Thursday, 30 October 2014

CATHY: MY REAL-LIFE GHOST STORY...

It's Hallowe'en… and I thought I'd share my own ghost story… the one and only time I think I saw a ghost…

Cathy says:
Earlier this year, we were having a meal with friends and talk turned to ghost stories. Our friends told their ghost story, and we told ours… it went like this: 

Long ago, before we had kids, my husband and I went on a camping holiday to the Isle of Iona. We made friends with another couple while cycling across Mull, and when we reached Iona we set up camp with them on an outcrop, a kind of promontory sticking out into the sea. To get to the camping place we had to climb up a hill to reach a flat place just perfect for two tents; beyond us the rocky hill rose higher, dropping away to cliffs. We were surrounded by sea on three sides.

It was approaching dusk when I looked up and saw the figure of a woman standing up on the hill up above our campsite. I almost jumped out of my skin, so shocked I couldn't speak and just shook the others, who soundlessly looked up to see her too. She had long, untidy hair and was wearing a long cloak… I imagined her to be some kind of hippy-dippy type. What none of us could work out was how she had got up onto the hill, because the only path led right through our camp and we had been there for hours. Worse, she looked distressed and upset, looking out to sea; it felt wrong to stare, and slowly, all four of us looked away, whispering our worries that she seemed to be in trouble. We couldn't help but look back, and when we did she had vanished. Terrified and convinced she had fallen, the boys clambered up the rocks to where she had been while the other girl and I ran down to the beach beneath the cliff where we'd last seen her. We were terrified she had thrown herself into the sea. We searched until it was too dark to see, and then we went to sleep, all of us very shaken.

The next day we woke to find our friends had packed up and gone, leaving a note to say how spooked they were. We searched again, expecting to find a body, and when we found nothing we walked into the village, expecting reports of a missing person. We asked about a little, but nobody knew what we were talking about; nobody was missing. At this point, it began to dawn on us that the woman we'd seen could have been a ghost - her cloak certainly lent her an other-worldly air, yet we'd been so sure she was real. We called in at the tiny island bookstore looking for ghost books, but found nothing; later that day we too left the island. No reports were ever made of anyone committing suicide or going missing, and we began to refer to the incident as our 'ghost story'.

So… that was the story we told our friends over dinner. 'Was she a ghost?' they asked. 'Did you ever google her?' We explained that this had been long before google or the internet. 'Of course… but haven't you googled her NOW?' they asked. We had never even thought of it. My daughter fetched her laptop and typed in 'ghost Iona'… and a chill ran through us all. There she was… a woman called Netta who had lived on the island briefly in 1929. She had been involved with the occult and had been distressed and anxious when she vanished from her lodgings. Her body, wrapped in a long cloak, was found on a 'fairy hill', still clutching a dagger as if she had been trying to ward off danger. An inquest said she'd died of natural causes, but many believed she had been harmed by the dark forces she had run to the island to escape from. The details and even the photograph of Netta were so close to what we had seen; our ghost story suddenly seemed very dark and sinister, and our friends even joked that we'd set the whole story up to scare them. We hadn't. We were really shaken by it… all over again.

Do I believe in ghosts? I think there times when history leaves strong traces on the present day, when shadows of the past fall over our present day lives. What do YOU think? COMMENT BELOW to share your views. And be careful if you ever visit the Isle of Iona...

BLUE: I LIVED IN A HAUNTED HOUSE...

Reader Blue tells us about her experience of living in a haunted house… a true life Hallowe'en story to make you shiver!

Blue says:
As a child I lived in a haunted house. If you don't believe in ghosts that may sound ridiculous, but hear me out; the house had been built in the 1700s so had been through all sorts of stuff. The back faced the old cemetery and a ruined church, and the front of the house faced another church. We once saw a strangely translucent woman gliding between the hedge and the church - she turned and stared straight at my brother and I, frozen in our bedroom window, then turned and vanished through the wall of the church. Creepy stuff.
As was the shadow in the corner of our old bedroom. So what, corners have shadows, you may be thinking. Not this type of shadow! It was so dark it looked like a black hole, and it made noises… like groaning and wheezing and occasionally mumbling. My brother theorised that it was the spirit of a disabled person, unable to move around like other spirits. There were others too… like the red-eyed demon I saw hovering over my brother as he slept. I'd popped to the bathroom and didn't turn the light on when I got back so all I saw was a huge pair of glowing red eyes which turned and stared at me for what felt like hours but was probably only a few seconds. Then there was a blur of black as they shot to the window and slid through the crack at the top. I tried to dismiss this as my over-active imagination but my brother began to report dreams of a red-eyed demon, even though I'd never told anyone about it!
We also had a poltergeist which made noises and messed with our electronics… like the time the kitchen radio started blaring loudly. We went to tell Mum to turn it down - but she was still in bed. Seconds later, the TV clicked on all by itself… and no, nobody was sitting on the remote, it was on the coffee table. The TV did that a lot, as well as changing volume and channels and switching itself off.

