we were, but we knew us. We were scared that we wouldn’t like the people we would become if we changed. People didn’t like us, what if they hated the new us more? The idea of not being depressed or anxious was so alien to us that when Neil would ask us what we would do if we were better, we couldn’t answer. Our whole lives had been under these demons’ control that it was unthinkable to imagine a life without them. He set us a challenge to write where we thought we’d be in 5 years’ time. At that point, we weren’t even sure if we’d still be around then. Turned out, 5 years later, Neil came to our first ever book reading at Waterstones when our first story was published. It was him who encouraged us to start submitting our stories. Without him, we would not be published authors.

Gradually we came to realise that Neil did actually like us and not because he was being paid to be nice to us :D And somewhere along the way, we became friends. After 7 years of bullying, we couldn’t see why anyone would like us. The kids in school found plenty of things to dislike about us, so we naturally assumed everyone else felt the same way. To this day, we struggle to see why people like us. We’re the same people we’ve always been. Neen will often tell us how much people we’ve met like us and we always respond with “but why? We don’t speak to people.”

When we first started battling our social phobia, Neil set us a challenge – we had to one scary thing every month for a whole year. The first thing we did was book tickets to see Rocky Horror in the theatre. One month, we sat outside Starbucks, too scared to go in. After half an hour, we drove away. We returned in the afternoon, but it was busier than it had been in the morning. Again, we drove away. It wasn’t until our first visit that we went inside and stayed. It wasn’t a comfortable experience, but we kept doing it. Social phobia isn’t just being anxious about social situations. There are more layers than that. The thought of ordering something left us cold inside. What if they didn’t have anything we liked? (A high probability as we’re extremely fussy.) What if there was nowhere to sit? We hated eating and drinking in public. When you have social phobia, it feels like everything you do is on a giant TV screen, with everyone watching every single tiny move you make. Eating in front of people was unbearable. Even smiling in public was unbearable. We used to practise what would we say so we wouldn’t mess it up and embarrass ourselves.

Now we embarrass ourselves all the time on YouTube :D

The end of that year resulted in us going to see My Chemical Romance in concert. Thanks to Neil we can now eat and drink in public. We can now use public toilets – something we wouldn’t even do when we were kids. We wouldn’t even use them in school. We can now go to the cinema, something we hadn’t done in 12 years. We go out to pubs, we go ghost hunting all around the country. We even flew to Edinburgh last year and are going back in a couple of weeks. When we first met Neil, we didn’t have any friends. Now we do. We’re now online – something which took him about 2 years to persuade us to do, as we feared being bullied online. We’ve been to gigs, a rock club, we’ve done poetry performances, done a reading at a literary festival. We do zumba, which involves two things we hated – people and dancing in front of people. And we love it. We started swimming again after an 18 year gap because the thought of wearing bathers in public terrified us. We used to be really good swimmers. When we started back up in October, we could only swim one length before stopping. Now we swim a mile non-stop. We’ve now joined a Boxercise class. And it’s all because of Neil. Because every time we go with our first instinct, which is to say no, we think ‘what would Neil say?’ Neil would say “go for it. Feel the fear and do it anyway.” We were going to say no to the reading at Salem Literary Festival, as all the other authors were highly successful and had been published for years. We’re nobodies. We’re not successful. Nobody’s even heard of us. We felt we had no right being there. But we heard Neil’s voice urging us to say yes. So we did. And it was brilliant. Everything we get invited to, we have to fight the automatic ‘no’ and say yes. Something we’d never have done without him.

