Spring cleaning, a joint venture and ever-shrinking opportunities

Okay, so I know it’s technically summer but I’ve just carried out a little overdue spring cleaning and removed my self-published Riley Pope novelettes from Smashwords. They’ve languished there for years, the first four installments of what I imagined to be a twelve book series that I’d eventually self-publish in one volume.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

The books were all free and had around 100 downloads each, give or take. The first iteration of Strange Weather (The Case of Walutahanga) made it to number 15 in the Amazon UK Urban Fantasy charts, which I was quite proud of at the time, although I’ve since discovered via other authors just how few purchases / downloads you really need to make it into those charts (a large group of willing friends and writing acquaintances really makes a difference it would seem).

At various intervals I’ve attempted to resurrect the series by penning book five, but could never get further than the first few pages. I’ve now admitted to myself that I’ve moved on in terms of what I want to write about and, to be brutally honest, have lost interest in the character and the story I was trying to tell. So goodbye for now, Riley Pope. Who knows, you may yet make a return one day.

In other news, I’m currently working on a project with my good friend John Commons, occasional TV star (Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Four in a Bed etc) and landlord of the Vic Bikers Pub in Coalville, Leicestershire.

Over the past few years John has been writing a memoir about his life prior to, and after taking over, the Victoria, and the first draft is now with me for editing and proofreading. I’ve never written or worked on non-fiction before so it’s quite the learning curve, particularly because we’ll be self-publishing so it won’t be going under the noses of a legal team! It’s certainly a challenge but has also been a joy to read. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in so many places but also touches on grief and loss. It’s going to take a while to get it shipshape but we’re both looking forwards to getting this as-yet-untitled memoir into the hands of the thousands of friends and patrons of this legendary venue.

As for the WIP, I’m still plodding on. I don’t mind admitting that the pandemic and the stress that has come with it has made writing (along with many other things) a challenge. I have, however, been making steady progress and I still enjoy writing it, so that must be a good sign. One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is this horribly divisive, virtue-signalling world we appear to be living in right now. For whatever reasons, be they well-intentioned or otherwise, certain organisations and individuals seem to be bending over backwards to accommodate particular groups to the detriment of everybody else.

Take for example the UK publishing market. There are hundreds of competitions and they used to be open to all, encouraging submissions from under-represented backgrounds, and rightly so. In the past year though, something has changed. I see ever more comps and opportunities stating they are only looking for submissions from (insert the current in-vogue label). It’s hard enough already to break into the market. Celebrities dominate, with contracts handed out to household names before they’ve even put fingertip to keyboard. Seeing them humble-brag all over Twitter when they’re not-yet-in-bookshops debut has just topped the bestseller list (Yvette Fielding comes to mind, although I still think she’s awesome) makes me want to take a massive sledgehammer to my laptop. It’s disheartening, but we trudge on, because we’re writers and this is what we do.

But it is getting harder. Harder to pick myself up mentally when what I see from the market I’m trying to break into, and the wider world in general, is that nobody wants to read a story from a person like me: white; straight; a nobody from nowhere. If they do, then why am I being excluded from writing competitions and agent’s query windows just because of the colour of my skin or my sexual preference (which is my damned business anyway)? And I’m not saying the publishing industry hasn’t shown prejudice in the past because I’m damn sure it has. It’s certainly unwelcoming to working-class writers, though some indie presses are working their bums off to change that (at least this is one ‘label’ I have going for me!)

In writing this, I hope I don’t come across as bitter or prejudiced, but undoubtedly there will be some who take my words and twist them to suit their own narrative: that is, unfortunately, the world we’re now living in – I may even be cancelled, and if I am then so be it. I just find it really, really sad that in our efforts to promote diversity, we’re actually marginalising whole groups of people, stifling their right to express an opinion and ultimately breeding resentment.

So anyway.

Allow me a moment to slink from my soap box…

BOOKS!

I’m currently reading my 40th and 41st books of the year, One for Sorrow – A book of old-fashioned lore by Chloe Rhodes, and Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist. I’ve never read any of Feist’s work before and am enjoying it so far, although inevitably it does feel quite dated. One for Sorrow is a fascinating book about the history behind some of our most popular sayings. Me and the better half were discussing what a clout was the other day, as in the traditional saying, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’, and now I know – a clout in Old English was a piece of cloth, and evolved to mean a piece of clothing, so the saying means ‘keep your winter clothes on until June’. Which, in the maddeningly unpredictable UK climate, is a damned good piece of advice!

I’ve recently also finished The Ritual by Adam Nevill (well-written but I preferred the film – the book is like two novels in one and felt like it got a bit silly with the death metallers at the end. Why does everyone think us alternative lot are Satan-worshipping nut jobs???); A Stranger In Town by Kelley Armstong (not my favourite installment in the Rockton series, it felt a bit confused with all the various groups in play, but I still enjoyed it); and various non-fiction works of fortean interest covering ghosts, werewolves, strange ancient laws of England and the sinister side of old Nottingham.

