INTERVIEW WITH HEADSTONES AUTHOR RAYNE HALL
Do you ever wander around cemeteries, read the inscriptions on strangers’ headstones, and wonder what their lives were like, how they died, what families they left behind?
Wandering around graveyards is one of my favourite activities when I’m travelling in foreign countries. It’s a great way to learn about the region’s history, culture and people in quiet, peaceful surroundings,. And the admission is free.
In my home country, Germany, headstones are often glossy fake marble, inscribed with conventional phrases, and the cemeteries are surrounded by thick hedges of dark yew.
In rural England, where I lived for many years, graveyards often surround medieval churches. A giant ancient yew-tree towers over the graves. Headstones tend to be old and grey, encrusted with yellow, white, green and orange lichen, and the chiselled inscriptions – those that haven’t eroded yet – reveal dates from the 1700s and 1800s, some of them with quirky comments.
In China, where I worked for a while, some graves are scattered over scenic hillsides with narrow vertical headstones. I enjoyed going for walks among the gently rolling hills, which horrified my Chinese friends who feared that I might meet malevolent ghosts. In other cemeteries, the headstones stand close together, because people are standing up to save valuable space. I couldn’t read enough of the Chinese script to understand what the inscriptions said.
Here in Bulgaria where I live now, most headstones are made from white marble. Recent burials often have a photo of the deceased printed onto the marble surface, and there seems to be a one-upmanship about who has the biggest and most glamorous portrait on their headstone. Graves are adorned with plastic flowers in scarlet and pink. Among the headstones from the communist era, it’s interesting to spot those with a discreet cross engraved, usually in the upper left corner. During those days, religion wasn’t forbidden, but it was discouraged, so families sought a compromise between conforming with new social norms and honouring their parents’ beliefs.
What kind of headstone would you like on your grave? What inscription would you love?
Instead of a headstone, I’d love a tree planted on my grave. Of course, this may not be practical or permitted, so I won’t demand it, and I won’t come back to haunt my executors if I don’t get what I want.
If I need a headstone at all, then the inscription ‘Rayne Hall, Author’ would be good.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
Yes, I’ve seen a ghost. This was about twenty-five years ago when I lived in the county of Kent in England.
One night after giving a presentation to a Women’s Institute, I was driving home along a country road when I saw a young man walking towards me. In the brief time that I saw him, I thought he looked like a James Dean type, a young man with a 1950s hairstyle, wearing an open short jacket. He was staggering a little, as if drunk.
Suddenly he walked into the road, and right into my car. I swerved to the right to avoid him.
I didn’t feel an impact, so I assumed I must have missed him. But when I looked in the rear-view mirror, he wasn’t there – neither lying injured nor walking, neither by the roadside nor in the street.
That’s when it dawned on me that I had seen a ghost.
Had I imagined it? It was night, I may have been tired, the headlights may have created an illusion, and I as a writer, I have a vivid imagination.
But I’m sure my imagination would have come up with a more exciting than a rather boring, slightly drunk man from my own century. Surely my mind would have conjured up a headless woman in a Tudor gown, or a Roman centurion on a white horse.
After the experience, I contacted several paranormal researchers, but none of them was aware of a ghost haunting that road.
Describe your writing voice.
Gothic, atmospheric, creepy, vivid, suspenseful, lush.
How do you go about research for the fiction you write?
As far as possible, I try to experience everything myself, to give my stories authenticity.
I like to see the places, listen to the sounds, feel the ground under my feet, touch the surfaces, inhale the scents, observe every detail. My fiction is rich in atmosphere, and readers can feel the experience like they’re there.
For example, readers of my short story collection The Bride’s Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories feel like they are taking a journey to this beautiful, haunting country, learning about Bulgaria’s people, landscapes, history, traditions and dangers, all from the safety of their armchairs.
I once spent a night alone in a remote English graveyard to get the atmosphere right, listening to my feet crunching on the gravel path and the wind rustling the leaves, watching clouds waft across the pale moon, running my fingers across lichen-encrusted headstones, digging my bare fingers into the soil of a grave. The resulting short story is full of creepy, atmospheric details. It’s included in the anthology Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard. mybook.to/Headstones
The hero in one of my books (Storm Dancer, a dark epic fantasy novel) had a fetish for wrestling females, so I joined a mixed-gender wrestling group to get a feel for what that was like.
What do you like about the Gothic Fiction genre?
Both as a reader and as a writer, I love Gothic fiction, because it’s intensely emotional. It can explore all kinds of topics, even taboo subjects, and it can convey a strong moral message without sounding preachy. The location plays a big role, which feeds my passion for exciting, creepy settings. Gothic fiction blends well with other genres, e.g. Gothic Historical, Gothic Thriller, Gothic Horror. Gothic Horror is my favourite kind of horror because it thrills the reader with suspense rather than gore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rayne Hall writes fantasy, horror and non-fiction, and is the author of over seventy books. Her horror stories are more atmospheric than violent, and more creepy than gory.
Born and raised in Germany, Rayne has lived in China, Mongolia, Nepal and Britain. Now she resides in a village in Bulgaria. The country's ancient Roman ruins and the deserted houses from Bulgaria’s communist period provide inspiration for creepy ghost and horror stories.
Her lucky black cat Sulu, adopted from the cat rescue shelter, often accompanies her on these exploration tours. He delights in walking across shattered roof tiles, balancing on charred rafters and sniffing at long-abandoned hearths.
Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, bellydancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.
ABOUT THE BOOK
This book, edited by Rayne Hall, presents twenty-seven of the finest - and creepiest - graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.
Here you'll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.
You'll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.
Now let's open the gate - can you hear it creak on its hinges? - and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.
But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement... They may be right behind you.
Purchase Link: mybook.to/Headstones
The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.) The paperback is already published.