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

Lovely Blog Award

one-lovely-blogWe’ve been nominated by the lovely Cinta Garcia de la Rosa for One Lovely Blog Award! Check out her blog here. The rules are we have to tell you 7 things about ourselves and nominate others for the award. So here are 7 things you may or may not know about us:

1. We have an unhealthy obsession with serial killers. Seriously. If we’d gone to university it would’ve been to study Criminal Psychology. Of serial killers. Just for fun. We’re not those people who claim to have an interest in something just to appear strange or interesting to someone else, this is a genuine, decades-old interest. The psychology of serial killers would be our Mastermind subject. Not only do we own a lot of books about them, we watch a lot of documentaries. As was proved last night when we were trying to pick something to watch and our Sky + was taken up with documentaries about serial killers, true life murders and Ghost Adventures. Please do not let the police come to our house. We do not want our book shelves labelled ‘Exhibit A.’

2. We love animals. We’ve been involved with the animals rights movement since we were 8. Yes, we were real life Lisa Simpsons. We regularly donate to a variety of animal charities and our house is overrun with other people’s unwanted pets. They somehow know where we live. We turned vegan aged 14 and are now 31 and still vegan. For those who don’t know what a vegan is, it’s someone who doesn’t eat, drink, wear or use anything that comes from an animal. You’d be surprised at how much this covers. e.g. match heads contain gelatin,  a binding substance made from animal bones. We also don’t use any products that have been tested on animals. But we don’t have a problem with other people eating meat. Being vegan is our choice. We won’t tell you what to eat, as long as you don’t tell us what to eat. Our zumba teacher pointed out she loved how we walked a mile in the baking sun in Edinburgh to find a vegan cafe yet got very excited at seeing a card case made from the skin of Resurrectionist William Burke. This is one of the reasons our psychologist called us ‘paradoxes.’

3. We love history. Especially the gory tortures and executions. (see point 1). When we were in primary school we loved the Tudors and Stuarts, especially the tortures and executions. We had to write a story about a day in the life of a Tudor girl. Our characters went to see people being beheaded. An unusual topic for 9 year old girls to be interested in when everyone else like My Little Pony. We aim to visit every castle in Wales (all 641 of them). This is why in Calamityville, so much of a location’s history is mentioned. That and it helps to debunk ghosts. Our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead combines 2 things we love – history and horror. 17th century is our favourite period, though the 19th century has Jack the Ripper… (see point 1). Yes we’re obsessed with him too.

4. We can do mechanics. This surprises a lot of people. We’ve always loved classic cars and our mum said if we insisted on owning one, we had to learn basic mechanics as we would be stranded on the road side a lot. She was right. We each own a Renault 4 GTL -1984 and 1986. They’re called Reapers (yellow) and Radar (grey). We do a lot of work on them, the most challenging being replacing the head gasket, which we did by following the steps in a Haynes Manual. We have even dismantled our Smartcar (General Smarticus Pinkinton).

5. We named our body parts. Well, those that cause us trouble. You may have heard us mention Schofield and Linus. Schofield is Lynx’s scoliosis, which was diagnosed when she was 12 after a horse riding incident, and has given her pain ever since. Physiotherapy doesn’t help but it’s not serious enough for corrective surgery. So Schofield remains, causing problems whenever he’s in a bad mood. And Linus is Cat’s knee. 6 years ago, she tore the cartilage off her knee doing lunges. One lunge, actually. But she carried on. 5 lunges later she couldn’t get back up. So we skipped to the next part of the exercise video :D Three operations later (the latest being last summer and the second involving microfracture surgery where they drilled holes in her thigh bone to create a blood clot replacement cartilage) Linus remains a mystery to surgeons and physiotherapists alike. They can’t fix him and have now given up. Linus – 3, surgeons – 0. Lynx also has Frank, a problem tooth that hurts even when it’s other teeth that have the holes. And Cat has Busty, her misshapen finger caused by a brutal double hammer accident when we were making a log table.

6. We don’t sleep well. We’ve tried everything. We watch TV shows that help people with this problem and we implement their methods. We have a sleep CD from our psychologist. We’ve done evening courses of the psychology of sleep. We’ve even bought herbs and made ourselves a sleep pillow. Nothing works. Our love for Red Bull was born from our lack of sleep. When other kids in their exams had mascots on their desks, we had Red Bull. We’ve been drinking it for 16 years. It is our best friend. We write love songs about Red Bull. We married a can under the wedding arch in Dan yr Ogof caves.

7. We were going to be professional show jumpers when we grew up. Except we couldn’t afford a horse. We were obsessed with horses and horse riding. We rode every week for 8 years from age 9-17. It was all we thought about. Then the worst of the depression hit and we quit. We last rode a horse when were 19 and haven’t ridden since.

