The Nature of Creative Inspiration and Practice – Inspiration from Hilary Mantel

Recently I watched and listened to Hilary Mantel speaking at an online event from the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary festival, following the publication this year of her two newest books The Mirror and the Light and Mantel Pieces.

Hilary Mantel with portrait of Thomas Cromwell

I loved what Hilary said about the process of writing.  It seems that she does not subscribe to the belief that we must create a structure beforehand, and plan out our work in detail. In regard to her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, the idea she caught was the notion that the truth behind an apparently “evil” character in English history may be far more complex. And then her curiosity and her love of historical research took her on a long and compelling journey. She talks of catching ideas, and of writing scenes and chapters out of order, and  I loved it.

I’ve read the first two novels in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and plan to read the final book of that trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.

In the past I have indeed tried to create a structure beforehand, and I found it not at all helpful. So personal experience has taught me that Hilary Mantel’s way of writing is more to my taste.  

When you begin to write a novel, it can often be impossible to say  from which source the inspiration has come – and how far back in the past that inspiration had its source.

David Helfgott performing in Sydney
David Helfgott performing in Sydney

Now my latest book Paranormal Warwickshire has been published, I am getting back to work on my next novel Standing Ovation

Thsi is the second in a magical realist series starring Dylan Rafferty, young musically gifted rebel.

The first book, Director’s Cut, sees Dylan tackling a very troubled family in a large house in south London haunted by a family curse.

Dylan seeks to escape the overwhelming influence of his own family and the conventional path they want him to follow through education and his future career. He discovers his favourite actress is filming a TV drama in a nearby Jacobean mansion. He sets off, eager to crash the set and meet her.  He succeeds; and she’s delighted by this unusual, intense, talented boy. But Dylan discovers a deeply dysfunctional family who believe themselves afflicted by an inter-generational curse. The house is haunted by ghosts of previous generations. Dylan comes to believe he alone can save these people through the power of his own musical genius As he plunges deeper into the spiritual and psychic deadlock in the house, he encounters a supernatural being, and finds that he must cross the boundary between this world and another dimension.

The story awaits further editing, and I’d also welcome any willing beta readers!

Meanwhile I’m completing the sequel.

In Standing Ovation, Dylan has moved forward from the position he was in at the end of Directors Cut, but he now seeks a quantum leap in his career. 

He’s in Stratford-upon-Avon, staying with his friend Xavier, a stage manager at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Then he lands a post as personal assistant to his idol, Konstantin Kosoff, mentally and physically fragile concert pianist, currently controlled by his two highly dubious brothers. Dylan enters another highly dysfunctional and dangerous household and plunges into a position only vacant because the two previous post-holders died in mysterious circumstances.

There are several people who might inspire me for some aspect of my fictional great pianist. I already have in mind the central inspiration; but that may change as I continue the novel, because when writing we may find elements entering the story from the subconscious. I won’t be able to tell how strong a part any of these elements may play until the story decides for itself, and reaches completion.

Do you other writers out there find Hilary Mantel’s approach rings a bell for you? Or do you rely on creating structure beforehand, and planning out the novel in detail? I’d love to know your own creative practice!

Extract from the Introduction to Paranormal Warwickshire

I have heard, but not believed,

The spirits of the dead

May walk again

William Shakespeare

So says William Shakespeare, through the lips of Antigonus in Act 3 Scene 3 of The Winter’s Tale.

William Shakespeare Engraving First Folio 1623 by Martin Droeshout
William Shakespeare Engraving First Folio 1623 by Martin Droeshout

Did Shakespeare believe in ghosts and spirits? Opinions are divided; Herbert,  Shakespearean actor, who led us around Stratford-upon-Avon one evening on the town ghost tour, maintained that Shakespeare did; whereas a distinguished Cambridge professor, examining the Bard’s use of paranormal manifestations throughout his plays, concluded that he believed these are all ‘emanations from the mind.’

Hamlet and his father's ghost. Shakespeare's Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Hamlet and his father’s ghost. Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

We cannot say for sure what Shakespeare believed; but his works are full of ghosts and spirits. It is known that he himself played the part of his most famous and loquacious ghost, the spirit of Hamlet’s father, many times, and it was the top of his performance as an actor, according to his first biographer. This is the ghost of whom Hamlet says:

 The spirit that I have seen

May be a devil, and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape.

