Italy’s Inspiration to Write Supernatural Stories

The first time I visited Italy, I travelled alone on a whistle stop tour of the country’s most famous cities and landmarks. I flew out to Venice airport and immediately thrust together with the other travellers and introduced to my female travelling companion Sarah, who was also single and travelling alone. I shared rooms with her on the tour as it saved money.  When I look back now, I felt so brave, a female touring Italy alone.

Saint Mark's Square Venice, Italy

 

We took a boat taxi into the heart of Venice and I immediately fell in love with the place. The tightly packed streets, winding and curving their way through the water thoroughfare was simply charming to me and I decided that this was going to be a destination my Beyond Characters in the book series would definitely be travelling to at some point in the series.

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We visited the Doge’s Palace, St Marks Cathedral, and The Florian Café to listen to the little orchestra play. The hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square was incredible with the hourly chime from the bell tower the place was just magical to me. I had my first taste of Venetian gnocchi, a rich and creamy sauce rather than the usual tomato based one. Oh my lord! It was heavenly and I’ve been to so many Italian restaurants since and no one seems to know the recipe. Although, I do make my own version which is a close as I can get to the original.

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I loved all the little antique style masquerade and gift shops too and I fell in love with the Gondolier who sang ‘Amore’ as he punted through the little canal ways. I thought it all so very romantic, even if I was there, travelling alone. So quaint and cute. I didn’t go over the bridge of Sighs until my second visit as I only had one day in Venice on my first trip, which is why I had to return and spend the whole week there, just to soak in the atmosphere and I hope I captured the beauty of the city in Vampire Sorceress, the third book in The Beyond Series.

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As I caught the boat taxi back down the Grand Canal at night, I looked up at the apartments in the grand merchant’s houses and saw chandeliers and marble walls adorning the interiors and decided there and then that Venice deserved another trip so I could look around these sumptuously decorated buildings.

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I then went on to Rome, stopping off at Pisa along the way. I didn’t go up the leaning tower as I suffer from vertigo at the best of times, but I did go into the little Baptist bell tower and was fortunate enough to hear a demonstration of the acoustics in the place as a monk arrived and began this haunting Grigori chant which echoed and reverberated off the walls of the building. Very spooky and atmospheric.

The Duomo & Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Although I didn’t think as a city Rome was a pretty as Venice, but it certainly made up for it with museums, coliseums and amazing Piazza’s. So we had the trip around the coliseum and the old Roman city, and though I find this history interesting, I do love the comparisons of then and now.

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I went to look the Castle of Angels where the Popes used to reside and the Piazza Navona which was once the Chariot racing arena of ancient Rome. I was particularly excited about the tour company arranging a trip to the Vatican, which was just amazing. Incredibly beautiful inside with untold wealth in antiquities and the Sistine chapel was awesome. To think Michelangelo had painted the ceiling and all the cardinals from around the world would gather there to choose their new Pope.

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St Peters was a pilgrimage for Nuns! That’s all I can say. The Cathedral was impressive, but I’ve never seen such a huge gathering of nuns, all dressed in slightly different versions and colours of their uniform from around the world crossing themselves, kneeling and praying and kissing effigies.

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I was fascinated because I’m drawn to worlds that I think are quite secretive and no-one really enters unless invited or become a member, so I’m always quite inquisitive about lives and people I will probably never normally mix with, purely because of circumstance. I’m like that with all secret societies, gypsies, Freemasons, Royalty, witches and vampire covens! Exploring and learning about worlds I probably will never get the opportunity to enter really does feed my imagination.

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The tour then took me to Assisi, where we saw lots of Monks, who had taken a vow of silence, just going about their daily chores. One actually nodded and smiled at me which I felt quite honoured that he’d even acknowledge the ordinary folk who sin on a daily basis! I just remember with Assisi that St Francis was from there, the monastery was dark with lots of cellar-type chambers and a very steep hill to walk up. It nearly killed me.

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I then headed out to Florence. The Ponte Vecchio bridge was filled with tightly packed boutique shops piled precariously on top of the bridge.

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The Medici Palace was amazing. It doesn’t look much from outside and the decadence of the interior was amazing. Imagine that this was once filled with rich materials and sumptuous furniture too. The finest in Italy. A very powerful family of it’s time. And I could now imagine vampire and witches covens living in such luxury in my books.

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Florence is beautiful and the Uffizi museum more than makes it a great city to visit, I saw all the greats, Michelangelo’s David statue, Botticelli, Raphael’s. Beautiful and I could have stayed in that vast art gallery all day. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio bridge with its little shops and I ate in the main Piazza della Signoria, full of street artists, musicians and beautiful marble statues.

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Naturally, Florence did also end up in my book Vampire Sorceress as Amethyst and Galleano self-indulgently had a flying tour of Italy. The Medici Palace was amazing and I think I managed to cram a lot into that day, but I still think Venice has the edge. I feel like I come home when I return to Venice. Maybe I lived there in a previous life!

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So when I returned to Venice, I visited the surrounding islands such as Murano, famous for its glass blowing and amazing glass ornaments and chandeliers, Burano, famous for its brightly coloured fishing houses, Casa Nova’s House on the edge of the water and finally Lido. An ultra-modern island where the rich and famous live. It has its own beaches and trendy bars and we stayed to sunbath for the day and party on the beach at night. Needless to say the Lido beach party crops up in the latest Beyond novel – Lycan Lamia too. God I love Italy!

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New Book Cover – The Confessional

This is a sneaky peek at my new Book Cover – The Confessional of the Mancunian Tales Novel – Military Crime thriller.

