New Year

This one’s on a timer because I’m not really here. I hope it works.

We are supposed to have some impressive Auroras over these few days because of a solar storm. Typically, it is overcast and raining here.

Anyway, have a Happy New Year and let’s see if we can get a decent photo this year.

The annual Jacobite investigation.

I don’t know what the weather was like in December 1745. If it was as cold as last year, wading across that river would have been nearly impossible. If it was something similar to this evening, crossing the river would have been far less traumatic.

This year, the temperature was around 3 C (about 29 F), there was no snow, no wind beyond a light breeze and sparse cloud cover. This was both a good thing and a bad thing.

It meant that standing out there for a couple of hours wasn’t a problem. However, there is not much light available for photography so a layer of snow and some low, heavy cloud would have brightened things up considerably. I won’t bother putting up video, it’s just a black screen. The photos are similarly dark. Next time I have a snow-free winter I’d better take along some infrared lighting.

I saw and heard nothing this time but something interesting happened. The freshly-charged batteries in my camera flashed up the ‘nearly dead’ warning as soon as I turned it on. Not remarkable in itself, those rechargeable batteries are capricious beasts and have been known to spontaneously die for no reason.

The battery in my watch died and stopped the watch at 4:22 pm. Freshly-charged batteries in my phone, my video camera and my backup camera all showed ‘last gasp’. Having one set of batteries die at an inconvenient time would be an annoyance – having them all die at the same time is too much of a coincidence.

I saw nothing, heard nothing, the night was still, the river slow. Now I think of it, I really mean I heard nothing. No birds. No rodents in the long grass. Nothing at all. There was absolutely no sign of life.

Something happened this evening and I’m not sure what. I have a feeling I’m getting close to this one. Still haven’t seen it but I am now sure I have the date, time and location right. The conditions seem better when it’s a mild winter with not too much water in the river. I suppose that would be the sort of conditions that would make it feasible to mount an attack by wading across. With no snow and no clouds reflecting the town lights, it really does get very dark at that part of the river. Again, that’s what you need to sneak up on an enemy.  Unfortunately it’s exactly what you don’t need if you’re trying to take photographs!

I have not yet examined the photos in detail. Here are a couple with the brightness increased but be aware that increasing brightness can increase pixellation and that risks forming shapes that weren’t really there. The pictures should enlarge if you click them. Feel free to download them and see if you spot anything.

Even with the brightness increased there’s not much to see. I’m going to have to go against my own advice next year and make use of Bright lighting would just attract gawpers.

I feel as if this investigation took a step forward tonight. Not a big step, but in the right direction.

With luck, it will be mild again next year.

The Turin Shroud – does it matter?

Oh yes it is!

Oh no it isn’t!

Oh yes it is!

The pantomime surrounding the Turin Shroud continues with the news that the image can only have been produced by a blast of intense short-wave light. Something that only modern equipment could achieve. No fifteenth-century faker could have done it.

So it’s real?

The answer is, and probably always will be, maybe.

Nobody has tested the actual image on the real shroud. The Vatican will not allow it and is never likely to. Not because ‘they are scared’ but because they consider it a holy relic and don’t want scientists poking holes in it. So it has now been proven that no ancient faker could have made the image using short-wave light, but maybe that’s not how it was made. It could be made that way but that doesn’t prove it was.

There was an attempt to carbon-date the shroud using a little bit of cloth from one corner. Unfortunately the shroud was fire-damaged at some point in its history (there are burn marks still) and was repaired with less ancient cloth. So the carbon-date can’t be considered reliable.

At the moment, nobody knows the how, where, when or who of this artefact. It is entirely possible that nobody ever will. I don’t think it matters anyway.

Let’s suppose that someone finds definite proof that the image was of an actual crucified corpse, that it dates from around 35 AD, and that there is no known explanation for the image that would fit with any technique known to have been available at that time. Would that prove that it is the image of Christ?


It would only prove that it was the image of someone crucified at roughly the time Christ was said to have been crucified. The Romans were big on crucifixion. Every Saturday night they hit the town, drank wine, ate bread, impregnated women and crucified some random men. So even if we knew the time, the place and date, that still leaves hundreds, possibly thousands of victims who could be the one imprinted on that sheet.