William Shakespeare

And yet throughout the play Hamlet continues to explore and agonise over the true nature of the spirit he has seen, with the input of his sceptical friend Horatio; and he reaches different conclusions according to the state of his mind.

Whether because they made excellent dramatic devices, or because their presence in Shakespeare’s plays denotes something much deeper, more complex and hidden within the recesses of his own heart, it is true his county, Warwickshire, is saturated even today in strange events for which there is no scientific explanation.

Ghost Banquo at Feast. Shakespeare's Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
The Ghost of Banquo at the Feast. Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve lived in Warwickshire for twenty-five years, at the time of writing.  I’ve grown to love and feel a deep connection with some of this county’s most iconic locations: castles, houses, and churches; and also some of its less familiar ones.

Thomas Oken House Warwick
Thomas Oken’s House Warwick – photo credit Jamie Robinson

All of these places have rich and complex stories to tell which span the full range of the emotional, moral and spiritual spectrum, as befits the county of Shakespeare.

Brutus & Caesar's Ghost 1802 Wikimedia commons Shakespeare Julius Caesar SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Painting dated 1802. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

But the stories here acknowledge that energy lingers in many places other than manor houses, abbeys and castles. They also tell of ordinary people going about their business in a very familiar, even mundane environment. It’s about shop owners and sales staff, families in terraced houses and busy commuters on a railway platform. Some of the stories you will find here are those that people kept to themselves, for a long time, for fear of being ridiculed.

Shakespeare monument Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Shakespeare’s monument above his grave in Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

 Our task here is simply to listen to the stories that people tell, and, like Hamlet, to explore the nature of these strange experiences both with our hearts and our minds, and reach our own conclusions.

Paranormal Warwickshire is available everywhere good books are sold.

Virginia Woolf on the art of reading a book

Listening to an interview by Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4 the other day, I was delighted to learn that Virginia Woolf‘s classic essay How Should One Read a Book? has been republished in a new edition (12 October 2020).

Virginia Woolf

I studied this text in school as part of my GCE ‘O’ level English Literature syllabus. Ironically, although I found Virginia Woolf’s novels quite challenging to read (although I loved Orlando), that is not the case for this essay. That’s probably because it was originally a talk given at a girls school in Sevenoaks in 1926. I still remember the impact Virginia’s words had on me. The essay is very accessible, and Virginia writes with passion on her subject.

One of her observations appeals to me: “you haven’t read a book properly until you’ve talked about it”. Brilliant! How that makes the heart of an author sing. Nowadays of course authors often look for their readers to “talk about” their books, either in book clubs, or by personal recommendation, or by posting an Amazon or Goodreads review online.

Authors and publishers also, of course, value professional reviews in the major periodicals and newspapers; and these reviews are often quoted at length in the front matter of very popular books. Personally, I prefer not to know the details of what other people think until I’ve read the book – or at least until I’m halfway through. I want to make my own response to the book.

But these are the days when everyday readers – all those out there who love reading books – have power, with their opinions and feelings. Every response to a book is valid. I remember my creative writing teacher at Lancaster University saying:

“Once you’ve written your book, and it’s published, and out in the world, it doesn’t belong to you any more. It becomes a Thing on the Table, for anybody to make what they want of it.”

This view is echoed by Philip Pullman , the author of His Dark Materials trilogy, who, in a recent very enjoyable Society of Authors webinar, said that while you are writing a book, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. You write what you like and you don’t worry what anybody else thinks: they can mind their own business. When it’s published it’s a different matter. It’s not yours any more. The world can then make what it likes of your book.

Passion for reading, for the different worlds you may enter and explore when you are a voracious reader, shines out from Virginia’s essay.

Here is one quote from Virginia Woolf which many readers have seized upon, as it confirms the joy and the richness of being a great reader. I quote this near the end of my author talk on The Power of Story – for one of my goals is to enhance or re-awaken a love of reading.

“I have sometimes dreamt … that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Virginia Woolf, in The Second Common Reader

SC Skillman

Psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

Paranormal Warwickshire was published 15th November 2020

Available everywhere good books are sold.

Paranormal Warwickshire is Now Live!

I’m delighted to announce that Paranormal Warwickshire has now been released by Amberley Publishing.

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman book cover
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman book cover

It was a very exciting moment when I received my box of books.