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Emma Wilson is looking forward to a working holiday in the Middle East. Naively she thinks it’s going to be an exciting adventure with her journalist friend, but very quickly realises she’s made a huge mistake and wants to return home.

Unfortunately, her fears of being in severe danger in Gaza come to fruition as they are both kidnapped by a radical Palestinian terrorist group and held hostage for propaganda and money.

By the time the SAS come to free Emma, she is starved, tortured and broken to the point of death. As she recovers from her traumatic experience on a British military base in Cyprus, her world begins to fall further apart as she uncovers the truth about the secret world she unwittingly lived in and turning her perceptions of reality, betrayal, and trust on its head.

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Egypt – The Ultimate Supernatural Writing Inspiration

Egypt has held a fascination for many people over the centuries. A lost civilisation resurrected by a handful of archaeologists from our more recent past, uncovering the secrets of an ancient world which has still not completely given up all of it’s historical treasures yet. I just love the magical and mystical of this ancient land, with its own unique religion and hierarchy social structure. Egypt just screams to be explored and written about in endless historical non fiction and fictional books. And I’m no different, turning to this archaic and hidden world to explore the supernatural world of my Beyond Series of novels.

One of my favourite deities is Anubis. Depicted as half human half canine or dog. The Anubis was the protector of death, an connected to the embalming and rebirth of the corpse. When I was developing my series, I just thought Egyptian dieties would work well as my were-wolves in Demon Lupus – Second Book in The Beyond Series , who only become immortal when they creat their first ‘pup’. They could also take on the form of the Egyptian God, Anubis. The history of my supernatural creatures in my series are very closely connected to Egypt and their various deities.

Madinat Habu Temple has some of the best preserved frescos with the original paint used, so you can get a great idea of just how bright and colourful the temples were. This is a photo of a ceiling that is depicting The Goddess Isis and her feathered white wings of protection. As a goddess of health, marriage and wisdom, she is also represented as a sycamore tree, cobra, vulture, or in human form she carries the Ankh, a symbol of life and wearing either a throne shaped crown or a sun disk in a set of cow horns (symbol of Hathor Goddess)

This was one of the first wondrous sites I saw of Egypt as we boarded our boat for the week long cruise along the Nile, starting from Luxur and heading down to Aswan, then back again. These are Falooka sail boats at sunset, little fishing boats, which I did sail on later on the trip. But this view is just so awesome, Ithink. I could look at this photo all day long and conjure up stories of this mystical land.

The first day we headed out to Karnak Temple in Luxur and at the back of the temple was Hatshepsut’s Obelisk. She was the primary wife of Thutmose II and reigned jointly with her husbands son Thutmose III, who was conceived by a secondary wife. When he was made Pharaoh as a young child she took over leadership of Egypt  and was considered the most successful female Pharaoh. This gets complicated now as the Royal Dynasties liked to ‘keep it in the family’, so Hatshepsut was the first daughter and classed as the Kings Daughter by Thutmose I primary wife – Thutmose II (who became her husband and Pharaoh) he was also Thutmose I child, but was born to a secondary wife. So I guess Hatshepsut figured she was more entitled to the throne than her ‘half-brother-husband and her step-son-nephew!! Incest was rife and it gets better as we travel through the dynasties. This is the tallest standing Obelisk in the world.

This is the temple dedicated to Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. I love the idea of a Queen depicted as a Goddess and the incestual relationships behind closed doors from the major part of the Egyptian population. A subject I wanted to explore in my first book of the Beyond Series – Didikai Witch in which the coven of Romanian Gypsies closed their castle gates to the rest of the world. Instead of the inbreeding and creating anomalies and disfigurements it made the bloodline and powers stronger until the clan created a super-witch in the form of Amethyst.

This is Rameses II paying homage to Isis who was the first daughter of Geb, god of Earth and Nut, goddess of the Sky. She married her brother Osiris and was instrumental in his resurrection when he was murdered by his brother Set. She used her magical powers to restore Osiris’s body parts back together as they had been separated and flung around the world to prevent him having an afterlife, which was incredibly important to the Egyptians. She represents the mother of Gods, birth and immortality, which I thought very apt for my immortal creatures in The Beyond Series

Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple built in Ptolemaic dynasty, 180-47 BC it has an unusual, symmetrical ‘double’ design that meant there were courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods. The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world with Hathor and Khonsu and the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god Haroeris, also known as Horus the Elder.

Lion Goddess Sekhmet at Hatshepsut Temple. She was a warrior goddess whose breath created the desert. As a solar deity she was considered the fiercest goddess of war, love, fire, dance and medicine. I loved looking at the feline deities like Sekhmet and Bast or Bastet, from Egypt for my Lycan Cat Pride in Lycan Lamia – the fourth book in The Beyond Series as the deities are all half human, half animal, I thought it was a great way to explain the beginning of the immortal supernatural race on Earth and the religion and society that developed around worshipping them thousands of years ago.

Karnak Temple of Amun entrance lined with hundreds of Lion Headed Sphinx statues that along the main road from this temple at Luxor (in ancient times known as Thebes). The Royal road ran from Coptos to Syrene (Aswan) cutting through this Karnak temple.

Abu Haggag Mosque is situated on some ruins of part of the Karnak Temple. The mosque was actually built on top of the ruins before the Ancient Egyptian Temple was discovered under the earth and sand in the late Nineteenth Century.
A Sufi Shaykh, Abu Haggag is classed as Luxor’s main saint and lived in luxor for much of the ninety years of his life. Although building on such an important historical site was be frowned upon today, I still like the idea of past and present religions being built on the same site.