Remember, if we don’t know how it was done, the possibility remains that some grieving relatives used a technique that is lost now, and that the image isn’t Christ at all but someone who once called Caesar a bad name.

It can never be proved that the image on the shroud is Christ. Never. It has also not been proven that it is not Christ and while that might be possible, it might never be achieved.

Some people believe it is definitely Christ. Some believe it is definitely not. I doubt a single one of those people would change their opinions even if some scientist spent his whole life on it. It’s a religious icon. It really doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, all that matters is whether the religious find it affects their faith.

To me, its existence is irrelevant. I am not going to spend time proving or debunking it because it just doesn’t matter. It should not matter to atheists, although some like to target it as if by proving that it’s just a bedsheet once used by a painter who never bothered to wash, they will somehow bring down the whole of Christianity. Debunking the Turin shroud would have no effect on Christianity. Many Christians don’t believe it’s real either.

Prove or disprove, it will not affect Christianity and it will not affect the atheists. Therefore, I should conclude that any study is a waste of time. Shouldn’t I?

No study, of anything at all, is ever a waste of time. If the Turin shroud interested me I would study it but I would neither be trying to support nor debunk Christianity. I would do it for my own interest, my own satisfaction.

It’s really no different to my own work. I study ghosts to satisfy my curiosity. I don’t care whether any sceptic is ever swayed by what I find. Let them rage and rant that I’m wasting my time. It’s my time, and that’s the point. I choose to use it to investigate something that interests me.

That’s why I read about research into the Turin shroud, Bigfoot and all the rest. I am interested in the research and am impressed by the tenacity and methods of many of those involved. They might find proof that they consider satisfied their curiosity and maybe I won’t believe them. Maybe I will look at their photos and think ‘I could photoshop that’. Many people could, these days. It’s getting appallingly easy.

I hope they think as I do, that finding the proof to their own satisfaction is all it is about.

Because, really, that is all it is about.

The sceptics will never be swayed. Some people just don’t want their comfort zone invaded. Leave them alone, let them live as they wish and believe as they wish.

In the end, it won’t matter.

Playing away.

Today I have a guest article over at the Book Boost blog. There will be a prize draw among the comments for a signed copy of each of the first and second editions of ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’.

I have also revamped the old first edition into a pocket-sized book. It did mean shrinking the photos but it looks and feels more like a ‘book’ (a very small one) than a pamphlet.

There will be a third edition at some point and I think, with that one, I’ll try my luck with a publisher.

Apple download

There are many reports of odd things dropping from the sky. Fish, various crustaceans and frogs seem to be most common and these are usually put down to tornadoes/waterspouts lifting them from their habitats and dropping them somewhere else.

That’s certainly plausible. The UK does get a fair amount of tornado activity, not usually with the strength of those seen elsewhere in the world but once in a while a big one does come along.

Apples though, are an oddity. Especially in December, when they should all have been harvested in September and October.

There are more strong winds forecast. Perhaps there’ll be another bizarre celestial delivery somewhere.

Do ghosts die?

It’s nearly time for the annual (hypothermia permitting) visit to the riverside to look for Jacobites. This year is much less severe than last year, it’s cold and icy but it’s Scotland and December so that is only to be expected. There’s been very little snow so far and none of that -20C nonsense we had last year. Even though it’s now 5 am I don’t have the heating on because the house insulation is enough. It’s looking good for this year’s visit.

This Jacobite haunting is a replay event, if it’s still there. The images do the same thing at the same time every year. No ghosts, no spirits, nothing to communicate with and about as scary as a movie – because that’s exactly what it is. A three-dimensional recording that repeats the same way every time. Christmas is a most appropriate time to watch repeats, I think.

These can be lost if the ground is worked over for new building or for demolition. How the recording is laid down and what makes it replay is not known and it might not be the same in each case. Some just fade over time as if the tape is wearing out. Unfortunately, since we have no idea how these recordings happen, we have no way of preserving them and no means of boosting the signal. Any meddling might ruin the thing for good.

