Are Ghost Stories Fantasy?
How I came to write The Ring by Clare Blanchard
It’s difficult to tell a ghost story when you don’t even believe in ghosts, but on the principle that there are more things in heaven and earth than any of us can dream of, I tell this, my one and only ghost story, not just because it happened to me, but because the experience was the trigger for my whole writing career. I can’t explain it: I can only describe, as best I can, what happened.
A few days before Christmas, a good few years ago now, I was on my way to the town of Kyjov in Czechia, where I have my family home. I was working at a school in southern Germany at the time, and I took a short evening flight from Friedrichshafen to Prague in a little Dash 800 plane. There can’t have been more than a dozen people on the flight. I remember treating myself to a glass of bubbly after takeoff. The atmosphere was relaxed: pilot was inviting people one by one into the cockpit to see the rising moon over the horizon. It was beautiful.
By the time we landed it was already late evening - too late for me to catch a train for the four-hour journey to Kyjov anyhow, so I had booked myself into a hotel in Karlova Street in the Prague Old Town. I planned to spend the next morning browsing the Christmas markets and bookstores in the nearby streets, before catching my train home. On my way from the Metro station across the Old Town Square
My cozy single room was off the main road, in a typical Prague building round an inner courtyard. I’d had a busy few weeks at work, and I decided to have an early night. I snuggled down in my bed and closed my eyes.
Within a couple of minutes, I became aware of a menacing presence in the room with me. I had the sense of a dark energy moving around the space, trying to make contact with me in some way. I did not ‘see’ anything, in the physical sense, but I saw a dark ball of energy in my mind’s eye. And I could certainly feel it. There was an overwhelming sense of distress, dark despair and urgency – a deep need to communicate with a live human being. I instinctively sensed that this was some kind of remnant or residue of a person who had once been alive. I communicated inwardly with this entity by telling it that I belonged to God and it had no power over me. Whatever it was instantly left the room. And that was it. The fear that had accompanied the experience was also gone.
Or so I thought. The next morning I got up at around 8 am and had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was ok but the coffee could have been better, so I checked out and made a mental note to find a decent café somewhere before going for my train.
Meanwhile I had set aside a blissful couple of hours to wander through the streets around the Old Town Square in Prague, take a look at the Christmas markets, and then go for coffee before heading for the station.
Not far from the Old Town Square, on Celetna Street, I found a bookstore that looked interesting, and I wandered in. Upstairs I found a treasure trove of books about old Prague. Among them was a large hardback book:
Praga Mysteriosa, The Secret of the Prague Solstice
It looked so interesting that I decided to buy it. With this rather large volume tucked under my arm, I headed back to the Old Town Square and sat in an upstairs café facing the Astronomical Clock that is a major tourist attraction in the city.
Once my longed-for coffee was on the table, I opened my new book and started leafing through it. Before long I stumbled on something that stopped me in my tracks. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was the story of a Prague barber who had lived around the time of Emperor Rudolf II, the Hapsburg Emperor who had moved his court to Prague. He was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had sent a famous scholar and alchemist, Dr. John Dee, as a diplomat to Rudolf’s court.
But it was the barber who interested me. He lived and worked in Karlova Street, the very street where I had just spent the night. He was married with two daughters. The barber had suddenly developed an obsession with alchemy – a popular obsession of those times, and one shared by Emperor Rudolf himself. But the barber’s obsession had deepened to the point where he abandoned his wife and children, all of whose lives ended in tragedy as a result. The reason his story was in the pages of the Praga Mysteriosa book was because his ghost is said to haunt Karlova Street to this day. Without knowing it, I had met the ghost of an alchemist who had abandoned his family to despair and ruin. His distraught spirit was haunting the street that had been his home, trying to find a way to make amends.
As I say, the curious thing about this ghost story, my ghost story, is that I didn’t even believe in ghosts. I’m not sure I do now. But whatever it was that happened that December night in that hotel on Karlova Street, it changed the course of my life. I knew that I had to find a way to tell his story, so that his spirit could find peace.
And that story, or at least some of it, is in the pages of The Ring.
It’s a story about breaking free from the dark power of magic, into the light.