At the Kom Ombo Temple there are lots of these mummified crocodiles dedicated to the God Sobek, God of Nile, Military, Army and fertility. Sobek was a violent, but protective God and although I haven’t yet written about a were-crocodile I do love the idea and would like to research further into various predatory creatures who could be half human. Something to watch out for I think.

The Kom Ombo Temple was used mainly by  the Ptolemy Dynasty who weren’t Egyptians at all and were in fact Romans behaving like Egyptians so that the populace would accept their rule. On this fresco It depicts Horus with Ptolemy VIII who married his Sister Cleopatra II and later his niece and daughter of Cleopatra II and his other brother Ptolemy VI. I hope that makes some sense, but you can see how incestuous the ancient civilisations were and amazed there weren’t more birth defects, but I’ve read before there was a lot of madness amongst the Royal Romans!

There is so much for me to write, I’ve decided to do this blog over several instalments so tune in next time for the next exciting chapter.

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Sci-Fi and Fantasy Conventions

As a fantasy supernatural writer, I attend various sci-fi and fantasy conventions at times to promote myself and my Supernatural Beyond Series of Novels . They are all very different experiences, but these conventions do share one thing in common, their fans are serious fans and they love to dress up as their favourite characters from books, graphic novels, film and TV series. Here’s my favourite Sci-fi and Fantasy Conventions that I’ve attended in recent years.

Authors Alison Kershaw and Sam Stone meeting for the first time

BFS – British Fantasy Society – was my first introduction to Sci-Fi and Fantasy Conventions. It was held in Northampton and I was a little overwhelmed by it all at first. However, I had been in contact with Horror author Sam Stone, who was there to launch her new book and Raven Dane another lovely fantasy vampire author. I listened to other established authors on panels about script writing, which I found very interesting and gave me the idea to look into script writing courses to adapt Didikai Witch The first Novel in my Beyond Series of Supernatural Books.

I listened to other authors reading extracts from their own latest pieces of work, which I always greatly admire. For me public speaking is hard enough, but reading your own words to an anticipating crowd is petrifying, so I had great admiration for those reading. I also listened to James Barclay’s interview, which was very interesting as he described how he struggled as a writer in his early years and gave me motivation to carry on with my writing endeavours .


I was also honoured to be invited to lunch with some of the guest authors at the event, which was the first time I’d ever been in the company with fellow published authors before, which was thrilling.

NEW CON – A Sci-fi and Fantasy Convention in Nottingham, which offered similar entertainment and
workshops as the British Fantasy Society, but at this stage I knew more writers and the same people do tend to show up at these events. So I was there on Friday night in the hotel with Sam Stone, David Howe of Telos Publishing and Terry Martin of Murky Depths Graphic Novels when I went to the bar and began talking to a lovey gentleman who bought me a drink and started chatting about writing for the BBC, this was Paul Cornell, who had written episodes for Doctor Who and so I attended his workshop on the Saturday to learn more about how to get your foot in the door as a BBC script writer, I’m still trying, but the writer’s room only open up for submissions one a year, so I persist.

This panel is of author Storm Constantine and Terry Martin. I always recommend attending these conventions and panels as an aspiring writer because you can pick up amazing snippets of valuable advice from a pro and these panels are a chance to ask them pretty much whatever you like. Saturday evening was a live band and meal and I even had the absolute honour of player pool with the late, great Ian M. Banks.

EM – Com Birmingham. The two previous Sci-Fi and Fantasy Conventions were smaller, with a family feel and were focused around books, graphic novels and their authors. This Em – Com was huge in comparison, with many stalls to weave in and out of selling books, witchcraft products, Harry Potter memorabilia, Sci-fi toys from favourite TV and films, I wondered how I could possibly stand out from the rest. As you can see I went with a Scottish theme to match the Scotland theme that runs through the Beyond Books I write, and it seemed to work selling quite a lot of my signed books.

The other differences were that this event was very firmly centre around stars of the film and TV world, all lined up in a long row down one side of the huge hall, stars like the cast from the Red Dwarf, Game of Thrones and Star Trek and Doctor Who were there and it seemed most people attended purely to get a signed photo of the stars. No-one seemed to care about the writers who made the series or film the success it was in the first place. Very different and the amount of cos-play was astonishing. Above is an ewok, but there were storm troopers, Darth Vaders, Trekky fans galore, dressed up in some amazingly realistic costumes.

Del and Darth Vadar

Em-Con was an amazing experience, I even got to meet Danny John Jules who played Cat in Red Dwarf whilst we both waited for taxi’s at the back of the convention at the end of the day and I didn’t even have to pay for the pleasure, but I have to say, it was just too big for my liking.

The most amazing experience of my writing career and of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Conventions was the Sci-Fi Weekender in Wales. More cosplay, but there was a much more of a balance between writers, artists, actors panels, with cosplay competitions and different areas, such as the shopping area, scifi cinema, comedians and shows out of this world. Definitely an eclectic mix to entertain just about every fantasy.

And of course, there were still those members of the public who spend a fortune, and great creative time and effort on their costumes. They walk around all day long having their photos taken with other cos-players, which I find fascinating.

My greatest experience of this weekend was to be asked to be on two panels of experts discussing Dystopian Futures and What We class as Horror.
The panel had to sit on a stage in huge auditorium usually used as the caravan parks entertainment hall. Looking out at hundreds of faces staring back at me was a truly petrifying feeling, but thankfully as I managed to answer the first question with dying of fear and the next, I gained my confidence and it actually helped to get more people to my stall of books, giving me lots of positive feedback and hopefully some new fans.


