Tag Archives: death

Is Lucy a ghost?

Readers and friends have asked me to ‘explain’ Lucy and that is to try to explain the unexplainable.
They ask ‘is she a ghost?’
If so, does she have an existence and autonomy of her own?
How does she come into being?
Has she power over the living?
You will recall that Lucy is Tom’s dead wife whom he has brought back into existence ( I did not use the word ‘life’ ) from the extremes of his love and his grief. My personal belief and experience is that such appearances in bodily form, call them spirits or ghosts or whatever, are entirely of our own making and have no independent existence. They cannot be seen or heard by others and can ‘influence’ the living only through dialogue.
Lucy is a projection of Tom’s emotional state; if you like, she is his alter ego with whom he converses and who guides him. He trusts her and relies upon her as he did when she was alive and in my novel she guides him out of his grief and towards the light and the future.
Tom knows what he needs to do, but needs to hear it from her as part of his journey out of sorrow and guilt towards happiness and self-forgiveness.
What greater love could there be?

My characters have been waiting impatiently to get back on stage

Remember Anika and Tom? You do? It has been only one month since I wrote here of their adventures, it seems longer than that as I have been busy on other tasks.
Both have been walking the Camino, they have met and (like in the Hollywood classics) have agreed to meet in a year. No contact during the year, no plans, they will find each other for true love always finds a way.
Back in Australia, Tom is gathering information on pilgrims dying on the Camino in Spain and on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France; in fact, some 10 or so people are known to die each year walking or cycling to Santiago, there may be more that are not recorded, and there are plaques here and there to commemorate their lives and deaths. This has always been a reality on pilgrimages, more so in the past when illness was rife and banditry a constant danger.
Now Tom is returning to Europe to cross the Pyrenees on commission and then to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port to gather more information re peregrino deaths and, of course, to meet Anika on 22 May.
He has decided to write a novel about love and death on the Camino as a cover for his research on the personal tragedies of the dead pilgrims. Yes, there is some old fashioned post-modern reflexivity at work as I write a novel about a guy writing a novel. Do not to be alarmed, there will be no linguistic tricks or theorising, it is simply a device for Tom possibly to earn some money (he has no source of income) and to put a little distance between him and the realities of pilgrims dying.

Coast to Coast mayhem: Episode 6

Eventually the pieces fall into place. Mel recalls some story of Ralph leaving Iraq in hush hush circumstances and DI Kate and her team track down the truth. Jean in a previous life was a Sobranie Black Russian smoking temptress working undercover for MI and she has more to add to the story. Jeri and Jean are cleared. Bruce is eliminated as a suspect and now only a few of us are left as ‘persons of interest’. Investigations continue around the clock ( as all good police enquiries should do). Will is cleared, to Kate’s immense relief ( for there is love in the air).
Finally the breakthrough! There is a connection of names, dates and places between Ralph and one of the group and after hours of intense interrogation David cracks and confesses. Yes, David killed Ralph!
It is me! For it is Ralph who was responsible for my young brother’s death years ago in Iraq, the victim of a covert US operation gone dreadfully wrong. I could not believe my luck when I heard his name on that first day in Saint Bees; to have him before me and I simply had to wait my chance to perform the deed. I never wanted to kill sweet Maggie and smart and funny Matilda, but I had no choice. They got in the way. Collateral damage, as they said of my brother.
Ah, cruel twist for all such stories have a twist at the end. I have killed the wrong man! It was Ralph’s crazy twin brother who was responsible, not the poor innocent man I murdered! Ralph had not even seen his brother for years as he is a survivalist hiding out in the remotest part of Montana.
There is one final twist, for such stories always have one twist just when you think you have seen the last one. Bruce and Denise worked out long before DI Kate that I was the mad murderer and, under the pretence of offering me kindly morning cups of tea, have been systematically poisoning me with foxglove. Oh unhappy me!
I finish my tale and as the pen falls from my hand and the coldness enfolds me, I have a vision of the group completing their walk in Robin Hoods Bay and returning home without a backward glance to my lifeless body and of Kate and Will in the year ahead, raising a family of little adventurers in the wilds of the Antartic.

Thanks to a wonderful group for being such good sports and fine walking companions who allowed me to pen and disseminate this bit of fun. Thanks guys!

