Today’s blog is from Eleanor Hawken, the author of THE BLUE LADY. This fun, chilling tale of haunting at a boarding school hits shelves everywhere this Thursday! Below, she writes about her inspiration for the novel, and her love of everything spooky.
Classics like Mallory Towers and St Tinian’s had led me to romanticise the idea of boarding school from a very young age. I imagined a sisterhood fuelled by torch lit ghost stories and midnight feasts. So when I was packed off to boarding school with a tuck box and a lacrosse stick at the age of thirteen I could not have been happier.
And to my utter delight, my new school friends not only enjoyed ghost stories, but the school had a resident ghost of its own. Her name was The Blue Lady. I can’t remember if we knew who The Blue Lady had been, how she had died or why she haunted the school, but every girl knew her name. Legend had it that she always appeared on the last night of term. We faithfully upheld the end of term tradition of sleeping the wrong way round in our beds so when The Blue Lady came to chop our heads off in the night she’d only find our feet. This tradition, however flawed in logic, was something we continued into sixth form. I remember one school story of how a bunch of girls had stolen a blue choir robe from the chapel – one girl then donned the robe and shrouded her face in a blue chiffon scarf. She’d waited until midnight, when all the first years were fast asleep – their heads lined up in a row at the foot of their beds. The girl walked down the central aisle of the dormitory, sweeping her cloak over the girls’ heads as she walked, waking them up one-by-one and ensuing mass hysteria.
Some of the episodes that feature in my book, The Blue Lady, are an undisguised nod to my time at boarding school – the Ouija board in the abandoned dormitory being one of them. My friends and I went through a period where we were obsessed with Ouija boards and séances, trying to summon the spirit of The Blue Lady and other long-dead school girls we could muster up from the Other Side. Sadly – or fortunately, depending on your love of the dramatic – we never managed to contact a spirit. Still, we persisted in trying.
I remember one Halloween we all filed in to one of the disused dormitories with our matron in tow to tell our favourite ghost stories. By that age I was an expert in urban legends, conspiracy theories and all things spooky. A steady literary diet of Point Horror and any classic with a mere sniff of a ghost had seen to that. Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Rebecca, The Turn of the Screw – all books I devoured as a school girl and put me in good stead for a little spooky storytelling of my own. As I listened to the other girls tell their stories, old favourites such as Humans Can Lick Too, The Killer in the Backseat and Babysitter with the Murderer Upstairs, I prepared to tell mine. Let me just indulge you with a little information about my teenage self – I was incredibly dramatic. In fact I wanted to be an actress; I loved any opportunity to put myself centre stage, so a ghost storytelling session was right up my street.
The story was this…
A weary traveller returns to the deep dark countryside to visit his family. His car breaks down and he is forced to hitchhike. A woman picks him up and agrees to take him to his family home, but first she offers to take him to her house where she’ll make sure he gets a warm drink and something to eat – the man looks frozen. Too polite to decline the woman’s offer, the man reluctantly agrees.
She drives him to a splendid manor house. The windows glow with warm and inviting light and the sound of music and laughter dance to the man’s ears. As the woman leads him into the house he is amazed by the scene – glamorous party guests draped in luxurious fabrics, fashions which he hasn’t seen in his lifetime, he assumes the party is period fancy dress. The woman leads him up a grand staircase and into a sitting room on the first floor, pours him a brandy and they stand and exchange pleasantries by a roaring fire whilst the other party guests come and go.
Never too fond of brandy, the man leaves most of his drink, placing the glass on the mantelpiece as he makes his excuses to depart. The woman then graciously drives him to his family home. The next morning, over breakfast, the man recalls the strange tale to his family. “But no one has lived in that house for years,” his father says with confidence. Determined to prove his father wrong, the man insists that they pay a visit to the house. Sure enough, the windows are boarded up and the walls crumble with age and decay. Lost for words, the man leads his father into the house, up the grand staircase and into the sitting room he’d been in only hours before. The fireplace is cold and bare, cobwebs cover every surface and wall. But sure enough, on the mantelpiece, is his half-drank glass of brandy.
The story went down a treat, much to my great satisfaction. It was around this time that I began to harbour the secret desire to write. I’d fill notebooks with bad poetry and stories and scribble down ideas for novels and characters that I’d one day write. So it seems fittingly full circle that I have now given The Blue Lady her own book, complete with a story as to why she died and why her spirit just won’t rest. I wish I knew the real Blue Lady’s story, but regardless of what it might be, my imagination has thankfully filled in the gaps. I hope you like her story when you read it, I hope it chills you and makes you wonder what’s lurking just on the Other Side. Enjoy.