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New Orleans – Part Two – Supernatural Writing Inspiration

My friend and I loved New Orleans so much, we decided to return the following year. This time with two more friends and at Halloween as I’d always wanted to celebrate Halloween in the US because I know they do it in style and make a huge festival out of it. And where better to celebrate than in the home town of the Queen of the Macabre, Anne Rice. I made sure that we all had tickets to her famous Vampire Lestat Ball, which was held in The Garden District and we all went to town with our outfits.

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I have to say though the locals really know how to create realistic Vampire costumes. We even found a shop that fitted vampire veneers and contacts. I decided to go pre-vampire bite.

Other watering holes that deserve a mention was the Carousel Bar. Named so because if you didn’t sit in one place your stool would be on the other side of the bar as the whole bar rotated slowly around the room, whilst drinking Martini cocktails and listening to a live pianist and one of my friends singing with her amazing voice.

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Another was the Pirates Bar by the Jackson Square church, where the psychics all sit out during the day under parasols and give you tarot readings. I wasn’t impressed by reading, so I won’t dwell on it. All the tour guides met at the Pirates Bar and we were very much made to feel welcome. I think they liked the English accent!

We went to a Jazz evening, which was very cultural and enjoyable. I even bought the bands CD, which was signed by the members and I’m very proud to say I own. I now play the CD whenever I want to return to NO in my head.

Maison Bourbon Jazz Club with Dixieland band and trumpet player performing at night in French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana

The two best places though was Prague, a very Gothic and atmospheric bar with a gorgeous courtyard out back filled with beautiful scented flowers. Inside the décor was dark, mysterious, with red velvet drapes Chaise lounges and chandeliers. Love it! And finally The Dungeon. Wow what a club. Dark, dingy and grungy. Naturally this place like so many other great places in New Orleans had to appear in My Fourth Book in the Beyond Series – Lycan Lamia for the final reveal scene.

We took our new travellers to a different Plantation this time and we entered the sanctity of a real voodoo temple and voodoo shop. Again I described all of these places in great detail in my last book, but in a nutshell the different alters to different deities had a plethora of offerings that made the temple and shop look like a cluttered brik-a-brac shop.

Fascinating places though.  Here’s a typical alter to Papa Legba. Most people seem afraid of Voodoo, but it actually is like everything else that’s mysterious and mystical, some people (especially the film industry) take pagan rituals to a dark place!

I also had the opportunity to look around two of the houses used in the film Interview with a Vampire and a museum based in merchants old Spanish style house around Jackson Square, Anne Rice and Nicholas Cage’s House in the beautiful Garden District and the Cafe Du Monde in Jackson Square where they make the famous Beignets and coffee!

Oh and if you ever go to New Orleans, I thoroughly recommend a bowl of seafood gumbo, very special and all made a mention in my The Beyond Series of books, in Lycan Lamia my hero’s spend some time getting to grips with voodoo magic in the most haunted house of the French Quarter.

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New Orleans – A Supernatural Writing Inspiration

New Orleans – The Beyond Series Supernatural Writing Inspiration

I am writing two parts to New Orleans because I loved it so much I went two years on the run. So the first trip was with my best friend and we stayed at The Sheraton hotel, which was very salubrious, posh and only a short walk away from the French Quarter. There was a gym and hotel pool on the roof and we spent a couple days there just chilling and sunbathing, which was gorgeous.

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We had been given a room on the 45th floor or something ridiculously high like that and I couldn’t look out of the window without suffering vertigo or panicking about low flying aeroplanes! But the rooms were just amazing and sumptuous. Sinking into the huge double beds (we had one each), with more pillows than any sane person required, soft white cotton sheets in billowing fluffy duvets and a fluffy fleece throw to boot. Ah, it was sheer luxury.

We were given a key to the VIP lounge and we sipped champagne and ate little hors d’oeuvres, looking out over an amazing city and the Mississippi, before heading out into the French Quarter in the evenings. And this is what I had come for… to experience the French Quarter in all it’s glory that I had read so much about in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

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As we went to explore the French Quarter for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the humidity and we had to stop at a coffee shop on Decataur. This was before we found the Café du Monde, which I wrote about in my fourth book of Beyond Series of Books – Lycan Lamia because I loved it so much. We would sit outside the busy cafe and eat beignet (square donuts dipped in icing sugar) and freshly squeezed orange juice for bunch, while buskers would serenade the customers eating outside by the river.

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We took a tour around the French Quarter on a horse and carriage and stopped off at the oldest tavern in the US to drink the famous Tornado Volcano cocktail, we continued the tour through Jackson Square (above), which was stunningly beautiful then took a Ghost and Voodoo Tour around the Quarter at night, which created a spooky yet exciting atmosphere and I can see why so many writers are inspired to write about the supernatural here, as am I.

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Some of the stories I remember were quite gruesome, men believing in voodoo to the point where they died of unknown illnesses, a rich merchants wife who used her slaves to torture and then drank their blood… (Nicholas Cage apparently now owns the building) and murderous intent at a tavern, but the victim was saved by a ghostly spirit.

The best ghost story was so intriguing we actually booked to eat at the restaurant, just to see  the haunted table at the famous Muriels restaurant, at the back was a ghost table laid out for two poltergeists. They believed that by laying food, wine and a candle at the table every night they prevented paranormal activity in the restaurant. The table was very creepy and there was a heavy feeling of foreboding, like I was being watched by some malevolent spirit. I was compelled to write a short story about my experience and Dimensions – A Short Story was born.

