As we approach our gloriously gothic Turn Back Time Writing Retreat, I’ve been asking myself- what makes a good ghost story? (or indeed any story with a supernatural frisson!). Is it character, setting, a mournful tone or suspenseful plot? I suppose a compelling tale is a fusion of all these parts, but creating a strong central character is key.
Sometimes that character will present him/herself fully formed, and in the guise of a real person! My strange taxidermist Alys in Beneath the Skin came about after I’d watched a documentary about a famous artist with a freezer full of roadkill in her kitchen! She definitely possessed some of the personality traits Alys went on to embody: odd, quirky, creative, with a hint of menace!
Just as intriguing was the curious gentleman I spotted recently disembarking from a train at Waverly Station in Edinburgh. He was tall and elegant, with long black hair and a bushy beard, a top hat and the most impressive Victorian frock coat. He was in conversation with the guard. There seemed to be some problem with the transportation of his luggage- a battered Gladstone bag and a very large, hinged cabinet which was strapped to a trolley.
I’m still wondering how if I can find him a role in my next short story!
This briefest of encounters can be enough to spark the imagination. A hundred questions and scenarios sprang to mind when I spotted this man. Was he an actor, an undertaker? A street performer? Was he a tour guide at the Edinburgh Dungeon, or simply en route to a Halloween party? And what on earth was in the cabinet? I’ll never know, but not knowing is the handiest prompt in the writer’s toolkit!
Here’s a Halloween writing tip. When you’re next in a busy station or city centre, just sit quietly for a while with your notebook and see who comes into view! They may look perfectly ordinary (or not) but they could be hiding a grim secret…!
Chasing Timer Sandra x