That same day, I saw a top hat and suited shoulders as I walked past the kitchen window and a hand with a suit cuff reached around the living room door. We think that was a friendly ghost, as he appeared behind my sister in the mirror once and though she should have felt terrified she just felt calm and reassured. The poltergeist, by contrast, was not friendly at all. As well as being noisy and fascinated by electronics, it had a penchant for stealing things. My copy of Driftwood, my sister's favourite t-shirt, even a toilet roll holder, towel rail and soap dish still in their box, all vanished into thin air. Smaller stuff went too, and we got scared to put anything down. Once a knife flew across the room at my brother and we think that was the poltergeist, too.
Not all the spirits were meanies. There was a little girl ghost who moved my sister's Barbies around and played with my Sylvanian Families toys. I watched her for a while; she was pale and blonde and tiny, and I'd guess she'd perhaps died of pneumonia or 'flu, but it didn't seem right to ask. The best ghost of all was our cat Mau, who died in a road accident when I was eleven. For years afterwards we'd hear his distinctive 'maaaaaauuu!' and see his tail flick around corners. So you see, haunted houses aren't always spooky and ghosts are not always malicious. We moved away from there a couple of years ago and I do miss those spirits… they were a part of my childhood. Although I do wish that poltergeist would give us our belongings back!

B&W 'ghost' pic posed by model Molly; taken by Emma Tunbridge.

Cathy says:
Eeeeeeeek! Scary stuff! I haven't had as many experiences as Blue, but I did see a ghost once… maybe I'll tell you my story too! Do YOU believe in ghosts? COMMENT BELOW to share your story or comment on Blue's blog post!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

THE GREAT DEBATE: DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS?

Do YOU believe in ghosts? Four readers discuss ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night in the run-up to Halloween…

Britney says:
I have never seen a ghost myself, but I am open to the idea that they exist. At my grandad's house, where my dad lived for most of his childhood, there was said to have been a plane crash from World War Two… a Lancaster bomber, I think, was involved. Both my gran and grandad have seen the ghost of the man who was killed in the crash, still in his flight gear, standing in the corner of the dining room, next to the window. Dad reckons he has seen him too, and the story always gives me goosebumps!

Laura says:
Today I went to a castle and read all about its legendary 'Green lady', a ghost wearing a green dress and carrying a wailing child… especially creepy as the sightings are always in the old nursery. I was in the nursery and suddenly I heard the rustling of skirts behind me… Turned out my dad was unwrapping a Werther's Original sweet. I do NOT believe in ghosts.

Liah says:
I do believe in ghosts, and in fact I think we live in a haunted house. Ever since we moved in, seven years ago, we've known things weren't right; and my little sister Jenna can see and talk to the spirits. When my little brother was born, Jenna asked who the baby was. Mum explained it was her new brother, and Jenna replied that she didn't mean him, she was asking about the 'glittery one next to him…' When she was six, she saw a boy standing in the corner and thought he was real, too. Our dog-sitter thinks the house is haunted and our old dog used to bark at the ghost. The ghost seems nice… but it is still a ghost, and we've lived alongside it for seven years!

Chloe says:
That's really interesting, Liah. We have always been haunted, too, although I'm not sure the spirits are attached to the house itself. Once ghosts locked my brothers out of the house - there was no logical explanation for it. Mum and Dad both claim they have seen ghosts; Mum saw a ghost-dog that ran right through a wall at night, while Dad saw a ghost in the sawmill where he works. I have never seen anything so far, but I do sense that spirits are around me at times and it doesn't scare me as much as you'd imagine. My cousin is a medium and the whole family are very open to the idea of ghosts and spirits… they make me feel safe and secure in a strange kind of a way!

Laura says:
Liah, I had to think for ages before responding to this because there is undeniably something going on. Could your sister have been exaggerating? Maybe there is just a bad feeling about the house, and your mind is putting things together to imagine why? I don't believe in ghosts, all the same. If ghosts did exist, why don't our late loved ones reach out to us? I have livd in an old house for years, with rattling roofs and creaking floors, the lot. When I was younger I used to imagine ghosts floating about, but it WAS just my imagination. I've lived here all my life, so surely a ghost would have given itself away by now? Memories can linger and you can sometimes get a 'bad' feeling about a place, but no, I don't believe in ghosts.

