Tunnel Vision

Drakelow TunnelsGetting lost, horribly lost, a car crash with a twatapus and misbehaving in tunnels. It can only be Calamityville Horror’s next episode.

We teamed up again with Jack and Laura from Jack and Laura’s Ghost Series. Check them out here: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. They regularly attend ghost hunts with South Bristol Paranormal and they invited us to Drakelow Tunnels. This place has become a huge hit recently with ghost hunters and we were more excited than Jason Vorhees on Thursday the 12th. Drakelow TunnelsThen everything started to go wrong. Badly wrong. In fact, this was the most disastrous episode in Calamityville history. And not a single damn bit of it was filmed. Our standards have really slipped. No, wait, that implies the show had standards to begin with. We were running late. Neen’s hairdressing appointment ended up taking 3 hours as her usual hairdresser was away. Then we had to get petrol for her campervan, Tallulah, who has ferried us to a few locations now. Then we got lost trying to find Laura’s house.

Drakelow Tunnels

these aren’t shadow figures, it’s us with the long exposure

And so it began. We approached a roundabout and Neen pulled into the right lane. A guy in a black Fiesta blasted his horn, even though she’d indicated. He drove around us, still blasting his horn like a deranged clown who’s just discovered his comedy nose. He cut us up on the roundabout. And slammed his brakes on. Tallulah went straight into the back of him. What the hell did he think would happen? We could not believe his idiocy. In 15 years of driving, we’ve never experienced this. The whole fiasco made us even later. Neen had nothing to write the insurance details on so Cat fetched the card sleeve from one of her camera tapes. Luckily a guy behind witnessed it all and stopped to give us his details. We’ve never had a crash on Calamityville. Was this Fate’s way of trying to finish us off? We eventually picked Jack and Laura up and set off.

Drakelow TunnelsOnly to get lost. Cat was navigating and still isn’t entirely sure what happened. The signs on her directions didn’t match the roads. It went like this: Neen: “Where are we? Which way do we go?” Cat *shrugs* “No idea. Try that road.” In the end, Neen switched her SatNav on. Then the lens cap on Lynx’s Canon camera, our main filming camera, jammed on while Cat was using it. Again, she had no idea how this happened. It’s usually jammed down, thanks to a sand dune sledging adventure, but on route, decided to attempt to close itself. And got stuck. We couldn’t use it. We finally arrived at Drakelow tunnels (after Cat got us lost numerous times) half an hour later than we were told to be there, but five minutes before the investigation started. We’re calling that a win. Then Cat tripped over in the van. She put her Panasonic camera down in the car park and when she picked it up, found a hole in the back screen. It still works fine, but that’s 2 cameras broken on one journey. And the adventure wasn’t over yet.Drakelow Tunnels

Seven deaths have occurred in Drakelow Tunnels. In Tunnel 1 on 31st October 1941, three men (one called Harry Depper, the other two are unknown) were killed when the ceiling collapsed on them when they were blasting. Mary Ann Brettel was the next to die when she was hit by a dump truck owned by John Cochrane and Sons on the grounds of the complex. Two construction workers were killed during the construction of conveyor belts that were used to take loose rock out. They rode the belt, but got tangled in the machinery and mangled. The last person to die was Eric Harold Newman, a security guard for Goods In & Out. As he left the complex on his motorbike, he was hit by a coach driven by Mr Wilkes, who transported workers to the tunnels.

Drakelow TunnelsLate in 1993, the caretaker was inspecting the kitchen in the old RSG side of the complex. He heard 1940s music that seemed to be coming from the old Rover Shadow Factory side. Thinking someone had left a radio on, he went to check. The music got louder when he approached Tunnel 1, but as he entered the tunnel, it stopped. He couldn’t find a radio . As he reached the old time office at the end of the tunnel, the music started again. After a 6 hour search of the entire complex, he failed to find the radio. The only equipment that was capable of playing music was the WW2 tannoy system that hasn’t worked since the ‘50s.

Drakelow Tunnels

we climbed up here

In 1996, the resident caretaker and his 2 German Shepherds were locking the complex one winter evening, after people had been in repairing electrical wiring. While the caretaker was securing the GPO telephone exchange in the RGHQ, his dogs went into the next room. They began barking, so the caretaker rushed in. They dogs were staring at the wall, barking. He calmed them, put them on their leads, and continued his rounds. When they entered Tunnel 4, the dogs stopped and growled, fixated on the top of the tunnel. The caretaker tried to see what they were looking at, but couldn’t. The dogs fell silent and the caretaker saw a mist at the top of the tunnel, floating towards him. The dogs fled through the RGHQ. Thinking there was a fire, the caretaker followed and found them barking and scratching the Blast Door at Adit A. He opened the doors and they ran to his car outside.Drakelow Tunnels

Inside the tunnels was cold and darker than the devil’s armpits. We found the toilets but stupidly didn’t take lights with us, so were navigating using the glow from the screens of our flip phones. Torch apps don’t exist on the Motorola V5. Lynx then got attacked by the toilet door. She closed it, not realising it wasn’t attached. It fell on her, crushing her earring into her ear and giving her a nice cauliflower ear. Had Fate had a tantrum we’d escaped the accident unscathed and tried to take her out with a toilet door? The same door later attacked Laura, hurting her thumb.

Drakelow Tunnels

the medical centre

We were all given maps and split into groups, ours consisting of Jack and Laura and us. After Cat’s woeful navigation, we gave Neen the map. Neen’s got us through Edinburgh and York with her map reading skills so she gets lumbered with the responsibility of us. It’s not an easy job and nobody else wants it. We were all told to stick together for the walk through. That was never going to happen. We see a doorway, we’ll go through it. We see stuff, we’ll go investigate it. We may never come across it again. As it happened, the areas we’d wandered off to, we didn’t come across again, so it’s just as well we explored them. Neen regularly threatens to put us on those straps children wear on school trips to stop them wandering off. She describes going anywhere with us ‘like herding kittens’.

 

Drakelow Tunnels

what we discovered after climbing the scaffolding

Bearing in mind how dark it was, you’d assume we’d have torches. Nope. None of ours work properly. We had to rely on the night vision/full spectrum screens of our cameras. Cat walked into a chair. And a wall. And some string blocking a doorway, even though Neen held it up. After the walk through, we were allowed to go off in our groups. We were given Tunnel 1 and the areas off it. We found scaffolding leading up to a big hole in the wall. Our theory is, if they didn’t want people climbing up to the hole, they should move the scaffolding. Us, Neen and Jack climbed it. Laura decided her clumsiness meant she’d be safer staying at the bottom. Think she was actually the bravest, as she was left in the dark by herself! We found some machinery and a doorway. Cat went through first, announcing, “There’s a shaft! It’s slippery!” as she struggled to stay upright.

Drakelow Tunnels

we shouldn’t be up here

Many shaft jokes ensued. We’d found ourselves in a ventilation tunnel. Three curved tunnels led away from the giant fan, getting smaller the closer to the end we got. Neen and Jack had a light and went in the first tunnel. Lynx had a light clipped to her belt and entered the middle tunnel. Cat had no light and entered the last tunnel, finding her way through the night vision camera. The tunnels led to a sudden drop, which was covered. Cat’s end was fully open and had the others not shouted a warning, she may have ended up haunting the tunnels. The slippery shaft made leaving that area tricky, as it was lower than the door. When we got back to the scaffolding, our fear of us heights reminded us this might not have been such a good idea. We managed to climb back down the scaffolding and continued exploring.

