Conjuring Spirits

A horror film in a haunted mansion. That wasn’t an invite we would ever turn down.

We’ve wanted to return to Woodchester Mansion since we visited it in 2012. You can read about our last visit here. But the next time we visited, we wanted it to be overnight. Then Team Impact announced they were hosting a horror night with a screening of The Conjuring followed by a ghost hunt until 4 a.m. Although we’ve seen The Conjuring 4 times, we’ve never seen it in a haunted mansion.Woodchester Mansion

We’ve known about Team Impact since they took part in a TV show in 2010 and they seemed like a fun bunch. We were the first to book tickets and worryingly they knew who we were, even though our Facebook is under our C L Raven name. When people tell us they know of Calamityville, our first thought is to apologise. We’ve been chatting to Paul and Chris since we booked and they asked if we had any requests, seeing as we were experienced in investigating the paranormal. After we finished laughing at the idea of being experienced, which lends an air of respectability, we told them we wanted to do lone vigils in the cellar. They promised to lock us in. Horror film, haunted mansion and locked in a cellar. Careful boys, propositions like that could lead to marriage.

Woodchester Mansion

clock tower

Louise, who joined us for our Borley Rectory misadventure was also going with some friends. This was shaping up to be a great night. On Thursday, we tweeted about making spooky biscuits for the night. Sadly, our one bat cookie cutter rusted and the other melted, so we substituted it for a pterodactyl. Team Impact promised not to tell the bats, but couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t find out. We agreed on a price of three bat biscuits for ten minutes in the cellar.

We set off at 5:45 p.m. to allow us plenty of time for calamities. There were none. Apart from a misunderstanding about ablutions: Cat “I need a wee.” Neen “Want me to pull over?” Cat “What if the van gets hit by a truck?” Lynx “There’s services.” Cat thought Neen planned to pull into a layby. We reached the gates at 7:10 to find two others waiting. We were early. Super early. This never happens. Are we becoming…responsible?

Woodchester MansionWoodchester Mansion is a beautiful gothic building, complete with bats, gargoyles and vampires. But to complete the Gothic Guide to Buildings sticker set, you need ghosts. One story says the 2nd Earl of Ducie held a lavish party in 1840 to celebrate his new title, when he saw his father’s ghost sitting in his chair at the head of the table. He apparently left the mansion and never returned. We suspect his leaving was more to do with financial problems rather than ghosts.

A headless horseman roams the grounds. He’s believed to be Sir Rupert de Lansigny, who inherited Spring Park after murdering his cousin. Who says crime doesn’t pay? We’ve found no evidence of his existence, so it’s probable he’s a scary legend. Like Prince Charming. So who is the headless horsemen? And why does he haunt Woodchester Mansion?

The strangest apparition hovers above a lake on the vast grounds – a coffin, believed to belong to a Dominican Friar who drowned himself. Though how do people know who it belongs to, unless they’ve seen the name plaque? Also, why would a coffin haunt anywhere? It’s an inanimate object. It’s not sticking around for unfinished business, or to seek vengeance. “Avenge my foul and most unnatural…construction.”

Woodchester MansionThere are also reports of a horseman in civil war clothing on the drive and a black dog that haunts the cellar. His appearance coincides with the death of people closely associated with Woodchester. It wouldn’t be a British ghost story without a black dog. During our last visit, a worker told us a visitor had brought a dog with them and it refused to enter one of the rooms, becoming quite distressed.

There are rumours of Satantic rituals in the chapel but going on lack of evidence and how popular Satanism is with haunted places, we’re discounting it. Soon, abandoned supermarkets will have rumours of hosting Satanic rituals. People have heard a kitchen maid singing an Irish folksong as she works and a young man crouches in a corner, as though hiding from someone. A tall man apparently stands in the kitchen doorway and leans towards where the hiding man is crouched. Visitors have spotted a small man, rumoured to be a stonemason, in the chapel looking at the stained glass windows, and he is suspected of being responsible for small stones being flicked at visitors. Also in the chapel, people report smelling freshly extinguished candles when no candles have been lit. A girl skips up and down the stairs and on the first floor corridor, a young woman has been seen and heard as she stands at the window above the front door watching visitors below. A floating head haunts the bathroom and an old woman apparently grabs visitors. A tall man has been seen near the laundry room. We’re sceptical of this – when was the last time you saw a man doing laundry?

