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Simon Bestwick interviews Hayley Stevens: part two

Last year, researching the character of ghost-hunter John Revell for my new novel, The Feast Of All Souls, I made contact with paranormal investigator Hayley Stevens.  

After discussing her work’s motives and ethical challenges in the first part of this interview, I turn to the practicalities. What does real-life paranormal investigation involve?

The best tools, Stevens says, are everyday gadgets: digital cameras or camcorders to monitor locations, home security devices, such as beam barriers, to detect if anyone enters a room. “I even have some that are toys for kids, marketed as ‘spy gear’ which is quite funny!”

Another technique is ‘locking off’ rooms – making them inaccessible, to see if anything happens when they’re empty. “The main problem is that if anything happens there’s nobody to witness it, so you have to rely on the camera. Anything caught on camera is open to interpretation.”

Most ‘hauntings’ prove to be natural phenomena, or psychological in nature, but a few are deliberate fraud. “If I suspected someone was trying to trick the experiencee, I’d booby trap the house – which is as fun as it sounds!”

How? Stevens offers a few options. “Hide in a dark house and see if anyone rocks up and tries anything. Place clear tape at the top or bottom of a door which would indicate if someone has entered through that door. Tie ‘invisible thread’ or black cotton in a room to see if someone walks into it and breaks it. This is especially useful if someone is convinced they are seeing people when they’re asleep – if the cotton’s intact when they wake up you know they were experiencing something psychological.”

The least dramatic methods are most effective. Experiencees must keep a diary, recording the time and date of experiences, weather conditions, what they were doing, what happened, who they were with and how they felt.

Best of all, says Stevens, “just sit in the house and listen. You hear the noises caused by the house settling, the neighbours, the wind outside – you get a really good feel for what is and isn’t normal in that place.”

John Revell is, like Stevens, a convinced skeptic, but in Feast he encounters the genuine paranormal article. I ask Hayley what would convince her she was dealing with a real ‘life’ ghost.

“I’m a pain in the ass,” she answers, “and say ‘what’s a ghost?’ There’s no definition set in stone. One ghost hunter will count orbs or EVP as evidence, another won’t. All of these things have rational causes too.”

There have been, however, a handful of experiences Stevens can’t explain.

“When you have this sort of experience it feels like time speeds up and slows down at the same time, and because you get a hit of adrenaline it’s really difficult to stay level-headed. I’ve seen two ‘apparitions’, which are, for me, the most distinct thing you can experience – especially if others see the same thing. It’s more difficult to accept that a group of you had a hallucination, though it isn’t impossible.”

The first experience “I have very vague memories of because it was over SO quickly. It was in the cellar of a pub, and three of us saw what we described as ‘a grey, whispy, not-complete body’ at the other end of the cellar moving around. It was awful – we ran away.

“The most convincing ‘apparition’ would be a solid mass of light that I and six others watched move across a room in front of us. There were no windows or external light sources and it seemed to come through a wall, move across the room between us (we were sat/stood around the edges) and then vanished half way across.

“I watched it through the view finder of a camcorder on a tripod, set to record, using the camera’s night vision because the room was so dark. When we played the footage back immediately afterwards – convinced we’d caught a ghost on camera – it wasn’t there. I swear, this one bugs me because I just don’t know what we saw.”

Finally: “I’ve also been in a room with other people just talking while on an investigation and had what sounded like someone whistling at us from different parts of the room. Almost as though an invisible person was walking around the room and whistling while we were talking, knowing it would stop us and confuse us. Totally the sort of thing I’d do if I died and became a ghost!”

The Feast of All Souls is out now!
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Simon Bestwick interviews Hayley Stevens: part one

Last year I was researching my new novel, The Feast Of All Souls, in which ghost-hunter John Revell investigates his ex-lover Alice Collier’s apparently haunted house.

I decided very early on John shouldn’t be one of the usual paranormal ‘experts’, but a hard-headed skeptic, for whom every mystery had a boringly mundane solution.

Someone, ideally, who didn’t believe in the supernatural at all.

