In Haunt

Gripping North Manchester inspired ghost stories are coming to the airwaves on Wednesday evenings during the winter months, thanks to writer and broadcaster Hannah Kate. Her new show Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester brings a weekly dose of her own weird and wonderful fiction to North Manchester FM (106.6FM) - influenced by local history and mystery, making them creepily closer-to-home…

Ten Tales

From strange events at a Psychic Night in Middleton to unusual astronomical phenomena over Crumpsall Park and even an encounter with the lost map of Doctor John Dee, the notorious 15th century occultist (and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I!) who came to Manchester: Hannah Kate’s innovative stories explore the heritage of the area, as well as its hauntings. No stranger to the stories of place after all, Hannah Kate also hosts a much-loved local history show, A Helping of History on North Manchester FM and is currently writer-in-residence at Clayton Hall (Haunt interviewed Hannah more about this residency in a previous article here); an immersive setting for Hannah Kate’s own recent Creative Writing course. She also is the treasurer of Friends of Crumpsall Park, Secretary of Friends of Bailey’s Wood, and a member of the Cheetham and Crumpsall Heritage Society – demonstrating a vibrant local knowledge, as evident in her own previous Haunt Manchester article about Bailey’s Wood and Boggart Hole Clough here.

Hannah Kate’s involvement in and work within North Manchester indicates it as a place packed with inspiration; a vibrant past and range of communities shaping the stories that emerge. Crosslee, Collyhurst, Harpurhey, Charlestown… these are just some of the places that feature in the stories. Haunt Manchester itself has already enjoyed exploring accounts of the area, including LoneLady’s (aka Julie Campbell’s) artistic encounters in Miles Platting, and our own adventure into Heaton Hall, with article coverage here. Haunt Manchester’s Helen Darby and Emily Oldfield were also guests on Hannah Kate’s long-running weekly literature show on North Manchester FM, called Hannah’s Bookshelf – and it is through this show that Hannah Kate also runs the ‘Three Minute Scares’ radio short story competition, with Emily a co-judge for Halloween 2019 alongside Andy Remic.

Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester is already thrilling and chilling listeners alike, with an instalment coming to the airwaves every Wednesday night from 10pm onwards. Each leaves the audience in anticipation of more, perhaps no wonder given Hannah Kate’s evident skill as a writer; with her fiction appearing in a number of anthologies to date and she is also the editor-in-chief at Hic Dragones, an independent UK publisher of dark fiction. In turn, Haunt Manchester decided to speak to Hannah Kate to find out more…

Hello Hannah. You've been putting together a brand-new show for North Manchester FM – Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester... and that's not just for Halloween month, but carrying on into winter! What was the inspiration behind this and why do you think ghost stories have an ongoing relevance?

"I think the initial inspiration for Ten Tales simply came from my own enjoyment of ghost stories during the winter season. Even though the original broadcasts were a little bit before my time, I rewatch the BBC TV series A Ghost Story for Christmas every year, and I’ve enjoyed the various twenty-first century revivals (like last year’s The Dead Room by Mark Gatiss, which was set during the recording of a radio show, of course!). It’s a format I really like, and so I was very excited to get the opportunity to write my own series.

"However, my other inspiration came from the place I live. I grew up in North Manchester, and I still live there. Some of my recent short fiction has been set in Manchester, like my stories ‘Nimby’ (which takes place in Heaton Park) and ‘Trap Street’ (which is sort of set around Harpurhey). I’ve also dipped into some local history in my writing, such as in my story ‘Dust to Dust’, which is about Hollinwood’s Hannah Beswick (aka The Manchester Mummy). I’ve been wanting to write a longer series of fiction about North Manchester for a while now, and Ten Tales has given me that chance.

"So, Ten Tales is really the combination of two ideas… a series of stories about North Manchester, and a new series of seasonal ghost stories. As I say, I enjoy hearing spooky tales during the winter – and I don’t think I’m the only person who does! I put the ongoing relevance (and popularity) down to the simple fact that these stories are about life, death and the boundary between."

You have written the stories yourself – so please can you give us some insight into the key creepiest elements for a good ghost story?

"As with all writing, a good ghost story is all about the execution, and a lot of the same rules apply whether you’re writing a cosy romance or a terrifying ghost story. Sometimes it’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to scare the bejesus out of your readers, you forget things like writing convincing dialogue or avoiding clichéd description!

