Hang ‘Em High

We’ve done some random things when researching for our books, (you can read our previous post about it here) but attending a hanging has to be the strangest.

Bodmin JailThis week has been filled with rejections – 7 in total. And considering our professional life is going much better than our personal lives, this is…let’s just say we’ve had better moments. Then Bodmin Jail announced they were holding a hanging exhibition on Friday and our week suddenly started to look up. We texted our mum to see if she could take the day off work to look after the animal army. She readily agreed and didn’t even question us wanting to do a road trip to see a hanging exhibition. Thanks, Mum! You’re the best. We then needed a partner in crime to join us on the adventure because adventures are more fun with accomplices. Sadly, Neen wasn’t available, but our mate, Dave, was. Our message of “Fancy a random road trip to Bodmil Jail to see a hanging exhibition?” was met with “Hell yes!” We also took our cuddly executioner, Ketch, who we bought from Edinburgh Dungeons.

Bodmin JailAs much as tortures and executions were our favourite parts of history in primary school, this wasn’t just for morbid curiosity. This was work. This was research. We promise. In our body snatchers book, Empty Graves, our main character, Lachlan, is a hangman. So what better way to experience his role than to see an actual hanging in Bodmin Jail? It still has a working execution shed and every time we visit, we’ve wanted to get inside there.

After an ungodly start of 5:45 a.m., we picked Dave up and headed to Bodmin, bitching about how we’d dressed for sunshine and the sun had buggered off. Fortunately, as we neared Cornwall, the sun decided to make an appearance – obviously as excited about the hanging as we were.

Bodmin Jail

Chris with the film crew

We reached the jail without getting lost and bought tickets to tour the jail afterwards. And after three years, we finally got to visit the gift shop. It’s always been closed when we go. We explored the naval wing while we waited for the hanging demonstration but didn’t stay long, as we wanted a good view of the hanging. We were prepared to kick small children out of the way if needs be. They wouldn’t be as excited about it as we were and there was no way we would let their tiny heads spoil our view. There was a film crew there so we positioned our camera on its tripod so people would think we were part of them and not block it. We got used to faking professionalism with Calamityville. If you show up with cameras and act like you know what you’re doing, very few people question you.

Bodmin Jail

Ketch enjoying the hanging

While we loitered, a man in the execution shed said he recognised us instantly from across the car park – it was Mark, Bodmin Jail’s medium, who we’d been speaking to in emails when we hired the jail overnight last July. (Read about our investigation.) He wasn’t able to make it on the night so it was nice to finally meet him. His first impression of us was seeing us interview sheep about the beast of Bodmin moor, yet still let us have the jail. Weirdly, we showed up wearing the same dresses we’d worn in that video. We introduced him to Dave and talked paranormal stuff until he was called to be interviewed by a member of the film crew who was doing something on Facebook Live. We’re probably lurking in the background looking suspiciously excited about seeing a dummy hanged.

Bodmin Jail

the condemned

Bodmin Jail’s owner, Chris, then did his pieces for the camera, explaining about why people were hanged. Then in true Calamityville form, Cat’s phone blasted Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ right behind their camera. Even when we’re not there as Calamityville we manage to embarrass ourselves. It was the HMRC . Thanks, tax man, make us look like jackasses. Bodmin JailOne of the workers was dressed as a condemned prisoner so they took him to the condemned cell to film him being escorted from the cell. We stayed by the execution shed so we wouldn’t lose our places. As soon as the condemned was led from the jail, Lynx started filming. It was a good job she did, because there was no announcement that the hanging was about to take place. We thought it would be a proper hanging exhibition where they’d talk to the public and tell us tales of executions and explain what they were doing and explain the hanging techniques. But it was just for the cameras and the public was invited to watch.

Bodmin Jail

Bob plunging into eternity

They took the condemned into the shed, bound his feet with a leather strap, placed the white hood over his head and the noose around his neck. No, they didn’t hang him. Health and safety don’t permit such shenanigans.  They swapped him out for a dummy named Bob. As the dummy stood on the trapdoor, they moved the planks aside, pulled the pin out of the lever then Bob fainted through sheer terror. He was stood upright again then Chris pulled the lever, plunging Bob into eternity. It was quite a surreal thing to see Bob swinging gently in the pit. With his hood and clothes on, he almost looked like a real person. The crowd were silent too, like they’d just witnessed a man being sent to his death. Seeing hangings on TV is totally different to seeing a re-enactment in person.

Bodmin JailMark then allowed us in to take close up photos and shots. And he let us go into the execution pit! Hardly anyone is allowed to go down there, so it was a real privilege. We can’t thank Mark enough. Not many people can say they’ve been in a genuine execution pit. The last person hanged in Bodmin was in 1909. The steps were quite steep but we managed to descend without embarrassing ourselves. It was amazing standing where the doctor would’ve stood, seeing the condemned dangling above us. Shame we’d left our ghost hunting equipment behind. It would’ve been the perfect place to do some EVPs. You can watch the video here.

Bodmin JailWe reluctantly climbed out and ventured inside the jail. One disadvantage of going during half term – kids. These particularly noisy kids seemed to be stalking us, no matter how much we tried to lose them. One kid was on a strap and was accompanied by the family dog. We weren’t sure whether it was the kid or the dog making the weird noises. Though we’re confident it wasn’t the kid peeing everywhere. And when we finally did shake them off, more screechy/screaming/crying  kids appeared. It was like fighting a friggin’ Hydra – chop its head off and two more grow in its place. We were tempted to recreate some of the mannequin scenes, (seeing as most of them seemed to be there for child murder) but parents object to you tossing their kids down wells.