Author SC Skillman opening box of books Paranormal Warwickshire
Author SC Skillman opening box of books Paranormal Warwickshire

Here’s an early review from fellow author and blogger Ritu Bhathal, who received an advance review copy:

A fantastic book filled with tales of ghostly sightings across the county of Warwickshire.
SC Skillman has found some intriguing stories and researched their background and possible origins. The results are fascinating and eye-opening.
I especially loved the accompanying photographs, old and new, showing the different castles and buildings where these events are said to have taken place.
Warwickshire was where I grew up, and we regularly visited places like Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Leamington Spa, so this book held an extra special interest for me.
Thank you to the author for providing me with an arc, for an honest review.

 

Thank you Ritu and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book!

Check out Ritu’s lovely blog here:

Another early reviewer, Marje Mallon, wrote this:

 

Thank you so much to the author for entrusting me with an advanced readers copy for an honest review.

I have always been fascinated by the paranormal and have had a far few ghostly and strange experiences myself, so this book by S. C. Skillman caught and kept my attention throughout.

It’s a well-researched, detailed and beautifully photographed book. Some of the images within are by S.C. Skillman herself.

If you like tales of haunted castles, churches, theatres, hotels, manor houses and many more locations beside, (a ghost can hang out anywhere they feel drawn to,) this is for you!

The collection begins in Warwick and moves on to various locations in Warwickshire: Kenilworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Lapworth, Alcester, Rugby, Nuneaton (Birthplace of George Eliot,) and Leamington Spa.

Some of my favourite tales within included ghostly tales from theatres: in Stratford-upon-Avon, Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The ‘grey lady’ ‘is thought by by many to be the spirit of Elisabeth Scott, and is one of the theatre’s most well-known ghosts.’ ‘She appears so real she is often mistaken for a lost theatregoer.’ ‘It seems that many who have loved this theatre in their lifetimes cannot turn away from this magical and evocative place.’

And in Rugby Theatre: ‘One of the stories told here is of a woman seen floating down the stairs. It is thought she was an usherette in former times…’

It’s an interesting collection and one that will encourage you to explore the paranormal. After reading, you will want to visit these locations first hand to see if you experience the haunting visitations described within. Who knows, you might even want to become a paranormal investigator!
 

 

Thank you Marje for your review.  And for all who’d like to  visit Marje’s blog, it’s here.

And if you’d like the chance to hear me reading from the book and answering questions from those who came to my Facebook Live launch event, do check it out here:    https://www.facebook.com/scskillman

You can buy the book on all major online retail sites, and order it from your local bookshop. 

Here are a few places to go to buy the book: Waterstonesbookshop.org; Amazon; Hive.

 

 

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 10: Leamington Spa

This is the tenth and final post in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

A historical panorama of Leamington Spa and surrounding countryside, on display in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum, Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa.

The town of Royal Leamington Spa underwent a dramatic transformation beginning from the early 1700s when the 4th Earl of Aylesford discovered a mineral spring on his land. Subsequently, a few further twists and turns of the story raised the fortunes of this sleepy little village called Leamington Priors, until it had attained the highest reputation with The Beau Monde, and re-invented itself as a desirable Regency health resort. Aristocrats and the wealthiest members of society would flock here, to take the waters. The town met with the approval of Queen Victoria, which is why she’s celebrated with a statue in front of the Town Hall.

Victoria House, Willes Road, Leamington Spa (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

I found several curious anecdotes and strange tales in Leamington Spa; these surround the railway station, which plays a significant role in Leamington Spa’s history from the 19th century on; the elegant building, formerly known as the Masonic Halls, now known as Victoria House; and a certain residential property in Leam Terrace which was proving difficult to sell.

Blue Plaque on the wall at Leamington Spa Railway Station

Here’s an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire:

Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, you could only reach Leamington Spa by Crown Prince stagecoach, and the journey from London took nine hours. But in 1844 everything changed with the formal opening of the Warwick and Leamington Branch Railway, and the first railway station in the town. This brought Leamington Spa within four hours journey of London.  That station building was replaced in 1852.  Posters advertised the town as a “Modern Holiday and Cure” resort. In 1939, despite initial negative reaction stirred up by the local press, the Great Western Railway opened an Art Deco station to replace the original building of 1852. The building is listed Grade II.

    Both passengers and station staff report paranormal occurrences. Stephen worked there from 2012 to 2016.