Photo by Kevin Escate on Unsplash

So that’s all from me for now. On one final note, if you’ve read my previous blog post about Erwin Saunders and his quest to find the Morsu pixies, he’s recently posted some new videos! Enjoy!

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand. You can find her online at www.kateloweauthor.co.uk

Synchronicity, road ghosts, and my own experience of the paranormal

Synchronicity is a strange beast. The more you investigate the concept, the more you seem to notice it. Could that mean I’m assigning deeper meanings to mere coincidences? Maybe. Or maybe the Universe is tipping me a wink just to say that I’m on the right track.

There are various forms of synchronicity: seeing repeated numbers or symbols, dreaming about people or events then encountering them on waking, thinking about something then having it happen. The latter happened to me over the course of the last month, beginning with edition 401 of the Fortean Times arriving through my letterbox.

One of the featured articles by Rob Gandy was about Lincolnshire road ghosts, entitled ‘The Ruskington Horror’. It happened to catch my eye because of a thread I’m developing in my WIP that involves an apparition appearing on a road and causing a fatal accident. The driver didn’t even have a walk-on part in the story to begin with. Now my stupid writer brain has decided that the trucker was so affected by his experience that he gave up driving and became a paranormal investigator (as you do), finding fame and fortune whilst simultaneously bombarding my protagonist with ‘evidence’ of his version of events that day, which she doesn’t want to hear. I realised as I was developing this idea that I’d need to gen up on my road ghosts. This is the kind of research I enjoy, since Forteana is one of my passions. I’ve shelves of books on ghosts and the paranormal, but I soon came to realise that poring through each on the off-chance I’d happen on a road ghost would take me forever.

Yes, I did draw a moustache on Eeyore

I’d just decided to hunt down a book written specifically about road ghosts when FT401 arrived and there was Gandy’s article. After devouring the magazine cover to cover, I did do a cursory eBay search in the used books section for just such an item but couldn’t find anything close to what I needed, so I shelved the idea since I wasn’t writing that particular part of the story at the time and could always come back to it.

A month later and FT402 arrives with part 2 of ‘The Ruskington Horror’ feature. Included in the article is a reference to a book by Peter A. McCue, ‘Paranormal Encounters on Britain’s Roads’, which is EXACTLY the kind of book I was looking for! And here’s my nice shiny copy, which landed a couple of days ago (if you fancy your own copy, and why wouldn’t you, you can help support independent book shops by buying via the bookshop.org)

So was it coincidence that just such an article was written at the exact same time as my need for information on road ghosts? Quite possibly. Was it also a coincidence that Part 2 of the article should feature the exact kind of book I was looking for, and had previously been unable to find? Maybe. But then, if you want to believe in synchronicity, it gets even stranger.

The first chapter of the book is entitled ‘Fundamentals’, which is essentially a definition of the various terms that are commonly used by those engaged in psychical research. The very first entry concerns itself with ESP, or Extrasensory Perception. One of my protagonist’s main struggles is with her extrasensory abilities, so now I have a book that quite unexpectedly covers two distinct topics that closely affect my protagonist.

Now you could argue that this is just a case of my interests crossing paths: I’m writing a paranormal mystery novel and I read publications such as the Fortean Times, so it’s quite natural that I’m going to come across similar themes and phenomena. But the timing intrigues me. Is the Universe giving me a subtle little thumbs-up for developing this particular story thread? I certainly like to think so.

One of my favourite features in the Fortean Times is ‘It Happened To Me’. This is where readers send in their own accounts of their experiences with the paranormal, and I’m particularly intrigued by this because it’s not something that’s ever really happened to me (or so I’ve always considered!)

First- and second-hand accounts of phenomena experienced are also often used in the various published features. In this month’s Ghostwatch column, Alan Murdie writes about the haunted property market (yes, apparently it’s a thing!). I was particularly intrigued by the story of real estate agent Joy Sushinsky, who related various paranormal experiences that she’d encountered in her very own home, such as her cat yowling at and watching things that weren’t there, and doors slamming and opening and closing by themselves. This was then followed by the account from radio & TV presenter Zoe Ball that her son kept insisting he could hear their recently deceased cat miaowing in their house.

If you follow my blog then you may remember that I lost my beautiful boy Welford last year.

Myself and the better half were devastated, and I’ve gone through my fair share of grief the past few years to know that it does some very strange things to you. On the second morning after Welford’s passing, I woke with a start having heard a very loud miaow outside of our bedroom door. I sat up immediately and listened, although I was certain it had probably just been the tail end of a dream. At the exact same moment my better half sat up and looked at me. “Did you just hear that?” he asked me.

