This article is going to be something or a ramble, so I apologise in advance.
Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come from anywhere and appear in various forms and guises. It can come from a dream, a picture, a sentence or even just a thought – a ‘what if’ scenario – that sets in motion the nucleus of a story, or any other piece of art for that matter. Sometimes such inspiration leads to nowhere, just another idea that gets filed away in the ‘I’ll figure it out later’ drawer, along with a thousand other ideas.
Yet sometimes, inspiration comes from more than just a glimpse or random encounter with an almost supernatural force of creative power. Sometimes, instead of capturing such ideas in a butterfly net, you have to truly live and experience something that imbues inspiration.
With this in mind, I’d like to talk about the time I spent a week in an alleged ‘Haunted house’ while on holiday in Cumbria. The house in question was based in a small hamlet in the south lakes, bordered by a small river and two pubs. Our being there was by complete random accident, my mother had booked the property for the week as a family retreat for the week.
On arriving, the house seemed fine from the outside, just a normal, old country cottage, but as soon as we entered, a strange uncanny atmosphere took over. Inside, the house was almost constantly dark. Although certain renovations had been made to the kitchen, the rest of the house was full of old wooden panels and seemed to creek and watch from the shadows. I say that because its true. It was like something was watching you all the time. You knew nobody was there, but you couldn’t help but feel an unseen pair of eyes watching from the dark… though that could have been the four dogs we had with us.
Not only that, the furniture also worked to create a sense of unease. Situated within the hallway was a rocking chair, one that rocked on its own for several seconds after someone had sat in it. The result mimicked that famous scene from The Woman in Black stage play, something that many of my family replicated with glee, hoping to catch somebody descending the stairs in time to see it moving unaided. Not only that, creepy old black and white photos decorated the walls; two of which featured chilling portraits of small children that my aunt had to take down in order to feel comfortable.
At first nobody said anything, we kept quiet so as not to hurt my mums feelings, but I think deep down everyone was thinking the same. Myself, my partner and brother were relegated to the attic (another horror cliche in itself) and the three of us decided that neither of us wanted to walk the house alone, particularly at night. Furthermore in our attic room, a series of small cupboards lined the floors, almost mimicking tunnels or chambers. The result led to us remembering urban legends of evil twins or unknown horrors locked in the attic or living alongside a buildings occupiers while the people themselves remain unawares.
Eventually, within several hours (and after having had a few pints down the local boozer) I eventually confronted my mother, to which the rest of the house also contributed. The feeling was soon compounded when my uncle and grandfather went to the local pub and started talking with the locals (cue another horror cliche) whom went on to say that the building was haunted. Not only that, upon their return, we all soon checked the guestbook, of which several entries claimed that they had seen figures and heard footsteps in the night.
Although our being there was completely at random, I must admit, I was incredibly enthused. As a ghost story enthusiast and former resident of Cumbria, it has always been a dream of mine to write an collection of original ghost stories based within the gloomy, rural lakelands that I partially grew up in. Beautiful, ominous and full of sublime countryside, it’s a world of wild, untapped Gothic potential of which I hope to soon bring to light.
In terms of inspiration, this house was therefore perfect for me. With its cold, uncomfortable atmosphere and with enough local mythology to boot, it was like I was living in one of my stories. It allowed me first hand to experience what it was like to live (and sleep) within a ‘REAL’ haunted house. Although creepy at the time, the experience helped to generate ideas and even contributed to tone for several stories, including my first novel Hillcroft Manor.
Such an experience even led to me wanting to write a short stories based on the house and while I’ve plotted several stories (even beginning one) each time I’ve never quite been able to capture the atmosphere and feel of the house. With my MA now on hiatus over the summer holidays, I’m hoping to get more time to write fiction and as a result, I am eager to return back to the house and try to recapture that ‘lightning in the bottle’, which I had experienced while treading the floorboards of that old Cumbrian house.
Oh yeah…you’re probably wondering if we actually experienced anything supernatural or paranormal while we were in the house. The reality is no, nobody experience anything valid during that week in the house… although my granddad did wander around the house flicking a glass of whiskey whilst grasping a camera, hoping to catch a photo that might make him a millionaire.
The only thing scarier than a ghost it seems, is a drunken old Scotsman on a mission.
What’re your opinions or inspiration or haunted house experiences? Please feel free to comment, follow, share and like!