Stories often emerge quite unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes they are prompted by the unconscious inner workings of the imagination made manifest at ungodly hours of the morning, and at others by external events that set in train ideas that might not otherwise have arisen. The germs of what were to become Lord Guthlac’s Wife and The Fighting Cheribatsu, for example, arrived unbidden through the medium of sleep, whereas two were prompted by unforeseen incidents on the road, with a temporary closure of the M6 leading to a diversion that spawned the idea for The Cross at Crickmead, and a burning brake disc giving rise to an encounter that led to the creation of The Recovery Man. Lockdown, with all of its attendant restrictions, has not, of course, provided much by way of external stimuli, so it was just as well that I had a number of stories in development before it occurred.
Seven of the nine pieces found here are new, with two – The Bread Oven and Levelling – having previously been published, albeit only in Kindle. Now, however, they are finally available in paperback, for folk such as myself who prefer physical print to digital.
Like those found in its predecessor, A Ghost Story Omnibus: Collected Ghost Stories 2016-2018, these new tales range widely in tone and historical setting, with three amongst them – Epitaph, Equal Shares and Eileen of the Aisles – being of a distinctly satirical bent. A further trio – The Fighting Cheribatsu, The Cross at Crickmead and Lord Guthlac’s Wife – are period pieces set respectively in the 1920s, 1840 and the eleventh century, with the second of these containing multi-layered elements that reach deep back in time to Alfred’s Wessex, the Reformation and the seventeenth century. However, the dividing line between past and present proves not to be as inflexible as at first it might seem.
Unusually, two of these stories – The Fighting Cheribatsu and Eileen of the Aisles – are narrated in the first person, but the voices of the narrators could not be more distinct: the urbane and wistful Sir Henry Fennick, contrasting markedly with the garrulous, gossipy and venomous Eileen. Quite where Sir Henry came from, I’m not sure, although he would make for perfectly agreeable company, whereas Eileen most certainly would not. A number of West Yorkshire voices merged to create her opinionated voice with its stream-of-consciousness commentary, but if you’d like to meet her for yourself, then you’ll find her here in A Ghost Story Omnibus Volume Two. Be warned though: whatever you do, don’t let her see you.