Our nominations for the One Lovely Blog Award are:

Joanne Blaikie – join her on her journey to becoming a published writer.

Roger Jackson – we met through all setting a book in Denbigh asylum :D

Lesley Jackson – fellow writer who regularly joins us for ghost hunting expeditions.

Gena Mantz – her vampire character, Isis takes control of her blog.

 

Orphan Black

Newsham Park hospitalIt finally happened. After one death pose too many, we were locked away in the morgue in the dead of night. Alone.

Just another Friday night with Calamityville Horror.

We’ve been so excited about our overnight investigation at Newsham Park Hospital, a former orphanage and asylum since we booked it in June. And the day finally arrived. We drove to an undisclosed film set to meet Neen (she’s a scenic artist) then followed her camper van, Tallulah (who you may recognise from our Ancient Ram Inn episode). We left General Pinkinton in a lane just off Junction 7 of the M5, hopped aboard Tallulah and began our journey to Liverpool, hoping Pinky wouldn’t be towed/stolen/damaged. We promptly got stuck in traffic on the M6. The event started at 9 p.m. Our route planner said the trip would take 3 and a half hours from Cardiff. We left our house at 2:30. (At 2:10 we were still deciding what to wear). We arrived in Liverpool at 8:50. With Neen driving there was no epic meltdown where sailors have to phone their mothers to apologise for our foul language. Sorry about that. We know seeing us lose our tempers is becoming a favourite part of our episodes. Even if our mum does keep begging us to bleep it out. Or take anger management classes.Newsham Park hospital

We loaded ourselves up with our gear and hopped out of the van. Then they opened the gates for us to drive in. We told Neen to drive in and we’d walk, thinking the car park was just inside the gate. Turned out we had to walk around the entire outside of this massive hospital to reach it. But walking meant we got to film and photograph the exterior in the daylight. The building is stunning. We really wished we could’ve been there on our own but we can’t afford the cost of these locations (usually about £600 a night, which would take us two years to earn from royalties). Newsham Park hospitalWe joined the other guests inside. One of the leaders, Matt, was a sceptic. At first we were pleased. Being sceptics ourselves, we’re glad when team leaders don’t automatically attribute everything to the paranormal. Except he was talking about all these paranormal shows he’d been on and told us how everything on the shows was faked and that they do it for the money. We’re sorry but if you believe that strongly that the paranormal doesn’t exist, why are you running a ghost hunting company? It wouldn’t be for the money, would it? He then basically told us this place wasn’t in the least bit haunted. Just what you want to hear when you’ve paid £60 to be there. We’ll make our own opinions, thanks.

We were taken on a walk around with the medium, Phil. For once he wasn’t the type of medium who starts sprouting stuff about people he’s seeing in the room and having a one-sided conversation with his spirit guide. He refused to say anything about the rooms, instead wanting to hear what other people were experiencing because like he said, if he says there’s a clown in the room, when we’re in the room later, we’ll start seeing a clown. We hoped to god there wasn’t a freakin’ clown in the room.

Newsham Park Hospital

Naughty boys corridor

We liked him for this. He’s right – psychological impressions and suggestion play a big part in these things. We did a seance in one room but we spent most of our time joking around with the two brothers whose hands we were holding – the medium separated men ‘cos apparently men don’t like holding hands with other men. We don’t like physical contact with strangers, especially hand-holding. It’s awkward and way too intimate for our liking. Why can’t we link arms? One of the reasons we were put on reins as kids was because we hated holding hands, even with our parents. Usually one of us will film seances, so gets to opt out of this social awkwardness. The medium was getting everyone to call out so us and the brothers were trying to outdo each with creative callings out. We won. There were three women there who seemed to be experiencing everything (you’ll meet them again later in the post so pay attention). Every time we do one of these ghost hunts, there is always a couple of people who experience everything. We’re not saying they’re making it up, but someone else’s personal experiences isn’t evidence. And they’re usually so annoying that we want to use our equipment on them in a way not recommended by the manufacturers. A lot of people were either feeling hot or cold. The brothers either side of Lynx were apparently having hot flushes, which we helpfully suggested might be the menopause. We’re not fans of focusing on how you’re feeling. In every day life, you don’t stand in the pitch black, paying very close attention to you how feel, or what temperature you are. Yet because you’re expected to do this on these events, you notice minor changes and your mind attributes them to the paranormal. The only thing we felt was hungry, but we’re certain this isn’t something spirits can cause.Newsham Park hospital

