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Monday, 15 August 2011

The Blog I WAS going to write.

There is a mountain of difference between accounts of hauntings and ghost stories.  The first, a haunting, is a questionable account of something going bang in the night which is brief, uninformative and often downright dull.  I'm sure the experience of having a figure in white wander through your three piece suite at three o'clock in the morning is very exciting to the participant, but a great story it does not make.
Ghost stories, on the other hand, are a very different kettle of spectral fish.  They have to develop a narrative, a sense of character, a sense of atmosphere and, most importantly, are largely made up.  An account of a 'real' haunting, depending on your belief in such things, runs the risk of biting you on the bum.  If you talk about a 'real' ghost out of turn and he might start haunting your toilet in revenge, which might be a boon for the terminally constipated.
Account of hauntings are almost always brief.  Something happens.  It's a bit weird.  It happens randomly and sometimes never does it again.  This makes for very dull listening.
"There was the tale of the haunting of an old pub.  Footsteps could be heard in the cellar - where no one was.  The end."  Repeat till audience wants to slit their wrists.
So the professional storyteller does not write about 'real' ghosts.  S/he makes it up.  S/he looks for some other story to tell which the haunting can stir up.  S/he mixes up random effects of hauntings and gives them purpose.  Direction.  Malice.  And then proceeds to attempt to scare the living daylights out of people - or, in my case, leave them with a tantalised thrill of fear, as well as other effects peculiar to my particular style.
There's a strong connection between the problems writing a ghost story and the problems writing soap opera.  The Soap is a flawed and self destructive format - trying to achieve two almost completely incompatible effects at the same time.  1. To reflect real life. 2. To be interesting.  Real life, like accounts of hauntings, tends towards the repetitive, the dull, the tedious - but this has to be simulated in a dramatic format that must grip week in, week out.  So the real life stories get junked and melodrama starts to pile in.  In ghost stories this happens when the hauntings go too far and stop being scary because they've become silly.  Luckily for ghost stories they tend to be short.  Soaps have to have a cull and start again every ten years or so, and even then can't get away from melodrama.  Only The Archers managed, until recently, to balance the dull with the interesting - but radio can get away with such things.
But I digress: though I said I was going to make up my ghost stories, I am out on the hunt for other peoples - your own experiences or a tall tale as told.  I have a few good stories I was told in a pub once; I was assured that they were totally genuine, which means they were made up.  So drop me a line - - and anything interesting will be posted on the blog and may end up in the show, in a suitably altered, but credited, fashion.
I write much of this because of a conversation I had on a bus.  I was telling someone that I was doing ghost stories and that it was going to be a bit of fun.  I then sat back bemused as I was attacked for making light of a real spirit world that exists all around us.  My only response to that is simple - I reserve the right to make fun of anyone or anything, and the spirit world  - real or imaginary - is just as much a target.  We can't have ghosts taking themselves seriously - they might get above themselves.
It's not as if they pay taxes or anything.

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