Drakelow Tunnels

in Tunnel 4

We found a guard’s station, or office room, so did a vigil in there. We kept hearing voices so Cat ventured down the tunnel to find the source. Turns out, the tunnels’ grid system and acoustics means noise carries a great distance. Even though we were nowhere near the other groups, we could hear them, even if they weren’t being loud. So we’re attributing any voices we heard to the others. Some parts of the tunnels involved us crawling through small holes. One led into toilets then out into Tunnel 4. We seemed to find our way into random toilets. It was like playing Slender: Eight Pages in real life, but minus a rusty pickup truck and losing our sanity.

Drakelow TunnelsAfter a break, we were sent to Tunnel 4. The mist is only seen in the winter, which leads us to believe it’s down to condensation in the chilly air, rather than anything paranormal. We did a vigil in another guard station and again could hear the other groups. While Neen took a photo of the four of us in the station, she heard a noise further up the tunnel. We explored the room next to the medical centre and found a cupboard filled with chart rolls, like the type you get in ECG machines. If the lines are to be believed, the patients flatlined for a long time. Another cupboard contained wages envelopes which had spilled onto the floor, and more chart rolls. Again, the patients flatlined. We did another vigil and heard what sounded like a tap or footstep. Lynx and Laura stood in the corridor outside the room, but nothing happened. We headed to the medical centre for some more calling out. Jack saw mist in front of Laura, but we got no responses. When we asked for a name, the Ghost Radar said ‘Smith.’ A guard called Albert Smith who worked there. To be honest, the Ghost Radar sprouts nonsense more than it says accurate things so we don’t fully trust it, but it is fun.

Drakelow TunnelsWe heard more voices further down a tunnel, so went to investigate. It turned out to be Karin’s group. As we’d got nothing, we joined them for a vigil. We were in a crossroads. Karin, Colin, Ginny and Lee sat in the centre. Neen and Jack ventured down one tunnel, Cat down another and Lynx retreated down the tunnel we’d come down. Again, nothing. We really are the enemies of paranormal activity. You know how when the bad guy walks into a bar and everyone falls silent? That’s what happens when we walk into a haunted area. The spirits all fall silent, put down their cards and nervously touch their guns.

Drakelow Tunnels

Tunnel 4

During the break, we joined Karin on the ouija board in the break room. We got the silent treatment, so tried the planchette with Adrian. It didn’t move. We joined two groups for some table tipping in the operating theatre. We haven’t been convinced on the legitimacy of table tipping since the Victorians were doing it, so we never participate unless it’s with people we know and trust. We’re pretty sure someone was manipulating the table. Colin saw a doctor in one of the rooms in the sick bay, so we wandered off with our laser pen (we’d forgotten to use it so far) and tried to make contact. Well, Lynx tried to get him to kick Cat’s bad knee, but it counts. The doctor gave us the silent treatment. Colin told us to call out for Dr James. We burst into an impromptu version of Aqua’s ‘Dr Jones’. Some people are really unprofessional.

Drakelow TunnelsWe joined Karin, Colin, Ginny and Lee for a session with the Kinnect. It’s from the xbox and it maps your movements, so you appear on screen as an outline with a stick figure inside. Laura was positioned in front of it and spirits were encouraged to stand beside her. Jack joined her, but the spirits didn’t. Neen and Ginny were the next guinea pigs, and although Neen danced for the spirits, they refused to show their appreciation. Colin and Lee went next, but the spirits weren’t interested. We danced our way through the experiment, but even our zumba moves weren’t enough to encourage the spirits to come anywhere near us. We even performed the newly-learnt Uptown Funk routine. Karin was the final one to stand in front of the Kinnect, but she also got nothing, despite mooning the camera.

Drakelow Tunnels

Last women standing

It was now half two in the morning and we all headed back to base camp. Neen and Jack called it quits and headed back to the van. The rest of the groups also decided to leave, so while they were packing up, us and Laura snuck off for one final vigil. We made it to Tunnel 4 through a hole in the toilet wall and called out. We could hear voices at the far end of the tunnel, which we think belonged to one missing group. Then we heard a bang on the blast doors down the end. Two people came looking for the group, so we sent them to the end, too late realising we may be sacrificing them to the tunnel monster. They came back without the group, so were clearly not needed for pleasing the tunnel gods. We continued our vigil, but could still hear the others, even though the two hadn’t found them (they were later discovered outside, smoking). The two people asked us how to get back to basecamp. We directed them to a dead end. Then Lynx showed them the right way. Laura asked for tapping and tapped her foot three times on the floor. She got a response. Two taps. We’re not entirely sure whether it was the group pissing about and pretending to be the spirit, or a genuine response. We decided to find them and set off down the tunnel. It suddenly went very quiet. The feeling in the tunnel changed. It went from being a comfortable place to feeling very eerie. It was clear we were now completely alone.

Drakelow TunnelsAfter several more attempts, we got no response, so headed back to base camp (without getting lost). On the way, we joked about everyone buggering off and leaving us in the tunnels. We got back to base camp. Everyone had buggered off and left us alone. We gathered our gear and headed out to the van to sleep.

In the morning, we were woken by the comforting sounds of gunfire. The tunnels are used for Airsoft and the shooters were already in. We photographed the tunnels, as we hadn’t done it on the way in. The door was unlocked, so we all wandered in. The place was completely lit, which gave it a different atmosphere. We didn’t venture far in, because we were convinced we’d be shot in the face with pellets, but we got a couple of photos before leaving. And getting lost. We dropped Jack and Laura off and headed home. And got lost.Drakelow Tunnels

Courtroom Drama

Old Crown Court BristolAn abandoned court house, acting from a found script and a terrifying dummy called Jean. It could only be the season 5 opening of Calamityville Horror.

You’d think after 4 seasons, the things that have plagued us from the beginning: getting lost, messing around with mannequins and being everything that a ghost hunting show is not, might have improved by now. Well Calamityville fans, worry not, the only things that have improved are our video editing skills.

Old Crown Court BristolThe start of season 5 is a collaboration with fellow Welsh ghost hunters, Jack and Laura from Jack and Laura Ghost series. We went to the Skirrid Inn with them at the end of season 4 and we’re investigating Drakelow Tunnels with them next week. Last night’s adventure was in the old Bristol Crown Court on Bridewell Street. Remembering the fun we had in Monmouth Shire Hall with our mates, Tom and Amy, we didn’t hesitate to accept their invitation. Unfortunately, as we’d been learning to ride motorbikes all day with Neen, she couldn’t leave her wife and kids all night too. Yes, motorbiking was as bad as you’d expect, but that’s for a different blog post. Word of advice: don’t fall off on the day you’re going ghost hunting. It friggin’ hurts.

