This is my first attempt at writing a ghost story, and let me start by telling you something that will piss a lot of people off, and that is that I don't believe in ghosts! But, having said that, I do like a good ghost story, especially M R James, and it's part of my routine in the run up to Christmas to watch all of the BBC's 1970's 'A Ghost Story for Christmas', which feature M R James adaptations, but also my favourite, Charles Dickens's 'The Signalman'. Probably because it combines my love of a creepy and atmospheric ghost story with trains, and yes, I am a train nerd!
The core of the story came from my own experiences of being in my house alone whilst looking after my two children when I was on maternity leave in 2009. My, then, husband was conspicuous by his absence and I was lumbered with everything, and this mirrors Lucy's experience of her husband, Wayne, and never being at home, either working or conducting numerous affairs.
For about a week, I started to hear this hissing, or rushing, sound at nights, and I seriously thought I was going off my head until the sound stopped. Each time I heard it I would, like Lucy, get out of bed and investigate it, but I could never find what was causing the noise or where it was coming from. I've never heard it since, and I can only put it down to some psychological problem, probably caused by the fact that my husband had started being abusive towards me.
I was influenced by Fulham as the location of the book as I used to work in and around there for twenty-years, and I used to drive home down Imperial Road every evening and would regularly see those two yellow gasholders. I also worked on the site of the former Imperial Gasworks, as by the 1990's the few remaining buildings left were rented out as office space, and I would work on their phone lines. The site was pretty rundown and derelict and there were still large old and rusting gas pipelines sneaking about that had long since been disused.
I also live next-door to the former Mitcham gasworks, and had to look at the disused gasholder from 1997 until a couple of years ago when it was demolished. It was still being used, even after the gasworks had closed, to store natural gas, and it was filled up at nights when it would make a rumbling sound like thunder. I have Lucy mention this at the start of the book.
The character of Lucy is very much based on myself and my experiences of being the only woman working with three hundred-odd men, but I didn't make her a BT engineer like myself, as you need to be earning a lot of money to be able to live in Fulham, even in the 1990's when the book starts, and believe me, we don't get paid that much. Not enough to be able to live in Fulham, anyway.
I decided to make her profession a bank trader, as for a brief time in the early 1990's we maintained dealer boards in the City, and I was frequently sent there to fault on them, so I saw first-hand the traders and the trading floors which are loud, physical, testosterone fuelled environments, where once again, I would be the only woman amongst a couple of hundred men. Lucy also suffers childhood abuse and works her way through college, as I did myself, and the interview scene very much mirrored mine, with some really derogatory questions being asked.
I based Wayne on someone I worked with back in the 1990's, the same basis for Charlie Bateman in 'Lavender Fields', as he was a typical ballsy alpha-male. As I said earlier, there was no sexual relationship between us, we were just good mates, so I've brought into play another ex of mine. We were together for five-years, but we constantly cheated on each other, even though we both knew what each of us were getting up to. We still bump into each other from time to time, and we still get on well and have a good laugh together.
The serial killer Ernest Jones was primarily based on John Christie of 10 Rillington Place fame, but I've changed the location, and the names, and had him live with his mother instead of his wife, whom he also murdered. As with all serial killers, Jones is a quiet, unassuming nobody, who works as an office clerk by day, and at nights he enjoys a pleasant past-time that involves luring woman back to Gas Street, murdering them, and then burying their bodies about the house. The box-respirator gasmask that Jones wears when he murders his victims was an afterthought, as I have always thought that that particular mask was very creepy and unnerving, with its large bug-eyes and the pipe projecting from the mouth, like some monster from a horror movie.
Lucy sees a psychiatrist because of the sightings of Jones, and I myself saw a therapist to help me through not only surviving an abusive marriage, but all of the persecution my ex-husband carried out after he was arrested for domestic violence against me. He tried to get full-custody of our two children, plus half of my house and pension, so you can image the stress and the Hell I was going through, then add to that the fact that I'm a key-worker and had to go out and work throughout the whole of the Covid-19 lockdown, also as a single-parent. Well, after four horrific years for both me and the kids, and over twenty court appearances later, he failed dismally, and I was granted full custody without him being able to see them, and I was awarded a clean break divorce.
I was lucky in that I didn't have a complete breakdown like Lucy, and I didn't have to spend any time in a psychiatric unit like she did, but I've used the whole therapist experience, so there is quite a lot of psycho-babble that comes into play. This also links into why I think people see things that they don't, such as seeing ghosts or experiencing paranormal activity. You have to believe in such phenomena before you actually see and feel anything, and that's just it, I do not believe. Sorry guys.
I have worked in many buildings over the years that I was told were haunted, but I never saw or heard anything. I did have what I would call a few 'weird' experiences, one in Notting Hill, one in a tithe barn down in Surry, and the other in Queen's Hospital in Croydon, the former Croydon workhouse. But they're another story!
The ending is slightly open ended, as I've left it up to the reader's own interpretation, and to make up their own minds as to what is actually happening to Lucy.
Background: Bulow Road, Fulham, with an Imperial Gasworks gasholder in the background.
Two gasholders in Imperial Road, in the 1990's.