To us, social interaction has always seemed like a game where everyone knew the rules, yet somebody had forgotten to give us the rulebook. We’d be on the outside looking in, not understanding a single thing that went on. To be honest, we still haven’t fully grasped it, but now we make up our own rules. And we don’t care if we get it wrong. We used to consider ourselves failures because we didn’t have what everyone else had, what our family had – a well paid job, their own home, marriage kids etc., society’s view of ‘success’. He said to us “is that what you want?” we immediately said “no. That’s exactly what we DON’T want. It’s our version of Hell.” Neil “then how is that successful?” Us “society says that’s successful.” Neil “but that’s not YOUR version of successful is it?” And he was right. We were comparing ourselves to other people. But we didn’t want what they had. We wanted something different. From that point on, it changed our view of what success was, and it wasn’t the typical set-up society presented. A nice house, good job, marriage, kids etc. is fine for other people. But not for us. So this is why at 31, we still live with our mum. Society says this is wrong and we should be living elsewhere but we no longer care what society says. We’d rather live here and be able to afford to travel the country ghost hunting and buy what we want rather than being permanently broke just for the sake of having a place we can’t afford so society accepts us. We don’t have a well paid job – we earned £300 between us last year for writing – and we’re single. And we love it. We’re full time writers (which we couldn’t do without our mum’s support), part time ghost hunters and we can spend all day with the animal army. THAT’S what we’ve always wanted. Although it would be nice to be successful writers…

We haven’t won the war against our social phobia and depression, but we win the small battles every time we say yes. We still don’t like doing certain things – like ordering at the bar, walking into a crowded place, making phone calls, but now we do them. We don’t let fear dictate what we do. Well, not always. You can’t win every battle. And some weeks we won’t leave the house for days. But that’s no longer because of the social phobia. It’s because we’re natural hermits and leaving the house means interrupting writing time :D

It’s not every day you meet someone who changes your life and saves you from yourself, so thank you Neil.

Omelette on the Rampage

We’re very excited today because we have another guest in Ravens Retreat. There hasn’t been a guest for a while – probably because of the rumour that those who visit Ravens Retreat never leave. That’s not true. They are free to leave whenever they like. They just have to make it out of the dungeon first :D Anyway, our guest today is the lovely and hilarious Sharon, all the way from Scotland. She’s the author of The Tangled Web, the highly successful Leger Cat sleuth stories and she’s here to talk about her latest release which combines two things we love: horror and humour. And you don’t get more humorous than an omelette on a rampage. So welcome Sharon, have a seat in our throne room and when you’re done, our hunky servant will show you the way to the dungeon. We mean exit.

Lacey DearieMy name is Sharon and I write using the pseudonym Lacey Dearie.  I want to reach out to people thinking of switching genres because recently for a short time, that is what I tried to do.  Writing horror was never part of my plan.  I always intended to write women’s fiction.  I even chose my pseudonym based on what I thought would appeal to my target audience.  However, the majority of readers who downloaded my work hated it for no reason other than that it was low-brow chick-lit.  I had to have a re-think because I use my royalties to pay bills.   I rely on writing income to survive but since I have no contract with a publisher, that means I can write anything I want, doesn’t it?  Okay, so my attempt at romance was reviewed as “awkward and weird,” and “the weirdest title I have read on my Kindle,” but I made an impression.

I began writing cozy mysteries about a cat detective and launched a lingerie blog.  It wasn’t chick-lit but I was subconsciously reaching out to the same demographic.  I still needed to do something else.  I wanted to prove I’m not all about cats and knickers (but really, I am).  I needed to show the world I can write characters who aren’t winos and whose lives aren’t a series of embarrassing disasters they’ll relate to their friends later.  I write enough of those stories about my own life on my personal blog!

I decided to dip into erotic horror.  I discarded all the chick-lit clichés – the gay best friend, the protagonist’s penchant for wine/cocktails and all manner of sex and shoe related disasters.  I vowed to write something harrowing that would have my readers finishing the story in a state of shock and confusion.  So I did.  I wrote something with a dungeon, inter-species sex, an orgy, a schizophrenic terrorist who goes on a killing spree, someone who has their innards ripped out and served up as breakfast and an incestuous scene involving two brothers and something that may or may not be a transsexual.  Oh, and a lesbian whose boobs explode when she gets angry.  But because I’m a chick-lit writer, when I wrote all this I made it acceptable to girly girls like myself by making all the characters FOODS.  Despite this, I still guarantee you will never look at breakfast the same way again.

To me, it’s important to write something fun and Omelette On The Rampage, my alternative horror story, allowed me to do that.  It’s also crucial to be true to yourself, no matter what your genre is, and write what you feel comfortable with.  When I sat down to write a horror story, I couldn’t pull it off.  I thought about the times I picked up a book with a sparkly, pastel coloured cover by my favourite chick-lit author and read about somebody getting abused or murdered.  It’s never happened!  And it’s something I never want to happen to my regular readers.