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I loved it so much we went for a meal there one night to get a closer look at the table and see if could see any ghosts and was so inspired, I also wrote several chapters in my The Beyond Series of books to the Daryavaush Paranormal Investigation team meeting there and performing a voodoo ritual within another landmark building of the French Quarter, St Andrews Hotel, which is known as the most haunted hotel in Louisiana. I never stayed there, but I would like to if I ever return.

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We toured the beautiful Garden District, which we travelled to on a traditional American tram car or trolley bus. It was so lovely to finally see all the major landmarks in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches trilogy. We saw Lafayette cemetery, Anne Rice’s actual home, her second home she used just to house her doll collection and which is now Nicholas Cage’s other New Orleans home and the house used to film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

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The homes were huge and elegant. I loved it here and decided if I ever became very rich I would buy a place in the Garden District, haha! We also found the most incredible cheese cake shop and café. The portions were so huge we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

We also went for a cruise on a traditional Mississippi steam boat, The Natchez., where we had a traditional Cajun meal and drank bourbon then danced to a live band for a very traditional New Orleans evening and a trip to New Orleans cannot be complete without visiting some Plantation Houses.

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This was where the very rich lived back in the sugar and cotton plantation heyday. Once there were roads of huge, sprawling mansions with the plantations at the back of the house, the land leading all the way down to the river. Every house had its own slaves, housed in slavery huts out the back yard. We visited the Oak plantation which was used in Gone with the Wind and Interview with a Vampire films, which is how I always imagine plantation houses to look, all white washed panelling, tall pillars and Grecian style porches.

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But we also saw on the tour the Laura Plantation, which was a large wooden bungalow on stilts to protect the building from the Mississippi flooding. There were two staircases, one for men and the other for women, because their dresses were so wide, it prevented men seeing the women’s ankles when they walked up the staircase and therefore keeping their decency and reputation intact. Oddly, it was the women who owned the plantations and the Laura was passed down to the eldest daughter. The bedroom was the office and all meetings of business were held in an opulent bedroom with the female head of the household.

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Very different and unusual looking house compared to the Oak Alley, but very interesting to learn what a real plantation house was like to live in before the civil war.

We went on Ghost, Vampire and Voodoo walking tours around the French Quarter at night which was very atmospheric and inspirational – this is Pirate Alley (below) and I think you’ll agree looks quite spooky and I think was used as a scene in Interview With A Vampire, but more about that in my next New Orleans Blog about what we got up the second time we went.

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Dimensions – A Short Story

Dimensions is another short story I created after travelling to New Orleans and Visiting the famous ghost table at Muriel’s Restaurant in New Orleans. It is the creepiest feeling I’ve ever felt at a reputed haunting and this is the short story – Dimensions as my explanation for the the heeby jeebies!

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“Nikki. Earth to Nikki.” Fingers were snapped under Nikki’s nose as she crashed back to reality with a bump. “You’ve been on one of your astral trips again?” David’s smile broadened to a grin.

His source of amusement was no doubt her blank expression. Nikki and Justin had been experimenting with astral travel since their paranormal investigation company had received a lot of media attention following a recent investigation of a witch coven massacred during a mass ritual. Justin claimed astral travel was part of Nikki’s recovery process. It helped her to feel control in a chaotic world.

“Yet another unauthorised astral trip, I might add.” Her mentor and saviour for most of her adult life, Justin still enjoyed asserting his authority whenever he felt she needed guidance after any wayward behaviour. Justin frowned over his cup of coffee as Nikki looked around to gain her bearings and situate her consciousness back into her physical body again.

The three of them perched on tiny green leather chairs dotted about the outdoor area of the Café Du Monde. Icing sugar from the famous beignets they served coated the red tiled floor. A busker stood by the perimeter green fencing playing a mournful blues tune on his trumpet. This was the French Quarter of New Orleans in all its glory.

Nikki flashed a concerned look as Justin laid his hand on hers. “Hey, it’s okay, we’re not about to throw you in the asylum just because you went for a wander in your mind.” Justin stared hard at her as he sipped his coffee and raised that annoying overgrown grey eyebrow. “Look, Nikki, this is your first proper outing as a fully-fledged member of our team. We all want to forget your little lapse of clarity last year.” He smiled.

“Give me back all of my powers then.” Nikki glared accusingly at David as she picked up a sugary square beignet and mumbled through a mouthful of the French donut. “I need the glucose-sugar rush to re-energise, the spirit world’s exhausting.”

“All those beignets will end up on your hips.” David teased.

“Go to hell.” Her mood was darkening fast.

“I can’t allow your powers back. I spent fifteen years believing you to be someone else.” Justin uncomfortably rearranged his shirt collar. Even in the Louisiana blistering heat, the eccentric psychic and witch extraordinaire still insisted on dressing up like an English country gentleman.

“But that’s just it, I’m not Stella anymore. I’m back to good old dependable Nikki – hard-working, obedient…”

“Not forgetting psychotic and genocidal maniac with more power than she can handle.” David’s incessant grinning was beginning to irritate her. He appeared to revel in wielding his power over her.

“Damn you.” She huffed then aggressively bit off some more of the comforting donut.

“Stop bickering. I can only cope with one evil witch at a time you know.” Justin finally loosened his tie, and unbuttoned his top collar. “I don’t want Stella returning to whisper to you.”

“Stella doesn’t whisper to me, she takes me over.” Nikki sighed.

“And where do you go when she does take over?” Justin’s calm dulcet tones were hypnotic.

“I don’t know, it’s like I go to sleep.” She shrugged.

“Sit down, Nikki, please.” Justin was firm, but polite and calm.

