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Ghost Characters

Ghosts in literature are familiar to us—think of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Susan Hill's The Woman In Black, the dead narrator of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Banquo's ghost in Macbeth, The Dead Men of Dunharrow in The Lord of The Rings and The Headless Horseman in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

In my chosen writing genre, crime, there are several prime examples where the protagonist faces up to malevolent forces from beyond the grave, or is in sympathy with them and even assisted by them.

James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, about a Louisiana detective, has his protagonist imagining and, at times, interacting with long-dead soldiers from Civil War—most notably during In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead.

John Connolly's novels featuring a private investigator called Charlie Parker are soaked in supernatural events, so much so, that it's sometimes tricky to decide who's alive and who's dead.

I've recently read two of Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic crime novels, in which his detective hero is forever tormented by the memory of letting go of his brother's hand when they were children lost in a blizzard. His body was never found, and from time to time his dead brother visits him as a symbol of how he failed. His brother has forgiven him, but he can't forgive himself.

In my own Cornish Detective series, my protagonist is a widower, his wife killed in a freak road accident two years before Book 1. In the first two stories, he slid into dark depression clinging to his job as a means of coping. He felt guilty about finding ways to avoid thinking about her, in an attempt to move on. Medication and counselling pulled him through, and in the last three novels he's been able to imagine her reaction when he does daft things, how she would have teased him. Her spirit is there to that extent, but she's not haunting him. I fought shy of adding her ghostly assistance, as there are already enough weird things going on.

I wrote a novella based on my own experiences with the supposedly dead, and a short story in which the protagonist doesn't comprehend that he's in a state of limbo between this world and the next, but eerie events in my novels are handled by legends, superstition and the fevered imaginings of drunks, druggies and the insane.

Ghosts needn't be terrifying. Richard Brautigan created a brilliant spectre in The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western...an entity that has problems of its own in the form of its rebellious shadow.

When I was a teenager, my father introduced me to the humorous writing of Thorne Smith. His best-known work are the Topper stories, one of which was filmed starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. Topper is a stuffy man who's haunted by a fun-loving couple who lead him into all sorts of compromising situations.

Mind you, I sometimes feel that my muse may be haunting me, sneaking in to do some editing without my permission—as Muriel Spark describes in this poem:

Authors' Ghosts

I think that authors' ghosts creep back
Nightly to haunt the sleeping shelves
And find the books they wrote.
Those authors put final, semi-final touches,
Sometimes whole paragraphs.

Whole pages are added, re-written, revised,
So deeply by night those authors employ
Themselves with those old books of theirs.

How otherwise
Explain the fact that maybe after years
have passed, the reader
Picks up the book - But was it like that?
I don't remember this . . . Where
Did this ending come from?
I recall quite another.

Oh yes, it has been tampered with
No doubt about it -
The author's very touch is here, there and there,
Where it wasn't before, and
What's more, something's missing -
I could have sworn . . .

Muriel Spark

Do you have any ghosts in your stories?

Are they out-and-out terrifying ghosts...or benevolent shades, who assist the protagonist?

Which famous ghosts do you like?

Are they scary or amusing?

Famous ghosts...for scary there is 'Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad'. There are ghosts in my novel, neither scary or amusing. One is scary at first, manifesting in a very creepy, unpleasant way but she herself is not unpleasant. They're remnants. Startling, strange, unsettling, sad. I know people who have seen ghosts and they looked like real people, just not where they should have been, but the witness wouldn't even have known they were looking at a ghost if it had not then disappeared right in front of them. I've experienced 'poltergeist' activity on many occasions, mostly benign, but I suspect living people are the trigger for whatever is the mechanism. Just now and then things have been unpleasant.



I've experienced 'poltergeist' activity on many occasions,
Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....
A long time ago I used to watch a TV show called "Randall and Hopkirk" which was about detective pair, one of whom (Hopkirk) was a ghost.
It was quite funny.

I have also written a short story, (Tom's Tale), which I posted in the Groups section for comment some time ago. That was about a man who meets a ghost who relates a tale to him of meeting another ghost when he was alive. One of the ghosts is benevolent the other less so.

I haven't however written a full novel that includes a ghost, although the idea is quite attractive.
Famous Ghosts - Christmases Past, Present and Future from A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Cathy from Wuthering Heights.

I used to read a lost of ghosts stories when I was a child (mainly because I was told not to) but I can't remember any of them now.
Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....
Being of a scientific bent and a bit of a sceptic regarding all things "paranormal" my first reaction would be to investigate exactly what was happening.
I'm sceptical myself, and that was my reaction the first time. I was only surprised on that occasion and tried to account for it with common sense but couldn't. Good luck with that if it happens around you, Tim. That's why I don't 'buy' ghost-hunting programmes. Places have atmospheres, some very powerful so that lots of people may feel something out of the usual, but it is the person who experiences them. Perhaps it is a capability. In my experience these things are not sufficiently predictable to be filmed and monitored, bunked, de-bunked or anything of the kind. But they may be witnessed by others, no hysteria required.
Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....
Things moving or thrown @Geoff. Sometimes in front of other people. On one occasion the manifestation was helpful, so kindly so, that a religious person, which I'm not, might think in terms of angelic assistance. I think more in terms of psychokinesis, dysfunction of the body's electric field, but what does anybody know in fact. They may think they know, they may know what they think, but they'd do well to keep thinking.

Things had happened before, but escalated about six weeks before the birth of my third child. We had lost our second the day he was born. Nothing the hospital or anyone could do. One of those things. I'd booked home delivery midwifery for the new baby. I felt completely sure it would be all right this time, two years later, but still I grieved while looking forward to the new arrival. I mention this because I sense it had a bearing on a number of psychokinetic manifestations.

I was still mobile, limping somewhat but working, teaching in college, but rheumatoid arthritis had got a grip, and I was starting to experience severe pain in general, and especially on walking. The new baby arrived safe and sound at home, the labour went fine, but I had a massive joint flare for the next six weeks, during which time more joints became damaged.

'It' - the 'poltergeist' picked up the baby's empty Moses basket one morning about 6, and moved it where I would have put it, had I been able to lift it. Gob-smacked was an understatement. But scary...no. Too benevolent.

There is no conscious control in occurrences of psychokinesis. In 'Carrie', she could direct it but that's fiction and in reality, it is unconscious and spontaneous. The other associated possible 'explanation' is the mysterious 'third man factor', as experienced by Shackleton on Elephant Island, and also that man who fell into the ice crevice after his friend cut the rope. About Poltergeists
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I wrote a short story in which a woman moves into a farmhouse populated by the ghosts of past residents. They help her with her chores, show her where the best mushrooming spots are, teach her about the history of the land and the stories it holds. Ultimately she joins them. All very cozy and full of warm-fuzzies, in spite of the fact many of the ghosts had harsh lives or were bitter about injustices.
Sometimes I read something that rattles me deeply and I can't process why the emotional response is so strong, so I interpret it as an omen designed to teach me something important even when I know that it is just an emotional response to some sort of physical artwork. It still feels like being visited by a spirit. Maybe that is what we do when we create art. We set spirits free so that they may find new homes. At least that is the illusion we love - the illusion that we can exorcise our feelings by getting them outside of our bodies into the collective unconscious so that they can haunt and heal others. This song rattled me: Suede Lyrics - The Invisibles it is like a kiss from another life.
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