I don’t want to change the world.  I just want women to read my books on holiday.  Thanks to my cat detective series, I gained a whole new following of men and women who are passionate about animals and don’t enjoy having theirheart rate skyrocket when they settle down with their Kindles.  My hope is that if readers take a chance on my attempt at erotic horror, they’ll have fun.  By turning those serious, disturbing situations into a chef cooking breakfast in a restaurant, it will be something that anyone with a sense of humour can enjoy.

Thanks for reading my ramblings and thanks to the C L Raven ladies for hosting me here today.  If you’d like to read Omelette On The Rampage, the links are included at the bottom of this post.

Omelette on the Rampage, Lacey Dearie Amazon US

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Lockdown at the Lockup

Castle House, Carmarthen

Castle House

Friday 13th. Full moon. There was only one thing to do: ghost hunting. Those who follow our ghost hunting exploits on our Calamityville Horror Twitter and Facebook pages know we’ve been trying to get permission for an overnight location. But the prices are so high we only had two options to pay for it – gambling or bank robbing. We tried gambling. By ‘try’, we mean we bought a scratchcard. It didn’t work. And if we attempted bank robbing, we’d somehow get lost inside the bank. We can’t help thinking these people have heard of us and set their prices high to dissuade us. They also talked about public liability insurance. How did they know we’re a public liability? But we eventually found a location we could afford. No, it wasn’t the sewers. It was Carmarthen’s old lockup, Castle House. And they let us have it on Friday 13th.

We picked Neen up and set off, choosing jail-related songs on our MP3 Players to set the mood. Only for them to close one of the lanes on the A40, leaving us stuck in traffic for over half an hour while each passing minute cranked up our stress levels. This felt like spite on the council’s part. Just ONCE we would like to arrive early for something. We phoned the head of Tourism, Lowri Jones and explained we were going to be late. Luckily we weren’t actually that late. We’re testing the theory if you drive fast enough, the speed cameras can’t see your number plate. If our mum doesn’t get a letter in a fortnight, it works :D

Castle House, Carmarthen

Cell 1

There has been a gaol in Carmarthen since 1532. There was also a debtor’s gaol, East Gate, also known as Prisoner Gate, between King Street and Nott Square. When the penal reformer, John Howard visited Carmarthen in 1774, he found both prisons were in terrible structural shape. The cells were damp and muddy, there was no furniture, fuel for fires, or drinking water. Men, women and children were incarcerated together, but when rape became too frequent, they separated them, but left the doors unlocked. He returned in 1788, conditions had worsened.

Carmarthen Castle

Carmarthen Castle

He ordered that both prisons be destroyed and one new one built. Architect John Nash, who later became famous for Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Regent Street Garden and street and Brighton Pavilion, started work inside the castle walls in 1789 and finished in 1792. A new town gaol, the Roundhouse was built in 1810 on the Old Bowling Green, where John Street is now. Carmarthen Gaol was eventually closed in 1922 and demolished in 1938. The council offices now stand on the site, still partially behind the gaol walls. County executions used to take place on Babel Hill in Pensarn, while town executions happened on the Royal Oak Common. From 1817, a gallows was built inside and above the front wall of the gaol, facing Spilman Street.

Castle House, Carmarthen

jailbreak

Lowri took us on a tour of the lockup. It was built in 1860 on the site of the old gaol infirmary, inside the castle’s curtain walls. It was used to temporarily hold prisoners on their way to trial before becoming a police substation for Carmarthen’s Borough and County Constabulary. It was eventually abandoned in 1947. There are two cells, a tiny exercise yard, a gallows, stocks, and best of all, mannequins. We gave them knowing smiles as we passed. We knew the mannequins would end up regretting our visit. We were given the keys then Lowri left. We had not only the lockup, but the castle grounds all to ourselves until 3 a.m. We couldn’t believe they were trusting us! Clearly they’d never heard of Calamityville.