Woodchester MansionMany people report seeing servicemen around the property. In 1944, American and Canadian troops were stationed there whilst training for the D-Day landings. They used the lakes to train in bridge building for the Europe invasion. Security was very high and rigorously enforced. They stored their equipment in the cellars. During a training exercise, the bridge they were driving over collapsed and more than 20 soldiers drowned in one of Woodchester’s lakes. 1940s music is sometimes heard echoing through the abandoned corridors.

While we waited, we filmed our information piece. The gates were locked. We were tempted to hop out of the van and offer to demonstrate our skill in making burglary tools (yes, we once made a burglary tool), but instead we ate cherries and took the piss out of each other. The gates opened, so we drove in then continued filming. We read about Rupert de Lansigny, the supposedly headless horsemen then discussed how would people identify him without a head. Neen suggested he had wonky nipples. During a lively discussion about how he uses his wonky nipples to navigate the park, we suddenly realised Anthony from Team Impact was standing by the open door, right behind us. Well that’s a first impression we could’ve done without. Anthony said he was waiting to stop gatecrashers showing up. We offered to act as security to scare them off, taser them, or leap on intruders like rabid monkeys. That was a second impression we could’ve done without.Woodchester Mansion

Neen then solved a potential mystery – the bathroom has a floating head. There’s a headless horseman. Perhaps they spend eternity looking for each other like star-crossed body parts.

Paul and Chris soon arrived and everyone drove down to the mansion to park around the back. As Cat climbed into the van, laden down by equipment, she fell and elbowed the horn. Neen “You realise your arse was in the air at that point, and you just drew everyone’s attention to it.” Cat “Balls.” Neen then turned the corner and also accidentally hit the horn. Calamityville are incapable of arriving anywhere in a dignified manner.

Woodchester Mansion

drawing room after everyone had left

After everyone set up in the drawing room, where the screening was to take place, Chris led us on a history tour of the mansion. After he told us the story of a woman who is seen on the staircase, Cat stayed behind to get a photo of the stairs without people. It was the beginning us of us constantly being left behind and wandering off. We’re not sorry. We have form for this. The three of us got distracted by a sink off the stairs. Paul “We have three troublemakers now. That’s the ladies’ toilets.” Neen “it’d fill up pretty quick.” Cat “we’d need a stepladder.” She then tripped going up the stairs, proving Karma doesn’t take kindly to mischief.

Woodchester Mansion

windows where Elizabeth is seen

Chris mentioned a woman, nicknamed Elizabeth, who is seen in the windows above the front door. Neen told him Cat had seen her. He was pleased, as he didn’t know about that sighting. Also on this floor is a little girl ghost. It’s known that a little girl was playing with her friend, running along the corridor. Her friend stopped at the end, she didn’t and plummeted to her death.

After the tour, we all gathered outside for a group photo. We tried to hide at the back like we do in every group photo, but we were spotted and ordered to the front. We compromised and stood by Louise in the middle. Everyone returned inside, but we’d spotted what looked like a tunnel in a wall, so went to investigate as close as we could. The bats came out to greet us, so we stayed to chat to them for a while. By the time we reached the front door, it was locked. We seem to have a knack for getting locked in and locked out of places we’re investigating. Admitting defeat, we ventured round the back. It was either that or squiggle through a window.

It was time for The Conjuring. We had the front row, as they were the last seats left. And we’re so small, sitting anywhere else would mean us being unable to see. The sound kept failing on the dramatic bits, so the blaring noise cutting to silence was quite effective.