"Personally, when it comes to ghost stories specifically, I prefer stories with gaps for my imagination to fill. When it comes to exposition in creepy tales, less is always more. Hannah Kate No one is scared of a white sheet – they’re scared of what they think might be under it." (Pictured left: Hannah Kate at Clayton Hall, image provided by Hannah Kate). 

Do you have to believe in ghosts to respond to a ghost story?

"Well, that depends on how you define ‘ghosts’! You certainly don’t have to believe in supernatural revenants or apparitions to respond to a ghost story. Ghost stories depend on sometimes deeper and more fundamental than a belief in ghosts – they’re about haunting, the idea that something from the past can come back to us (as an entity, or as a memory, a feeling, a dream), or that it never left us in the first place. We are all haunted in some way or another, and ghost stories tap into that."

You describe the stories as having a 'uniquely North Manchester flavour', with the tales themselves inspired by local legend and history. Why does this matter to you – and can you give us some examples?

"I’ll try to avoid a polemic here! But when it comes to art and literature, North Manchester often gets completely overlooked. We’re treated like a bit of cultural wasteland sometimes (though I’ve been very happy to see that HAUNT Manchester has given the north side of the city some welcome attention, of course!). As someone from North Manchester, I’d say that being overlooked like this does matter. It has an effect on us, and it wears us down. I’ll give you an example… a few years back, there were proposals to hold a literature festival in North Manchester. When the plans finally came to fruition, someone had decided to change it to a literacy festival. That’s the sort of message we hear all the time – and I don’t like it.

"However, we have some great arts project and practitioners in North Manchester, like MaD Theatre Company, for instance, and the Manchester Irish Writers. In recent years, writer Alrene Hughes has used bits of Cheetham Hill’s vibrant history as the backdrop for her historical novels (The Girl in the Pink Raincoat, The Girl from the Corner Shop); a few years earlier, Gwyneth Jones wove places she knew from growing up in North Manchester into her apocalyptic sci-fi novel Bold as Love. Neither Hughes nor Jones labelled their books as ‘North Manchester’, but rather just started from the assumption that there was something worth talking about in our part of the city. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with Ten Tales.

"The tales themselves simply showcase quirky little elements of North Manchester – history, geography, character – that I find interesting. For instance, Turkey Red (the second tale) takes place around Hexagon Tower, a 1970s brutalist building that once housed ICI. Like a lot of people in North Manchester, I briefly worked in Hexagon Tower (okay, it was school work experience, but still!), and so it’s a place that holds strong associations for me. The Occultation of Saturn (the sixth tale) draws on an almost-forgotten bit of Crumpsall Park’s history, when Crumpsall Hall was rented to a man named Robert Worthington, who built an observatory with the Manchester Corporation Astronomer Joseph Baxendell in the 1850s.

"I will admit, I’ve made a lot of stuff up for these stories as well. The Threat of Blossom (the first tale) and Corporation Pop (the fifth tale) are about events that – as far as I know – are completely fictional. These stories are set on the Crosslee and Dam Head council estates in Blackley, and I was keen to capture the character of these estates and the people who live there, without falling into tired old tropes of ‘scary council estates’. The Lost Map of Doctor John Dee (the seventh tale) is a bit of a ‘what if’ story, though it does take place around a very real (and very horrible) roundabout on the border of Moston, Middleton and Chadderton.

"Help the Poor Struggler (the third tale) is all completely true though. Take that as a warning."

Ten Tales

Considering ghosts, do you have a favourite fictional one, from any story? 

"There’s so much variety in the fiction that can be described as ‘ghost stories’ that’s it’s hard to pin down a favourite. There’s a world of difference between, for example, Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the fourteenth-century romance Sir Amadace, but I love them both. I’m also a big fan of stories where characters are haunted by places, rather than people. A short story collection I edited in 2014 – Hauntings: An Anthology – included a story by Tracy Fahey called ‘Ghost Estate: Phase II’ that I’m very fond of.

"But if I’m totally honest, at this time of year, I’m all about the Ghost of Christmas Past. ’Tis the season, after all."

For more information about Ten Tales (including the episode list), visit Hannah Kate's website: https://hannahkate.net/ten-tales/ 

By Emily Oldfield 

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