Castle House, Carmarthen

Hang ‘em High

It was then we spotted the gallows behind a gate. We became so excited we could barely speak. And Cat had spied some rope behind the desk in the gift shop that had been fashioned into a noose. It was time for some gallows humour. There was a screw in the noose, presumably to stop idiots like us accidentally hanging themselves. We took turns wearing the noose and pretending to hang each other. It was the perfect spot for us to talk about the executions that had taken place in Carmarthen over the years. Then we put ourselves in the stocks. Two teenage boys wandered onto the grounds but bizarrely, they refused our offer to put them on the gallows or in the stocks. Teenagers these days, just don’t find fake hanging their friends funny.

Castle House

desk job

We left to fetch alcohol and returned to start our lockdown at 10 p.m. We slapped our handcuffs on then found 2 police coats and a cloak so dressed up, borrowing plastic hats from the gift shop then paraded the lockup pretending to be police officers. Don’t think anyone was fooled. We love dressing up. We’d been tempted to bring our own police outfits from home but there’s no way in hell anyone would believe they were authentic police wear :D The coats were men’s so Neen and Cat looked like children playing dress up while Lynx cut a dashing figure in the 19th century cloak. We posed with the harassed looking police sergeant mannequin at the book-in desk. We have no idea what his name is, but he looks like a Steve. He didn’t seem to want to join in.

Castle House, Carmarthen

corridor outside the cells

We got to test our our new motion sensor lights for the first time and stationed one in the corridor outside the cells and one in Cell 1. We set the JVC up in the upstairs corridor as a static camera, pointed towards the doors where 2 staff members saw a shadow figure then we headed downstairs. We started with an EVP session in Cell 1, which is currently filled with boxes containing leaflets. The K2 spiked to 1 and remained there until leaving the cell. It stayed at 0.5 through the rest of the lockup and when we returned to Cell 1 later, it was down on zero.

Then we split up. Neen did her very first lone vigil in Cell 2, with the mannequins she named Bob and Gerald. Whether her decision was a result of bravery or the big bottle of blue WKD she’d just consumed, we don’t know. Cat stayed in Cell 1 and Lynx went into what would’ve been the living room when it was a policeman’s house. It’s now the gift shop. All was quiet on the ghostly front, though apparently the mannequins were a bit frisky with Neen. She then moved upstairs to where the bedrooms were when her disk ran out, so Cat took Cell 2. The mannequins looked really creepy in night vision, with their fixed, glassy stares and groping hands. There are images of people’s faces on the cell wall taken from the felon’s register and put at the criminals’ actual height. They were the same size as us! The tallest prisoner recorded was 5’9″. Clearly we belong in the 1800s. We thought we were built for going down the mines, but we were built for criminal activities. In night vision, the faces almost seem like they’re coming out of the wall. Deliciously creepy. Cat heard a thud on the wall between the cells but there was nobody else in that area. We all kept hearing voices, however the lockup is very close to the pubs and bars and there were a lot of drunks wandering the streets so any voices we heard we would have to say were the drunks.

Castle House, Carmarthen

Bob and Gerald in Cell 2

After half an hour, we regrouped for prisoner shortbread and alcohol. We set the JVC up pointing down the corridor outside the cells so it could capture if the motion sensor light was activated. This time Lynx took Cell 2, Neen sat in the gift shop and Cat had the entrance passage where criminals were brought in. The desk sergeant claimed she was brought in for murder. But he had no evidence for this spurious claim. Then she heard running footsteps. They sounded like they were on the other side of the gaol wall. Neen didn’t hear them. Although the other side of the wall is the council building’s car park, again we have to assume it was a random passing drunk. Cat moved to Cell 1 and tried convincing any ghosts to possess the mannequins while Lynx was in with them. Sadly the only time the mannequins moved was when we tried to dance with them.

We regrouped again after another half an hour then did a joint vigil in the upstairs corridor. We used the crystal but got nothing. Then we heard the kettle switch on and start boiling in the staffroom. We were sat outside the staffroom. We all looked at each other, excited at the thought of a tea-making ghost. Eventually we got up to investigate, hoping we had finally captured something truly paranormal. It was the boiler switching on. Sighing, we trooped downstairs to do a joint vigil in Cell 2. By joint vigil, we mean zumba dancing. It wouldn’t be a Calamityville episode without dancing. We tried getting the mannequins involved but they claimed they’d pull a muscle as they hadn’t done their stretches. They were obviously embarrassed that we outclassed them in the dancing department.

