HWF Hauntings Blog Hop! Inspiration behind Kindred Spirits: The Monster of Machecoul

Guest Post by Jennifer C. Wilson

I’ve always said that I don’t write ghost stories – I write stories about ghosts. But a couple of years ago, our writing group was planning a Halloween reading event, with everyone writing a ghost story to take part. Given that I’d been writing stories set in the Kindred Spirits world for a couple of years by that point, it seemed an obvious route to go down, but somehow, nothing stuck.

As a bit of background, the Kindred Spirits series follows the adventures of ghosts from across time, in various contemporary settings. I’ve had kings and queens mixing with courtiers and commoners, and written about residents of places including the Tower of London, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Westminster Abbey and more. Most of the time though, although some stories get a little darker (when my spirits visited York, for example), they’re a calm bunch, with only some gentle haunting and your normal-level of feuding.

This time, something much, much darker was needed.

I had the general idea of a ghost which other ghosts were genuinely terrified of, but for that to be the case, it needed to be somebody genuinely horrifying. That’s when a writing friend suggested Gilles de Rais. Wow. What a monster. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say, he was the perfect candidate for “most feared ghost”: abuse, sorcery, murder – everything was there, and when you added in the fact that he was originally such a respected soldier, even fighting alongside Joan of Arc… How could a man fall so far?

Unfortunately, with one thing and another, I never wrote the story, but fast forward to summer 2021, and suddenly, he’s perfect again (relatively speaking) for the Hauntings anthology, and I was chuffed to bits to finally get him onto paper.

You see, in the world of Kindred Spirits, ‘life’ as a ghost is only a temporary stage, and there are a couple of options available to them. There’s the famous ‘white light’, and moving to the permanent, peaceful state that that brings, there’s sticking around as a ghost for eternity, or there’s fading. I first explored the idea of fading in Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, the idea that if a ghost was injured enough when fully tangible, then over time, there would be a cumulative effect, and that ghost could ultimately ‘die’ again, not getting their change for a white light ever again, or being able to haunt any more. It was truly an end for them, and obviously something that sensible ghosts were keen to avoid.

Machecoul Castle

For my horror story, I liked the notion of combining fadings, and an evil ghost, trying to ‘fade’ others in the afterlife. And when you look at Machecoul, the castle where some of de Rais’ worst atrocities are reputed to have happened, it really does fit the bill for a location. It’s been badly neglected down the centuries, most likely due to its reputation; I know most castles probably come with their fair share of terrible activities, but this one has to be amongst the worst – who would ever want to live there? Instead then, it’s become the lair of Gilles de Rais, and the place he runs to when he fears he’s about to be exposed all over again. On that basis, it also has to be the location of my gang of heroes, who are going to do all they can to defeat him. We have old women, villagers, wannabe musketeers and brave soldiers, all brought together in the face of a common enemy.

Can they defeat the beast that’s been tormenting France for centuries? You’ll have to read the book to find out…

About Jennifer C. Wilson

Jennifer C. Wilson stalks dead people (usually monarchs, mostly Mary Queen of Scots and Richard III). Inspired by childhood visits to as many castles and historical sites her parents could find, and losing herself in their stories (not to mention quite often the castles themselves!), at least now her daydreams make it onto the page.

After returning to the north-east of England for work, she joined a creative writing class, and has been filling notebooks ever since. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014, and in 2015, her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Books. The full series was re-released by Darkstroke in January 2020.

Jennifer is a founder and host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and has been running writing workshops in North Tyneside since 2015. She also publishes historical fiction novels with Ocelot Press. She lives in Whitley Bay, and is very proud of her two-inch view of the North Sea. 

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