Tag Archives: seances

Summerland: A 1920’s Mystery – Now free in the Kindle Store

summercover

Stay tuned for freebies this weekend, kids. I am about to give the Shameless Self-Promotion tag a good, hard workout. It stands to reason that since I spend so much time writing these books, it would be quite nice for people to read them.

_________________

 “Well, people often think the magician’s assistant doesn’t do much. She stands around in a skimpy costume and men look at her and she twirls and vanishes, but the assistant is really the one doing most of the tricks. The magician is often just there to present the routine, to add the flourishes and patter, but the nitty gritty, the tripwires and levers and mirrors and drapes that go in to pulling off the perfect illusion – that’s the province of the skinny little girl in the spangles.”

Magician’s assistant Poppy has always been an outsider, dragged from one town to another, spat on for being a carny, for being the wrong sex, the wrong race. Then one rainy night in the Midwest, she finds herself performing card tricks in front of the great Harry Houdini. Fresh from his well-publicised investigation of the medium Mina Crandon, Houdini makes Poppy a proposal; she is offered the opportunity to join his private secret service of sceptics, debunkers and magicians. Her job is to infiltrate spiritualist circles and expose fraudulent mediums, a quest that takes her across the Atlantic and into the lives of two very different young Englishmen, who are about to learn that in spiritualist circles secrets are much more than just common currency.

Due to sexually explicit material Summerland is not recommended for readers under 18.

Amazon.com

Paris Green – A Tale of 1920’s New York. Free E-Book!

My newest novel Paris Green is now at the low low price of Absolutely Free on Amazon.com. Go grab yourself a copy. Go on. Off you go.

Amazon.com

How To Be Psychic – Cold Reading Basics

So, you’ve learned to see ghosts! Well done you!

Having performed the steps in my previous guide you are probably now drunk, mentally unstable and convinced there are spectral goblins living behind that expired Muller Fruit Corner in the back of the second shelf of the fridge. Sorry about that.  But relax – I’m about to make amends, my lovelies. Here comes the money shot – emphasis on the money –  because it’s time to start talking to ghosts.

Talking to the dead is a lot less interesting than it sounds, since most dead people seem to be banal in the extreme. Spirits claiming to be William Shakespeare have demonstrated little to no ear for iambic pentameter and even all-knowing Mesopotamian prophets of the apocalypse have come off as downright boring when channeled through the wives of well known writers.

Ghosts tend to say a handful of things, which can be roughly summed up thus.

  1. Woooo I’m dead and that’s spooky.
  2. Woooo I’m dead and it’s lovely here.
  3. Woooo I’m dead and I’m looking out for you.
  4. Woooo I’m dead and you should definitely keep coming to these spiritualist meetings and isn’t the medium nice? (give them money tell your friends)

Whenever ghosts get into particulars it’s usually stuff like ‘Do you remember how Aunty Ethel’s hearing aid used to whistle?’ or ‘Remember how you left your rollerskates out in the rain and they went rusty?’, which is odd because you’d think that an answer to one of the biggest theological questions of all time would prompt even bigger questions, such as what does this mean for almost every religion ever and do George Harrison and John Lennon still talk or collaborate over there?

An even bigger question is why anyone would want to talk to the dead, since they’re not very interesting and notoriously bad at dealing with the earthshattering implications of concrete proof of an afterlife. Surprisingly, unlike many big questions, this one has a reasonably short answer.

Talking to the dead is really fucking lucrative.

If you want to make a fat heap of wonga as a medium, then roughly speaking there are two ways to go about it.

I was maybe thirteen when I first encountered the first method. It was on a very silly programme late on Channel Four called ‘Do Ghosts Exist?’ (Short answer – all the evidence currently points to ‘no’.) There was a studio audience and a medium – a Canadian gentleman who looked a lot like a dapper, slimmed down version of Raymond Briggs’ drawings of Santa Claus.