Coast to Coast mayhem: Episode 3

We await the police, too shocked to speak. One accident was bad, two deaths is beyond belief. Though we have no reason to suspect foul play, the police will deliver the body for a routine autopsy, we start to look at each other a little askance, a little fearfully.
What is going on in our little group?
Two dear companions dead.
Jenny vanished for two days.
Now Rod and Wally are leaving our shrinking group.
Matilda observing.
David scribbling notes under the pretence of writing a Gothic tale of the group.
Surely now the walk must be abondoned, if only out of respect, but no. Will insists that we must go on; the Company (unbelievably) has offered a big discount for our troubles (perhaps to keep our mouths shut and to avoid bad publicity?) and anyway, perhaps Ralph and Maggie would have wanted us to struggle on? Maybe we are simply too stunned to resist? It is agreed and off we trudge.
Where once we were 12, now we are 7 on a long walk to Keld through squelchy moors. The wind is brisk as we climb up past the Nine Guardians and onwards across the lonely moors, half expecting to see the tormented spirits of Cathy and Heathcliff wandering before us, this being the heartland of their tragic love and the perfect setting for our own horrors.
Will is looking more harassed each day as once more we plod into a village to find the cafe promised to be open and once more shut for some unknown reason: are we cursed that we can never find a place open for lunch? No matter what day of the week or what village we stumble into, all is closed for that particular day. What tricks is England playing on us?
At dinner that night, lightning flickering and thunder threatening outside our solitary inn, Jeri is persuaded to try that fine old English dessert, namely, sticky toffee pudding. She has one mouthful, a second and falls to the ground clutching at her throat, gasping for breath, her face white. She is dying before our very eyes! An ambulance is called, Will springs into action and miraculously she is kept alive until she is taken to hospital in a swirl of siren. And then silence.
This can be no accident. We cannot deny it any longer. There is a killer at large and that person must be one of us! The hotel is sealed off under police orders and we are told to stay in our rooms and await the big guns being called in from Manchester. We scurry to our rooms, all of us placed in singles now, and lock our doors. Each of us lies awake as the storm rages and each one of us ponders ‘who is the killer?’ and ‘will I be next?’ as we listen for the sound of our door being opened in the night and the flash of a blade or –
To be continued …

Why are pilgrims dying on the Camino?

Back in Brunswick Tom researches the deaths of pilgrims walking or cycling the Camino in the last decade and discovers a spike in deaths in the last two years. Moreover, the deaths occur at certain times and in certain sections of the Camino or Chemin de Saint Jacques in Spain or in France.
Tom finds no obvious explanation for the spike in numbers and for the location and timing for the deaths, though he can sense a pattern.
Tom writes a poignant piece about the deaths, combining the scant facts, with a dash of poetic licence, for a major daily paper and, for the first time, receives an income! Maybe his fantasy of earning a living from writing could come true.
He then blogs about the deaths of pilgrims and allows himself some speculation on what is happening and why. The response to his blog is astonishing. He is inundated by conspiracy theorists with wild explanations and hints of dark secrets. There are references to the Knights Templar, always good for a conspiracy theory, and there are even wilder ideas about the church and religious curses and hidden treasures which to Tom’s mind, are nonsense. He has uncovered a world previously unknown to him and in his innocence and with his philosophy training he is tempted to answer and have a rational discussion. Wisdom prevails and he stays silent and eventually withdraws his blog entry.
Then there is an amazing development: Tom is commissioned by a magazine to walk and write on the Via Podiensis in France! More money!
Tom agrees and decides that while undertaking his journey he will see what more he can learn about pilgrims dying on their way to Santiago.
If only he knew where his investigations would lead him!

How to de-shrine a house

It is as if Lucy has stepped out and is expected home any moment, for Tom has changed nothing in the house since the day of her death. It is a shrine to her memory.
Her clothes hang in the wardrobe, her shoes remain lined up in their grey wooden rack and her perfume and cosmetic bottles hold guard in the bathroom. The book she was reading lies open on the bedside table on her side, the one closest to the window overlooking the rear courtyard, and her iPad lies, battery flat for many years, on the dressing table where oft she sat and did her makeup while he watched and they talked of the day.
He has moved her bike from the entrance hall, but only to bring it upstairs to his study so that he can gaze upon it as he writes.
Tom knows it is all a bit “Miss Haversham”, but has rejected the pleas of his friends to change. He has no heart for it.
Tom is not mad. He knows the boundaries. He has not clothed her dressmakers dummy and danced with it at night, nor does he set out meals for her each day.
If, however, he can bring her back to life through the strength of his love, what might making a shrine achieve?
Now, after meeting Anika and returning home to Brusnwick, Lucy persuades him that it is time to change. Baby steps maybe, but steps all the same. The photos on the stairs walls they will not touch. The photos on the bedside tables they will not touch, nor her perfumes or the half empty bottle of her shampoo in the shower.
He does agree to donate some of her clothes to charity and to give away her shoes and collection of her trademark cloaks to a vintage shop run by Clarissa. He keeps her dresses with special memories and the crimson shoes she wore the day they wed, reluctantly agreeing to move them to the spare room.
He feels empty afterwards and barely listens when Lucy whispers that next he must rearrange the furniture and throw out the old fashion magazines still cluttering her work table, scissors and tape where she left them that last morning of her dashing out with a kiss and a wave and a slam of the rusty gate.
One step at a time.