Old Crown Court BristolHaunted by the navigational disasters of Oxford (may we never speak of it again) and Nottingham, we Goggle Street Viewed the court house, as we know Bristol isn’t the easiest city to drive around. We found on-street parking and a NCP across the road. Confident this would not be an episode involving a meltdown, we set off for Pontypool to fetch Jack and Laura. And got lost. In our defence, Pontypool is quite stingy on the road name signs. And we drove the wrong way through it. After an unnecessary trek through the town centre, we pulled into a bus stop and succumbed to our satnav. We couldn’t get a signal. All we had was a blurry map and a blue blob. Not even roads. Just background. Thanks, technology. Your advances have made our lives so much easier.

Old Crown Court BristolWe found our way back to a roundabout that was mentioned and tried again. As we cruised along a road, Cat’s navigation consisted of: “the blue blob’s getting closer to the red blob.” “The blue blob’s eating the red blob.” “We’ve moved away from the red blob.” We turned around. “We’re nearing the red blob.” “See, now the red blob’s over there.” Satnav, you are a gift from the gods.

It turns out, we’d been on the correct road and should’ve stopped at the scene of the red blob massacre. Luckily we weren’t too late. After picking up Jack and Laura, we set off for Bristol, allowing ourselves an hour and a half for Calamityville cockups. We didn’t have to wait long. As we were merrily trundling along the A4042, Lynx noticed we were heading for Abergavenny. Which is north. We wanted to go east. Cat: “we’re on the right road.” Lynx: “yes, but this road goes both ways.” Cat: “Oh. We’re heading for the Skirrid Inn. Turn around, we’ve already been there.” A u-turn in a parking lay-by soon had us back on course.

We reached Bristol with half an hour to spare and didn’t drive the wrong way down a one-way road at all. Perhaps being responsible for other people made us more into proper adults. And Street View, you lied about that one road of on-street parking. It’s now a bus stop. Thanks for that. It’s no wonder we have trust issues.

Old Crown Court BristolWe found the court, but no way in, despite Cat rattling the chained up doors, so decided to try around the back. After a group of drunken youths complimented us on our hair colour, we met Karrin from South Bristol Paranormal. There were 12 of us in total, which was nice. We don’t like going with 30 or 40 other people. Unlike other locations we’ve visited, our knowledge of Bristol old Crown Court amounted to: it was a crown court; it’s now disused; music events have been held there; there are cells. That’s it. No build date, no architect, no closure date. Not even a Wikipedia page for it.

As soon as we entered the foyer, we wandered off and lost everyone. In our defence – old building, doorways, stuff. There were two foyers with about five doorways leading off each one. By the end of the night, despite having spent eight hours there, we still didn’t know our way around. We don’t hold out much hope for Drakelow Tunnels. We might have to take bread crumbs, or chalk to mark our route. Or maybe the next ghost hunters who go will find our bedraggled selves and lead us out to painfully bright sunshine and freedom. If you don’t see a blog post next Sunday, send help. And biscuits.Old Crown Court Bristol

The night started with a group tour. There are lots of rooms on the ground floor, but only one retains its court room past. Upstairs looks like an abandoned flat, with the cleaning products clearly as unused as the rest of the place. It was more urban exploring than ghost hunting, complete with debris on the stairs and treacherous holes in one floor. We were sadly banned from that area. There was a dummy made of sacks slumped on the stairs. Perhaps it was a reveller that hadn’t gone home and was now trapped in the afterlife of the party. We earmarked him for shenanigans later. But the best part were the cells.

Old Crown Court BristolWe expected a few small holding cells like in Monmouth. Oh no. These were proper prison cells with the gloss white bricks and barred fronts. It was a horror film paradise. And they occupied the entire ground floor. We knew where we wanted to spend the night.

Old Crown Court Bristol

He said he was Father Christmas but he only gives out nightmares.

Luckily we were allowed to go off with Jack and Laura (just as well, considering we’d forgotten everyone’s names the moment they said them), so the four of us began the night in the cells. Cat and Laura returned upstairs to fetch stuff and both got hopelessly lost. So lost, they didn’t even find each other. It was pitch black without the lights. In the family cell, we set up motion sensor lights, had our trusty shackles and keys as trigger objects and our laser pens. We got nothing, apart from an enthusiastic seagull’s participation to our questions. We asked any spirits to blow on our faces and Laura could feel coldness around her. After half an hour, we moved to a smaller cell. Again, nothing. We moved cells and found another sack dummy with a freaky mask. Jack named him Jean and we took turns posing with our new cell mate. Unfortunately, we were summoned for break. We stayed behind to have a quick EVP session with Jean, which mostly resulted in us harassing him for photos.

For our next vigils, we had the entire ground floor, so we started in courtroom one. We thought we should have a group photo where the judge sits. However, we didn’t know how to get to the door that led to that area, so had to vault over the witness box. Not easy when you have a ten second self-timer on your camera. Jack and Laura were put on trial, but the judge refused to pass sentences. While we were there, the Ghost Radar said ‘show’ ‘cold’ ‘blew’ and ‘Harry.’ Our table tipping attempt was as successful as the Titanic’s maiden voyage. But we found a load of guns from the Airsoft events that are held there. We considered wrapping glittery scarves from the courtroom around our faces and rushing into everyone’s vigils wielding the guns, but we’re not insured for heart attacks.Old Crown Court Bristol

As usual, the other groups all experienced activity. Jack reckoned we might be blockers, as none of us ever get activity, despite doing this for a few years now. Ghost hunters who repel ghosts. That would explain our show being as popular as a swarm of bees in a lift. Phew. We thought it was our personalities.

We wandered the other rooms, walking into objects and tripping over stuff. In our final room, Cat found a black book. With a script inside. She and Jack acted out the script which can only be described as ‘bizarre’. One scene involved a magic carpet and assassinating dictators by pushing mammals off the carpet onto them. Does the SAS know about this unique tactic? The BBC clearly hasn’t commissioned this script, but rest assured, part of it shall make its debut on Calamityville. What is it with us finding scripts in courts? Anything after this was going to be anticlimactic.Old Crown Court Bristol

After another break, we were teamed up with Alan, Bev, Daisy and Charlotte who had been having activity in the rooms upstairs. One of them had picked up on the name ‘Harry’. It was about 1 a.m. now and we were already tired, after having a crap night’s sleep and riding motorbikes for several hours. So when nothing happened, Lynx and Jack took the opportunity to nap. Lynx was still filming. Professional, see. We wandered downstairs for photos and a chocolate biscuit. When we regrouped, they told us about the K2 activity they’d been getting upstairs. Lynx “so after we left then?” Yep. Repellents.

Old Crown Court BristolWe returned to the cells for a group vigil. Daisy, Charlotte and Bev were in one area, Alan and Andy were in another, us, Jack, Laura, Karrin and another Alan went to a different area of the cells. The amount of Alans in the small group confused us. We started suspecting every male who appeared there was Alan. Jean joined us, so when Jack was shut in a cell by himself, Cat hung Jean from the bars to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t get too scared. Though Jean’s creepy face wedged between the bars probably wasn’t that comforting. We formed an outwards-facing circle and Alan wandered with our keys, trying to stir up the spirits. He was too polite, so Karrin took over. There was some bleeping from the Mel Meter, but we were too far to see which component was bleeping. Cat switched with Jack and took Jean in the cell with her, after he momentarily got his head stuck in the bars. He listened to live EVPs with her while Jack was put in the centre of our circle as bait. It was probably the best night of Jean’s life.Old Crown Court Bristol

We regrouped and two glowing balls were put on the floor. The idea is that if you stare at them long enough, they move. To be honest, this seemed like dodgy science to us. If you stare at anything for long enough, it looks like it’s moving. It’s an optical illusion. They were the only light source in a pitch black area, so that plays tricks on your eyes. Cat asked if anyone had anything to draw around the balls so we could see if they actually moved, but nobody did.