       “My job was night-time security officer,” he says……

  Stephen has several stories to tell of strange events in the station at night, when the station is closed to passengers, and no trains run.

   “Once, at about three or four in the morning, across the tracks I saw a lady on Platform 2.  I challenged her. ‘Excuse me, what are you doing in the station? How did you get in here?’ She looked at me as if she’d heard me, turned away and carried on walking. I ran down underneath and up the stairs to find her, and she had gone. So I got onto the CCTV and there was nothing there. But I had seen her clearly.  I had to make a phone call to report her so as to make sure there was no danger of someone being on the track. We have to cover ourselves.

   “Another time, I was walking around when I saw that a door I had previously locked was standing open. So I went to check the door. It was on Platform 1.  The door slammed on me as I went to it. I thought it must have been the wind, and locked it.

   “A lot of paranormal activity takes place in the offices upstairs. I went upstairs to check the place out and the door was open. I went back, and the door was closed.”

 This is corroborated by other members of staff  who regularly see and hear things including doors slamming and electrical equipment turning on and off.

   One staff member said, “When we first moved into the top floor offices the people who had been there previously had obviously left in a hurry. I regularly have paperwork thrown about. Doors are left open and I hear footsteps. I find it is often a quick way to end a meeting having a door slam for no logical reason. I’ve now learned to live in harmony with the ghosts.”

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 9: Nuneaton

This is the ninth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

George Eliot Hotel in Nuneaton (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Nuneaton is strongly associated with one of the greatest of English novelists, George Eliot, who was born on the Arbury Hall estate here and brought up in Nuneaton; this background afforded her the opportunity to meet people in all walks of life, the ‘high-born’ and also the working people. From these she found much inspiration and demonstrated her insight through her many fictional characters. George Eliot is rightly celebrated in the town of her birth and upbringing. In harmony with her own literary focus, I found that some of the most extraordinary tales in my book come from working people in their everyday environment.

60 & 62 Queens Road Nuneaton, during the time the property was owned and managed by Angela Collings as The Entertainment Exchange

Here’s an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire.

As we have seen, George Eliot was a radical intellectual; her novella ‘The Lifted Veil’ (an example of the Victorian horror genre), published in July 1859, is unique amongst her works for its supernatural premise. It explores themes of extra-sensory perception, the essence of physical life, the possibility of life after death, and the power of fate.

  I believe that if George Eliot had been alive and writing her novels 200 years later she would have been keen to bring her spirit of enquiry into the extraordinary series of events reported by ordinary working people in their workplaces at Queens Road, Nuneaton, in the late 20th/early 21st century.

   Queens Road was in former times the main street of the town until it was split into two parts by the Nuneaton ring road. In Queens Road, strange events are reported by the staff of several retail businesses – and none more so than those who have worked at number 62. Angela, the former lessee, experienced supernatural disturbances there for several years along with many staff members and customers,

   Angela first bought no. 60 Queens Road in order to start up a business with her partner Dawn, selling video games and movies.

    Having made a success of this, they leased 62 and turned their business into a big two floor music store. Entertainment Exchange opened in 1994 and became the biggest music / gaming / film collectors store in the West Midlands. This culminated at the height of the business in their having twenty-five staff on the rota at any given time.

   Both buildings are extremely historic and atmospheric; Angela’s account focuses on  62 where she spent most of her time during the twenty years she traded there. As from 2014, Angela no longer owned or operated from either of these two buildings.

   Angela’s story begins on the day before her store opened at 62, when she spent four hours upstairs alone in the shop, with the door to the street locked, pricing vinyl and laying out displays. As she was putting LP’s in racks, she saw something in the corner of her eye in the direction of the old office: a small dumpy woman dressed in black with dark hair which she wore in a bun at the back of her head. Shocked, Angela turned her head straight to the store room door and the image vanished in front of her.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

Angela’s story is developed further in my book, and this experience was the first in a series of astonishing events, experienced independently by herself and her partner, many of her customers and staff, and by those who had worked in the building during the decades before her ownership

Find out the full story in Paranormal Warwickshire.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 8: Rugby

This is the eighth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Rugby Theatre (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Rugby has a picturesque town centre rich with history, as I found when I joined an entertaining historical and paranormal tour there. Not only did we learn a lot about Rugby, and about English history, but we also heard several colourful tales recounted by a highly skilled raconteur.