After the walk around, we were split into three groups. We’d hoped to be in a group with the brothers, because they seemed to be the only ones with a sense of humour. But Fate decided the episode was lacking a meltdown, so we were put with the three ‘sensitive’ women and other women then got taken to the naughty boys corridor by Phil. This was one of the areas we’d most been looking forwards to. We did a seance in the corridor and Phil was convinced there was a child standing near Cat, who was a few feet away from the group as she was filming. Neither Cat, her K2 or the camera picked up on anything but the child seemed to hang around her for quite a while. The three sensitives kept calling out for Jeff or John. Neen suddenly said “it’s not Jeff, it’s Tommy.” Now people do this a lot of these tours but it’s never happened to one of us. We’re the first to call bullshit on this stuff. But we’ve known Neen since we were 5. So when she said she was hearing the name Tommy, we believed her. Phil said she was right. Then she sensed the child standing beside her and thought he was about 5 or 6. Again, Phil said she was right. Then he locked her in Tommy’s cupboard :D We also put ourselves in naughty cupboards, choosing doors beside each other. They happened to be an adjoining cupboard. Nobody else went in one. To be fair, we were the only ones small enough to fit. Us and Neen were in there for a while and we all felt really comfortable, despite the cramped conditions. The cupboards are in the attic so the sloped roof makes them small.

Newsham Park hospital

Psychiatric ward

We then moved on to the psych ward. Cat was using the shoulder rig for the first time and the hospital has no electricity, so she was guiding herself with the night vision camera, forgetting about the spacial awareness needed for the rig. And walked into a wall. We did another vigil then it was time to swap leaders. Sadly we couldn’t swap groups. In hindsight, we should have hidden in the cupboards until everyone had gone, but people tend to notice when we’re not around. Probably because the sounds of chains/boots/tripping have mysteriously vanished. We went with Natalie to the school house and sat in a room upstairs doing a vigil. She asked the spirits to communicate through tapping or knocking. We heard nothing. Then one of the three aforementioned women (this one had a peroxide poodle perm) said “I can’t concentrate with that camera” and pointed to Cat, who was sitting opposite her. Not exactly sure how much concentration is needed for sitting in a dark room. It’s not like we were trying to study the number of crumbs in a biscuit. Neen suggested closing the LCD screen as it does create a glow so we’ll happily close it when asked. The woman replied “no, it’s the whirring.” It’s a 10 year old camera. It takes Digital 8 tapes. The whirring is the tape. Cat said “I can’t do anything about the whirring.” To which the woman said in a rude manner “you could switch it off.” Now if she had asked politely “look, do you mind switching your camera off for a bit ‘cos it’s noisy” we wouldn’t object. But the abrupt and rude way in which she spoke to Cat instantly riled us. She wasn’t one of the organisers – they were happy for us to film – she was just a guest, like us. But we were raised to be polite so Cat switched the camera off. Almost instantly, this woman and her friends started hearing tapping no-one else could hear. When the vigil was over, the lady beside Cat said “interesting how you three are the only ones who keep experiencing things” and pointed to Poodle Perm and Pals. We could’ve hugged her. She later spoke to us, absolutely disgusted at Poodle Perm’s rudeness and reckoned we should’ve left the camera on to spite her. Wish we had.

Newsham Park hospital

school house

We moved downstairs to where there was a glass on a table. We were still pissed off so didn’t participate. We just wanted to be rid of the group and go off on our own. We’d been stuck with everyone since 9 p.m and were frankly bored. We’re not keen on using planchettes and ouija boards with people we don’t know. We don’t trust them not to fake it. Neen joined in while Lynx stood behind, watching with the K2. Cat had wandered to another corner to watch a plastic cup Natalie had asked the spirits to move. The K2 bleeped a couple of times. It had been silent all night. Unfortunately, due to Poodle Perm, Cat wasn’t filming. The K2 didn’t go off for the rest of the night, which made us even angrier, because the one time it did go off, we weren’t filming because Mystic Meg ‘couldn’t concentrate’. Weirdly, when Natalie brought out the spirit box, the deafening static didn’t seem to affect the woman’s concentration at all.Newsham Park hospital

Then we did our final vigil with Matt in the upstairs day rooms of the hospital. He mostly spent the vigil ranting about ghost hunting shows. We all know Most Haunted was faked, we don’t want to spend our vigil time hearing about it. Remember the £60 we paid to be here? We paid to spend the night ghost hunting in a stunning location, not to listen to a man ranting for an hour. We can watch that for free on YouTube. Again, if you really think it’s a load of crap, bugger off and let us do our own vigils. We moved to a different room, because strangely, talking about Most Haunted didn’t encourage the ghosts to interact with anyone. Neen got an impression of a stocky woman with a miserable face in the middle of the room and walked forwards to see if anyone was standing there.Newsham Park hospital They weren’t. Again, this has never happened before. She put it down to her working a 9 hour day, the long drive, and her imagination. Although Matt did say that people who have seen this matron described her as Neen had. Poodle Perm and Pals by now were taking over the vigils, doing all the calling out and acting like proper paranormal investigators. Basically they were parrotting the callings out you hear on shows. We would’ve invited them to be our guests for the night but there’s no room for egos on our show and Cat’s camera would’ve just annoyed them.