Nikki looked down at her feet, she hadn’t even realised she had risen from her chair. Was that me or Stella who did that? She decided not to admit her fear that her parasitic alter ego may be attempting to resurrect herself. Taking her frustrations out on the poor busker at her inability to control Stella. “And you can shut that pitiful whining up too.”

Nikki attempted to leave as David jumped out of his seat and pulled her back by the elbow. Justin took out his wallet and calmly laid a twenty-dollar bill on the table then dropped a note in the buskers hat before usher them out of the café like a disappointed parent.

They crossed Decatur Street, narrowly missing a horse drawn carriage filled with bored looking tourists and walked through the pretty gardens of Jackson Square. They passed the whitewashed Cathedral as Nikki felt sudden excitement erupt through her at the thought of beginning a new case, she had missed the investigations of late due to her mental illness, and now she was being accepted back into the investigative team. Finally she could prove her loyalty again.

“So what’re we investigating today?” Nikki looked at them both from side to side, but neither responded as they quickened their pace. “What’s the hurry?”

“We have a ‘bona’ on the square.” David mumbled.

“Oh!” Nikki’s gaze flitted suspiciously from left to right. They referred to a ‘bona’ as the real deal, whether a clairvoyant, astral projector, magic manipulator or the worst kind, a mind reader. A ‘bona’ always had a specific talent.

David was a powerful enchanter and mind reader. He also held Nikki’s powers through spell work and a talisman, stored somewhere about his person. Without her full powers she was unable to manipulate the world around her properly leaving her feeling defenceless and vulnerable.  Nikki had made a few enemies over the years committing crimes under the guise of Stella. If they discovered she was just a mere astral traveller, she would be under constant vengeance attacks. The dependency on these two men was infuriating.

They stopped at the back gates of a traditional terracotta coloured, Spanish-style, two storey building complete with a decorative cast-iron veranda over the first floor displaying hanging baskets of lush green ferns and brightly coloured flowers. The sign above the front door read ‘Muriel’s Restaurant’.

“What’re we doing here?” Nikki was ignored as usual, Justin had decreed previously, the less she knew the better.

Justin was already walking into the darkened red brick corridor that led out to the courtyard at the back of the restaurant. The only illumination was a traditional Victorian gas lamp that flickered sporadically. Justin shook hands briefly with the establishment’s manager. The man’s eyes seemed wild with fright.

“Mr Lazaire, I’m Justin Jameson, head of the paranormal investigative team. These are my associates Nikki and David Leitch.”

“Ah, a husband and wife team.” Lazaire attempted a nervous smile and spoke with a long Louisiana drawl.

They all exchanged glances, then Nikki finally responded. “Cousins, actually.”

David looked hurt. “Partners, actually.” He exchanged a reproachful glance with her. Nikki knew David had wanted to sort out their relationship issues before travelling, but David always had considered Nikki his life companion and soul mate. No amount of discussions would change that.

“We’re all family at Jameson PI, what surname we use is unimportant.” Justin broke the uncomfortable silence. “Mr Lazaire, please tell us what you know.” Justin was already walking into the deserted restaurant.

He stopped suddenly as his charismatic smile dropped, his face paled, and he stared at a small round table set for two diners with a single flickering white candle, positioned alone at the back of the restaurant.  Nikki felt Justin’s shivers down his spine and she knew he’d never felt so spooked about a place in all his life. Even David and Nikki felt the uneasy, the cold sinking feeling of dread and foreboding. Something truly evil was sitting at that table, and they all knew it.

“Two people have disappeared recently after eating at my establishment. Staff told me that in both instances they had asked to see our famous haunted table.” Lazaire wrung out a dry napkin in agitation or fear.

“I see, and this is the area of the disturbance?” Justin walked cautiously towards the darkened corner.

“Blimey, Justin, you can’t help but feel the infected area.” Nikki blurted as Justin turned to glare at her to be silent.

Justin held his arm out at length and waved it gently from side to side as if feeling the air – mere showmanship for Lazaire’s sake more than anything else.

“How long have you had this trouble?” David cut in.

“The stories say Monsieur Antonio Muriel, the merchant who originally owned and built this building two hundred years ago, hung himself from the rafters over this table when he lost his home over gambling debts. We suffered from poltergeist activity until the local Voodoo Queen suggested we lay a ghost table every night for Antonio and his spirit guest. It worked for years, but now the cutlery has started flying across the tables again. Can you imagine the embarrassment when a customer’s hit on the back of the head with a bread roll as she ate her steak tartar?”

Nikki tried to stifle a laugh, but Lazaire looked down his nose at her with indignation.

“Yes, well,” Justin gave Nikki another disapproving stare over the top of his glasses, “If we can be left alone to take some readings, we’ll look at creating a séance or exorcism, depending on our findings.”

David gently but firmly turned Lazaire around and with a light push sent him off out of the restaurant then shut the outer door behind him.

Finally alone, they all turned their attention to the two red and gold tapestry chairs.

“Nikki, take some PKE readings under the table and around the back there. I want to measure the magnetic levels.” Justin threw Nikki a small black box with a metal stick attached to it with a plastic red wire. “Wave it around in the air.” Justin moved his hand in a circular motion.

“I can tell from my empathic powers that this place is teaming with negative, paranormal activity.” Nikki rested one hand on hip as she half-heartedly wafted the black box around.

“I admire your psychic skills, Nikki, but I’d still appreciate some readings I can take back to the team.”

“Why me anyway?” Nikki sighed.

“Because, my dear, you are a petit slip of a woman. David, on the other hand is a large, cumbersome, accident-prone clot.” Justin smiled.

