Friday, November 10, 2017

Ever This Day by Helen Moorhouse

Having started the previous post talking about the perfect book to curl up with on a gloomy Autumn evening. This is certainly a book that fits that bill. Helen Moorhouse is a favourite of mine. Follow this link Helen Moorhouse to see previous reviews, events and interviews.  Helen was also kind enough to judge a short story competition for me a few years ago. Helen's books are utterly compelling. She is one of the few authors I've read that will make you gasp out loud or shout no, no, no at the characters. Helen's latest novel is about Ria who is haunted by her past at an Irish boarding school; Maria Goretti and the strange and frightening events that occurred there. Gripping and terrifying in equal measure  this is a perfect Autumn read. If you have yet to discover Helen's books, then get thee to a bookshop, library, website etc and gobble them down right now.  Ever this Day is Helen's fourth book following The Dead Summer, The Dark Water and Sing Me to Sleep. If you are a fan of Susan Hill, Sarah Waters or Elly Griffihs these books will be right up your street. I was delighted to be able to ask Helen some questions recently and here's what she had to say about Ever This Day. 

Q1. What draws you to tales of ghosts, the past, the frightening?

I don't think I've ever lost my love of fairy tales from childhood - I adore the idea that anything is possible,  and that events aren't just confined to this mundane world that we know. Loving, and writing ghost stories is an extension of that - the idea that stories are escapism, a little step into a world where there's magic, where there's 'something else'. 
I love stories - being made to feel by the events as they unfold - I adore being drawn in by a story so much that I become completely emotionally invested in it - it's so satisfying. And for me, a ghost story has all of the necessary ingredients for that - firstly, there's fear - the most obvious, and the most discomfiting, and not for everyone. Then there's curiosity, doubt, wonder - what can it be? That's not possible, surely?
But if that's true, then....
And every ghost story needs a backstory - who is the haunted or who is doing the haunting? How did they die? What was their life like? A good ghost story will have a back story that makes you feel even more afraid, or sad for them; make you feel outrage, or pity at what has happened to them. It will make you feel curious, caring, anxious, broken-hearted, terrified. 
A good ghost story will have elements of every single other type of story - crime, romance, tragedy, loss, betrayal, revenge - all seasoned with that most visceral of emotions, which is fear. And there's also that indescribable sense of 'something else' which makes them so appealing. What if there is something else out there? What if there is life after death? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?  

Q2. Have you had any spooky encounters yourself?

Nothing as exciting or terrifying as Ria in Ever This Day. I've never seen an actual ghost, much as I'm intrigued by the idea, but I have had a few unexplained events happen that I often wonder about. When I was growing up in our big, old house, myself and my sisters used to hear banging and thumping noises from the unused attic space above our bedroom. We heard them so often, in fact, and got so used to them, that we actually stopped being perturbed by them. They sounded for all the world like brick or plaster landing on the floor from the walls - sometimes they were like little falls of pebbles, other times like bricks thumping down - so we assumed that's what they were. Until eventually my Dad climbed up to check the space at one point and we all had a look in turn - only to find that there wasn't a thing out of place. No pebbles, no bricks, no animal droppings - nothing. It's still a mystery to this day what those noises were and, although, I haven't slept in that house for years, what I'm sure they still are.
The other events that spring to mind happened when I worked in a radio station in Cork which was housed in a former school, coincidentally enough, considering Ever This Day is set in a boarding school. There was a story that circulated around staff that the building was haunted by the ghost of a former pupil who had died tragically there but I never really paid it a huge amount of attention until I took a part-time position in the newsroom doing evening and weekend shifts, on top of my day job in the S&P department, and began to see all the events for myself that were linked to the alleged haunting. 
Firstly, the lift would travel up and down by itself at nighttime when, for the most part, there were only two people in the building - the on air presenter who couldn't stray too far from the on air studio, and the person covering the newsroom for the evening shift who couldn't stray too far from the newsdesk. Sometimes the lift would ping and the doors would slowly slide open just as you passed it on the way down the stairs to nip to the loo, which was pretty unnerving. 
Secondly, the phone system that we used in the station had handsets where you could see all of the extensions around the building, with a light for each one. At night, the extension lines would often light up - internally, which didn't happen unless a phone handset was physically picked up. All calls for the on air and newsroom came in on phones separate to the main system, with direct dial numbers, after office hours, so it wasn't external calls coming in. But it wasn't calls being made from desk to desk or office to office either - after I left, I remember bumping into a former newsroom staff member who told me that one evening herself - a news editor who worked in facts - and her friend, a sales rep, had watched the lights and decided to walk to the locations of the extensions that were lighting up as they were lit - naturally, there was no one there. 

On another occasion, in the newsroom as I worked the evening shift, various pieces of electrical equipment started to power down and then back up again without any pattern, explanation or reason. The TV turned itself off at one point and wouldn't respond to the remote controls or the physical buttons, only to power back up again minutes later. Then my mini disc machine went down completely while I was reading a bulletin which made for a pretty short nine o'clock news! The building was a pretty eerie place at nighttime alright, and when my shift finished and I tried to get out of there at about 11pm each evening I always fled as if being chased and I  let out a little sigh of relief out when I'd close the front door behind me. 

Q3. What are favourite supernatural books/ films  and why?