We left at 2 a.m. as we were getting tired and there wasn’t any activity. Plus we had a 90 minute journey home. Is Castle House haunted? We’d have to say no. But it is a fantastic location and definitely worth a visit. By now we suspect Bob and Gerald are in therapy, muttering about dancing, wig stealing and mannequin shenanigans.

Castle House

mannequin shenanigans

Recent Visits

Sorry, it’s been a while, *sings Stain’d* but we’ve been out of ideas on what to blog about and rather than bore you with tumbleweed, we’ve been lurking under bridges with butterfly nets trying to kidnap ideas that dare cross our bridge. We’ve also been visiting other people’s blogs, like evil Santas delivering presents of doom.

First up is Sarah Kitsinis’s great new blog, The M.I.C. which stands for Mindful, Informed, Conscious, all about issues affecting the world today that maybe people don’t think too much about. It’s about learning about subjects you’re perhaps not aware of, or don’t know much about. The first post is about blurred gender lines and how not everyone fits into the gender they were born with, or even either gender. Sarah asked us to write a couple of posts for it on animal cruelty and bullying – two issues which shaped our lives. We were thrilled to be asked. The blog feels like a mini revolution and we’re all for revolution. So we started to write about animal cruelty, which ended up focusing on factory farming and how we became vegan at 14. Read the post, Food for Thought here. Don’t worry, it’s not a preach condemning meat eaters, it’s simply pointing out what happens behind farm doors and how it affects the world, not just animals. It was a refreshing change to write about a subject which means a lot to us. It probably seems a strange paradox – horror writers who are vegan. After all, our characters regularly rip out people’s hearts or do creative things with their bones :D

Second up is our article, Duchesses of York  that we wrote for Oapschat. It’s about our trip to York and the ghosts that haunt it. Oapschat is a website set up by author Janice Rosser for the over-50s, but it has many great articles that are relevant for all ages – we’re fans of the website on Facebook and it’s really interesting. In fact, Janice was recently named in the Top 100 people who make others happy, all down to Oapschat. So check out the rest of the website while you’re there.

In the meantime, we’ve been submitting – The Malignant Dead, our plague doctor novella, has been submitted to the Yeovil prize and Jonathan Cape publishers, who have an open submission month for the whole of June. Bleeding Empire has had another redraft and has also gone to Jonathan Cape. We’ve started writing a new short story, untitled at the moment, about a 16 year old girl who summons a poltergeist in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. We haven’t written much YA, but we wanted to try something different other than the usual supernatural love triangle which seems to dominate YA. We also didn’t want to write about the typical YA heroine, who is the new girl in town, is instantly well-liked and gets the hottest guy in school. High school wasn’t like that for us and it’s not like that for many kids. We want to show high school in its ugly, painful reality. When we were teenagers, we would never have read a romance book or even a supernatural story with a romance element, so we’re not going to write them. We’re going to turn it into a novella, along with another short story, The Slender Man. You never know, we could be the new cause of teenagers’ nightmares :D The hardest part will be appealing to teenagers. We didn’t appeal to teenagers when we were their age!

And we’re also about to release Season 3 of Calamityville Horror. The first episode, Greyfriars Kirkyard will air on Wednesday. So get ready for more meltdowns, more getting lost and more dancing than ever before. There might even be some paranormal activity captured too. We know – paranormal activity on a ghost hunting show. It shocked us too. Why not subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss it! We’ve already started filming Season 4 and in August we’ll be spending the night locked inside Newsham Park Hospital, a former orphanage and asylum in Liverpool. We are so excited we keep breaking into random dancing. We plan to lock ourselves in the naughty cupboards and the morgue fridge. But we’ll have to check for spiders. We’ll get inside the fridge with ghosts, maybe even a corpse at a push but if there is a spider in there, no way. We’ve all seen Arachnophobia.

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