These are, I repeat, not ghosts. Not spirits. Not time-slips and not really paranormal in the strictest sense. Somehow, certain events are recorded on the environment and can be replayed. They do not interact with the observer any more than a politician on the television reacts to the things I say to them. Which is probably for the best because you can be arrested for saying some of those things these days.

Actual ghosts interact, we can converse with them and they are mostly recently deceased. I touched briefly on one aspect of that in the second edition of Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ and will go deeper into it for the next edition. We see Edwardian and Victorian ghosts, sometimes there are reports of cowboys in the USA and even a few, very few in the UK from the reign of Charles the First. Further back, little or nothing.

The few reports of ghost Romans in the UK all sound like recordings. They are re-runs. There are no signs in the UK of ghost Druids or ghost Picts or ghost Anglo-Saxons or ghost Cymric or ghost Vikings or even ghost Normans. Where did they go? There aren’t even recording-type phenomena to associate with them.

The older recordings might have been overwritten. In the absence of solid data we have only speculation but suppose that some places are more likely to record events than others. A high level of a particular mineral, maybe, I don’t know.  I also don’t know the required conditions for the recording to start. So let us suppose that certain places can record when the ‘record’ aspect is active and that if that ‘record’ aspect is reactivated later, the old recording is overwritten with the new. If it isn’t, the old recording stays but fades over time.

Let us further suppose that pressing the ‘record’ button is not easy and requires some specific and rare combination of conditions, and they might not occur in all recording-places at the same time. That would allow Roman recordings in York to still be there and Jacobites in Scotland and monks at various abbeys in England and cowboys in the USA and Aztecs in Peru and so on.

Back to the point. There are still old recordings around but where are the old ghosts? Scotland is littered with stone circles and menhirs and dolmens with Pictish carvings but none of them have any Pictish ghosts. There are not even ghosts of the Norman invaders here. What happened to them?

Did they all move on to some kind of spirit world or is it worse than that? Did they simply die?

The first response in most people’s minds will be ‘Don’t be silly. They can’t die if they’re already dead’ but they’re not dead, are they?

Their physical, flesh and bone body is dead but those spirits move, think and interact. They are not alive in the sense that we are alive but they have a form of life and any form of life could potentially end. Physics demands that they must take in energy in some form. It’s not in the form of burger and fries but they must take in energy in order to be active. They are still part of the natural universe and still bound by the basic laws of physics.If they run out of energy and cannot find more, does the same thing happen to them as happens to us?

Over time, those old ghosts vanish. Do they die?

The free story experiment – first results.

Some time back, I decided to try out an idea for getting those books known at zero cost to me. I have no marketing training so the thought of throwing money into ideas that might be utterly pointless did not appeal.

From this non-marketer’s viewpoint, it seemed to me that the first hurdle to overcome as a writer is getting known as a writer. Publishing is no longer such a hurdle, I have one book with a traditional publisher and prefer to send novels through that route but I have a growing number of self-published titles too. It helps if you are obsessive about spelling and grammar and it’s essential to get someone to read over the book before releasing it. If you release a terrible book full of spelling errors and meandering plot lines that lead nowhere, you will certainly get known but for the wrong reasons. It will not improve your chances with the next book.

The idea I came up with was to put out a few short stories as free eBooks and include advertising for the other books in the back. These went to Smashwords because that site allows me to track page views and downloads of the free stories and to examine their effects on pageviews of the other, advertised books.

Smashwords is a terrible place to sell books. It’s well known among writers but not so much among readers. Readers tend to go to their preferred large-scale online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and others. If your book languishes on Smashwords you won’t sell many so it is essential to format it and prepare it correctly so it gets through the ‘premium’ screening.

Once through that, Smashwords will distribute your eBooks to the major retailers (there seems to be some issue with Amazon but it’s easy enough to put eBooks there yourself. It just doesn’t seem possible to make them free). That is where people who read will find them.