It was now 3:15 a.m. and we were knackered. Everyone headed upstairs for a group vigil with our least favourite piece of equipment – the spirit box. We must be the only ghost hunters who don’t like this piece of equipment and refuse to buy one just because all the ‘cool kids’ have one. One, the static irritates us. Two, the more we see it being used, the more we’re convinced it’s a glorified radio with a hefty price tag. It sweeps FM and AM frequencies and the idea is that spirits communicate through the white noise. We have a £10 portable radio from Argos that we could spin the dial on and it would probably be just as effective. If it’s just about the white noise, why does it have an aerial? The aerial apparently helps pick up voices. Radio stations more like. Also, it’s meant to sweep so fast that you wouldn’t be able to hear a voice. Then why can we hear music? Do the ghosts communicate through the Top 40? Is a DJ their spirit guide?

Old Crown Court BristolThis time, Cat joined Jack and Lynx in their nap. Whilst filming. Multitasking FTW. You see how our levels of professionalism have improved? As she would be driving home, she figured it was safer to nap in the courthouse than in the car. We left the court at 4 a.m. and weaved our way through the drunken clubbers to our car, using Jack’s technique of pretending we were drunk so they’d accept us as their own. Like with zombies. Well, we put failing to go into the paying area of the car park down to our inebriated state. Y’know, in case they were listening.Old Crown Court Bristol

So in terms of ghosts, nothing. In terms of fun, we had plenty. Finding the script was an unexpected highlight and provided much amusement. We didn’t think the place would be as big as it was and the cells were fantastic.

Roll on Drakelow Tunnels.Old Crown Court Bristol

Chudleigh Literary Festival

image001Those of you who were following our blog last year, may remember we read at the Salem Literary Festival in June. For those who weren’t following us then, it can be summed up by us failing to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house on a straight road then showing up at our first festival soaking wet, covered in mud and smelling of farm animals. Yet despite this, one of the authors we met there, Kate McCormick, has asked us to read at the Chudleigh Literary Festival. Thanks, Kate! Check out the website for the full details here.

On Wednesday 8th July, we’re reading from Disenchanted, our collection of horror/comedy fairytales. We have a half hour slot (7:30 p.m.), but luckily, we’ll be in the marquee with a bar, so there’ll be drinks on hand to help the audience and us get through it together. Not sure what we’re going to talk about for 30 minutes. We’re terrified we’ll bore the audience. We imagine looking out over a sea of sleeping faces, empty glasses tumbling from their hands, the occasional snore escaping as tumbleweed blows past. Maybe we could bring a torch and do shadow puppets. Then again, we’re not very good at shadow puppets.

There are workshops during the day which we’re hoping at attend as well. We’re hoping to arrive after lunch, but those of you who remember our attempt to get to the Exeter Novel Prize, this could go horribly wrong and we’ll end up sitting in an ironically-named truck stop in the middle of nowhere. We’ve never been to a writing workshop so we have no idea what to expect. Hopefully being in a learning environment won’t awaken our teenage rebel selves where we refused to do homework because we were too busy writing novels, and got sent home for dyeing our hair purple. Ah. Our hair is currently purple. We promise we’ll behave!

So please come to the festival and meet all the authors, even if it’s just to watch us embarrass ourselves. You know it will happen. It’s the one thing we’re good at. And if we don’t, there will be drinks. We’ll be funnier if you’re drunk. If we’re not, at least you won’t remember it ;)

 

The Malignant Dead

First off, we’d like to thank everyone who has supported us in our fight against Facebook by signing and sharing our petition. After sending them Lynx’s passport and demanding the right to use our pen name, Facebook caved and let us back on, under our pen name. We won! Though we’re still keeping the petition going so others don’t suffer our fate.

Anyhoo, next month we’re hoping to release our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead. We’ve loved working on it and are excited to release it. In the meantime, here’s the first chapter. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

1645. The year Scotland died.

Glazed eyes of the dead watched the cloaked figure creep through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, his beaked mask casting monstrous shadows that slunk along the crumbling walls. People edged away, whispering ‘Doctor Death’. Where he walked, Death followed.

Rotting bodies lay entangled in the alleys; the June sun and north wind conspiring to poison the air with the foul odour of decay. One body groaned as black rats investigated her. Although her flesh had decomposed, she was still alive.

Dirty white rags dangled from windows, like hanging men left on gallows for the city to witness their shame. Retching coughs and screams smothered the pitiful moans. Death no longer loitered in the shadows, veiled beyond people’s nightmares; he prowled the streets, taking people where they stood. There was nowhere left for them to hide.

The figure stopped at a door. Red paint dripped like blood from a mortal wound.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

The words scrawled above the foot-long cross filled McCrae not with hope, but dread.

McCrae touched the cross. “There is no mercy here.”

He wiped the paint on his leather cloak, leaving a scarlet smear. He must be mad. He wasn’t a doctor. He was yet to cure an infected wound, yet he hoped to cure the plague. He could not even see out of the damn mask. He adjusted it then leaned down to tuck his leather breeches into his boots.

He beckoned a watchman, who crossed the narrow wynd and unlocked the door, his pipe clamped between his teeth. McCrae stepped inside the tenement. Gloom swallowed him, the smell of putrefaction lingering despite the herbs hanging in the window. Smoke infused the air from the brimstone burning by the hearth.

The stench of Hell.

Mrs Calhoun emerged from the bedroom, her haunted eyes revealing Death had visited her home. McCrae nodded and entered the small room. Rancid odours stirred his stomach. A man lay on the bed, blankets clutched in his decomposing fists. A shrivelled rabbit’s foot dangled off a leather thong around his neck. His mouth hung open, as though Death came before he finished his scream. Pus from the burst bubo in his armpit trickled down his blackened, festering skin. Flies crawled over his face. The buzzing of their wings became the music to die to.

McCrae stared down at him, gripping his bag. His hooded cloak felt heavy on his shoulders.

“I had hoped you could help me.”

McCrae unrolled the man’s nightshirt sleeves then picked him up.

“Don’t do this.”

He turned. Mrs Calhoun blocked the doorway, fingering the heart pendant around her neck.

“I cannot leave him to rot. The infection could spread to you, if it is yet to take hold.”

“Don’t undertake this role. It is not worth it.”

“The Guild of Surgeons and Barbers’ apprentice fee is forty shillings. I cannot afford that on a market trader’s wage. I will quit once I have cured this pest and settled my debt with my friend James.”

“John did not see a penny of the wage the council promised. He ‘did not live long enough to earn it’.” She gestured towards her dead husband. “Do you know how long John was the plague doctor? A week. How long have you been the plague doctor?”

