Writing a ghost story
Having written seven novels in two different crime series, I was ready to try something new. I have always enjoyed atmospheric ghost stories, especially those with a historical element to them, so I decided to attempt something similar in my new book.
At first, I decided to make it a standalone, set in my native north Essex and in a boarding school similar to the one in which my husband works and where I used to teach. But as I began the planning phase, I realised that the story would fit very well with my husband and wife sleuths Imogen and Hugh Croft. So I devised the idea of creating a ‘story within a story’, so that Imogen could be told about events from the past and then investigate them in the present day. To this end, the book is separated into two distinct parts.
This format was also used in one of my favourite books from childhood, ‘The Autumn Ghosts’, which I have tried to track down but seems to have long since gone out of print. There must be a copy in someone’s loft somewhere but I’ve not yet come across it. So, ‘The Ghost of Marchmont Hall’ is also a homage to this long lost story of my childhood and as such, also contains a romance spanning several decades.
In preparation for writing my ghost story I downloaded some classics of the genre, including the short stories of MR James and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. These books were useful in helping me to create my ghost and in building an atmosphere of creepiness and dread. I hope the end result is suitably effective because I really enjoyed writing it.
I also read an article by Susan Hill, author of the fantastically successful, Woman in Black, which gave some great tips on creating the literary ghost.
I was keen that the story of Marchmont Hall fitted with the spirit of the Imogen and Hugh series. I wanted a pyschological element to the story and the context of an event from history. But I found that these themes corresponded perfectly with the tale of the haunting of Laurie Saunders at the boarding school where she spends a summer in 1992. I’m hopeful the book slots in well with the rest of the series.
As an experiment in writing, I found the process enjoyable and a challenge. I will definitely want to try out some new genres again.