My zero-cost marketing plan involved, so far, three short stories. These went up some weeks apart as follows:

A Little Knowledge...           25th September
Room Service                      15th October
Bernie’s Bargain                   29th October

The pageviews for each peaked after two days and then declined. My guess is that two-three days is how long it takes to scroll far enough down the ‘free’ listings so that nobody sees it any more.

Each story caused a temporary rise in pageviews of the two short story books on there, Fears of the Old and the New and Dark Thoughts and Demons. Each subsequent story also boosted views of the previous ones. Sales of the short story books were not noticeably improved but on Smashwords, I didn’t really expect them to be. I needed those free shorts to get through the ‘premium’ screen and onto Barnes and Noble and other sites. They did.

As of today, Smashwords downloads for those free stories are as follows:

A Little Knowledge…            200
Room Service                      365
Bernie’s Bargain                  163

I don’t know how this has affected Jessica’s Trap but even if I assume that the same people are downloading all the free ones, then 365 people have adverts for Jessica’s Trap and the two short story books. They might not have bought them yet but they are now aware of their existence – and mine – and that’s a start.

The main distribution sites report roughly every three months or so. Today Barnes and Noble reported that two of those free eBooks have been picked up from their site – downloads were as follows:

Room Service                     268
Bernie’s Bargain                   37

I don’t know what happened to the other one. Maybe it didn’t make it through the strict B&N requirements.  It doesn’t matter. I have at least another 268 readers who now know I exist and who have ads for the other books. This little scheme has reached at least 633 people worldwide and it has cost me nothing but a little time. I don’t yet know the figures for Kobo, Diesel, Apple etc but I do know there have been sales of the short story books on Kobo and Apple at least.

Best of all, it’s still going. New readers are still trickling in through those free eBooks and I have another planned which should, I hope, boost activity again. I will definitely have one out for Christmas because lots of people will get shiny new Kindles and Nooks and they’ll be looking for things to fill them up.

The frustrating part is the time it takes to get sales information. I will get a sales report for Jessica’s Trap at the end of December but will it show increased sales? Well it depends. It depends on whether there has been any effect on sales and it will also depend on when the retailers report back to the publisher. If they don’t report until January then those figures won’t be in the publisher’s December report.

It’s going to take a long time but then this is a new line of business for me, and involves developing an entirely different set of skills from what I am used to. My natural impatience will have to be curbed.

If you decide to try this, here are three important tips.

First, read the Smashwords style guide and do what it says. You really, really need to get through into premium distribution. It costs nothing and it gets those books onto the sites that readers use.

Second, don’t include links to books you’ve published elsewhere in your ‘by the same author’ pages. Put in your own website, put in publishers’ websites, but don’t put any bookseller websites. Amazon will not list books that advertise Barnes and Noble, and vice versa. The best option is to have your own website and link to that.

Third, if you have already placed books with Amazon or others, remember to opt out of Smashwords distribution for those sites, otherwise you will just cause confusion. And make sure the prices are the same.

I did this again with ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ using a separate Smashwords account because my fiction is under another name.  You can load books onto Amazon using different names but Smashwords don’t allow this unless you want to set up a publisher account. They do allow second accounts.

I put up both the first and second editions and not much happened. I then put up an extract from the second edition as a free sample and the downloads started – as did the pageviews on the main books. No sales there yet, but some on Amazon and the first edition is already selling on Barnes and Noble and Apple via, who also do the print versions. I always thought the print version of the first edition cost far too much for such a small book. The second is three times the size and doesn’t cost much more in print. As an eBook, that first edition sells pretty well.

Using freebies to boost market reach does seem to be working. It is, at least, getting my name known among readers and it is not costing me anything. Any book sales resulting from this attempt are all profit, no cost.

Am I wasting a good short story? Well, if I sell them, I’ll get a one-off payment of $5-$10 and that’s all. It’s not as if I’m giving away novels here. If those shorts result only in two or three book sales each they’ll have made as much as a magazine would have paid anyway. I think this is a more effective use of these shorts, although I will also continue to send them into magazines. I no longer care if the magazines pay – the stories are adverts now.

I will return to this subject in future. There is no point looking at these figures more than once a month because they are subject to the whims of bookseller reporting and won’t change much over a week or so.