Someone like Hayley Stevens.

When Stevens began ghost-hunting, she was an ardent believer; over a decade later, she is an atheist and humanist who doesn’t believe in the paranormal. She was exactly the kind of investigator I wanted John to be.

“I understand and respect that ghosts and monsters aren’t everybody’s cup of tea,” Stevens says. “I just wish that others would understand that those of a skeptical nature that spend time assessing such claims and reports aren’t wasting time. Research into ghosts and monsters is still very relevant [because] belief in ghosts and monsters is still very real. Not because people are stupid, but because people experience things on a regular basis that they have no experience or knowledge of.

“I often describe paranormal cases that I research as jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing. You can look at the incomplete picture and hazard a guess as to what it probably is – but if you sieve through the information that comes with the case you start to find the missing pieces of the puzzle, and more often than not you can put the missing pieces in place and see the bigger picture.”

Radio 4 recently rebroadcast an interview with Stevens by Selina Scott. Despite her stressing her skeptical approach and her attitude towards the paranormal, it provoked a host of derisive Tweets, such as: ‘Oooo a real-life ghost buster. #MyArse More likely a ghost-bullshit buster. @selinascotts should really know better! #JFC’  and ‘A “professional ghostbuster” with Selina Scott. “Light bulbs blow from time to time” so it must be a ghost. Do they charge VAT?’

“I didn’t state it was a ghost, but that doesn’t stop people from taking the piss,” Stevens sighs.

It must often seem a thankless task. Why, then, does she continues to investigate?

“I’ve had a couple of experiences that could almost convince me something paranormal exists,” she says. “These keep me thinking and on my toes, and it is so frustrating that I can’t work out either way what the hell happened. They’re why I still investigate and remain open minded.”

Alongside science and skepticism, Stevens also considers an ethical code to be essential. Investigators, for instance, shouldn’t work with anyone bereaved in the previous six months: “Grief can make a person extremely emotionally vulnerable. Only professionals with specialist training in coping with grief and depression should work with those who have experienced such a recent loss.”

The same caution applies to working with children, or the statutorily vulnerable: adults with mental health issues or learning difficulties, the elderly or frail. But even adults outside these categories can be harmed by an investigator’s ill-considered actions.

A few years ago, Stevens was asked to conduct an educational investigation at a ‘haunted’ Bristol pub. “The idea was that I’d lead the investigation and walk people through the pseudo-scientific methods of ghost hunting – including using a ouija board. As we sat around the table conducting a faux ouija board session a member of staff that lived in the pub walked in, saw the board and started to panic. I didn’t know people lived on the premises – or thought to ask the organisers of the event about such things – and as a result one resident got very scared and I’m pretty sure that would have had a knock on effect.” The incident made Stevens far more focused on the ethics of her work. “There isn’t a standard code of ethics, and that’s the big problem in the community.”

“I very rarely get involved in cases involving people within their homes,” she says when I ask how she’d approach a case like Alice Collier’s. “It’s an ethical minefield. If I was in John’s shoes, though, I might – but still explain to them that they can ask for the investigation to end at any time.”

That, of course, raised the question of what form such an investigation would take – and of what would actually convince a hardened rationalist that they’d genuinely encountered something supernatural? For the answers, you’ll have to wait for Part Two of this interview…

The Feast of All Souls is out now!
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The Rebellion Advent Calendar Day Nineteen: win The Feast of All Souls!

We’re into the home stretch now comrades. Christmas approaches at pace, Christmas week will soon be done, and by Jiminy are we excited to be stuffing our face with turkey.

But before all that, we’ve got more Advent goodies for you. Today, you can win Simon Bestwick’s chilling horror The Feast of All Souls, exclusively through the Rebellion Instagram account. 

To enter, simply head to Instagram, follow our account, and like our latest Feast of All Souls picture. Good luck!

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Happy publication day The Feast of All Souls and Five Stories High!

Horror hounds, we’ve got a double dose of demonic, er, books, creepin’ and a-crawlin’ into the shops today.

