IWishIWasABook.com, 31st October 2013
Halloween is upon us, and to celebrate we're delighted to present a guest blog post from author Neil Spring. Neil's debut novel, The Ghost Hunters, is a historical ghost story that skillfully weaves fact with fiction. The Ghost Hunters is creepy and haunting, and is a perfect Halloween read. Here, the author explains where fiction and research and speculation meet.
Neil writes: "It's a ghost story, based on a ghost story," I explain, whenever anyone asks what the book's about. But that's not to imply that this is your average, run of the mill tale about a spooky old house. The novel is a commentary on a bygone age - a war torn nation, beside itself with grief, longing for purpose and hope.
Three years ago, I visited the Harry Price Magical Library at the University of London, Senate House, where shadows stalk the dusty stacks and secrets linger. This collection is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, complete with rare and ancient volumes on the arts of magic and summoning ghosts.
I went because I wanted to learn more about the man who created it: the main character in my novel - Harry Price, who promised the nation that he would uncover the truth about life after death, and was made famous because of his investigation of Borley Rectory, which he dubbed, "The Most Haunted House in England."
Historical fiction grants you a different sort of freedom. It enables you to go back and reimagine these people who loved and lived, and create your own interpretation as to their motivations. In Harry Price's case, I wanted to know: why was he so determined to prove the truth about life after death? And why were so many eminent psychologists and scientists prepared to follow him on that quest?
I plundered the archives, re-discovered his many investigations, his letters and articles. I wanted to explore the many aspects of this fascinating character and discover what set him on his path of investigation into the unknown?
But the more I read, the more I discovered about Price's private life and his curious, contradictory beliefs, which oscillated between scepticism and belief. And the more intrigued I became.
It isn't true to assume that just because you are writing about people who lived and actual events, that the creative process is any easier. Obviously, historical facts provide you with a base, but that base needs to be explored through an original narrative voice, with its own interpretation, as well as a complex cast of supporting characters.
At the same time, when you stop to consider that you are writing about real events, the hand of history occasional forces you to go back, to reconsider, to ask yourself: "Have I been fair to this character? Is this how they should be remembered." You feel a duty to history and to them. But ultimately, as a writer, your first duty is to your reader and plot, and the integrity of the piece as a standalone work of art.
The generation that created the Borley Rectory legend could probably never have imagined that seventy years later we would still be talking about rambling old house, where candlesticks were hurled across rooms, witnesses turned out of bed, and mystery writing appeared on the walls. But here we are. The famous gates to that place are about to be re-opened, but I have used detailed footnotes and a lengthy afterword to explain what is real and what is not.
What's interesting to me, isn't what the story tells us about spirituality and life after death, but rather, what it tells us about the living and the era they inhabited. The characters at Borley, the people who interacted with Harry Price at his Laboratory, were part of grieving nation – in some ways a desperate nation – that needed something to believe in after the atrocities of the First World War. It was an era choked with grief and longing for hope. And there is no case that better highlights the essence of the age than Borley Rectory.
Neil Spring, Halloween 2013