And what is happening in our little Swedish village?

Anika is walking in long summer twilight, pacing out to the old ruined church and back through the village to the cluster of houses high in the fields and farms to the east of Ovraby. She sends startled hares running and catches a glimpse of a deer and her young.
She ponders possibilities, future scenarios of this woman from a foreign land living in this small community: never quite belonging because she is a foreigner and yet almost accepted since she married a Swede and speaks Swedish fluently. She is inside and outside, belonging and not belonging and feeling this is a metaphor for her life.
Will she become the local eccentric living alone, not perhaps with a cat, but still a figure of curiosity and sorrow?
Will she stay the tragic figure who lost her husband and chose never to love again? Who chose to remain childless and alone?
Will she stay on the track which presently runs her life and be the successful career woman travelling to and fro, retaining her house in Ovraby though rarely seen and become a figure of envy and respect amongst the village folk?
Doe she have the courage to roll the dice with Tom, that lost soul from the other side of the world who still speaks with the spirit of his dead wife, for Heaven’s sake?

Forgiveness and self-forgiveness in Santiago cathedral

Tom completes his pilgrimage in Santiago and attends the traditional and, for many, emotionally compelling pilgrim mass in the cathedral.
Personally I was unmoved by the experience, albeit I was interested in the rituals and the profound effect on members of the congregation.
Now I admit that I am teasing because I do not wish to give the plot away too much and want you to read the entire novel in a one night sitting, unable to tear yourself away even for a moment, when it appears.
Suffice it to say here that Tom has met the man whom he holds responsible for the tragedy of his life and who is waiting for Tom in the cathedral and seeking absolution.
What is the personal responsibility for an unconscious action, a moment of carelessness which changes lives forever?
How do we forgive someone who has changed our life irrevocably?
How do we learn to forgive ourselves?
Why do we blame ourselves for matters when the rational part of our brain knows that we are innocent of any culpability?
Is it not fascinating how we constantly rewrite and reframe our pasts until we have a narrative which suits us and fits the person we have become: perhaps more accurately, the person we would have liked to become?
How will Tom respond to this plea for help?
What does Lucy think of Tom’s response to this figure from his past?
What has Tom learned from his pilgrimage walk?

The angry prophet

This the name which both Tom in my novel and I in the world of walking and writing have given to a man whom I met on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France last year and who I have fictionalised for the purposes of my novel.
Let me tell you first how I met him in July 2013…
I was walking in Southern France in July, hot and unrelentingly humid all month and no wonder that I saw almost no other walkers after Cahors.
I met him on a lonely track, dressed in what looked like monk’s clothing but which I suspect was simply an old cloak, with a stained and battered canvas bag slung painfully across his shoulders on a wooden stick. He wore old fashioned sandals and walked slowly and unsteadily, yet I saw him day after day until we lost contact.
He said nothing. He glared at me whilst I, in my normal way, nodded politely and said ‘buen Camino’, the traditional form of address.
He did me no harm and in times gone by perhaps he would have been seen as a prophet, a Biblical figure returning from the desert with truths and revelations.
Was he truly angry? Distressed? Lonely? Seeking or holding a truth? I know not, but I have taken this striking figure and embellished him for my story so that he can play a role as Tom strives to uncover the mystery of pilgrims dying on the Camino in circumstances increasingly curious and disturbing.
Now place yourself in the misty mountains past O Cebreiro, one of the highlights for me on my journey across France and Spain.

Meanwhile, back at the Cruz de Ferro …

Anika is in Ovraby (or is she?) and Tom is continuing his pilgrimage to Santiago after they have parted in Astorga with a commitment to meet again in one year. Remember?
He arrives at the famed Cruz de Ferro high in the mountains of Leon with the fossil he has carried with him from Australia and which he will leave at the cross as tradition demands and as his heart desires. It is a moment long anticipated, albeit he has never been able to explain to Lucy, whose spirit walks by his side, what he expects from the action. He is disappointed with the banality of the site; the milling crowds, the noise and the incessant snapping of photos for Instagram or Facebook or whatever. He drops his fossil on the pile of stones and flees.
We do not gain self knowledge or become reconciled by following the crowd or performing rituals simply because others do and certainly we do not attain forgiveness, let alone self-forgiveness, through placing one stone on top of another.
Lucy knows this.
Tom will learn this.
Confession time: I performed the same ritual with the same result two years ago.