McCrae glanced at the man in his arms. “Doctor Petrie is my first patient.”

Mrs Calhoun’s eyes brimmed with pity. “How old are you?”

“Twenty six.”

“Do you know what awaits you?”

“I have read about the treatments.”

“You won’t find the cure amongst the pages of a book. All John’s superstitions – the chicken tail feathers, plague water and frogs’ legs he gave his patients – could not save him. That lucky charm around his neck could not save him. Nothing could have saved him. Not even you. His parents died three days ago. He could not save them. Next week, the new plague doctor will put you on the cart while your betrothed weeps at your bedside. Tell me then it is worth the money.”

Mrs Calhoun walked away as McCrae carried his predecessor to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it and McCrae stepped into dying sunlight, where a cart waited. He laid John on the bodies then followed the cart. John’s glassy gaze fixed on him, as though forewarning him of the horrors to come. McCrae looked away.

A carriage jolted past, heading for the Flodden Wall, burdened with a family and their belongings. The mother averted her eyes and hugged a bairn to her, as though the mere sight of McCrae would infect her.

“You cannot outrun Death.”

The wheels of the next death cart rolling behind him drowned out the fleeing carriage.

A man staggered along Cowgate, weaving between the cattle before falling to his knees in the filth. He vomited; blood spattering his hands, the street, and the dead bairn he embraced.

McCrae’s cloak creaked as he knelt and reached for the bairn.

“No!” The man scrambled away, cradling her to his chest. “Yer the devil!”

“I’m yer only hope.”

McCrae eased the bairn from the man’s arms and placed her on a barrow between two dead women. The wheels trundled forwards, the death bell tinkling, the bodies’ limbs flopping with the cart’s jerky movements.

“Bring out yer dead!” echoed through the street.

McCrae helped the man up. “Where do you live–?”

“William.”

William shuffled along Cowgate, which ran parallel to the High Street, and turned right into Borthwick’s Wynd. He stopped at a door bearing a scarlet cross. McCrae ushered William inside, motioning to a watchman down the street. He locked the door from outside. McCrae’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim room, lit only by the hearth.

“I’m McCrae.” The large beak muffled his voice. Sweet herbs, dried flowers and bergamot oil masked some odours but nothing concealed death’s putrid perfume.

“You cannot help us, yer no doctor. Go back to yer market stall where you belong.”

“I’m the only one willing to help you.”

“Until the council’s money runs out. I want John.”

“John is dead. I can fetch his corpse from the cart if you wish but he will be as helpful to you as my family’s linen would be.”

Laboured breathing rattled from the bed in the corner. An elderly couple slept in another bed.

“Why do they lock us in?”

“Because if they didn’t, more folk would die.”

McCrae moved to the writhing fire and laid a poker in the flames. William wheezed, his legs buckling. McCrae crouched, removing a lance and a rag from his pocket.

“I’m sorry, this will hurt.”

He unbuttoned William’s shirt and pierced the apple-sized bubo in his armpit. William hissed as blood and pus burst from his decaying flesh. McCrae dabbed the weeping wound with the rag, swallowing the vomit threatening to choke him. Would he get used to the sights, the smells of this wretched disease? Would he live to see it cured? Or would he become just another corpse rotting in the pit while the city died above him?

“Why has this happened? We stopped bathing because Pastor Matthews said the dirt would keep the pest away and that God would punish us for our pride.”

McCrae examined William’s blackened fingers and green nails. “God punishes murderers, not folk who bathe.” He collected the poker.

William flexed his fingers. “What’s happening to them?”

“Yer body is dying around you.” McCrae wiped William’s brow then slipped a stick into his mouth. “Bite.” He thrust the glowing poker into the bubo, the rancid smell of burning flesh tainting the air. McCrae heaved, clenching his jaw to stop himself vomiting over his mask and his patient.

William screamed.

McCrae’s medical books and cadavers had not prepared him for treating the living dead. Corpses didn’t scream.

McCrae ran to the door, pounding on it like a still-warm body begging to be released from its grave. The watchman opened it. McCrae fell to his knees and tugged off his mask, vomiting into the dirt. He rested his hands on his thighs, gasping in the warm air. William’s decay festered in his nostrils. He heaved and spat.

The watchman chuckled. “They don’t smell like linen, do they laddie?”

McCrae wiped his mouth and shot him a contemptuous look. “They’re infected – what’s yer excuse?” He stood, pulling on his mask, and entered the tenement.

“Is anyone else infected?”

“My wife, Agnes.” William coughed, blood streaking his chin.

McCrae patted his shoulder with his gloved hand and approached the bed. The rough breaths of the dying had silenced. A woman on the straw mattress cradled a five-year-old lad. At the foot of the bed, an eight-year-old lass lay curled up, clutching a doll.

McCrae brushed the lass’s damp hair from her face. A small bubo lurked behind her ear.

She shrieked and wrenched back. “Mammy!”

“I’m a doctor,” McCrae whispered.

She gripped her doll, crying as he lanced the swelling. He examined the lad. Red roses covered his pale, sweaty skin. He hugged his mother, his eyes wide.

“Are they–?”

McCrae nodded. Tears trickled from William’s red eyes. McCrae checked Agnes’s pulse then lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

“No!” William pushed McCrae aside and hugged his wife. “Agnes!”

McCrae grabbed the bed. His heart ached at the thought of losing Katrein this way. William collapsed, pulling Agnes into his lap. He sobbed, kissing her face.

“Bring out yer dead!”

“I’m sorry William. I must take her.” McCrae prised Agnes from William’s arms and carried her to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it, covering his face.

McCrae whistled and the cart stopped. He laid Agnes in the back.

“You must be the new fella. You’ll get a reputation for killing yer patients.” The barrowman chuckled. Grey sprinkled his dark hair, like stray ashes had fallen from the sky from the remains of the witches Scotland had burned. Even with the black rag covering his mouth and nose, McCrae recognised Hamish Reid.

McCrae patted the grey pony, Bran, who shied away. “That’s why they call me Doctor Death.”

“McCrae?” Hamish peered through the beak’s round glass eyeholes. “Samhain’s not until October. There’ll be no begging and celebration this year.”

“There’ll be plenty of spirits to welcome.”

“You should see him without the costume,” Hamish’s twenty-year-old passenger whispered.

“How are you, Hamish?” McCrae asked.

“Better than my passengers. They’re a wee bit quiet today.” Hamish jerked his thumb towards his cart then elbowed the woman beside him. “Though Katrein’s broth is trying to kill me.”

“Every day it fails,” she replied. Hamish laughed.

“Katrein!” McCrae circled Bran, who nipped at him.

“Are you trying to frighten yer patients into their graves, Alex?”

“Some say evil spirits caused this, and the mask frightens them away.”

“You believe them? For shame. I thought you were a man of science, not superstition.”

McCrae helped Katrein down. She wore her black nurse’s habit, her soot-coloured hair escaping her cap.

“Why did you not tell me you had accepted?” she asked.

“You’d try to stop me.”

“I don’t want you to die. The thought of riding in Hamish’s cart with you dead in the back terrifies me. But you’ll be a wonderful doctor. Even if you look like a monster.”