First up is Simon Bestwick’s chilling The Feast of All Souls, a books of secrets, legends and the dark things at the edges of our reality. Read on for more!

The Feast of All Souls

Alice has returned to her old home town to put her life back in order. 378 Collarmill Road looks like an ordinary house. But sometimes, the world outside the windows isn’t the one you expect to see; sometimes you’ll turn around and find you’re not alone.

An old flame of Alice’s – John Revell – reluctantly comes to her aid when the house begins to reveal its secrets. The hill on which it sits is a place of legends – of Old Harry, the Beast of Crawbeck; of the Virgin of the Height and the mysterious Red Man – and home to the secrets of the shadowy Arodias Thorne.

Thorne’s influence seeps up through the ground, infiltrating Alice’s new home, and only she and John stand between Arodias and the rest of our world.

The Feast of All Souls is out now!
Buy: UK|US|Rebellion Store

Next up is a hugely exciting project from our very own Editor in Chief Jonathan Oliver, who has assembled some truly astonishing talent for Five Stories High. The story features five linked novellas from Nina Allan, Tade Thompson, K.J. Parker, Robert Shearman and Sarah Lotz, and charts the goings on in Irongrove Lodge…

Five Stories High

‘They didn’t see the house until they were practically on top of it. A single building emerging from
the dark. It didn’t look welcoming. But the front door was open. The door was wide open.’

Irongrove Lodge – a building with history; the very bricks and grounds imbued with the stories of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms. These are the tales of an extraordinary house, a place that straddles our world and whatever lies beyond; a place that some are desperate to discover, and others to flee. At one time an asylum, at another a care home, sometimes simply a home.

The residents of Irongrove Lodge will learn that this house will change them, that the stories told here never go away. Of all who enter, only some will leave.
Multi-award-winning editor Jonathan Oliver has brought together five extraordinary writers to open the doors, revealing ghosts both past and present in a collection as intriguing as it is terrifying.

Five Stories High is out now!
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Solaris to unleash Simon Bestwick’s The Feast of All Souls

Solaris is proud to announce a chilling new novel from Simon Bestwick: The Feast of All Souls, to be published in December 2016.

A creeping, unsettling story of folk horror set in the north west of England, The Feast of All Souls is a thoroughly British tale in the finest traditions of Alan Garner and Graham Joyce.

Solaris Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Oliver said:

“Simon Bestwick is up there with the very best English horror writers – Alison Littlewood, Adam Nevill, Ramsey Campbell etc. His novels are terrifying, yes, but they are nevertheless very human. Simon’s characters are fully fleshed, and brilliantly portrayed and you will care what happens to them. The Feast of All Souls is not only an engrossing and entertaining story of the supernatural, it is a story about ourselves and our relationship with the past.”

Simon Bestwick said:

“This is my second book for Solaris and my third for Jon Oliver. As always, he’s been a real pleasure to work with, an editor who believes in guiding and nurturing his authors’ talents. The book itself is a bit of a departure – it’s a quieter, more intimate novel. It’s also my first set in Manchester, or more exactly Salford, even though I lived there for years, and draws in particular on the Landslide in Higher Broughton, which is a place I love.”

The Feast of All Souls by Simon Bestwick will be published by Solaris in December 2016 – read on for a full synopsis…


The Feast of All Souls
by Simon Bestwick

The suburb of Crawbeck, on a hill outside Manchester, overlooks the woodlands of Browton Vale. Alice Collier was happy here, once; following her daughter’s death and the breakdown of her marriage, she’s come back, to pick up the threads of her life.

378 Collarmill Road looks like an ordinary semi-detached house. But sometimes, the world outside the windows isn’t the one you expect to see. And sometimes you’ll turn around and find you’re not alone. John Revell, an old flame of Alice’s, reluctantly comes to her aid. The hill is a place of legends – of Old Harry, the Beast of Crawbeck, of the Virgin of the Height and of the mysterious Red Man – and home to the secrets of the shadowy Arodias Thorne.

Alice’s house stands at a gateway between worlds. On the other side of it, something has woken. And she and John, alone, stand in its way…