“Welford?” I answered.

He nodded.

We both scrambled out of bed and went out onto the landing, where of course Welford wasn’t since we’d buried his body in the garden two days earlier. We do have another cat, but as you crazy cat people will know, a cat’s miaow is like a person’s voice: no two are ever the same, and Welford and Voldemort have/had very different ones. Also, Voldemort rarely goes upstairs, as that was Welford’s favoured domain. Nonetheless, we padded downstairs just to check, and lo and behold, there was Voldemort fast asleep on the sofa in the living room. Even if she’d miaowed in her sleep, the sound would not have carried that far and as loudly as we had heard it.

So was it my boy come to tell us goodbye, or that he was still there with us? I really like to believe so, as that wouldn’t make me quite as potty for walking around the house talking to him as I do most days. The only other hypothesis I can offer is that Better Half and I had a shared auditory hallucination, manifested, perhaps, by the power of our combined grief.

All of this got me to thinking in some depth about whether I’d had any more potentially paranormal experiences that I’d either forgotten or brushed off with some mundane explanation. As I mentioned above, I’ve always considered that I’ve (sadly) never come into contact with much unusual phenomena, either directly or via friends & family. So I sat and made a list, and I realised I’ve had far more weird shit happen than I think.

  1. Mummy / Blob apparition: When I was very little, probably about three years old, I woke up to find a mummy, about six feet tall, walking into my bedroom. I remember it very clearly, it was wrapped head to toe in white bandages, was walking quite rigidly in a side-to-side rocking motion with its arms held out, and was wearing a yellowish tweed jacket (of all things!). As it rounded the bed, it morphed into a purple blob, about four feet tall and the approximate shape of a Walnut Whip. I tried to scream but no sound would come out, and I found myself completely paralysed. Unable to move or to call out for my parents, I either fainted or fell back to sleep. At the time it felt that I’d blacked out through sheer terror. Could’ve been a very nasty dream. Who knows.
  2. Invisible animals: Like a lot of only children, I had two imaginary friends when I was young. Mine, however, were not human but animal. Sandy and Tom were a dog and a cat, and I remember them vividly. Sandy was a golden retriever puppy like the Andrex dog, and Tom was a black and white cat. I don’t remember how long I ‘saw’ them for, but they were such a part of my reality that Mum would put out plates of ‘food’ for them at dinnertime. Alas she’s no longer here for me to ask her about it. Imaginary friends are often explained away as the concepts of lonely children, but children are also said to be extremely receptive to the paranormal. I certainly know that I ‘saw’ those animals as solidly as any real human.
  3. Sightings of the recently deceased: Both my better half and my late Nan have seen their recently deceased loves ones. My Nan once told me that not long after my grandad died, she walked into the lounge from the kitchen and saw him sitting on the sofa watching the television ‘as real as if he’d really been there’. She would never be drawn on whether she believed it was his ghost or just a side effect of her grief. My better half reports having seen his mum in their kitchen not long after she died. Again, he can’t explain this, but tends towards the explanation that he was seeing what he wanted to see, ie. his mum, who had died very suddenly when he was just a young man.
  4. The door that opened on its own / footsteps on the stairs / wonky clock: Shortly after moving in to my current house, I began to notice something very strange: the door of the cupboard under the stairs kept opening on its own. It would be closed when I left the house, and open when I returned. It’s not the kind of door that can accidentally open on its own. It has what I believe is called a mortice lock. You have to turn the handle to release the latch bolt and so it can’t just ‘open’.

I also began to notice that a pendulum wall clock I had inherited from the previous owner would be hanging slant on the wall when I returned home. It wasn’t just slightly slant, it was tilted to a degree that you couldn’t explain away by traffic vibrations or the slamming of doors. We do have a quarry about two miles down the road, so the regular blasting could have caused both the clock to move and the door to open – except nothing else on the wall was ever affected.

And that doesn’t explain the sound of footsteps on the staircase and landing when I was in the house on my own! All of this occurred within the first few months of me moving in and I was extremely spooked by it all! I actually knew the guy I’d bought the house from and saw him in our local one night. I happened to mention the strange goings-on and he was not remotely surprised, informing me that his ex-partner had brought in a priest to bless the house because of similar experiences that were frightening their children. I had no reason to disbelieve him and he appeared truly genuine in his account. I was told the phenomena ceased after the blessing, and I wondered whether the upheaval of the exchange in owners had somehow ‘reawakened’ whatever was present. I decided to address it directly, standing on the stairs whilst I introduced myself, reassuring them I meant no harm and that whoever or whatever was present was quite welcome to live alongside me. I haven’t experienced anything untoward since. The door hasn’t opened on its own, there have been no footsteps on the stairs and the clock ceased to tilt on the wall. Voldemort occasionally sits and ‘watches’ things cross the living room, always in the same place, always from the kitchen to the hallway where the phenomena took place. Maybe she’s seeing what I can’t, or maybe she’s just being a cat, because they’re like that.