Woodchester MansionThe film finished at midnight and the ghost hunt began. We were split into two groups. We were pleased to find Louise and her friends were in our group. We headed to the top floor with Anthony. Louise volunteered to have a DVR with headphones attached so she could hear live EVPs. We would’ve volunteered, but none of us had spare hands to hold it. We could hear voices of people leaving. Neen “All I can hear is ‘keep coming.'” Cat “That’s what she said.” Ever the professionals. We called out for James, the builder who fell/was pushed to his death. He’s rumoured to throw stones, but he didn’t make an appearance. Builders never turn up when you want them to. Cat asked for pushing, scratching or bite marks. No-one’s captured a ghost hickey. Anthony “You’ve been set a challenge now. Can you rise to it?” Neen “That’s what she said.” We see what they meant about us being troublemakers…

A couple of women kept feeling cold, but the window doesn’t have glass. Anthony’s radio kept bleeping and contacting Chris and Paul, even though he wasn’t touching it. In the end, he gave it to Neen to hold. Cat went to the far end of the corridor to see if she could see or hear anything. Lynx and Anthony tried to get the ghosts to shove Cat then Anthony realised she was right by the barrier leading to a two floor fall. Cat had already moved away, in case they were tempted. Neen lamented her lack of Go Go Gadget Arms. Inspired by The Conjuring, Cat tried to persuade the ghosts to play hide and clap. We all spread out through the corridor, with Cat staying at the far end, Neen in the middle and Lynx staying by the window. Almost immediately, we both heard stones falling. But at that point, the bats were flying around, so they were more than likely the cause.

Woodchester Mansion

cellars

After half an hour, we joined Paul in the cellar. They had a Kinnect machine facing the corridor, so Lynx joined the two women who were watching it while Cat and Neen joined hands around the pillar with the rest of the group. Nothing appeared on the Kinnect. Louise felt something tickle the top of her head, but other than that, the cellars were quieter than a sponsored silence. Paul asked for someone to stand in the corridor, so Cat volunteered. Cat said nobody else had spoken up. Neen reckoned she was out before Paul finished speaking. Lynx joined Cat in the corridor, but stayed just in front of the Kinnect. Neen had gone in to watch it. Neen “Lynx’s arse has never looked so big! She hasn’t got an arse.” So if you were to ask a Kinnect, “does my bum look big on this?” The answer is yes. Lynx did a booty shake for the Kinnect. We both heard a single footstep. Cat thought it was Lynx, but she hadn’t moved. Paul wondered if it was Chris upstairs, but he was with Cat. On screen, the corridor between us went completely green, but we don’t know what that means. Maybe a ghost exploded. When everyone was in the corridor, Neen felt something stroke her arse. Paul asked where Chris was. Neen wondered if it was a nerve, but said it definitely felt like a stroke. Cat asked the ghost to slap Neen’s arse. Neen slapped Cat’s instead.

We returned to the drawing room for a break. Group 1 joined Anthony in the kitchen with the Ouija board while group 2 went with Paul and Chris to the bathroom to play 1940s music. Paul allowed us to go to the cellar by ourselves while Louise and her friends went to the top floor corridor to conduct a lone vigil. Chris took us down to the cellar, so we insisted he locked us in. Chris “are you sure?” Us “yes.” Chris “I’ll listen for the screaming.” Cat “But don’t let us out until we’re really panicked. That will be more dramatic.” Neen “You’re never panicked.” If a clown was down in the cellars, we’d be panicked.Woodchester Mansion

Lynx filmed Chris locking the padlock. We each took a room while Neen stayed in the corridor. Lynx didn’t realise there was a beam barrier alarm and kept setting it off. As we were too close to call out without contaminating each other’s EVPs, we took it in turns to call out. Unfortunately, we could still hear the other groups and the 1940s music. Cat whistled for the dog that’s seen in the cellar, but it didn’t come. We should’ve brought treats. Cat tried to entice the ghosts with our Uptown Funk zumba dance, but they weren’t interested.