He then gave various members of the audience psychic readings so gob-smackingly accurate that it was enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Then, having impressed the shit out of them, he held up his hands and said “Okay, that was all a trick – I have no psychic ability whatsoever.”

That was James Randi, every bit as Amazing as advertised. He went on to elaborate on a method of fortune telling that was as old as dirt back when Nostradamus was cutting his baby teeth.

Nostradamus

Cold Reading – The Basics

Cold reading is a dying art these days, for reasons we’ll get around to in time, but it largely boils down to a cross between twenty questions and a game of not-so Holmesian observation.

I once saw one famous psychic zero in on his mark and coo ‘And I’m getting the sense that you’ve not been well lately, is that right?’, which was a staggering leap of deductive reasoning on his part. His victim was not only a lady of a certain age and certain weight, but was also wearing a tubigrip bandage around one knee and walking on crutches.

Even more astonishing, nobody in the audience laughed, pointed or asked how much he was getting paid for stating the bleeding obvious, which brings me neatly to my first point.

1. You Gotta Have Faith

Sceptics don’t tend to attend the readings of psychics – they find them silly at best and morally reprehensible at worst. This suits psychics, mediums and faith-healers just fine, since nebulous, negative ‘energy’ tends to interfere with whatever kind of ghostly WiFi they’ve got going on these days. (I assume they’ve upgraded. If they haven’t, they really should.) Plenty of mediums have claimed they can’t produce the goods in the face of sceptics, which is why many well-known sceptical investigators are considerate enough go to psychic readings or faith-healings in disguise, so as not to offend the medium’s delicate sensibilities.

Oddly, psychics seem to have a blind spot when it comes to sniffing out undercover sceptics, but again – it’s probably that negative energy. That or they’re also being polite.

A credulous – or at least suggestible – audience is a cold reader’s greatest asset. One of the biggest names of the Nineteenth Century psychic scene – Daniel Dunglas Hume – arguably escaped all-out exposure because he almost always performed to a select ‘home circle’ of good friends and their guests, usually in other people’s houses. Or palaces. Like I say, he was a big name.

home levitates

He managed to convince people that THIS happened.

So, say you have a good audience, well suited to your purposes – what next? Well, you go ‘fishing’. If you watch a stage medium (Pick your recordings carefully – many of the big names rely on heavy editing.) you might notice that they go through a great deal of names before landing a ‘hit’.

2. Talking About My Generation

A ‘hit’ in cold reading parlance refers to a correct guess, while a ‘miss’ refers to the opposite. Your ability to score a hit or miss is dependent on your power of observation. The age of your subject is significant. An eighteen year old subject is less likely to have dead parents than a subject in her fifties.

Watch any stage medium these days and their first go-to is usually “I’m getting an older lady/older gentleman,” simply because these days dead grannies are far more likely than dead children. Interestingly this hasn’t always been the case – back in the Nineteenth Century when infant mortality was higher, dead babies were big business. Many women, including the writer Florence Maryatt, attended seances in the hope of exchanging a few tender words with their infants. Luckily for Florence, her late two week old daughter had learned to talk since passing over.

When fishing for names you should also take generations into account. For instance, a thirty five year old subject is unlikely to have dead elderly relatives named Kylie, Ryan, Tracey and Shaz. If you go for Ivy, Albert, Dolly and Rose you’re more likely to land a hit. A friend of mine was recently awed by a medium who guessed that she had an ‘Uncle Albert in spirit’, to which I replied ‘Who hasn’t got a dead Uncle Albert?’ I’ve got at least two.

3. Sing It Back

Another interesting thing to watch for with mediums or fortune tellers is their habit of agreeing with their subjects.

It goes a little something like this.

Medium: I’m sensing a younger man in spirit – your age, maybe older. Younger?

Subject: Younger brother.

Medium: Yes. Your younger brother.