Chloe says:
Laura, I understand that we have no certain proof that ghosts exist, but we also rely on many other things we cannot see so why not this one? Perhaps nobody can be sure whether ghosts are real or not, but I like to think I am open-minded to the possibility. There are so many amazing and scary things in this world - I am trying to imagine the possibilities, trying to learn more.

Britney says:
Chloe, do you know much about mediums and what your cousin does? I am quite interested in the idea of mediums and have watched a few TV shows about them… I'd like to know more. Like you, I've never had an experience myself, and I am quite a scientific and logical thinker so I am very undecided about the existence of ghosts and spirits. I do find the idea of them fascinating, all the same!

Chloe says:
I do know quite a bit about what my cousin does, Britney. Some people believe that mediums are all liars and cheats, but I know my cousin and he would never lie about something like that. I'm still not sure what I believe myself, but sometimes I think that ghosts live around us, just trapped behind a veil of sorts. There are so many reasons to believe, and I feel I do. What we have to do is get rid of the logical and think outside the box… all things are possible then!

Cathy says:
Oooh… a very interesting debate! Tomorrow we hear from a reader who used to live in a haunted house… yikes! COMMENT BELOW if YOU have strong beliefs either way on the existence of ghosts...





Monday, 27 October 2014

MANDY: HAUNTED BY A BOY FROM THE PAST...

Another in our regular problem-page series… reader Mandy asks Chocolate Box Girl Skye Tanberry for advice on a hauntingly difficult question…

Mandy says:
My problem sounds so strange I can't tell anyone about it… they wouldn't understand. I'm asking you because you also fell for a 'ghost boy', or sort of, anyway. I was working on a history project for school about an old sawmill near where I live. It is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a fifteen year old boy who drowned in the mill-race in the 19th century. I found a picture of the boy online, and all I seem to do since then is to think of him. I feel like I know him, and I can't help wishing I had known him; perhaps I could have saved him somehow. He looks so nice and so different from the boys I know. It sounds crazy, but this is a little bit like being haunted… and it is making me so unhappy that my friends have noticed something is wrong. What can I do?

Skye says:
I know you don't want to hear this, but although this feeling may be very real and very intense, it is still a crush. It's a one-way feeling for someone out of reach - you cannot get more out of reach than a boy who died more than a hundred years ago, after all. Yes, he was handsome and yes, he may have been nice, but he was from a different time; it is your imagination which has conjured up a romance, a story around his image. That is what a crush is, really. Put any thoughts of hauntings or ghosts out of your mind… those things won't help, because this is not a supernatural happening but a fantasy. It's time to step back and let go. Throw yourself into school, work, hobbies… anything to take your mind off this. In time, the fascination will fade and you will be free to fall for a real-life boy, someone attainable… and not a boy from long ago who can never be yours. Good luck.

Cathy says:
Hard-hitting advice from Skye… do YOU agree? Is this a ghostly crush or just a fantasy? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

KYM BAKES EXTRA-EASY MUFFINS!

Baking… it's all the rage just now! But what if you're not quite at 'Bake-Off' standards yet? Fear not… reader Kym has   the answer with her extra-easy muffin ideas. They really are foolproof! (I know, I've tried them…)

Kym says:
I love baking, and most of the time I make things from scratch… but sometimes life is just too short to be measuring and weighing and whisking things up, and at times like that a packet mix is perfect. Don't think of it as cheating - just as taking a short cut! And you can still add some extras to make the muffins special and unique.
So… first select your packet cake mix! Do some shopping around to see what's on offer… and remember that the expensive ones are not always better! As long as you have the basic muffin mix, you're good… you can easily jazz things up from there. Do check whether your mix requires any extras, like an egg/ milk/ extra sugar!

So… what extras can you use to make your muffins extra special?

* add a tablespoon of cocoa powder to make a plain mix chocolatey
* add chocolate chips to make it extra yummy!
* grated chocolate (dark, milk or white) makes a good substitute for chocolate chips
* a spoonful of nutella placed into the middle of the muffin and covered with more sponge mix when placing mixture into paper cases creates awesome muffins…
* instead of chocolate, try adding fruit… blueberries, raspberries or even grated or stewed apple or chopped tinned peaches or apricots.
* instead of adding a spoonful of nutella to the mix as you fill the paper cases, try adding a spoonful of lemon curd for lemon muffins, or a spoonful of jam.