We switched rooms but the ghosts stayed away. Lynx threw a stone to get the ghost to throw it back, but the ghost didn’t oblige. Paul/Chris radioed us to check if we were happy staying in the cellar. When we said we were, he replied we would be in there for a few hours. Neen put in a request for Red Bull for us. Lynx sang The Bangles’ ‘James’ to lure the builder, but he had another job. People passed the cellar and we heard one say “they’ve been padlocked in.” To be fair, locking us in the cellar is the only way to keep us out of mischief. Most mischief.

Woodchester MansionSadly, the only things in the cellar were us, so we joined Paul’s group in the bathroom, where they were experimenting with glowing balls. No, not that kind of experimenting. One man, Martin, had his ball pulled from his hand. Cat “were you playing with Martin’s balls?” 1940s music was played, but the servicemen didn’t fancy a dance. The group moved into the corridor, so Paul said we could get in the bath. We didn’t need telling twice. Neen joined the group while we got in the bath and sang ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’. Neen returned and joined us in the bath for a three-person ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’ rendition, complete with rowing action. You don’t get that with many ghost hunters. Soon we will be banned from every public event. We even invited the servicemen into the bath with us, but they declined. We reminded them that being dead, there weren’t going to get a better offer. They clearly believed things were yet to reach that level of desperation.

It was now 3 a.m. so we had half an hour to ourselves before a final group vigil. We made our way to the kitchen to use the Ouija table. Nothing. It was the ghost hunting equivalent to sitting in a restaurant when your blind date sees you and flees. We half expected the ghostly servants to ply us with sympathy alcohol and take bets on how long we’d stay. All night, ghosties.

Woodchester MansionWe called out to the ghost of the kitchen maid, Maria, or Moira, but even singing Blondie’s ‘Maria’ or Hard’-Fi’s ‘Better Do Better’ couldn’t convince her to sing back. We even tried an Irish folksong. Well, Thin Lizzie’s ‘Whisky in the Jar’, if that counts. We sang out of tune and the lines in the wrong order, but damn it, we had the guitar riff down. The kitchen was freezing, as it was near the back door. We even asked the ghosts to smash the porcelain, but they didn’t. Lynx then tripped trying to leave the table. Moira’s revenge for the bad singing, perhaps? We wandered the mansion, still humming the guitar riff and joined Louise and her friends in the organ loft galley. Sadly, it’s not a gallery that displays people’s organs in an artistic way. Louise and her friends hadn’t got any activity either. Perhaps joining us before has tainted her in the ghosts’ eyes.

The final vigil was back in the cellar. Blue blobs kept appearing on the Kinnect on this one woman’s waist. Was this the ghost dwarf trying to rifle through her handbag? Lynx switched off her camcorder and IR lights in case they were causing it, but the blob remained and her lights hadn’t affected the Kinnect before. Cat closed the screen on her camcorder so it was pitch black. One woman saw a light on the back wall, but that was caused by Cat’s viewfinder. The vigil was momentarily interrupted by Cat changing the Sony’s tape. If you’re ever on a ghost hunt with us and you hear beeping, cursing and fumbling in the dark, it’s us messing around with our equipment. Not that equipment.

Woodchester MansionThe night ended at 4 a.m. As we were packing up to leave the cellar, Paul asked if we wanted to stay behind and have the mansion to ourselves for twenty minutes while they escorted everyone else out. That’s like asking if we love Halloween. They were lucky we were too excited to think of building a barricade to prevent anyone getting back in. It’s about time the Welsh conquered English land for a change.

