This story had an odd genesis … though I probably always say that, so maybe they all do!
English Heritage recently released an anthology titled Eight Ghosts, which features eight ghost stories set in various English Heritage properties. The authors include Sarah Perry, Kamila Shamsie and Jeanette Winterson. Following this, English Heritage ran a short story writing competition in which members were invited to write their own ghost stories along similar lines. There was a 1,000 word limit, which I found a bit of a challenge, but I was determined to have a go.
Of course I wanted to feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I started with a search of English Heritage’s LGBTQ History pages – and promptly discovered William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp, who lived for some years at Walmer Castle on the Kent coast. Mr B and I had visited Walmer Castle during a holiday a while ago, so I already had a feel for the place. And it seemed an obvious location for the story that was growing from its initial kernel of an idea.
I dashed out about 1,100 words which caught the substance of it, and then started paring it back down to just under the limit. I didn’t know how strict they would be, so I didn’t stop editing until the final word count (including the title, author name and section markers) was 998 words.
Coming up with a title was an eerily odd process, too. I started by Googling ‘Walmer Castle poem’ – and with startling serendipity I discovered that Rupert Brooke (‘the handsomest young man in England’, according to Yeats) wrote his sonnet ‘The Soldier’ while staying at the castle, before being shipped off to the Great War. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the poem or at least its sentiment; it begins:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
And it ends with the words ‘an English heaven’ – which was almost too perfect for use, but I didn’t let that stop me. Honestly, the way this all fell together made me wonder if I’d actually picked up on some real ghostly vibe while visiting this otherwise fairly unprepossessing property.
Anyway! I sent off the story, with a kiss for good luck.
But, alas, they announced the shortlist of five stories, and mine wasn’t included. English Heritage members can read them and vote for their favourite! There’s an interesting range there of subject, location and style, just as there is in the original volume.
Meanwhile, I figured I might as well share my story with you all as a festive freebie – so I have made it available via Smashwords. I did go back and expand the story a little, but it still weighs in at a modest 1,092 words. A very short short story, indeed! But I hope you at least enjoy the idea behind it.