A ghost tale set in a haunted Tudor mansion; an unhinged Jacobean nobleman, a present-day unhappy couple, possession, jealousy . . . Something for just about everyone who likes to curl up with things that go bump in the night !
Base Spirits is available now from Amazon and the author, Ruth Barrett (aka Lady Calverley) has very kindly taken the time to tell us something about the book and its origins :
What can you tell us about your book (without spoilers!)?
Base Spirits is a supernatural thriller with a historical core. At its heart is the true story of a minor Yorkshire nobleman who gambled and drank away his fortune. In 1605, he went on a rampage so bloody that Shakespeare’s acting company performed a one-act play about the scandal! I have constructed a ghost story around a modern day couple with a bad marriage staying at the ancestral noble hall who awaken its past with their own miseries.
Where did the idea for Base Spirits originate?
I accidentally discovered the story back in the 1990s when I was cast as the Wife in ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’. During rehearsals, I had a chance to visit Yorkshire and found the old hall at Calverley where the tragedy happened. I made friends with a local historian who gave me a tour and got a look inside the buildings. Part is derelict, but one wing is a guesthouse. This stuck with me. Between my role in the play and the visit to the location, I seemed to know enough about this obscure piece of Jacobean history to make a novel of it.
What draws you most to the idea of writing a ghost novel?
In this case, the story lends itself perfectly to that genre. Calverley Old Hall has a few spooky legends attached to it due to its sad past. I’ve always loved ghost stories from the time of my childhood. In every culture, people have been endlessly fascinated by haunted buildings and restless spirits.
What most influenced you when developing the novel?
The fact that I had walked in the shoes of the lady of the manor by portraying her on stage: I had to get into her head and make sense of her situation and her reactions to the suffering inflicted by her husband upon his family. Once I saw the actual Hall, I was hooked.
Do you have any favourite ghostly anecdotes you would like to share?
I’ve ‘felt’ more than I’ve actually ‘seen’ over the years. Certain places carry memories, and sometimes they can feel oppressive enough to me that I have to leave. Other things are just ‘there’ in the periphery and don’t even frighten me. I had a serious illness a few years ago and nearly died. Shortly afterwards, I seemed much more aware of the ‘other side’ and have since seen actual apparitions. Notably, a spectral black cat shows up periodically and hangs around. I call her ‘Boo’.
Who do you think comes top at creating atmospheric ghost tales?
So many literary ghosts leap to mind! Shakespeare was a master at it (as he was at everything!) Emily Bronte. Charles Dickens. Peter Straub’s Ghost Story was a big hit with me in my teen years, and I used to read a lot of Stephen King and John Saul back then too. I discovered Scott Nicholson fairly recently. It’s hard to compare such a diverse list. I think they all have their merits and each have spooked me out in turn!
Classics like The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black have been filmed and re-filmed; new arrivals like The Others & Paranormal Activity have achieved something of a cult ‘classics’ status – how far do you think popular & media culture is influencing/fuelling the market for ghost/paranormal literature – and where do you see Base Spirits in relation to that?
As I said before, people have always been fascinated by ghosts, and I think they’ve always been and always will be very much a part of popular culture. Lately, there seems to be an awful lot of ghost hunter TV shows both in North America and the U.K., and ghost walk tours thrive in any city with a bloody history. I loved The Others (based on the Turn of the Screw, in fact). That to me is a perfect ghost story, and I can’t wait to see The Woman in Black. I hope to see mine adapted to film one day. I had a definite ‘cast’ in mind when I was describing my characters.
What are your own favourite scenes in the book?
I don’t want to give away too much… I rather like the unpleasant opening scene. The English sure did take the cake when it came to devising cruel ways of putting folks to death, didn’t they? The historical bits were the most fun to write.
Do you have a favourite method for writing, getting ideas, working out plots?
I’m not sure that I have much method to my writing madness. I tend to get inspirations at the weirdest and most inconvenient times– and without fail, those are the best ideas. I actually jot down the bare bones in notebooks and then let the plots and characters stew in a mental crock-pot until I feel compelled to start typing and structuring. I can’t do that until things are ‘cooked’.
May we know a little about your next novel?
I plan to release some collected short stories. I’ve had a number published in anthologies and periodicals over the years. The next actual novel is The Rake’s Chronicles. I have a working draft and need to spend time reworking before I’ll feel happy to discuss it, but it’s the tale of a revenant spirit set in Victorian England. There’s a fair amount of sex in it. Sort of like The Telltale Heart meets My Secret Life. Further down the road, I have a character-based mystery series I’m developing– the Dead Drunks. It’s taking over my brain, so it may well push the Victorian ghost aside and get done first.
Do you have an ideal ‘dream’ writing space?
I have a pretty good space now: a room lined with books in a two-level Victorian flat on the main drag of Stratford. I think it would be nice to have a quieter spot– as I type, there’s a patio full of laughing folks downstairs enjoying a late summer drink or six. It’s not unpleasant to have people enjoying themselves within earshot, but the top floor of a quiet old house with a view of treetops and the Avon River would do nicely as an ‘ideal’.
With the arrival of e-publishing, do you think writers are more empowered now than before?
I think e-publishing gives writers the kind of power they never had in the past. Even successful authors in the traditional sense had little control over their work. The endless hours alone perfecting the words, followed by query letters to agents and publishers, the agonizing waits for rejection… and if/when the hoped-for ‘yes’ did come, the book wouldn’t be out for another year and a half. This still goes on, and this still works for a few. It did NOT work for me. As I mentioned, I’ve learned the hard way that life is too short. The new way of self-publishing is not for everybody, but those who produce high-quality writing and figure out the tricks to market their wares and reach their audience have all the power. I am also producing a paperback version and will have an actual launch in my local bookshop in October.
Any thoughts or advice on writing you’d like to pass on?
One of the best bits of advice I ever got relates to finishing that vital first draft: just sit down and write start to finish without going back over it. Do NOT go back and tweak or edit or purge until you have a full draft done and dusted. That is your discovery draft. Yes, it will be full of mistakes and diversions and dropped threads, but it will always take you in new directions. The danger of going back over what you wrote the day before is that you end up rewriting the first 50 pages over and over and never move on. You start to second-guess yourself or overwork things to the point of giving up.
Which website would you recommend for writers/readers?
As I am trying to sort out e-marketing, I just discovered the Kindle forum pages at Amazon. There are heaps of threads for writers and readers to connect and find new things to read, or ways to promote your work. http://www.kindleboards.com/. Twitter is a good place to explore and find all sorts of great people and links too.
Where can we buy your book?
Where on the web can people connect with you and your work?
I have a Facebook page for my Spirited Words Book Co. at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spirited-Words-Book-Co/101014656667433
My blog is at: http://ruth-barrett-spiritedwords.blogspot.com
And I’m also on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/LadyCalverley