So that’s my paranormal experiences to date. I’d love to hear about yours if you’d care to share in the comments. If the supernormal is your thing and you don’t already read it, check out the Fortean Times for your monthly dose of strange phenomena. Now I’m off to read another chapter of my book and partake of a beverage or three. Friday nights in lockdown. What fun, eh?

Stay safe & strong all.

)o( Love & Light )o(

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand.

Grief, little folk and 2020: a brief history so far

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, I remember saying that the new year couldn’t be any worse than the last.

Ha bloody ha. If only I had known, eh?

So the bad stuff first:

Just a month after my last blog post, and almost a year to the day since losing my Mum, we lost my beautiful Nan to pneumonia.

nan

She’d been ill for months and her quality of life was non-existent, reliant on carers to do everything for her – I know that she absolutely hated it. The last time I saw her was a few weeks before she passed, as we had been instructed to shield the vulnerable at that point, and the only contact we had with her after that was via telephone. She was taken into Leicester Royal Infirmary on the Sunday afternoon and died a few hours later, with no family by her side as Covid restrictions meant no-one could go with her. It took almost two weeks for the death certificate to be issued, with a doctor apologetically informing me via telephone that Covid-19 was being put on the certificate, even though she never had symptoms and tested negative for it at the hospital (don’t get me started).

As per my experience when Mum died, those who could have assisted chose not to, and I was left to administer the estate and organise the funeral on my own. We were only allowed to have ten people at her funeral, which was a bizarre socially-distanced affair at the local crematorium. I can only imagine what she’d have thought of it!

Meanwhile, in the world of the day job, myself and my only remaining colleague were dismantling the fixtures and fittings & closing accounts ahead of the company’s relocation two hundred miles north. We had been made aware of the move around Christmas but it all got very real when colleagues I had worked with for years found new jobs and the building started emptying around me. All this during lockdown too (we’re classed as an essential service). What fun, eh?

Along came June and another blow: my beloved cat Welford, who had been poorly for some time, became so ill that I took him to the vet for the very last time. Blood tests suggested leukemia and the vet advised it would be the kindest thing to let him go (oh man, I’m crying as I write this!) He went to sleep on June 18th and is buried in the garden beneath a plaque that bears his name.

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I go out to see him every day and say hello, and I still haven’t stopped expecting to see him when I get up in a morning. Maybe I never will. Love you Mr Man! Until we meet again.

wel 1

July arrives. We hand over the keys to the office building and I am now officially working from home on a permanent basis. It has its pros and cons but I’m making the most of it. Meanwhile, my other cat Voldemort (Mort, Mortus Tortoise, Morty-Fa-Torty, Fatty, Fat Bum, Fluff Mort, Grump Mort, Pasty Cat – she is a cat of many names but answers to none lol) had been losing weight for no obvious reason. Blood tests diagnosed an overactive thyroid, which we’re managing now with medication and she’s back to her roly-poly self, if not quite so hyperactive!

mort

August brought us more awful news. My better half’s sister-in-law passed away after a brief battle with cancer. We then discovered that his brother in the US had contracted Covid, although I’m glad to say he appears to be over the worst of it, if not thoroughly exhausted.

Oh, and I qualified as an Achology Counselling Practitioner at some point in all of this!

So that’s my year so far. I’ve somehow managed to keep on writing through it, editing / revising / rewriting the WIP when the mind and body would allow. I’ve tried to write a couple of short stories in between but I’m sorry to say I didn’t get very far. Thanks to the lockdown, I went without my maintenance massage for my dodgy neck / shoulder for nearly five months and ended up in permanent pain again. Life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, and two treatments in I’m getting better and am able to spend more time at the laptop.

According to Goodreads I’ve read nearly 50 books this year so far! I’ve recently been reading up on Leicestershire folklore and legend. I’ve just finished Stephen King’s Elevation (still not sure what to make of it tbh), with The Institute and If It Bleeds to follow. Bill Bryson’s The Body is also on my TBR pile, along with a couple of occult titles on spells and witchcraft.

Speaking of esoterica, there was a wonderful article in a recent copy of the Fortean Times on the pixie-hunting videos of Edwin Saunders. Nobody knows who Edwin is, why he made the videos or where he is now, but they’re utterly fascinating and I can’t urge you enough to watch them! Here’s a link to the first one. Enjoy!

Keep on keeping on, folks, and remember: don’t look back because you’re not going that way.

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