But first a word from the Andersen Press publicity team:
Joseph Delaney has contributed a story to Haunted, a terrifying collection of original ghost stories from some of today’s leading children’s authors:
Susan Cooper, Joseph Delaney Berlie Doherty, Jamila Gavin, Matt Haig, Robin Jarvis, Derek Landy, Sam Llewellyn, Mal Peet, Philip Reeve and Eleanor Updale.
Haunted is out now in paperback and as an ebook, published by Andersen Press.
I am such a huge fan of Joseph Delaney and so it is a privilege to share with his guest post:
I have been on the road for several weeks promoting the ‘Haunted’ anthology alongside ‘I Am Grimalkin’, the ninth in my ‘Wardstone Chronicles’ Spook’s Series.
I usually concentrate on the source and inspiration for my own story ‘Castle Ghosts’ as well as pointing out other contributors that readers might be familiar with. My story was written after a visit to Lancaster Castle where I gave a talk in the prison library. Afterwards one of the guards showed me the ‘Witches Well’, the deep, dark, dank dungeon where the real Pendle witches were held during their trial in 1612. He also told me some great true ghost stories about the castle a couple of which I have modified and incorporated into the story.
As I left the prison he said to me: “Listen, Joe, imagine there’s something really horrible down there in the dungeon and it’s guarded by someone like me!” So I did just that!
I was lucky to be able to visit the Witches Well because it was in the prison part of the castle and not open to the public. But things will change. Now the prisoners have been re-located and soon most of the castle will be available for visits. One day you too may be able to see the place where they held the Pendle Witches. But go during the day – not at night! Otherwise you might be haunted!
And if that wasn't enough to give you the shivers, Here’s an extract from Joseph Delaney’s story, ‘The Castle Ghosts’:
I looked up at the castle and tried to be brave. Afterall, I wasn’t going to be imprisoned there. I was going to guard the prisoners: murderers, common criminals and convicted witches. That was my job. Or at least it would be once I’d finished my training.
There was a new moon, slender and horned, about to be overwhelmed by the dark clouds blustering in from the west. I shivered but not just with cold. I’d heard stories about the castle after dark, about things long dead that walked its damp corridors.
The building was large and forbidding, set on a high hill about three miles from the nearest town and surrounded by a dense wood of sycamore and ash trees.
It was constructed from dark, dank stone with turrets, battlements and a foul-smelling moat that was rumoured to contain the skeletons of those who had attempted to escape.
I’d never wanted to be on the night shift. But my feelings counted for nothing. Orders were orders and, after just two weeks preliminary training, I’d been told to report one hour after sunset. But, being unused to going to bed in the afternoon, I’d overslept. I was already over half an hour late and castle guards were supposed to be punctual.
There was a clanking grinding sound and then the portcullis began to rise. They knew I was there. Nobody approached the castle without being noticed. Behind the portcullis there was a huge wooden door studded with iron. It was another five minutes before that opened and
I waited patiently as a light drizzle began to drift into my face.
At last the door started to grind back on its hinges to reveal a burly guard. He scowled at me. ‘Name?’ he demanded.
‘Billy Calder,’ I answered.
He knew my name and knew exactly who I was; he’d been letting me in every day for my training. But he was following the rules. Anyone entering had to identify himself.
‘You’ll be working under Adam Colne. There he is,’ he said, pointing to a man in the distance who held a huge bunch of keys. ‘He’s waited over half an hour foryou and he’s not best pleased to say the least. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes, boy.’
I approached Adam Colne warily. He was big and scary with a reputation for being tough and ruthless. He’d once thrown a trainee guard from the battlements into the moat. The boy had been lucky to survive. Colne stared at me hard, without blinking, making me feel very nervous. It was the first time we’d met and I knew I hadn’t made a good impression.
‘You’re late!’ Colne growled. ‘There are only six guards on the night shift and it’s important that we are all present. So it won’t happen again, will it, boy? Those who work for me never make the same mistake twice. Not if they want to carry on breathing. You have to know your place in the scheme of things. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, sir,’ I answered.
‘Good, as long as we’ve got that straight I’ll forget your lateness and we’ll make a fresh start from now. You’ll be happy here, boy. We’re just like a close-knit family on the night shift.’
I didn’t know much about families because my parents had died when I was very young. I’d been brought up in an orphanage. This was my first job since I’d turned fifteen and had been thrown out to make my own way in the world. I was a stranger to the district and hadn’t made any friends yet.
‘So first things first,’ Colne continued. ‘Do you know why you’ve been transferred to the night shift?’
‘Somebody asked for you. Somebody politely requested your presence. Someone we have to keep sweet. “Let the young Calder boy guard at night,” she begged. Wouldn’t you like to know who she is?’
I nodded. I hadn’t got a clue.
‘Then why don’t you take a guess?’
Who could it be? There were some female as well as male prisoners but certainly no female jailers. The castle was run by men. But as far as I was aware, I knew no one imprisoned in this castle – or any castle for that matter.
‘Is it one of the prisoners, sir?’
‘Her name is Netty and she was one of the prisoners, boy. But she’s a prisoner no longer.’
That didn’t make any sense. If she’d been released why had she requested my presence on the night shift?
‘Where is she now?’ I asked.
‘Mostly she’s to be found in Execution Square. One of her favourite places it is, because that’s where they hanged her.’
My face must have shown my shock. ‘Netty is a ghost, and we need to keep her sweet or it’s bad news for everybody. Some call her “Long-Neck Netty” on account of how stretched her neck was by the rope. But don’t let her overhear you using that name. She doesn’t like it. Even when she’s in a good mood she raps and bangs and wakes up the prisoners. Sometimes she turns the milk sour or gives us nightmares. No, it don’t do to cross Netty. So follow me, boy! If it’s you she wants on the night shift, it’s you she’ll get.’
If that has whet your appetite, you can read the whole of Jamila Gavin’s spine-chilling tale, ‘The Blood Line’, on the Guardian website. Here’s the link to part one:
Many thanks to Joseph for sharing some spooktastic words!