The Black Swan, Rugby, and 14th century house next door, formerly the location of Tew’s the Butchers, mentioned in the classic novel ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ – photo credit Jamie Robinson

Here’s an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire:

   On Henry Street you will find Rugby Theatre, with which several paranormal tales are associated. In 1946 the Rugby Amateur Theatre Society was formed with the intention of founding a permanent theatre in the town. In 1949 the Society obtained a former cinema on the current site, and set about converting it into a theatre.

   One of the stories told by the theatre fraternity here is that of the ghostly figure of a woman who is seen floating down the stairs. It is thought she was an usherette in former times, who is still taking tickets and escorting people to their seats once they have come past the box office.

   Another story concerns the Circle. This is believed to be haunted by the apparition of a man who fell over the balcony and died. He loved the theatre so much he is often seen in his former place and people have actually got out of his way when he went to the seats.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more curious tales about this theatre, and several other locations in Rugby, why not preorder Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

  

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 7: Warwick Castle

This is the seventh in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Warwick Castle viewed from the town bridge. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

Warwick Castle, currently owned and looked after by Merlin Entertainments, is not only a spectacular sight for all who enter Warwick from the south, but it is also a treasure-house of stories: both historical, and some perhaps owing their provenance more to the imagination.

Warwick Castle: Caesar’s Tower. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

I attended a fascinating evening there several months ago when we discovered how the castle historians find out the truth of the numerous intriguing objects within the castle walls. We learned that a few of those objects owed their story more to the imagination of the Greville Earls of Warwick, than to any historical evidence (Guy of Warwick’s punch bowl being one of those artefacts).

The medieval bridge into Warwick, now a picturesque ruin close to the Castle Mill and Engine House. Photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Here is an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire.

    In 914, Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, built the first fortification on the land where Warwick Castle now stands, to keep out the Danes. After 1066 William the Conquerer took it over as a site for one of the many motte and bailey forts he established throughout England.

   The mound on which these fortifications stood remains today as a prized element of the estate; and indeed when Francis Greville, Earl of Warwick from 1759 to 1773, commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the grounds, he suggested making the mound an important aesthetic feature, ordering ornamental trees to be planted down its slopes surrounding the spiral path.

   Today, many stories are told of paranormal experiences around the Castle. One of the most well-known tales describes the apparition of Sir Fulke Greville in Watergate Tower. However, the story is no more than one hundred years old, and is not mentioned at all in the writings of Daisy, Countess of Warwick in the 1890s and early 1900s. Being a keen spiritualist, Daisy would have been well-motivated to repeat a spooky tale if it came to her ears. Strong circumstantial evidence suggests it may have been invented to increase tourism to the Castle. A documentary report published in 1996 concluded: “Little trace of Fulke Greville’s alterations survive in the tower…. It is unlikely that he ever lived in it.”

   Sir Fulke held the Castle between 1604 and 1628 and made many alterations to improve and beautify the castle and gardens. His death was a sad one: stabbed at his house in London by a resentful manservant, he lingered on for the next four weeks, suffering at the hands of inept doctors, before he died in agony. His body was brought back to Warwick and he was buried in the Chapter House of St Mary’s Church Warwick, where you may see his tomb.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more, and read some of the many curious anecdotes about Warwick Castle which are not so easily dismissed, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire, out on 15th November 2020.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 6: Kenilworth Castle

This is the sixth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Kenilworth Castle (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today I share an extract from my chapter on Kenilworth Castle, a historical site of great spiritual resonance, looked after by English Heritage, and a place I love and have visited many times.

Kenilworth Castle, Leicester’s Gatehouse. Photo credit Sheila Robinson

   John of Gaunt’s great hall saw many feasts, the walls covered with vibrant tapestries, blazing logs spitting and crackling in the great fireplace and the table laden with banquets. We can imagine the heat that billows through the kitchen, and see the toiling cooks and servants amid the steam, and smell the sweet and savoury fragrance of the dishes that are being prepared and cooked.

   The Castle passed into John of Gaunt’s hands in 1361. John was created Duke of Lancaster and fought long campaigns in France and Spain. But in 1391 he set about converting the castle into a palace, and during the following eight years he held his great banquets.

    Two centuries later, Sir Robert Dudley’s guests arrived at Leicester’s Building, the special accommodation he built to house Elizabeth I and her entourage during their famous nineteen-day visit between 9 and 27 July 1575.