Bodmin Jail

execution pit

After the jail, we did what we do best – wing it. We had no other plans for the day but weren’t ready to head home. Lynx got out the map and looked for places near Bodmin. She found Restormel castle, which was stunning. Again it was besieged by screechy children. These two made matters worse by having terrible haircuts. Some of us want to enjoy pretending to take castles over without kids ruining our peaceful plotting. We walked around the top of the castle, where we were in the perfect position to launch stuff at these noisy peasants. Stones, empty Red Bull cans, hot tar…There happened to be a well built in 1100 that we were tempted to throw them down but again we were faced with the problem of parents not seeing that us throwing their obnoxious offspring into wells was for the greater good. Things will be VERY different when we take over the world. *Eyes children. Eyes wells. Cackles.*Restormel Castle

After Restormel castle, we took the Mini’s roof down and toured round in topless style. Well, we sat in traffic jams in topless style. We returned to the place we visit every time to go to Cornwall: Jamaica Inn. Dave had never been. Chips and drinks were gratefully consumed. Then we made a fatal error – leaving at 4:40 p.m. If we’d known we wouldn’t get home til 10 p.m., we would’ve stayed in Cornwall until the evening and missed all the traffic. We got to witness a man peeing on the side of the road, not even attempting to hide himself behind his car. Sorry sir, but if we have to wait til the services, so should you!Jamaica Inn

 

College of Knowledge

As the sweet woody scent of burned heather seeps through the house, we realise that of all the things we’ve tried in our pursuit of knowledge, this one is actually one of the least craziest.

burning heatherPerhaps we should explain. We’re redrafting our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead, which we hope to release sometime in 2014. One of the methods the clengers used to cleanse a house after the occupants had found new homes in Greyfriars Kirkyard, was to burn heather. They believed the plague was airborne, so burning plants, herbs and brimstone were believed to prevent the plague. So we wanted to know what burned heather smelled like. We turned to Google. Google was about as helpful as an invisible map. All it came up with was ‘burned heater‘ and some woman called Heather who was burnt on a cookery show. And not because she was the main course. Technically, we didn’t have to describe the smell, but we wanted to add flavour to the scene. There was only one thing for it: we collected some dead heather from our garden, set it alight, dropped it into a bowl and stood over it like Macbeth’s witches.burning heather

That got us thinking of all the other things we have done for writing. See the funny thing with fiction is that although you can convince people to believe in things like aliens, vampires and happily ever afters, if you get a fact wrong, your readers will let you know and you’ll lose credibility. When we were teenagers, we read a lot of crime fiction, so we wrote crime fiction. We had a detective each and both wrote 7 novels with them. They were about serial killers (shock horror) and the murders were all wildly creative and gory. Don’t worry, they’ve been given life sentences and will remain imprisoned on our hard drives forever. But we wanted to know about crime. So we enrolled on adult learning courses. We have 50 credits for Law and 50 for Psychology, a Psychology A level and a self-taught Law AS level. We also took a ten week forensic science course. It was a little too sciency for us, but 2 weeks of it were dedicated to forensic pathology. We were so enraptured by the lecturer, Stephen Leadbeater, that we didn’t take a single note. Needless to say, we described the post mortems in our books in every gloriously graphic detail.

Boys Village

exploring Boys Village in East Aberthaw

A few years later, we wrote a novel about 3 ghost hunters – fraternal male & female twins and their geeky friend who have their own internet ghost hunting show, The Other Side. The novel was called Raising the Dead and the characters actually feature in one of the short stories in Deadly Reflections.  So we bought a book on haunted places in Cardiff and started visiting the places in the book. We even convinced our mum to drive out to an abandoned petrol station miles away because this book said it was haunted. She also joined us in a pitch black country lane somewhere between Caerphilly and Rudry. Then three years ago we met Ryan and Calamityville Horror was born. An internet ghost hunting show where the 3 hunters are twins and their geeky friend. We probably will never release that novel now, in case we’re accused of basing it on ourselves when the novel actually came first.

Then there are the usual things like scouring for good places to dump a body and visiting those places to see how accessible they are and how plausible it would be, taking into account whether vehicles could gain access. We always take our mum on these excursions because she is very logical and can point out errors we haven’t considered. Trust us, it’s far more fun than taking your mum shopping. Apart from that one time when we went to Garth Woods on New Year’s Day and it was 1 degree C.

Denbigh Asylum

original photo of Denbigh Asylum

Soul Asylum was the next novel to inspire us on a crazy adventure. Soul Asylum book cover by Fireclaw FilmsAfter writing the novel and doing several redrafts, we actually decided to see if there was an asylum set in north Wales. There was – Denbigh. Full of excitement, we wanted to visit it. Then we heard there were plans to demolish it. So we decided the sane thing to do was to take an 8 hour road trip to see it. You can read the full adventure here. Basically, we left at 3 a.m., got there at 8 a.m., the gates were locked so we took a photo of it from the gates then drove to Denbigh Castle. That was closed. We drove to Ruthin Gaol. That was also closed. So we drove home. But we did have a photo for the front cover of the novel.

So setting fire to some heather is definitely not the craziest thing we’ve done for writing. If anyone has any stories of the peculiar things they’ve done in their quest for knowledge, let us know. There are bound to be great stories out there.