“Something wicked this way comes”… Short stories, Whitby and Big Black dogs

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The Abbey at Whitby, one of my favourite places to visit in the UK and the setting for my latest short story ‘The Bargheist.’ 
With my MA essays all written until next year, the month saw me take a 4 week sabbatical from my studies in order to pursue some of my other creative interests, many of which I have had little time to put towards in the previous 8 months.

One of these interests has been the creation of a short story; one that had been brewing in my mind for some time and of which I wrote for inclusion within a specific literary magazine. Named ‘The Ghastling’ (see: here), the magazine focuses specifically on ghost stories and tales from the supernatural. These are stories that favour terror over horror and unease over gore. Their influences span such authors as M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson; writers who’s fiction I greatly admire. It is a magazine which has long been on my radar, with many of their stories ‘ticking my boxes’ when it comes to reading in my spare time. I’ve long wanted to take part and submit a story, and realised that this was perhaps the perfect time to do so.

The story I began to write was named ‘The Bargheist’ and was born from my experiences holidaying in the North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby. Known for its associations with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the town has become a haven for Goth culture in recent years. Anyone who has followed me recently, knows of my love of the small fishing port. Its a place that not only holds special memories for being the place where I completed my first novel, but its unique aesthetic, cool little pubs (and amazing fish and chips) have made it one of my favorite locations to visit in the UK.

With its prior associations with the Gothic, its no surprise that the town has its own fair share of ghost stories, myths and legends. I last visited the the town in September of last year and while I was there, myself, my girlfriend and brother went on two ghost walks. The first walk was focused on the local folklore related to Dracula, while the second was focused specifically on the various ghost stories associated with the town.

During the first walk, the storyteller told the group of the legends associated with a great black dog that patrolled the town. Named ‘the Barghest’, to hear its howl was to bring bad luck to anyone who heard it. It was a story that kindled an intrest within me. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my childhood fascination with old monster movies, or the thought of some legendary wolf roaming the land. Whatever it was, I immediately wrote the note down on my pad as something to pursue at a later date. Except, I couldn’t let it go.

I kept thinking about the story, the theatrical name of the beast and its associations to folklore, particularly around the county of Yorkshire. My goal became increasingly clear when I saw that the Ghastling was accepting open submissions. I knew that I wanted to contribute and had just the story up my sleeve.

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An old account dated 1577 of an encounter with ‘Black Shuck’ as written by Abraham Fleming in A Straunge and Terrible Wunder. 
I undertook much research, looking at the many various incarnations of black, demonic dogs across the British isles. Creatures such as Black Shuck in Suffolk, Hairy Jack in Lincolnshire and even the Beast of Bodmin moor (for more info, see: here). All of these tales held some kind of fascination in me, but it was the malicious Barghest (associated with York and Whitby) that continued to prey upon my mind. Taking some artistic license (as well as looking upon the origins of the name), I renamed it slightly, calling it the ‘Bargheist’, something that to me sounded slightly more supernatural and ominous, as opposed to the rather more demure or domesticated Barghest.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to start the story. In fact, I tried the tale with two different narrators before finally finding the correct voice. I elected to focus on the whole ‘tale within a tale’ approach, using the recognisable horror cliche of the old storyteller in the local inn, whilst adding  flavours of self-aware humour. The object was to pay homage to the old ghost stories of old, keeping it in the same vein but with a contemporary edge. Not only that, but I wanted to keep elements of the story ambiguous; offering possible explanations but ultimately leaving it up to the reader to come up with the answers.

Once I got the story down, the editing was easy. I managed to tear my way through the story, trimming the fat where possible, while adding extra muscle to places where it was required. For once, the entire task felt like a pleasure. Whereas sometimes a crippling under-confidence can set in, this time I felt I was getting it right. The wheels were spinning and I was just along for the ride. The concept of the Barghest and my confidence in its inception got me through and enthralled me enough to finish what was to be my first piece of creative fiction in just over half a year.

I really hope that I can share the story with you in the near future. In the meantime, just be wary of any big black dogs you see at night…they’re probably just a Labrador, but you never know.

 

 

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