Everyone was given a goody bag for attending, which we loved. And those of us brave enough to do lone vigils were given a DVD as a prize. To be fair, we should’ve given the guys a goody bag for letting us come, despite knowing what they would be letting themselves in for. When everyone had gone, we went to the second floor corridor, as we hadn’t done a lone vigil there. We heard a couple of taps, but that was it. We tried convincing the servicemen to dance with us, and we even held out our hands and did the Cha Cha Cha, but they weren’t willing. We don’t blame them – we dig our heels in when people try to drag us onto the dance floor.Woodchester Mansion

While Paul packed up, we went to the cellars with Chris to ask him about his experiences for the book we’re writing about Calamityville’s adventures. He’s been investigating Woodchester since 2002 and has seen six apparitions. We asked him if any of the ghost stories attached to Woodchester are true. Most of them aren’t. The headless horseman is a variation on the folklore of a headless horse that roams the grounds. The Victorians started that rumour as they didn’t have security guards. The floating coffin was exposed as a hoax. But someone has heard a horse and carriage heard on the drive at 3 a.m.

Woodchester MansionWe grabbed Paul for an interview. He’s so tall, Cat struggled to get him in the frame with Lynx. He suggested we get a chair, or that he could go down on one knee. Lynx “are you going to propose?”

Team Impact are all members of ASSAP and NPI and Paul has recently completed a Parapsychology course run by Edinburgh University, so we wanted to ask him about that, as we’re intrigued. Most paranormal investigators just give themselves the title, but these guys have actually done training. We don’t refer to ourselves as paranormal investigators. ‘Idiots with a camera’ is the term we mostly use. Though technically it’s ‘idiots with 6 cameras’ but we don’t like to boast.

We had a fantastic night and would definitely go again. Plus we forgot to pay them in bat biscuits for being locked in the cellar and Ravens always pay their debts. No, wait, that’s Lannisters. Team Impact were lovely and we’d be happy if they ran every ghost hunt we attend. We eventually left at 5:30 a.m. and parked in the National Trust car park. There was a picnic area opposite, but Paul warned us it’s popular for dogging. The last thing we wanted was to have perverts peering through the windows when we’re trying to sleep. Though seeing as the spectral servicemen wouldn’t get in the bath with us, it’s unlikely doggers would show an interest.

We never did fulfill our bargain about the biscuits…

Follow Team Impact on Twitter here Like their Facebook page and the Woodchester Mansion Paranormal page.

Woodchester Mansion

l-r at front Chris, Paul, Anthony.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

With nerves jangling like a hanging skeleton caught in a breeze, we set off for our second literary festival – Chudfest. Most writers probably attend a festival before speaking at one, but we’ve always done things backwards.

Chudfest

the marquee where the festival took place

We met one of the organisers, Kate McCormick, who writes as Elizabeth Dulcie, at the Salem Literary Festival last year. If you want to know how that went, you can read it here. You can watch the reading here. If you don’t have time/can’t be arsed, to sum it up, we failed to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house on a straight road and showed up soaking wet, covered in mud and smelling of farm animals. Despite this, Kate still invited us to read at Chudfest. She’s a brave woman.

For once, we didn’t get lost. Usually, if a journey goes well, Fate balances it out by causing something else to go wrong, and we warned people that should the marquee come down on them, it was entirely our fault. But Fate decided to let us have a day off being her puppets. We set up our table of books, complete with spiderweb table covers and leaflets that our friend, Hayley made for us. Our table was by the bar, which we felt was prime position – when people are drunk, they do random things they later wake to regret, so we hoped that would stretch to buying books from unknown authors.

Chudfest

our table

We weren’t reading until 7:30 p.m. but arrived at 1:20 p.m. to attend a writing workshop run by Kate and a woman called Margaret. We’ve never attended a writer’s workshop before, or any kind of creative writing course, so we were intrigued. Yes, you read that right. We have no writing qualifications. We haven’t taken a single creative writing class. And yet we’re writers. We’re convinced someone will one day expose us as frauds and we’ll be captured on camera, hiding our faces beneath our coats and walking into lampposts.