“Folk will never accept me as a doctor. The way they would not be happy if the flescher became king.”

“You do not accept the role you were born into. Folk cannot understand that.”

“At least they don’t have to worry about you becoming king.” Hamish laughed. “Yer manners and fists would see you on the gallows, not the throne.”

McCrae smiled, though they could not see it. He stroked Katrein’s hair. “Stop riding in Hamish’s cart. The dead could be contagious. I don’t know what causes the plague, how it spreads. I refuse to believe this is an act of God.”

“Witchcraft,” Hamish said.

“It’s a disease, not a curse.”

“Just because you cannot see the world beyond this one, does not mean it’s not there. If they were not witches, why did the council burn them?”

“If this is caused by witchcraft, why did it not stop after Agnes Finnie was executed in March?”

“She’s not the only witch in Edinburgh.”

Katrein smiled at their exchange. “I’m treating a woman’s broken ankle in Grassmarket. Hamish is taking me.”

McCrae groaned. “Will you ever obey rules?”

She stood on her toes and kissed his mask’s cheek. “If you wanted someone obedient, you would not be marrying me.”

“Each one of my grey hairs is caused by trying to control this one,” Hamish said.

Katrein hitched her skirt and climbed into the trap. “If my broth hasn’t killed my cousin, the pest won’t kill me.”

Hamish leaned over and tugged McCrae’s beak. “Yer not putting me in the back of my cart, birdman.” He flicked the reins and Bran walked on. “Bring out yer dead!”

Katrein blew McCrae a kiss.

Searchers entered tenements, scouring for the dead, the dying and the diseased. One searcher emerged, her face grim as she painted a crimson cross on the door and hung a white rag from the window. McCrae sighed, each cross a stain on his soul. Paint dripped down the wood, bleeding into the words.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

Identity Theft

Just to let everyone know, Facebook has locked us out of our account and are demanding we send them Government ID before they let us back in. Facebook: we cannot send you Government ID of a PEN NAME. We’re writers. We want to be known by our writing profile, that is how you build up a following and readers. Our real identities are private and we will NOT be forced to put them online. Also, how DARE you, Facebook! You are a social networking site, not a fascist state. We have now lost access to our Calamityville Horror page and all the book pages we set up and we’ve lost access to fans of those pages. Those pages are still up, but we don’t have control over them now. Even if we were to set up a new profile, we have no way of becoming admins of these pages. Now they’re at risk of being hacked. The one good thing is that our friend, Wil set up our fanclub for us, so he has now made our sister admin of it, so she can control it. We can’t access all the others though. They have taken down our personal profile. Search for Cat Lynx Raven on Facebook. We do not exist anymore.

It seems they’ve done this before. There are reports from January 2013 and October 2013, where they targeted hundreds of people on both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook claimed they were legitimate requests. How can demanding we send some faceless social site private information be legitimate? What are they planning on doing with it? Selling it on to the highest bidder? How about you prove who YOU are, Facebook? Again, how can we send you proof of our pen name? They don’t issue driving licences and passports under pen names. We’ve emailed Facebook about this and have been spamming them on both our C L Raven and Calamityville Horror Twitter accounts.

We understand that it’s easy to set up accounts under fake names and that is how paedophiles and criminals operate, but there is a big difference between setting up a fake account to prey on people and setting up an account under your writing name. Facebook, all you have to do is Google us and you will see that every social media account we have is under our pen name.

Not only have we lost access to our pages, which we have worked hard on to build up a following, but we have also lost access to our friends. There are people we’ve known on there since we first joined Facebook. They’re not on Twitter. So now we have no way of talking to them. We’ve lost access to readers. This will affect our livelihood. We’ve lost access to Calamityville fans. How will the people who only like the Facebook page find out about us getting lost? Why are we being punished? We have never posted anything inflammatory or indecent. Unless they find photos of our pets offensive. Has someone reported us as a fake page? If they have, they will wish they’d never heard of us.

So if you wish to keep in touch with us, follow this blog or follow our Twitter accounts – @clraven @CalamityHorror or subscribe to our newsletter. You can also write on the C L Raven Fanclub and Calamityville Horror pages. We won’t see it but we’ll get people to check them from time to time and report back. We don’t see this getting resolved soon, if ever.

You want a war, Facebook? You’ve got one. You will not silence us.

**UPDATE** We’ve sent Facebook an IRS tax form with our pen name and date of birth, as they say that’s all they require, plus a letter from the IRS. They won’t accept it. So we’ve decided to fight back. We’ve started a petition to ask Facebook to allow writers/artists/actors to use their professional names on their personal profiles. You can sign it here.

News Round

It’s been a while *sings Stain’d* Damn. Now that song’s stuck in our heads. Anyhoo, we finally have some good news to share. After months of nothing but rejections, (think we’ve broken the world record for this in our 7 year career), our short story, Autumn of Terror, has been accepted for a Mammoth book of Jack the Ripper stories! It will be published in the autumn by Little, Brown, which makes it our biggest publication to date. We didn’t expect to be accepted, because we only found out about the anthology two weeks before the deadline, but Jack the Ripper is our favourite serial killer. In a totally non-creepy way. Our favourite book we own is a casebook with copies of his letters, postcards and the police reports. He was the first serial killer we learned about when we were kids and we’ve never lost our fascination. We watch every documentary filmed about him. Who’d have thought he would help us murder our way into Little, Brown? We should have written about him sooner. One day we WILL go to London and do a Jack the Ripper tour. Would dressing as him be creepy? We could dress as the prostitutes but we tend to trip over long dresses and we lack the cleavage to pull the dresses off. Plus we’re more believable as murderers than prostitutes.

To be honest, we’re convinced the editor is going to email us back and tell us he sent the acceptance by mistake. You know how easy it is to accidentally send a message to the wrong person. There were 34 authors accepted and 100 odd rejected. We’re always on the reject side so when an acceptance happens, we react in the same way as if the Supernatural boys were to ask us out – is this a joke? Seriously, someone’s paying you to do this, right? So far, we haven’t had that email. So now we’re worried that maybe he had 33 stories accepted and needed one more, so picked one at random from the reject pile. Or maybe ours wasn’t quite as bad as some of the others. Or it was filling a 4,000 word slot left open.

We’re the same in our personal lives too. Someone throws a missile from a car at us, or shouts abuse, we accept it’s part of being different. We’re used to it. We expect it and it’s not strange when it happens. We’ll shout stuff back, or kill them in a story. But if someone’s nice to us or compliments us, we don’t know how to handle it. Neen once told us that people in our Zumba class liked us. Our response was: “Why? We don’t speak to them.” And if we’re perfectly honest, we have no idea why our friends want to hang out with us so much. Surely they must be bored of our company by now. Trust issues? Yeah, we have a few :D

Southcart BooksSouthcart BooksAlso, our books are finally in a bookshop! Southcart Books in Walsall have agreed to stock them and the owner, Scott even made a lovely display of them on a vintage hostess trolley. We would have to sacrifice a small nation to an ancient god to get this kind of display in Waterstones. Though Waterstones, if you’re reading this, we’re not saying we’re against the idea…If you’re ever in Walsall, go check out Scott’s bookshop. It’s beautiful with lots of character and has really interesting books. It’s the type of bookshop all bookshops should aspire to be. If we lived closer, we would never leave it.

