Thursday, 5 March 2015

Jessica's Ghost Blog Tour: Andrew Norriss Talks Ghosts!

Francis has never had a friend like Jessica before. She's the first person he's ever met who can make him feel completely himself. Jessica has never had a friend like Francis before. Not just because he's someone to laugh with every day - but because he's the first person who has ever been able to see her ...Jessica's Ghost is a funny, moving and beautiful book by a master storyteller, about the power of friendship to shine a warm light into dark places.
Jessica's Ghost is published in hardcover in the UK today, by the always brilliant David Fickling Books. To celebrate its release there's a little blog tour happening this week and I'm very happy to be part of it. Visit The Overflowing Library for tomorrow's post, and I hope you enjoy this one. Many thanks to Andrew for writing such a great piece!


Ghost stories… 
by Andrew Norriss 

I don’t usually like ghost stories. Well, not the sort you tell late at night that send a shiver down your spine and make you want to keep the light on while you go to sleep. Some people like to be frightened like that, but I don’t. I’m scared of quite enough things already without adding ghosts to the list. 
But there is one sort of ghost story I’ve always enjoyed. It’s based on the idea – I don’t know where it came from – that ghosts are people who are somehow stuck here. Something happened to them during their earthly life and, instead of going to wherever you’re supposed to go when you die, it means they’ve stayed here, desperately trying to undo whatever was done. Because until it is undone, they can’t move on. 
As far as I know, the first writer to use this idea was Oscar Wilde, in what is still one of the best ghost stories ever written – The Canterville Ghost, published in 1887. In it, Sir Simon Canterville, who murdered his wife in 1575, is still haunting Canterville Chase 300 years later – rattling his chains, maintaining the bloodstain where his wife died, and frightening anyone he meets in the corridors… 
Until an American family come to stay, who are not frightened of ghosts at all. Mr Otis calmly gives Sir Simon a bottle of Rising Sun Lubricator so that he’ll make less noise with the chain rattling; his wife uses Paragon Detergent to get rid of the bloodstain, and his children take great delight in ambushing the ghost in the corridors and scaring him to bits. 
It’s all very jolly, but then comes the switch. We actually start feeling a bit sorry for old Sir Simon. He is so desperately unhappy. Weighed down by guilt, he has not slept for 300 years, and he is tired… tired beyond belief. I won’t tell you how he is eventually saved, but it is very moving and a good many people have used a similar idea to tell their own versions of the story. 
Including me. 
In my book, Jessica’s Ghost, Jessica is not a murderer like Sir Simon, but she is puzzled to find she is a ghost, uncertain what she is supposed to do next, and rather relieved when she meets one (then two, then three) people who are able to see her and talk to her. The first half of the story is about what fun it would be to have a friend who was invisible and could move through walls, but then – and I can remember the exact moment this happened as I was writing – I suddenly realised what it was that Jessica had done that meant she could not ‘move on’. And what she would have to do about it… 
The appeal of this sort of story is, I think, the idea that whatever we’ve done, whatever mistakes we may have made, there is always a way out. We are not ‘stuck’, and we are not doomed endlessly to repeat a pointless pattern. There is always a path to… forgiveness. 
It’s an oddly satisfying idea. And whether it’s true or not, it definitely feels like it ought to be.

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