This workshop focused on senses. Everyone was split into pairs (we were separated) and were given optical illusions to look at. After we’d discussed them, we had a few minutes of free writing about one of the images. Lynx wrote about a person’s hidden dark soul and Cat wrote about a person finding faceless bodies hanging from a tree. Their faces were in a different tree.

Our next piece involved touch. One person was blindfolded and their partner had to guide them around the marquee by holding their fingertips. Talking was forbidden. It was interesting that when blindfolded, we noticed things we hadn’t paid attention to before, like the different floor surfaces, the slight gradient and using hearing to help navigate. Then we had to write how we felt, either being the leader or the blindfolded one. This exercise was also a challenge for us in a different way – physical contact with strangers and being blindfolded. Normally, we refuse to close our eyes if we’re with people we don’t know. When we did adult learning courses in sleeping and dreaming, a lot of it involved closing your eyes in class. We refused to participate because we didn’t know our classmates. Closing our eyes involves trust and makes us feel vulnerable.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

everyone’s gone home

The next exercise was using smells to evoke memories. We learned that our dislike of strong smelling/flavoured food extends to any strong smell. Vinegar and bleach are two smells that induce retching. Everyone else was able to differentiate between the smells. We identified perfume, (another smell we find cloying) bleach and vinegar. Everything else smelled like vinegar. Then we couldn’t get the smell of vinegar out of our nostrils. We had to write a memory, or a mind map. Cat’s involved ‘omg that’s rank.’ ‘Vinegar. Ugh. Vomiting.’ ‘Vinegar? Again? Why?’ ‘Sure that one’s also vinegar’. And ‘can still smell that damn vinegar.’

Taste was the next sense to be explored and this was possibly everyone’s favourite. Mainly because it involved a big bowl of sweets. Again you had to write about a memory. We chose pear drops. They remind us of visiting St Fagans (a Welsh outdoors museum), because every time we visit, we buy pear drops. Cat’s also included a side note of ‘sure I can taste that damn vinegar.’

the lane where we did our lsitenin

the lane where we did our listening exercise

We had a break to go outside and listen for any sounds so we could write a poem based on what we heard. We explored the area, wandered into a housing estate and befriended two English Bull dogs and a pretty brindle Whippet. After that we stood and listened. As we were in a lane, we mostly heard footsteps and children from the nearby primary school. And we’re pretty sure we terrified the locals. Two strange Goth twins loitering in a lane isn’t something they’d encounter in their every day lives, so they hurried past, avoiding eye contact. Apart from the dog walkers, who were forced to speak to us when their dogs befriended us.

After the break, Margaret wanted us to explore our sixth sense. Everyone lay on mats and closed their eyes. Once she’d taken us through relaxation exercises, we had to imagine walking down a corridor lined with books until we reached a door. We both imagined a castle corridor with an oak door at the end. Through the door was our writing area. Lynx pictured our shed, Cat imagined an asylum with rusting beds and a circular pewter table with a large white skull. Once we were in there, we had to imagine we were the best writers we could be, with words flowing. So, basically, any writer that isn’t us. We then had half an hour to write about anything that we’d been inspired by from the workshop. We expanded on the optical illusions we wrote about. We’re visual writers, so that’s what tends to attract us. Everyone was given the opportunity to read out what they’d written, if they wanted to. We passed. Ours were so terrible, we didn’t even want to read them ourselves, let alone have anyone else listen to them.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

this way to the housing estate

There was a break between the workshop and the authors’ supper, so we chatted to Sharon, who had the thankless task of looking after us. She introduced us to her teenage children, who had seen some of our YouTube videos. Whenever someone tells us they’ve seen our videos, our first instinct is to ask ‘why?’ Our second is to apologise. We also spoke to Su Bristow, who we’ve met a couple of times. She won the first Exeter Novel Prize, and was at the Salem literary festival, so it was great to meet up with her again.

