Here’s the strange thing – Christmas Ghost Stories and Other Strange Tales From the Hills is by far my humble best seller in the ebook world. By which I mean it’s earned enough to buy a smallish round at the local pub.
It is a question I have often asked over the past dozen or so years since I started writing such anecdotes for the Christmas Eve edition of the Western Morning News. Now these tales seem to have taken on a tradition of their own in the region, so that I’d no more think of skipping a year than I would dream of forgetting to take a summer holiday.
But back to the question… What is it about mystery and arcane strangeness that seems to grab our attention around midwinter?
Perhaps the answer lies in the last word. It is the time of year when daylight is at an absolute minimum and when darkness rules a very dark roost. We humans may light our fires and create our own illumination within our cosy homes, but we know all too well that just feet away outside the window the world is one vast shadow that is broken only for a few ours in a day. Without light we cannot see, and we cannot know. Our imaginations must take over.
This is not the place to go in to the ancient rites and traditions which relate to the days of the longest nights – if you were to look at all the midwinter solstice beliefs, the yuletide customs, the hogmanays and so on, you’d need an entire book to describe the way in which, four countless centuries, we’ve been greeting and dealing with the great shadowland of late December.
What I will say is that today’s over-commercialised Christmas leaves little room for such deep-seated human reaction and belief – we’re far too busy purchasing, providing and consuming to notice the bleak midwinter wind howling down a chimney, or the cattle lowing three times in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve – or anything else for that matter… If it isn’t on a television screen or in a bottle.
So perhaps this is why the annual Western Morning News Christmas Story has become so popular. It’s a little reminder of older, more heady, more believing days – a glimpse of a kind of lantern-lit Victorian Christmas which somehow reaches out in to the darkness with so much more aplomb and authenticity than our own modern digital glare. Who knows?
What I do know is that the tales in this ebook have been collected by me over the years – some relate to well known traditional stories which have a place in the h annals of the South West of England – but most have been picked up by me on my journalistic travels across the Westcountry peninsula.