I've read a lot of supernatural books - and am painfully aware of how much more there are that I desperately want to read - but the one that always sticks in my mind is James Herbert's 'The Secret of Crickley Hall' - it's such a pure ghost story - unexplained noises, apparitions, the gravestones of children, the well in the cellar, a horrible past and a bleak present. It's about ghosts and haunting in a very old-fashioned, back to basics way. It doesn't try to do anything with the genre other than be a ghost story and I love it for that. Also, the classic Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House', of course. They are both very simple in their form, in that they rely on terror rather than horror to set chills up the spine. There's no gore, no otherworldly creatures - there's nothing in them, to my opinion, which strays very far from what could possibly happen in real life and that, to me, is the scariest thing of all. 
In terms of film, I don't watch a huge amount of conventional horror movies - they just don't appeal to me. But I do love dark stories, and these days there's a ton of excellent stuff available on TV - off the top of my head, I've recently enjoyed The Kettering Incident, Inside No. 9, Les Revenants, Penny Dreadful, Being Human, Misfits, - there's tons of stuff I'm leaving out, but it really is a great time for people who want something that little bit darker, with a supernatural edge to pass an evening.

Q4. Part of the new book is set in the 1980s. Is there anything 1980s you would like to bring back? or banish forever?

I'd like to bring back Andrew McCarthy, Zanzibars, A-ha, and MT USA. 
I'd banish white socks and black slip-on shoes and mullet hairstyles. 80's revivals are only acceptable to a certain level!
I think the older I get, the more nostalgic I feel about the 80's - I'm loving a lot of stuff set in the 80's at the moment like Stranger Things and the Black Mirror episode 'San Junipero' which is the most beautiful love story, and 80's accurate without turning into pastiche. In writing Ever This Day, I've spent a lot of time there in my head and I quite liked it - MTV, John Hughes movies, synthpop - of course the 80's were tremendously bleak too - the Cold War, Thatcherism, recession etc. - but I'll always view the decade through the eyes of a teenager who just longed for John Cusack on the front lawn blaring Peter Gabriel through a boombox. A lot of what is good about the 80's has survived of course, as happens with every decade - classic music and cinema, for example. And a lot of it - like the hairstyles - has remained just where it should, in nostalgia TV shows and hysterical photographs of your schoolmates. If I had a TARDIS, would I go back? Maybe just for a day trip but yes, I'd love to pay the 80's a visit.

Q5. Your book features a boarding school filled with frightening memories and you attended boarding school yourself. Is there any real life inspiration in The Convent of Maria Gorretti? Would you ever see yourself writing spooky-school stories in the future?

I had a message only last night from a schoolfriend who had just finished reading Ever This Day and who said that she couldn't tell where our reality ended and the book's fantasy began with regards to Maria Goretti and our old school, the Brigidine Convent, Mountrath in Co. Laois. Not in terms of ghostly goings-on, and insane nuns, of course, but I've used the setting of the school, apart from the odd flourish here and there, more or less brick for brick. In describing Maria Goretti, I simply walked around the corridors and classrooms in which I spent five formative years, adding things here and there, and taking the odd thing out but for the most part the physical description of the building and also of the daily routine are based on fact. Most of my 'pack' from school have recently read Ever This Day and I get messages on WhatsApp all the time from them remarking on how they had forgotten this and that, and recalling stuff that I didn't put in the book but which they were reminded of in reading it, which has been enormous fun and quite emotional at times. 
It made writing it that little bit more difficult too, however, in that sometimes my descriptions were way too long winded, or too confusing, because the locations and events were completely familiar and clear in my mind and I was either at pains to describe them in as much detail as possible, or so over-familiar with them that they made sense only to me. I re-wrote the physical description sections in the book - when Ria goes there at first - four times and I still didn't fully trust in them until my editor, Gaye, took them apart and worked on them with me which was a real relief. 
It's been lovely to share those memories with old schoolfriends actually, and to re-connect with those girls because the whole five years was an incredible time - and we had a lot of fun, despite how bleak everything sounds in the book. Our fun years, however, of terrible food, giggling and listening to the radio after lights out, wouldn't have made for a very good story however - so that's why Maria Goretti and its residents - both living and dead - are a little darker than it was in real life! 
I'll probably give the spooky school a rest for a bit - but it's the type of location that has such enormous scope that I wouldn't say never to revisiting it. After all, one of my earliest influences was the TV adaptation of Antonia Fraser's 'Quiet as a Nun' which petrified me as a child so there's plenty of life in a veil and wimple, I reckon!

Q6. Finally what are you working on next?

At the moment, I'm taking a little writing break for a couple of months - at least until I've finished promoting Ever This Day. It was a really difficult book for me to write - it's been four years since my last book was released, and in the interim I wrote yet another book that I hated and wasn't prepared to publish, lost my writing mojo a little, and had twins which brings my family to four, all under nine years of age (which also explains where the writing mojo went) so it's been a very demanding time both physically and creatively. Finishing and releasing Ever This Day was a huge personal milestone for me but the process took a lot out of me so I'm letting the field go fallow for a few months, to see what comes out when I sit down to write next. I think I might like to give ghosts a little rest for a while - although I've been saying that for the last two books! - and see what else I can come up with. I'm toying with two ideas at the moment - one is a little bit of Irish mythology and legend with a twist, and the other is a more up to date story about internet support forums - a little lighter in places, but not too much in the long run! As to what will eventually emerge on the page? Probably something completely different altogether - I guess I'll know when I know.

Ever This Day is published by Poolbeg
Thanks to Caroline at Poolbeg for sending me a copy of the book for review. 
Thanks so much to Helen for her brilliant responses. Here is a recent article in which Helen reminds us all how brilliant fantasy, horror and ghost stories can be.

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