Finally we were allowed to go off on our own. After 5 hours of being stuck with everyone, we felt like dogs being let off the lead. It was all we could do not to go running off cheering or barking. We’d been promised we could have 3 hours of lone investigation time. We had 2. When we go with Beyond the Grave events, they let you go off alone between each vigil, which is much better. We headed for the naughty boys corridor and set up two cameras in the corridor, along with Ketch, our cuddly executioner, and Roxy, our punk sock monkey, who were our trigger objects for the children. We set motion sensor lights opposite the toys so we’d know if a child tried to touch them. The JVC was set up on a tripod with a light filming from one end of the corridor and the Sony night vision camera was filming from the other side of us. Cat and Neen got out our crystals and we started our vigil. However, lots of people kept walking through the corridor, so we had to keep stopping our vigil until they left. So our effort for a controlled EVP session was a failure. A strip of fabric hanging from a cupboard door handle kept moving. We checked for draughts but couldn’t find any. Then Lynx found one of the windows near the cupboard was ajar. We moved the fabric to a different door handle and sure enough, it stayed still.

Newsham Park Hospital

vigil in Naughty Boys corridor

We locked ourselves in different cupboards to conduct separate EVP sessions. We felt really comfortable in the cupboards. If we’d had pillows, we could’ve slept there. It probably stems from when we were kids, every time we went into our mum’s school, we were so scared of the other children (we were chronically shy) that we would shut ourselves in the store cupboards for pretty much most of the day. When we later worked in our mum’s school aged 18, if being around all the kids and staff got too much, we’d hide in the art storeroom until we felt better. So cupboards have always had a calming effect on us. Neen moved into the psych ward on her own and heard a knock, but couldn’t tell what it was. Cat started feeling horribly sick in the cupboard, one moment feeling fine, the next nearly heaving. This was probably due to tiredness.

Newsham Park hospital

the morgue

We now only had half an hour left and there was one place we hadn’t gone: the morgue. Matt had said earlier that he didn’t understand why people wanted to go to the morgue as people don’t die there, so there are no ghosts, same with cemeteries. This is right. Those places aren’t haunted. But we love them. We went outside to find one of the organisers to take us to the morgue, as it was outside the gates. We eventually spotted Natalie heading out of the gate and chased her. We got to the morgue just as she was about to lock it up. She asked if we wanted to go in. Then she said: “I have to lock the gates to stop local youths getting in so I’m going to have to lock you in for half an hour. Is that alright?” That’s like asking if Goths like Halloween. It was all we could do not to barge her out the way.

The morgue is really small, but there before us, almost glowing with tantalising light and accompanied by angels singing, was the morgue fridge. We’ve been boring people stupid since June going on about how we’re going to get inside the fridge and finally, here was our chance. We took photos and filmed a bit until we couldn’t wait any longer and climbed inside. There were two doors, but it was open plan on the inside. Each side had three pull out slabs. We took a ‘top bunk’ each and promptly did death poses for our photos. If there’s an ultimate place for a death pose, it’s a morgue fridge. Sadly there weren’t body bags to complete the photo. Neen then shut both doors, trapping us inside.

Newsham Park hospital

inside the morgue fridge

We lay down to conduct an EVP session. Weirdly, we weren’t at all creeped out. In fact, had the slabs been soft, we would have been happy to sleep there. Neen then joined us on a middle bunk. Except when you pull out the slabs, they tip, so she had a job getting in. And then getting out. Watching Neen fail to get out of a morgue fridge was the highlight of our night. Natalie fetched us way too soon, just as Cat was crawling free of the fridge. Natalie said “you just have to go in there don’t you?” she was clearly a fan of the fridge. It’s the only time we’ll get to go in one while we’re still alive. We insisted on crawling inside the crematorium pit before we left.

Newsham Park Hospital

we’re inside here

We left Newsham at 4 am and drove until we found somewhere to park Tallulah for the night. We chose a nice looking housing estate and bunked down for all of three and a half hours.

Is Newsham Hospital haunted? We’re undecided. Neen’s experiences were peculiar. If it wasn’t for those, we’d say no. Two hours wasn’t long enough on our own – there were areas we didn’t get to explore and our EVP sessions were interrupted by other people. We’d like to go back on our own and experience it properly in true Calamityville style – locking ourselves in creepy places, dancing, getting lost in the hospital and not noticing anything paranormal. But first we need the funds. *Dons balaclavas* If anyone wants us, we’ll be at the bank ;)Newsham Park hospital

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