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Ghosts of Christmas Future: A New Tradition…

... in which we close the doors to the cold night, snuggle up and bask in ghostly apparitions.

Tim Frances, our charming host, introduces the evening

I. Telling Tales: Fundraising Through Storytelling

Keep the date: 1 December 2018. Katie Isbester, Editor-in-Chief of Claret Press, and I were so delighted with the success of Strange Light that we have already booked this year's storytelling event. The last ghostly event raised over £800 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and we only expected to raise £500. This year our target will be a more ambitious - £1500. Despite the snowy weather, it was wonderful to see a full house, which meant we could close the doors, snuggle up together and bask in the spooky atmosphere of the ghostly performances.

Poster design by Nathalie Hounsgaard. Artwork by Alodie Fielding.

For those that couldn't make it along and don't want to miss out again, or those that want a reminder of a fabulous evening – if you dare, have a peak at what went on. If you are then inspired by our thrilling tales from the other side, please do donate. We are keeping the Just Giving page open until the end of June – with our thanks. I'd like to especially thank Phil Lepherd for donating his time and skill in filming Strange Light and Sarjit Bains for lending his camera equipment. We are very grateful.

To enjoy more videos from Strange Light, click here.

An intense moment from Warren Rusher reading from The Heart of a Heartless World by Sarah Gray

Already, I'm delving into copious supernatural stories and poems in preparation for this year’s event. It's a delight to discover new gems from contemporary writers such as Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman and revisit classics by M.R. James and E.F. Benson. Of course, I shall be writing a new, unnerving tale of my own. Listening to the audience reaction to the performance has been helpful in thinking about how best to format our next performance. I shall certainly be giving as much thought to the style and structure of storytelling, as well as the content, to achieve my ambition of making the next evening as ghostly as possible.

Katie Isbester and Tim Frances announce the raffle prize winners

The music provided by The Burek Brothers - Marino Glavina and Stuart James - was also a triumph. Everyone sang along with gusto to Stuart's amusing version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas: The Twelve Wraiths Of Christmas. My favourite gift was ‘Eight M.R. James's’. Jolly entertaining. Thanks chaps. I expect this year’s venture will also have such a unique musical treat.

The Burek Brothers in full song

Finally, thank you to everyone who helped out or supported the event, attended and donated time and money - it was most generous. Your support means the Motor Neurone Disease Association is nearer its goal of seeing a world without this devastating, life-wrecking condition.

David Gurney reading from The Open Window by Saki

Melanie Beckley reading from Introduction to Ghosts

by Jerome K Jerome

Special thanks goes to; Lucy Lewthwaite for donating the cost of the venue hire, Lucy Cranfield and Fiona Lambert for being absolute troopers in setting up and ensuring the smooth running of the event, Kees t’Hooft for looking after the performers and volunteers so well, Nathalie Hounsgaard for designing the beautiful poster (artwork by Alodie Fielding) Simon Gray and Peter Robinson for printing it; Melanie Beckley, Tim Frances, David Gurney, Warren Rusher for their marvellous performances and Andy Andreou and Sophie Knapp for the wonderful costumes. Without your generosity and hard work, this event would not have been possible.

II. Claret Press Short Story Competition

Half Life cover illustration by Alodie Fielding

Claret Press is offering a great opportunity to have your writing published. Entries are now open to its short story competition, inspired by my short story collection, Half Life. Using dark humour and the supernatural, Half Life explores the complexities of both physical and mental illness. The competition asks for the most original stories about ill-health, told from any unique perspective including that of carers, family or observers, in any genre from humour to science-fiction. They will be compiled into a short collection of ten of the best stories and published by Claret Press. Those judged to be the top three will also win cash prizes.

The competition closes to entries at the end of June 2018.

Good luck. For inspiration, please enjoy a story extract from my book, Half Life, courtesy of Claret Press:

The refuge of expecting the worst wasn’t enough to keep her safe. Hope, fragmented and transitory, kept breaking into her thoughts. Hundreds of times she entered her symptoms into the search engine and trawled the results for any condition that contradicted the current theory. She searched until she found a benign explanation. This gave her a respite. Once again she had a future, again the luxury of wasting time and basking in the feeling that life could be taken for granted. In these periods, the thought that she was having tests was a comfort. At the least it meant that there was reasonable doubt she wasn’t dying.

One evening, at her regular choir practice, her toes clipped the edge of a raised cobblestone and she fell in the middle of the road in front of a busy theatre. The crowd queuing up for the performance stared at her. People were confused when she called for help. Adelaide was scared the lights would change and the traffic begin to flow. A couple in smart business clothes stepped forward.

“Are you hurt?” the woman asked. They both looked worried for her.

“I can’t get up. I can’t get up. I don’t have the strength.” Increasing panic intensified her voice. As the man attempted to pull her from the ground, he was surprised at encountering her dead weight. Adelaide clung to him as he lifted her, her face pushing against his chest and her legs limp. She smelled his mix of sweat and cologne. The woman stared at them, frowning as she watched their awkward wrestling. She clutched at Adelaide’s bag. When Adelaide was on her feet, she was embarrassed. “So sorry. Sorry, thank you, thank you.” Retrieving her bag from the woman, she continued to apologise and limped to the side of the road. The couple stared at her.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Is there anything we can do?” Adelaide didn’t want to cry in front of them.

“No, thank you, I’m fine, honestly. Thank you.” She walked with slow deliberate steps and, as she turned the corner, allowed herself to cry. Shocked and hurt, she limped towards the bus stop. Her knee had been twisted and the skin on her hand was broken and bloody. But it was the realisation of how vulnerable she had become that terrified her.

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