There might be something to report after Christmas. We’ll see.

Nothing for months…

… and then two come along on the same day.

A groping poltergeist in Canterbury, and a ‘grey ghost’ in Bridlington.

Both very physical manifestations, both are able to touch people and move things. The Canterbury poltergeist is not reported to have said anything but the grey ghost in Bridlington apparently talks to a small boy at night. There is no mention of what the grey man talks about, unfortunately.

There is also a rumour of a local demonic apparition which I hope to quiz some people about this week. It might turn out to be another old tale of something nobody’s seen for years but you never know.

I still have hopes for the river crossing this year, as long as the mild weather holds. It doesn’t need to be snow-free and warm, but I draw the line at temperatures of -20C. That’s below zero Farenheit. I’m fairly sure I’ve narrowed down the location so I hope this winter is one of the less vicious ones.

With the sudden burst of activity, it seems this is an excellent time to publish an updated version of ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ so having finished it, I decided to opt for self-publication. By the time it went through the publishing process, this burst of interest might have faded to nothing again.

The print version is on Lulu and I included a hardback version this time too. It was no effort and no cost which is just as well because nobody will pay hardback prices at Lulu!

Lulu also has the EPUB electronic version and it’s also available for Kindle (that link is to the UK site but it will also be on the US, French and German sites). The Nook, Apple and Kobo versions should appear on those sites gradually. There are a lot of formats available on Smashwords too. The first edition is also now on Smashwords.

Formatting eBooks gets easier with practice. Having been brought up to worry about page breaks it is sometimes difficult to remember that eBooks have none. No fixed font size either, in most cases. It’s strange to publish something so fluid and changeable.

I tried to keep the tone less angry this time, I really did. I think there are even one or two places where I succeeded. Well, it’s published now. Maybe it will be expanded further in the future. There is plenty of scope for that.

I’ll put up some extracts later.

Breaking the silence.

No, I haven’t yet become one of the ghosts I look for. I’m still alive.

The long silence here has been due to concentrating on a rewrite of ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’. The new version will be longer, more detailed and less rage-fuelled than the first edition. I hope to have that ready by the end of this month.

The first edition was definitely rage-fuelled. I wrote it in a blistering fury brought on by those celebrity ghosthunting shows and by the increasing advice from all and sundry that did no more than part people from their money. Most of the gadgetry has never been shown to achieve anything at all, none of the readings would stand up to any scientific definition of ‘evidence’ and yet we were hearing that it was all essential.

That was in 2006. Having finally calmed down, I am now able to write a more measured edition with fewer blasts of intense anger. I wasn’t going to bother. The first edition was therapy, it was mainly to get some of that fury out of my system. I put it on Lulu and forgot about it. Once every few years, Lulu would send me five dollars in accrued earnings but I didn’t do anything to promote the book.

Lulu did not forget about it. They put the print version on Amazon although only on the US site. The price was, I felt, far too high for a small book. I don’t think a single copy sold through Amazon.

Then Lulu put the electronic version on the Apple iStore and on Barnes and Noble. That was more reasonably priced and was, of course, immune to postage charges. That started to sell to the point where I thought it was time to take the little book more seriously. Lulu didn’t put it on Amazon Kindle and have now had some kind of disagreement with Amazon so the print version soon won’t be available there either. No matter, I worked out how to put things on the Kindle store a while ago.

Again, I had not intended to bother putting the first edition on the Kindle. The print copy was there and there would soon be a second edition. When I heard that the print copy was to be withdrawn, I changed my mind. I’d like that first edition to be available to anyone who wants to compare something written by an almost-calm investigator with the sort of high-speed blast of rage that those SWAT-team-like TV ghosthunters can induce in an otherwise reasonable observer.

Besides, I won’t be using all the same photos again and I don’t want the originals lost. The original documents and photos from that book disappeared in a hard disk crash in the intervening years so all I have of them are the ones in the book. Fortunately Lulu still has the uploaded file so I was able to take that and re-edit it for Kindle conversion.

‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ is therefore now available on the Amazon Kindle in the US, UK, German and French stores as well as on Barnes and Noble and on the Apple iBookstore. Just type ‘Romulus Crowe’ in the search bar. There is only one of me.

I won’t bother putting it on Smashwords because it’s already on the three main sites anyway. The only other useful one would be Kobo. I’ll look into that, and maybe look at Smashwords again, after I finish the second edition.

There remains the decision whether to self-publish or make use of a link SW sent to me. There are publishers specialising in this kind of book and the services of a professional editor, professional cover artist and someone who actually knows about marketing would be useful.

On the other hand, self-publishing is fast. Lightning fast compared to traditional publishing. Well, that’s a decision that is of no relevance until the book is done.

So I suppose I’d better get back to it.


It’s now approaching 11:30 on Halloween. Originally, it began at sunset rather than having its main focus at midnight. The Celts and other ancient races would light a bonfire at the start of the new day (at sunset) and as it died down, they’d leap or run through to cleanse themselves of the demons they might have picked up during the year. Sunset on this night marked the start of a new year.

The Celtic approach was appealing, I think. The day started at sunset, the year started with winter. So all the dark and the cold was out of the way at the beginning of the day or year and the rest was something to look forward to.

It had nothing to do with witchery or calling up spirits. Quite the opposite, it was a time to clear out all those ghosts and demonic entities that might have attached themselves to people throughout the year. That link though, that connection of the time of year with an association of the living and the dead, was always there.

It was always a time of great spirituality even though its meaning has changed over the centuries.

Now it’s just another excuse for selling crap and making a bloody nuisance of yourself. This year I have been less welcoming to trick-or-treaters than in previous years. I know, it’s hard to imagine that could even be possible. Those who know me will regard my idea of ‘tolerant’ as not planting tripwires and mines on the path to the house and not pouring boiling oil from the roof.

However, even as recently as last year, I was prepared to give out sweets to those small children. They had made an effort with their costumes, they would tell a terrible joke, and they were polite. This year it’s nothing more than roaming gangs of yobs demanding money or treats with menaces. They are not ‘trick or treating’, they are making the rounds to demand protection payments.

The ‘tricks’ they apply now have led to calls for the entire event to be banned. My default response to any kind of ban is that it is another example of control freakery and ridiculous State nannying. In this case, it is a response to the actions of the children themselves. When they use an event to terrorise their neighbours they can hardly complain when their neighbours start calling for a ban.

I know they are not all like that. In the recent past, none of them were like that. In my youth, pumpkins were unknown in the UK so we hollowed out turnips, cut faces in them and put candles inside. The stench was incredible. Pumpkins are the same but bigger, so their lids don’t char quite so fast. We tried to catch apples in water or hanging from strings. We did not hammer on neighbours’ doors until they opened and then proceeded to demand a treat in exchange for not vandalising their home.

Here, money collection was associated with the following week’s event, Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th. The Christian church moved the bonfire there so the common folk still had their bonfire, but now it was separated entirely from anything spiritual and associated with a man who tried to bring down Parliament. We used to call him ‘traitor’ but we don’t now. Anyway, kids would make a life-sized dummy and wheel it around asking for a ‘penny for the guy’. That money was put towards the fireworks. At no time was anyone threatened with tricks or bricks.

Costumes used to be home-made, now they are on sale in huge racks in supermarkets. Pre-carved plastic pumpkins and rubber bats and puppet skeletons are everywhere for at least a month beforehand. It’s not as bad as Christmas yet – Christmas stuff went on sale even before the Halloween things.

Tonight used to be about spirituality, with an element of fun for the children. Now? Now it’s an excuse to go marauding and terrorising and vandalising and their parents excuse it all with ‘it’s just a bit of fun’

Well, when I send your child home in instalments, that’s just a bit of fun too. A fun way to put the death back into Halloween. We used to enjoy Halloween as children, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun.

Demanding payment with threats is not a bit of fun. It’s a criminal act. I don’t want to see the whole thing banned, so children, stop behaving in a way that will get it banned.

The current ban-freaks don’t need much of an excuse, you know.