“Hey?” David frowned. “That’s a bit harsh, Justin,”

But the insult worked as Nikki clearly took great delight and shuffled under the table as the reader began to bleep intermittently. “Yeah, you damn conjuring crook. I think we have something pretty heavy going on here, Justin. I don’t like it.”

Nikki didn’t usually fear the supernatural, but recently she’d begun to understand why so many people got spooked by their own shadows.

“Just stay where you are. I’m recording the readings.” Justin’s eyes widened in a fascinated response to what he saw on his iPad. “There’s something very sinister about all of this, even more so than a good ghost story for the tourists. Nikki, be a darling, and sit in the chair.”

“Screw that! I maybe your assistant, but David made me watch Ghostbusters and Poltergeist.” The panic rose in Nikki and another sense of foreboding fell on her shoulders as though the grim reaper himself had graced them with his presence.

“Okay, just move slightly to the right and hover the reader around the seat of the chair.”

Nikki turned her back on them. Before she could speak she sensed someone else leaning over the table. She looked up and saw David lunging at her to push her forcefully into Antonio’s haunted chair. Her scream died out as a gravitational force of vast proportions and strength sucked the air like a vacuum around her. It emptied her lungs and her head felt like it was about to be crushed in a vice.

Instinctively Nikki threw her hands out to grab hold of something to stop the sensation of falling. Her hands gripped a cold marble ledge and she clung on for dear life until the air filled her lungs once more. She managed to pull herself up onto what seemed like a window ledge and peered out through the pane of glass.

“You snivelling bastards.” She roared and banged repeatedly on the window. Nikki felt despair prickle at her spine as she realised they couldn’t hear her and laughed with a hysterical panic. “This is my fate? A dimensional portal!”

Helplessly she watched David and Justin from behind the huge shimmering screen directly in front of Antonio’s haunted chair as they spoke slowly in very low muffled tones like trying to hear a conversation under water. The speed of their speech seemed to have changed to that of a tape playing on the wrong setting, yet their actions were fast like an old black and white movie. The entire scene was inlaid with the eerie hiss of white noise. Thoroughly frightened, she was too terrified to look at what lay behind her.

The scene through the invisible vortex was almost as horrifying.  Justin had his tablet on the table and David had now taken Nikki’s place extracting magnetic and paranormal readings.

She glanced over her shoulder and the horror was complete. There was nothing behind, above, or below her except for a black hole – an empty abyss. She banged on the window again.

“David, Justin! I’m here, get me out!” She knew he screams were futile, but didn’t know what else to do.

David stared directly into her eyes at one point, unable to see her through the portal. Nikki was close to tears, but did her best to remain calm. The two people she trusted the most in this unforgiving world had pushed her into a portal or vortex in time or worse another dimension of the cosmos.

“If I had my powers I could’ve sucker punched my way back home, the idiots,” Nikki whispered. Instead she had to accept she was stuck by the glass in front of the gaping chasm for the moment – until Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee get me out. She sighed to herself.

She leaned her head and shoulder against the window, straining to hear anything from the other side of hell by the haunted table. Suddenly she felt hot as perspiration drizzled down her face and back. Her stomach heaved and she wished death would come for her. It would be better than spending eternity watching her soul mate and her mentor from a dimensional window. The fever took hold so quickly there was no time to think about what she could do, and she assumed that being trapped in an unfamiliar atmosphere had caused the sudden onslaught of anxiety.

“So this is home sickness on a dimensional level,” she gulped back the urge to cry.

Nikki looked at David again, and put her hand to the glass in an attempt to reach out to him telepathically. He was pulling out a wand, his pride and joy. He’d told her he made it himself from an old ash tree branch and copper wire with a quartz crystal attached to either end to enhance the energy flow. He began to twist and swivel it through his fingers as he said something to Justin that looked earnest.

Nikki’s fevered convulsions strengthened when she heard a wretched scream to shrivel any human soul, as she felt a strong pull from her heart, so intense she grabbed her chest.

“I’ve died and entered hell.” She realised she was no longer alone in the abyss as she looked over her shoulder again, smelling a foul stench she could not place. Her eyes widened in disbelief as she saw the disgusting creature behind her. Its grey skin felt like wet leather as it touched her. A snake’s tongue lashed out of the creature’s mouth, surrounded by layers of razor sharp, fluorescent green teeth. The thing drooled as it released a blood curdling scream and Nikki joined the creature in the unearthly chorus.

The creature writhed and scratched as it clung to her arms. Nikki stared into the demon’s eyes to see an inferno blazing inside it’s diamond shaped pupils. Nikki understood at that moment she was staring into the face of her own tormentor and parasite, the Succubus Demon that called herself Stella. The being had lied to Nikki and seduced her when she had been in the depths of her despair and madness as a teenager.

The memory of the night her family had abandoned her and left her to rot in the mental institute had always haunted her: The demon had come to her with sensual promises in return for the right to borrow her body and walk through the third dimension of Earth.

She had accepted the offer believing it to be a dream, but slowly the demonic parasite took over most her thoughts. Eventually it had caused her untold suffering as Stella whispered to Nikki incessantly, telling her to do things and at times taking control of her body when she refused the demon’s demands.

All these years Nikki had believed all the evil acts she’d committed had been due to her madness. Countless doctors had told her and Justin she was schizophrenic, a dual personality, and Stella was the side of her personality she’d created to protect herself from the trauma of abandonment as a young witch. She stared at the culprit of all those heinous crimes. Stella was real, a hideous dimensional demon.