When you start consciously listening out for this you’ll be amazed how often this is deployed, to the point where some mediums sound like there’s an echo in the room. Again, watch carefully – many of the big names edit heavily on their TV shows and this is exactly the kind of thing they edit – the bit where the subject gives the psychic reader the answer. Raw stage performance footage is the best place to spot this at work. Like I say – when you’re watching for it you’ll be stunned you ever missed it. It’s a lot of fun – like a Magic Eye of bullshit.

third eye

Don’t write in. I know the difference between the third eye and a magic eye.

You’re probably disappointed now, aren’t you? Sadly it really is that banal when you get right down to it, but don’t go away. While cold-reading in itself isn’t that interesting, the psychological explanations of why it works are where it gets downright fascinating. So, update your bookmarks, because next time we’re diving headlong into the world of horoscopes, the short-comings of human memory and why in the early 1990’s a lot of psychologist’s patient notes started looking like some of the really unpleasant pages from the Malleus Maleficarium.

*

For more psychic skullduggery and the strange-but-true story of how magician Harry Houdini declared war on psychics, check out my historical fiction, and watch out for my new upcoming novel, Paris Green – A Tale of 1920’s New York.

The Further Madness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have always loved The Hound of the Baskervilles. I can take or leave most of Sherlock Holmes, but to me The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most perfect mystery stories ever told. The ghostly bogs and quicksands of bleakly beautiful Dartmoor are used to great dramatic effect. There are escaped prisoners and hatchet faced housekeepers and an old, old house, complete with family curse. The ghost story tone here is flawless, worthy of Henry James, and the shudders are well provided in the shape of a vicious, glowing spectral dog, feeding into folkish fears of padfoots and barghests.

And it’s all a red herring. All of it. The whole carefully constructed spooky atmosphere is a smokescreen for the real evil at the heart of the story. There are no ghosts, just a cleverly plotted supernatural scam, the reveal of which is as lip-biting as a well judged striptease.

It’s a great story. Read it if you haven’t. Read it if you have. It’s one of those ones you can read again and again, best enjoyed on long winter nights with a reading lamp and all the curtains drawn, the better to shit yourself up good and proper. The Hound of the Baskervilles is far more scary than it has any right to be, especially since it doesn’t (spoiler!) contain any actual ghosts. It’s an astonishing illustration of how fear, legend, atmosphere and the desire to believe can feed into our delusions and cause us to ascribe paranormal explanations to mundane events.

Even more astonishing is that Sir Arthur fell for his own trick. And not just the once.  Continue reading

Haunting the odd corners of history

Going to be making some changes around these here parts, people. I have decided I would like to do a little bit more history. It’s likely I’ll be writing historical novels for a while – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I have bucketloads of research that’s just too interesting to keep to myself for much longer.

The plan at the moment is that I am working on a shortish novel (60k or so) set in 1920’s New York that can work as either a standalone or a companion volume to Summerland. For those who have read Summerland, I’ll give you a clue – it ties into the story Audrey tells Jack in chapter ten. I’m currently staggering across those bleak, mid-novel wastelands that are chillingly familiar to anyone who has ever written a book, but overall I have a good feeling about it. Taps into various fashionable tropes in fiction – the heroine displays worrying eating habits, gets controlled by men and has voices in her head. Except it’s not sexy. It’s just really disturbing, which tends to be the case when the kind of fictional relationships lately portrayed as knicker-moistening collide with the hard, cold unpleasantries of reality.

So, if you would like an idea of the weird corners of history I tend to poke around in, please take a meander through my Brief(ish) History of Spiritualism Pull up a ouija board, stick a sheet on your head and pretend to be dead. It’s all fun and games.

Also, you should definitely follow me on Twitter because I am hilarious.

Summerland – Excerpt and Special Offer

front

My historical novel Summerland is currently only $1.24 on Amazon.com and only 77p in the UK, and of course completely free to borrow for Amazon Prime members, so there is really no reason not to take advantage of this offer.