Traditionally, muffins don't have icing, but you can break the rules and add some if you like! The simplest icing is made by mixing a few spoonfuls of icing sugar with a teaspoon of boiling water and a drizzle of lemon, for example, to ice lemon muffins… add more icing sugar or water to get a nice consistency and drizzle on top of cooled muffins. Or cheat a little bit more by buying a tub of buttercream icing from the supermarket!

Cathy says:
Long ago I had a friend called Ellie who always baked chocolate fudge cake whenever it was someone's birthday. It was amazing - I thought she was a baking queen! It was years later before she admitted the cakes had all been made from packet mixes! Do YOU like to bake from scratch or do you feel safer with a packet mix? COMMENT BELOW to tell all!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

CAT: GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN...

The media says that teenagers today are out of control… we asked reader Cat to give us the inside story!

Cat says:
I think the media used to paint a pretty grim view of teenagers, but not so much anymore. I do think people can feel threatened if they see a group of teenagers on the street at night, because of what the media used to say. I think parents and adults in general are trying to do the best for us but of course we want to be independent so we are always going to disagree! They think the worst of us sometimes; yes, we do make mistakes but we also learn from them!

I am a really individual person… some would say strange, but I don't care! I used to worry what people thought but I don't let it get to me anymore; I have the people in my life that I need. Anyone who doesn't approve or agree with who I am can just jog on! Most of the girls I know don't feel pressured to dress a certain way… but we do dress to impress. I'm not talking about impressing boys especially - just other girls! If some girls choose to wear revealing stuff, so what? Why judge? I would be what people call a Goth. I don't feel like the 'real' Cat when I wear 'normal' clothes; my style means a lot to me.

I go into town a couple of times a week with my friends, and sometimes there are Friday discos. My parents do worry that I'll drink or something, but most of the time all we do is dance, cry and fall in love! I don't smoke or drink… I just want to  have fun. All I want in my life right now is to let go of the troubled thoughts of everyday life and be happy; I only feel emotions when I am in my boyfriend's arms, really.

Teen life is very hard. Your body and mind are developing and everyone expects you to be this different person all of a sudden and work hard all the time, and yet you're so mixed up… and you just can't. Sometimes, it's a hug from a friend or a night out having fun that gets you through the difficult times…

Cathy says:
Cat's post is very honest and gives a real insight into teen life. Do YOU feel misunderstood by adults? Or pressured to dress/ act a certain way? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 24 October 2014

AALIYAH: WHEN I MET CATHY!

Sometimes, readers travel a long way to come to my book signings… one reader tells her story!

Aaliyah says:
This all started when I was at my dad's house, on his laptop, looking at cathycassidy.com as usual. I discovered that Cathy does book signings and events and I was over the moon! I told my dad, hoping he could take me to an event in Manchester in the summer. He said he'd think about it but couldn't promise, but I was hoping and hoping. And then the months slipped by and it was summer, and I knew it was too late to go to Manchester.

In August it was my birthday. I went to see Dad for the weekend and we went to Eddie Rockets - I ordered a vanilla milkshake and he handed me two presents, a medium sized one and a tiny one. I opened the medium one first - it was SWEET HONEY, which I had wanted for ages! But when I opened the tiny present, I couldn't believe my eyes - there right in front of me were tickets to see Cathy Cassidy at the Bath Children's Literature Festival!

The day finally came… I stayed at Dad's overnight and on Saturday we set off from Dublin airport. I drew pictures of Honey Tanberry on the flight! Soon, we arrived in Bristol, the smallest airport I have ever been to! We got a bus and arrived at our hostel, which was gorgeous, with ivy growing around the door and big windows!
The next day was the day of Cathy's event. It was a dream come true! We got up and walked around and look a lot of photos. We had breakfast at a small cafe and I ordered a chocolate muffin and toast! We explored some more and then went back to the hostel to pack up our stuff and go into town. We looked at the shops and drank hot chocolate, and after what seemed like a year it was time to go to see Cathy.

We got our seats and settled in and the event began. Cathy talked for forty-five minutes and answered questions, and then she signed books. We were near the back of the queue but it was worth the wait and Dad explained how we had come all the way from Dublin which amazed Cathy! She was such a kind person and she really inspired me. Do you ever get that feeling when you have wanted something forever and finally get it… and you can't help smiling every time you think about it? Well, that's how I feel. Cathy has made me think I could be a successful author myself one day. I will never forget that day!

Cathy says:
Meeting Aaliyah was brilliant - I genuinely do have the coolest readers ever and I was SO impressed at how far she and her dad had travelled to be there! Have YOU ever met someone special or travelled a long way to be at a special event? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!