The succubus clawed wildly at Nikki’s arms as she desperately tried to throw the creature off her back. She was careful not to let go of the ledge, aware it was her only passage back into her own world. Nikki managed to turn sharply and kick the writhing cold blob hard in what she assumed was its stomach. The creature snapped with a hundred or more incisors, the snake like tongue thrashing within millimetres of her face. She kicked the demon once more as it scrambled to gain another hold of Nikki’s arm and missed. It lost it’s grip of Nikki and began to fall back into the darkness still screeching and clawing at the air.

“Goodbye for ever, Stella.” Nikki watched, shaking with exhaustion and terror until all she could no longer hear Stella’s screams. The red eyes and fluorescent teeth faded into the abyss until there was nothing left. She breathed deeply to gain some control, accepting that this was Stella’s true dimension and the both of them had been pushed through the portal to rid Nikki of the parasitical demon once and for all. The Exorcism had worked now she had to get home.

She closed her eyes tight as if in a wishful prayer and reached out with her mind to David, as a proficient practitioner of travelling to higher dimensions and astral planes, Nikki had a brilliant idea. Since she no longer carried Stella with her, she willed herself to penetrate David’s mind.  She had no idea where she was, but she had to try and reach him. “Come on, David, you’re meant to be my soul mate – hear me.”

She gasped with surprise and delight as she began to hear their conversation through the portal.

“I hope she had the sense to stay by the portal,” David worried as he held the meter reader around the table. “God forgive me?”

“Stop worrying, she’ll be fine. I need those readings before we can perform the ritual.” Justin pulled black candles, a chalice, three crystal skulls, and a decorative gold and jewelled dagger out his large brown leather satchel. It was his paranormal essentials kit-bag that he carried everywhere with him.

David stopped playing with his wand and looked directly at Nikki through the invisible window. With a frown he thrust his wand out over the ghost table and towards the chair. “Let there be light amongst the cursed.” He repeated the spell with more conviction. “Let there be light amongst the cursed.”

“David, what’re you doing?” Justin was still reading from the Grimoires he had salvaged from a previous ghost hunt, another essential piece of his kit.

A shimmering, watery mirror appeared on the haunted chair then quivered and liquefied like mercury before them as David’s wand and hand disappeared through the portal. He blindly grabbed Nikki’s arm and yanked her back through the hole.

She landed on top of David as they hit the floor of the restaurant. Nikki was dripping with translucent ectoplasm and mucus from the re-entry. She was already taking great pleasure in watching him cringe as the icky substance dripped slowly onto his face.

“Yurgh, Nikki, get off me. That stuff stinks.”

“Well, you pushed me in there, wherever it was. So it’s only fair to share it with you. I’m not greedy.” Nikki rubbed his cheeks with the dimensional fluid before kissing him hard and passionately on the lips. He needed no encouragement to respond to her affection.

Justin frowned as the kiss continued for longer than he felt was comfortable to watch. “Okay you two, that’s enough.” Justin gave a nervous laugh as David began to wriggle and struggle under what seemed like the dead weight of Nikki’s body sprawled on top of him and pinning his arms and legs to the floor with an intense strength. “Nikki, what’re doing? Let David go.” Justin’s voice rose several octanes.

David began to make choking sounds as an eerie high pitched screech came from Nikki’s open mouth, firmly clamped to her lover’s.

“Dear God -”Justin whispered as he began to back out of the long dark passageway that led to light and freedom of the bustling New Orleans streets. Staring on in horror he watched with wide eyes as David’s skin began to dry, flake and wrinkle to a parched, flimsy, white mass just barely covering his skull and cheek bones.

“What – what the hell have you brought back with you?” Justin rasped as he fell backwards as Nikki looked up, noticing Justin for the first time. Her eyes flashed with emeralds then rubies before she hissed loudly.

The lights from his PKE reader flashed intermittently in the darkness and Justin screamed over the din of the beeps rising louder and faster as Nikki approached him hissing again and baring a mouth of jagged fluorescent teeth before letting out a high banshee-shriek.

“There is no Nikki – There is no Stella, only Belial.” The creature lashed its long blue tongue out and whipped Justin across his chest burning through his favourite tweed jacket and shirt, scorching his skin with an unearthly acid. The acrid stench of burnt flesh and hair filled the air as Justin screamed in agony. His attempts to escape were futile as Belial used Nikki’s old body to contort and stretch to an extraordinary length and curled itself upwards around Justin’s pain riddled torso.

The dimensional demon squeezed Justin tighter like some supernatural boa-constrictor until there seemed no breath left in Justin’s crushed limp body. Belial whipped the blue tongue once more before clamping its lips to the once dapper parapsychologist and sucked the life force left in his body.

Justin crumbled to dust in Belial’s embrace. Nikki’s almost unrecognisable features began to soften and reshape to a human face once more. She looked around at the carnage as her eyes flashed red and green. The demon parasite seemed to be attempting to make sense of the new universe it found itself standing in. Belial stamped on the PKE reader crushing the irritating high pitched bleeps and flashing lights.

Belial moved towards the circle of sunlight leading to the streets of New Orleans and blinked with a childlike inquisitiveness then whipped and lashed the blue tongue with professional dexterity all over Nikki’s soft human flesh until all ectoplasm had been consumed. Belial turned back to look at the shimmering mirror above Antonio’s haunted chair. Nikki’s true soul and spirit rippled from behind the vortex, banging for desperate release from her astral prison.

“And there you can stay.” With a flick of her tongue she whipped the reflective portal until it smashed and imploded into nothingness. Demon Nikki squinted as she walked out to experience the heat of the third dimension for the first time.

THE END