We’ve actually been working on old short stories recently, all from 2011. We dread looking at old stories because we’re convinced they’ll be crap and will need a lot of work. There are some stories on our hard drive that we have no idea what they’re about, it’s been that long since we looked at them. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the ones we chose and are now kicking ourselves for leaving them fester for so long. We’ve even been entering them in competitions. One was last submitted 7 years ago!  And it only went to one competition. Another one was submitted eight times and didn’t get anywhere, so it’s no surprise why we left it alone.

At the moment, we’re editing The Devil’s Servants, our novella set during the 1649 Edinburgh witch trials. It’s sort of a sequel to our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead, in that some of the characters return, but it’s a stand alone book too. We haven’t touched it since we wrote it in November, because we’d convinced ourselves it was crap. It was really hard to write and quite frankly, we’ve had more enjoyable tooth extractions. But we’d completed all our April deadlines and had nothing else to work on. Actually, it’s not as bad as we remember.

The Malignant Dead has a release date of June and will be the first in a series of historical novellas. They’re completely different to anything we’ve written. In a way, we think they might be our best work, but they’re so bloody hard to write! We’ve always put off writing historical fiction, despite our love of history, because if you get something wrong, people will make sure to tell you about it. We’re so paranoid about this, we even use an online etymology dictionary to make sure that the words we use were around in that time. It’s forced us to be creative with words as so many weren’t invented then. But the swear words were :D

We’re also appearing at two literary festivals! The Salem literary festival in East Budleigh on Sunday June 21st. Yes, Rosemary Smith invited us back, despite the fact last time we got lost walking a mile up a straight road trying to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house, only for it to rain when we were a mile from the car, so we arrived at the festival soaking, muddy and smelling of farm animals. And we’ll also be at ChudFest on Wednesday July 8th. Kate McCormick, who writes as Elizabeth Ducie, invited us after meeting us at the Salem literary festival. Yes, she knew about our Raleigh-related disaster and still wants us at the festival. So should some disaster befall us on route to Chudleigh, at least she won’t be surprised.

If you want to keep up with the latest news and releases, sign up to our newsletter. You won’t get spammed. In fact, we use it so infrequently, we never remember how to work the damn site :D You’ll find out about new releases before anyone else and sometimes we even give you free stuff. Signing up won’t improve your life in any way, but we will save you when a sharknado happens. (We’ve seen the films and have the book, How to Survive a Sharknado so we are prepared for every unusual eventuality.) We will save our newsletter subscribers first ;) Everyone grab a chainsaw!

Play Time

Witches Abroad, Monstrous ProductionsAs many of you know, we’ve been in a play – Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad by Monstrous Productions. This wasn’t stepping out of our comfort zone, this was being picked up by one one those grabbers in arcades and being dropped into someone’s else’s comfort zone. One, we’ve never acted in anything and two, we’re not great in large groups of people. In fact, it’s only in the last week that we’ve felt able to be more ourselves around people and actually talk to the rest of the cast.

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The marvelous crew. Top – bottom: Craig, Sam, Hitch, Alex, Sarah-Jayne (makeup) Hannah, Callum & Ruby

And we’ve been there since November! Bit late we know. Since we stopped participating in the warm-up games, we felt more comfortable and more part of the group. It sounds a bit backwards, but watching rather than participating makes it easier for us to bond with people because we lose the self-consciousness that participation brings, so we can be more ourselves. Though this kinda sounds stalkerish. *Adopts creepy voices* “we like watching you.” We’re also better when we’re in smaller groups, or talking two-on-one.

Witches Abroad

Alex as Desiderata

Wednesday was opening night. Weirdly, we weren’t nervous until about 3 p.m. Then we had to do our breathing exercises until we reached The Gate. Once we were inside The Gate, we were ok. Especially when we went and sat on the stairs by ourselves :D We joked on Facebook that we were being our usual anti-social selves, but really we find noise overwhelming so sometimes find small dark, quiet places to retreat to, such as woods, stairwells, morgue fridges… Ruby, who plays the maid Sam, did a fantastic job of making us look scary and keeping us company throughout the play. We had to practise the bows and were given a 15 minute warning. As some people were still having their makeup done, we put our wigs on ourselves. We got lost in all that hair. It took us so long to fight our way free and force the wigs into some kind of submission, we were late to the bowing practice. Curse you, wigs!

Witches Abroad

Isabelle and Callum as Dismass and Gammer

Straight after the bows, was the group photo. We were already at the back of the stage when everyone assembled. It wasn’t a deliberate ploy to hide, but when everyone gathered, we could no longer be seen. Which was fine until Craig noticed he couldn’t see us. Goddamn it. Why do people always notice when we’ve gone missing? It seriously hampers our plans and mischief-making. Though we weren’t the only ones hiding, were we, Ellen? ;)

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Director, Amy and assistant director, Ed

Craig tried to persuade us to go down the front. We don’t mind being lost in a crowd in group photos, but there’s no way in hell we will ever stand at the front. Yes we are two of the shortest cast members, but no. Richard (who played various roles) did threaten to throw us over the top, so Cat warned him that we do indeed, bite :D People who don’t know us very well, don’t realise how bloody stubborn we can be. We got our own way in the end, as is proved by the group shot at the bottom of this post.

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Lowri and Ben as Magrat and Albert Hurker

As soon as it got to scene 18 and we were waiting in the wings, the nerves hit. Luckily, Caroline, who plays Lilith is in the scene with us and she’s a lot of fun, so she helped distract us, as did Craig, who was operating the curtain in the wing Cat was lurking in. Our hearts were pounding the minute we walked on stage. We were certain the audience would be able to see them trying to break through their bony cages. Fortunately, we didn’t trip and the scene went brilliantly. There was even a startled gasp as Caroline offered the mice to us.

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Caroline and us as Lilith Weatherwax and the Snake Twins

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Zoe and Tony as Nanny Ogg and Jason Ogg

Our next scene, scene 29, could have potentially gone wrong. When Granny Weatherwax (Ellen) throws a mouse behind a curtain, we chase it. In the tech rehearsals, we nearly collided with speakers that tried to deny us entry. Luckily we had enough space and even managed to find the mouse. Each night, the audience seemed to like us scampering after the mouse. For scene 36, we came through the door by the audience. As we were waiting with Richard, who plays a guard in this scene, a member of the audience came out.

Witches Abroad

Matthew, Katya and Luke

He looked a little startled to see three cast members lurking. As he trotted down the stairs, Cat called “surprise!” When he returned to the audience, we were loitering by the door on the inside, surprising him again. It’s fun to see how many of the audience notice us standing amongst them. The hardest part about scene 36 (the ball scene) is when Lilith clicks her fingers and we have to freeze. Our eyes burn and it’s extremely difficult not to blink. We failed miserably at this as our eyes were watering and burning throughout the entire scene. But we survived the opening night! Only 4 more runs to go…Witches Abroad

Here’s the review Wales Online wrote about opening night. And here is the one from Mithril Wisdom.

