Author and poet Ashley Capes took some time out to talk to me about his ghost story, A Whisper of Leaves.
Tell me about A Whisper of Leaves.
Whisper is a ghost story set in Japan, where an Australian English teacher finds herself being haunted when she takes an old journal home from the forests beneath Mt Fuji. Aokigahara is known, informally as the ‘suicide forest’ but I decided to steer away from that theme for the most part – and instead focus on the creepiness of the place as a setting.
What were your major inspirations for the story?
Aside from the forest itself, I delved into Japanese folklore and spirits – like the shinigami (death spirit) or the use of wards and talismans (omamori) but I also tried to incorporate classic ghost story elements recognisable from any culture, like having a main character alone in a place, questioning whether she’s really experiencing the haunting or whether she’s imagining it all. I think mystery stories have influenced me with this novella too, I like the slow unravelling of a good mystery and wanted to have that aspect here too.
What do you look for in a ghost story?
Usually I want to learn about the history of the ghost(s) – why do they linger? Aside from that, the setting is key. It can be a big old mansion or a howling mountaintop etc, but I think setting is vital to selling the ‘on edge’ feeling I want from a ghost story.
Yes! Though I’m guessing most folks would have read these – still, they’re probably my favourite three. First is The Shining (Stephen King) which has it all, from the disturbing hotel to possession to a dark history slowly revealed. Second is The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) which is probably not a ‘ghost story’ strictly but certainly features them heavily and is heaps of fun. Finally, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which is a classic, such a wonderful premise (although, I probably saw the Bill Murray film Scrooged before reading the book).
When I was a kid, people used to tell ghost stories about my school and neighbourhood. Did you have the same experience, and if so, do you remember any good ones?
I’m sure we did but my memory is failing me – though I did used to live across the road from the town cemetery, when I was a kid. It was probably only 30 paces from my bedroom window, through the front yard, across the road and to the cemetery fence, but I never found it scary for some reason. I guess it was just part of the routine; get up, have breakfast, walk to the bus stop and pass the cemetery along the way.
Ashley is a poet, novelist and teacher living in Australia. He teaches English, Media and Music Production, has played in a metal band, worked in an art gallery and slaved away at music retail. Aside from reading and writing, Ashley loves volleyball and Studio Ghibli – and Magnum PI, easily one of the greatest television shows ever made.
Whisper Amazon Link https://www.amazon.com/Whisper-Leaves-Paranormal-Novella-ebook/dp/B00X8TKZ4Q/