Monday, April 5, 2010

the woman in black

i've copied and pasted a page from susan hill's website about her process of writing a traditional ghost story. there are also pasted images from the ottawa little's theatre production of the woman in black (2009) and from the film version of the novel (1999). i've read the book, i've seen the film, and i've seen the play in ottawa. since childhood i've been a fanatic of ghostly tales and the woman in black is a favorite of mine. i found myself unable to read the book at night-time when the moon cast shadows outside my bedroom window. after seeing the film i found it necessary to call my brother distract myself with reruns of 'friends'. i had to rave to someone about the brilliance of the play production; it inspired the use of pre-television imagination, when the power of story-telling could entrance a crowd... i still dream of writing my own complete ghost story, all the while keeping the following steps written out by susan hill as guidance.

The Woman in Black Print E-mail

This, the first ghost story I wrote began as a challenge to myself. I had always loved reading ghost stories but was surprised by how few fill length ones there are – The Turn of the Screw is the most famous but mainly both the Victorian ones, when the genre was in its heyday, and any later, are short stories. I decided I would see if I could bring off a full-length ghost story and I began by making a list of essential ‘ingredients.’ These included:

1 A haunted place. A lonely house or church

2. Atmosphere

3. Weather – fog or mist, dusk, twilight, drizzle…

4. A ghost – not as silly as it sounds. The ghost story is not necessarily a horror story and it must have a ghost, which is defined as the spirit of someone now dead which looks as they looked in life and which is seen by people still living.

5. The ghost must have a purpose – that seemed essential. There has to be a motive for the hauntings. It is not very interesting if a dark-robed monk walks through walls or a veiled lady drifts up and down a staircase frightening people but doing nothing much else and without any reason or purpose.

I wrote the book in 6 weeks during one summer holiday, every morning while my 5 year old daughter was looked after by a 20 year old medical student, who gave her a wonderful time. It was typed up for me by the student’s sister, then doing a secretarial course but as she couldn`t read my writing, I dictated it onto a tape and she started taking it down. But after a short time, she could only do it if someone else was in the house – she found it just too frightening to work on alone. A good sign if ever there was one !

The book started out modestly but then it had a stroke of luck. Actor/author Stephen Mallatratt picked it up at the airport bookshop en route for a Greek holiday. He was looking for something to adapt as a play to go on in the small studio theatre at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough at Christmas and lying on the Greek beach, he had a brilliant idea about to make my ghost story work onstage.

The rest is history. The play has been running in London’s West End since 1989, after starting out in Scarborough and it has played in almost every country in the world. A major feature film of it is now in development by Hammer films, and shooting should start in 2010.

But The Woman in Black began as a book, my first ghost story, and will always be a book, as well as everything else. That’s the beauty of it.


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