Night 2 started brilliantly – we took Cards Against Humanity backstage. We have the bigger, blacker box with every expansion, including the two new ones. What started out with four players, soon turned into 14. Unfortunately, we only had 20 minutes to play, but it was still fun.

Witches Abroad

Antonio and Isabelle as a guard and the princess

We managed to sneak a look at our headshots in the programme before they were whisked away to be sold. We’ve been dreading them, because we normally take hideous photos, but Craig’s worked a miracle and they are actually decent photos. It’s a good job we didn’t spend money on smiley face cover-up stickers. Plus putting stickers over our faces in every programme would’ve been very time-consuming. We may have to hire him for our author events and Calamityville shenanigans.

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Pat as Mrs Pleasant

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Tony and Katya as Jason and his wife

Night 2 went really well. We weren’t as nervous and our hearts didn’t pound when we were on stage, so we consider that a success. We also haven’t face planted yet, though there’s still time. Our former psychologist, Neil came to this performance, so after our character photos, we joined him in the bar. We haven’t seen him since he retired in July, so it was great to catch up.

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Jacky and Ben as the Honorable Douglas Incessant and Lady Incessant

It was only a few years ago that Neil had to fight to get us to go into Starbucks, now because of him, we’re in a play. We don’t have many talents in life, but alongside getting lost, getting locked in places is one of them. We usually get locked in pubs, bars or even bowling alleys with our mate, Andrew, and we’ve been accidentally locked in Pembroke Castle. This time, us and Neil got locked in The Gate. We battled with the locks, rattling the door and flicking up locks on the other door, only for the barmaid to come and press a button beside the door. It immediately opened. It’s not the first time during this play that we’ve embarrassed ourselves with a door.

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Lucy and Lowri as Ella and Magrat

Night 3 was a little different. Or rather, our makeup was a little different. Zoe painted our teeth to look like we had pointy teeth.

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us and our creepy teeth

We loved them. They were suitably creepy. In the other performances, we didn’t open our mouths, which made little sense when one of Nanny Ogg’s lines is: “I’ve never seen teeth like those on anyone before.” Now we could grin menacingly. We made sure to warn Caroline before our scene with her, so we didn’t freak her out when she offered us the mice.

Witches Abroad

Fenn as the woodcutter

When word spread about our teeth, other members of the cast wanted to see them. They were impressed and creeped out. Strangely, we found ourselves smiling more at everyone when we knew they found our teeth frightening. Before the show started, we nipped out with Ruby to get food, forgetting we were in full snake makeup. Oddly, we got less weird looks than we do when we go out normally. This says a lot :/ We once again had to fight with our wigs – the fringes were so long that when we put the wigs on, we couldn’t see our faces in the mirror to adjust them. We looked like Cousin It after getting struck by lightning.

Witches Abroad

Meg and John as ball guests

Backstage, we were treated to a unique experience – watching Death (Alistair) twerking by his scythe in full costume. It’s not something you see every day and we’re glad we got to witness it. This time whilst we waited outside the theatre doors with Richard before the ball scene, instead of frightening audience members, the three of us practised our serial killer smiles. Despite our snake teeth, Richard won.

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Alistair as Death

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Meg as Red Riding Hood

After the play finished, we met up Neen, and her wife, Zoe in the bar. We overheard a guy saying something about the snake twins and how different they look in real life because they’re Goths. By this point, we were dressed in our usual clothes and had removed all the makeup. Except the teeth. We loved the teeth and refused to wash them off.

Witches Abroad

Granny, Nanny and Luke as the wolf

He turned around and saw us sitting at the table behind him. So we flashed our pointy teeth at him. Rather than fleeing the bar in terror, he came over to speak to us. He said he really enjoyed our scenes and found it really creepy when Caroline pretends to feed us the mice. It seems everyone except us finds that scene unnerving. Maybe we’ve been snake owners for too long! He also enjoyed us scampering off after the mouse Ellen throws. He couldn’t believe how synchronised we were.

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Ellen, Lowri and Zoe as Granny Weatherwax, Magrat and Nanny Ogg

Day 4 was going to be a long day. There was a matinee performance for the first time, as well as an evening performance. Between performances, we made a mad dash to our favourite chip shop, Younger’s, which is in Birchgrove. Not exactly near The Gate. We didn’t bother taking off our snake makeup. At first, the boys in the chippie didn’t seem to notice, which left us wondering if we always look this weird. But then one of them asked what the occasion was. When we explained we were in a play and we were the creepy snake twins, his response was: “of course you are.”

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Caroline, Michael and Nick as Lilith, the Duc and Captain de Vere

We started the evening performance tweeting with a member of the audience, which was fun. Rules of Play were celebrating TableTop Day downstairs and it was really tempting to join them, as we were missing out on going to Counters, the board game event our friends run in Ponty. Unfortunately, the game event made things very difficult for us and Richard: when we were waiting to come on for the ball scene, we couldn’t hear a word that was said on stage. The three of us were pressed up against the door, desperately trying to listen for our cue to enter. Witches AbroadLuckily, Tony, who played Jason Ogg, was great at projecting. Usually we hear him clearly, but even he was almost impossible to hear. Thankfully, nobody left the theatre at that point, or they would’ve sent the three of us flying backwards down the stairs, with Richard’s spear tumbling after us and probably taking out someone’s eye. In the play, we can only be defeated by magic and being stamped on, but in real life, a door to the face would have done the trick. The matinee was filmed and will be posted on YouTube. We were nervous when we found out it was going to be filmed and were convinced that would be the moment we fall down the steps with our wigs skidding across the floor. Because this is what happens when we’re being filmed. In normal life, we never fall over, but as soon as the Calamityville Horror cameras start rolling, we turn in to trip hazards. Luckily we didn’t trip because we wouldn’t have been able to synchronise that.

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Dominique as Mrs Gogle, Harry as the Baron and Nanny

And no, we never did get the hang of those damn wigs.

Witches Abroad

Ben, Richard and John threatening Granny with a terrible fate

Special thanks to Ruby, for not only persuading us to take part, but also for doing such a good job with our makeup and letting us know when our scenes were coming up. Thanks to Ruby, Zoe, Pat, Caroline and Craig for keeping us amused during rehearsals and throughout the shows. And thanks to Ellen for making us feel welcome and Nick for letting us keep the snakes :) Thanks to Amy for wanting us in the play, Ed for making rehearsals fun, and Hannah for making sure we were ok. Also, big thanks to our mum, Lynette, sister, Sarah, our mates Neen, Zoe, Tom, Amy, Bryn and Jo, our former psychologist, Neil and our zumba instructor, Julia and her two sons who came to see us. We really appreciate the support. Show week has been our favourite week of all. We feel we got to know people a bit better, even if it was a little late.

Witches Abroad

Fenn and John leading Terrence the toymaker to the dungeon

Over 700 tickets were sold for Witches Abroad, with the four nights selling out. £3,350 was raised for Alzheimer’s Research, which takes the total amount raised from all the plays to £11,000! Auditions for the next play, Night Watch will take place 11th-14th May (subject to change). Men especially are wanted! Email monstrousproductions2012@gmail.com for an audition pack.

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Witches Abroad

Meet the monsters

Photos by Craig Harper

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