If you’re not interested in the 1920s, the history of Spiritualism, scepticism, Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, World War I or gardening with malice aforethought, then you might want to buy it for the experimental threeway sex. Which doesn’t happen in the excerpt below. Sorry about that.

This excerpt frames one of the central conflicts of the book, in which Ben meets Audrey and realises that his mother’s death has forced him to reevaluate his whole position on the afterlife.

Continue reading

The Madness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Do not sneer at the humble beginnings, the heaving table or the flying tambourine, however much such phenomena may have been abused or simulated, but remember that a falling apple taught us gravity, a boiling kettle brought us the steam engine, and the twitching leg of a frog opened up the train of thought and experiment which gave us electricity. So the lowly manifestations of Hydesville have ripened into results which have engaged the finest group of intellects in this country during the last twenty years, and which are destined, in my opinion, to bring about far the greatest development of human experience which the world has ever seen.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The New Revelation.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle needs no introduction. Over eighty years after his death, this big, Melchett-moustached Victorian still dominates bestseller lists all over the world.

I owe Doyle more than a nod as an inspiration. In fact it was Doyle’s frequent usage of the term ‘Summerland’ that gave me a title for this book. ‘Summerland’ was first coined by a self-styled ‘seer’ named Andrew Jackson Davis, and while Doyle later gently disparaged Davis’ autobiography as ‘being disfigured with too many long words’, he adopted Davis’ term for the afterlife and brought it into common usage among spiritualists.

‘Summerland’ spoke of eternal youth and bliss and lent weight to the gooey, joyful pronouncements of séance visitors. It seems that nobody ever went to a séance to discover that their dead relatives were in Hell, having their pubic hairs removed one by one by demons wielding red hot tweezers.

The trouble with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was that he would believe anything. Did you ever do that magic trick where you slide your thumb in such a way that it looks like you’ve cut your thumb in two? Remember that one? When Harry Houdini performed this schoolboy trick to amuse his friend, Sir Arthur thought Houdini had genuinely detatched his thumb. When Lady Jean Doyle claimed to be psychic, her husband didn’t question her sanity for a second and in fact a made ‘a trusted family friend’ of his wife’s spirit guide. By the early 1920s most Sherlock Holmes fans were quietly dying of vicarious shame, and the publication of The Coming Of The Fairies only cemented the widely whispered opinion that poor Sir Arthur had finally gone bye-byes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualist and occult works are astoundingly silly books. Don’t take my word for it – read them if you can. They’re available on Project Gutenberg. They’re silly enough to raise Graham Chapman from the grave, purely for the purposes of him putting on his Colonel’s uniform and declaring them too silly to continue.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s two volume History of Spiritualism is a series of unsubstantiated puff pieces on mediums such as Eusapia Palladino, Florence Cook and high octane super-grifter Daniel Dunglas Home, all of whom were exposed as frauds on more than one occasion in their respective careers. The quote above, from The New Revelation, pretty much sums up the tone of Doyle’s spiritualist tracts – polemic, evangelical and entirely credulous. In The Vital Message he nailed his theses firmly to the door and proclaimed spiritualism to be the new way to Christ.

In the mindboggling Pheneas Speaks Doyle recorded conversations with spirits. Pheneas was the name the Doyles gave to Lady Doyle’s ‘control spirit’, an Arabian high priest who had allegedly lived in Ur before the time of Abraham. By the early 1920s Pheneas had taken up residence in Lady Jean’s head and was prophecying the end of the world, a sort of Spiritualist Rapture in which the true believers would be saved and sceptics, scoffers and opponents of spiritualism would suffer and perish. This was supposed to happen around about 1925, so you can work out for yourself how much of that revelation turned out to be true.

Further embarrassment came when the Cottingley photographs led Sir Arthur to publicly proclaim that he believed in fairies, and everyone died a little inside.

So what on earth happened? How did one of the most beloved and respected authors of rational detective fiction suddenly go full on David Icke and start babbling feverishly about the ‘little folk’? Continue reading