   Sir Robert’s father John, Duke of Northumberland, built the castle stables in 1553. Today the stables contain the castle tea rooms and restaurant, and an exhibition of the castle’s history. The stables have the reputation of being haunted. Visitors have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a young stable boy. He is dressed in ragged clothes, is thought to be around fourteen years old and of the period not long after the stables were built.  He has been seen in three places: the stables, around Leicester’s Gatehouse, and wandering among the ruins.

    Other strange experiences in the stables are reported by English Heritage staff, who claim to have heard voices from behind locked doors, and felt presences in the kitchen.

   In 1575 Sir Robert spent a considerable amount of time and money preparing for Elizabeth’s visit and his last attempt to persuade her to marry him. As part of his preparations, not only did he build the impressive accommodation block, but also he added Leicester’s Gatehouse. The gatehouse is set up to look as it would have done in the 1930s, when it was used as a private residence. On the top floor is an exhibition to explore the royal love story between Elizabeth and Dudley.

   Several paranormal tales emerge from Leicester’s Gatehouse. Some visitors describe the apparition of a little girl who asks for her daddy. Others have witnessed a spectral man dressed in black who was killed in a swordfight. Other reported appearances include an old lady who breaks the same candle time after time.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman
Kenilworth Castle: view of the Keep from the new staircase inside Leicester’s Building. Photo credit Sheila Robinson

To find out more, why not preorder Paranormal Warwickshire, published on 15th November 2020, widely available online and through all good bookshops.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 5: Stoneleigh Abbey, Kenilworth

This is the fifth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Stoneleigh Abbey seen from the other side of the River Avon, showing the Orangery (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

I love Stoneleigh Abbey, near Kenilworth, and have visited it several times. The history tour and the Jane Austen tour are both excellent; the Humphrey Repton grounds and gardens enchanting; and the afternoon tea in the Orangery is to be highly recommended!

Originally the home of an order of Cistercian monks,who were granted the land by Henry II in 1154, the abbey saw the twists and turns of fortunes through the centuries, emerging from the dissolution of the monasteries in a sorry state and spending 25 years as a roofless ruin before Rowland Hill and his protegee Thomas Leigh purchased the building and set about building an Elizabethan manor house in the ruins.

Stoneleigh Abbey – the approach from the gatehouse (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The full story of the history of the house, through the generations of the Leigh family, how they gained and nearly lost their Baronetcy, how further extensions to the building were made, and how the Abbey emerged from a devastating fire a few generations ago, but has now been sensitively restored, may be heard in a lively and engaging history tour through the grand rooms. Stoneleigh Abbey claims a close connection with Jane Austen, who in 1806 formed part of a family party invited by her mother’s cousin Revd. Thomas Leigh of Adlestrop to view his new inheritance. Jane drew several inspirations for her novels from her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey.

Many curious tales cling to the abbey; and my favourites are associated with the library.

Stoneleigh Abbey – view of the 14th century gatehouse. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

Here is an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire (published 15th November 2020).

Who haunts this room? We cannot be sure, but it may be Chandos Leigh, poet, first Baron Leigh of the second creation. Chandos loved this room and spent many hours writing and studying in here. He was the only son of James Henry Leigh (1765–1823), MP, of Adlestrop, Gloucestershire, and subsequently of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, by his marriage with Julia, eldest daughter of Thomas Fiennes, tenth lord Saye and Sele.

   Chandos during his lifetime was a very well-known poet. His first publication was ‘The Island of Love,’ a poem, published in 1812; he published ‘Trifles Light as Air,’ in 1813; ‘Poesy, a Satire,’ in 1818; ‘Epistles to a Friend in Town, Golconda’s Fate, and other Poems,’ in 1826.  His poems reflected the influence of Horace, Virgil, Pope, and Byron, and were much prized by the scholarly few.

   But for the room’s paranormal stories, we must let the Abbey’s history guide take up the narrative. “I was doing a tour here,” he says, “and while I was speaking, the handle on that door over there started moving violently. It was really loud so I said, ‘Stop!’ And it stopped. So I said to the manager, ‘somebody’s trying to get through that door and you need to have a word with them as it really put me off my tour.’ He said, ‘that’s impossible.’ I said, ‘I know it’s impossible, the grandfather clock’s standing in front of it, so they can’t come in.’  He said, ‘no no no, the other side of that door’s a wall, the handle is only on your side.”

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

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