Guest post by Rhian Ellis, author of the novel After Life, a Nancy Pearl Book Lust Rediscoveries pick. Book Lust Rediscoveries is a series devoted to reprinting some of the best (and now out of print) novels. Each book is personally selected by Nancy Pearl and includes an introduction, as well as discussion questions for book groups.
People who've read my book, After Life, sometimes ask me if I believe in ghosts. This is not an easy question to answer. I've never actually seen one, and I think of myself as a rational person -- the kind of person who prefers scientific explanations for unusual phenomena. But I am pretty certain ghosts exist.
Once I spent several weeks working at an artists' and writers' colony down the road from where I lived. I wasn't sleeping there, just driving up in the morning and staying all day. The studios were in a large, beautiful house in the middle of a field, with big windows looking out toward the surrounding woods and hills. I had a desk and no Internet or phone – nothing but time and a coffee maker. But I couldn't get any work done. I'd get up and walk around, look out at the beautiful view, sit back down again. It was weird. I felt like someone was watching. There was a presence.
I knew a little about the history of the artists' colony. The house was built by a woman from a wealthy family. She was a photographer and painter and fell in love with the area. She died too young, and left the house and her fortune to a foundation to establish the colony. It was a wonderful way for her legacy to live on.
It was so wonderful that I couldn't stop thinking about her.
I wandered upstairs, where the dead woman's books were kept on shelves for the visiting artists and writers to browse through. Her paintings hung on the wall. She had bought some of the furniture in the house. The house itself, I realized, was one of her works of art: it was specially designed to take advantage of the natural surroundings and the local quality of light. Her presence was everywhere. It was unbearably sad, incredibly loving, and, well, ghostly. When I did write, finally, there was something of her, my own ghost, in the work.
Haunting, I think, is among the most human of experiences. It means we don't forget the dead, that our lives are not linear, and that once we are here we are always here, in some form or another. When we see ghosts, and incorporate them into our lives and our work, we acknowledge the significance of lives now over – over, maybe, but not, and never, finished.