Although there was vegan-friendly food at the supper, we’re extremely fussy, so we sat at one of the tables with Sharon and other authors, with our vodka and lemonades, eating our crisps and chocolate buttons. Everyone at our table was lovely and were fascinated when we told them about how we can’t eat foods that have a strong smell, flavour or unpleasant texture, or is the wrong colour. They’d never come across that before. We’ve recently discovered there’s a condition called Selective Eating Disorder which is on the autism spectrum where people experience the same aversions as us. We thought we were just fussy buggers.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

us with our mum, Lynette

Our mum texted to say she was outside, so we went to meet her. Our sister, Sarah, was looking after the animal army. We’d written out instructions for Sarah, including ‘obey the cats’. They made sure she stuck to that rule. We’d also warned her Bandit was a wanton thief and so sneaky, she wouldn’t notice him pinch stuff. She texted later saying ‘Bandit stole my shoe. I was sitting right by him and didn’t see him take it’. We really need to take that dog to a bank.

Then it was time for our reading. Our mum was put on camera duty. You can watch the video here. We’d picked three stories from Disenchanted – Long Live the Queen, Master of Puppets and Once Upon A Nightmare and read a short extract of each. As we didn’t know our audience, we figured it’s the book with the widest appeal, as there’re only small amounts of horror in it. After our reading, some of the audience asked questions, so we talked about the gory stories we wrote as kids, how we could’ve gone two ways – serial killers or writers. We think people are glad we became writers, though if we’d been serial killers, we would’ve had a massive book deal by now and people would stop asking when we’re going to get a proper job.

Chudleigh Literary FestivalWe also talked about the disaster that is Calamityville and how the Care Bears influenced us, except we used our Care Bear stare to destroy random children we’d taken a dislike to. One woman asked about what kind of gravestone we wanted, so we relayed our plans for our tomb. It has to be big enough to have steps and corridors, with sconces lining the walls, gargoyles and a plaque which reads ‘this is the story of C L Raven. (They die in the end).’ To be honest, we haven’t given it much thought. Our sister is refusing to comply with our wishes, so we may write it into our will that nobody gets anything until we have our tomb.

There was a quick break for people to get refreshments. In our case, that meant a trip to the bar. We got chatting to a lovely Scottish woman. She confessed she knew nothing about Goths, but that we were very pretty. We laughed. We’ve been called many things in our time, but never ‘pretty’. That’s more an adjective for things that are delicate, or feminine. Not exactly an adjective that fits with us, but it’s nicer than most of the things we’ve been called. She said “to look at, you’re quite intimidating, but when you speak, you’re really friendly.” We need to work on this. Maybe growl at people. She also gave us our only sale by buying two copies of Disenchanted, making this the best month for sales since February. We’re not kidding. Our career is that depressing.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

Matt Harvey

The evening finished off with poet Matt Harvey. He was brilliant. He’s done Saturday Live for BBC Radio Four, poems for The Guardian, different writing residencies and commissions and even poetry for the London sperm bank that was put on posters in the underground. We’ve…did we mention we had spiderweb table cloths? Watching him, it was clear we have a hell of a lot to learn about performing readings. He was confident, articulate and entertaining. His parts between poems were natural. We were our usual awkward selves and read our introduction off a piece of paper, with some adlibbing thrown in ‘cos we were too nervous to concentrate on what we’d written. We were glad we’d gone first. If we’d had to follow him, the audience would’ve heard our footsteps scampering out of the marquee, followed by squealing tyres as General Pinkinton fled into the night.

Matt admitted he had shed envy after hearing about our writing shed. We offered to hang some skeletons in his for him. Skeletons always make a place feel homely and welcoming.

Parts of the A38 were closed on the way home. Our mum missed the diversion signs and ended up back in Chudleigh. Luckily she texted us to warn us, so we knew to look out for them. Though we were a bit worried when the diversion involved going through country lanes. That’s where the cannibals live.

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

We’re hoping to release our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead soon. 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.

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