It’s a foggy morning – which I think is more eerie than a foggy night. As you find the edges of the fog there’s blue sky, but unless you’re on a train, as I am, you probably won’t find the edges. You’ll feel the fog around you, damp and cold, and you’ll lose touch with what you normally see. There’s no horizon. Fog is where ghosts live: a confusion of the senses, a place where things come back unexpectedly – echoes. A familiar street sign appears in front of you when you know it should be yards away.
The novel I have written which is being published in the autumn is a ghost story. Sometimes I scared myself writing it. It grew out of some ideas about ghosts; but like all ideas these didn’t seem to mean much until I felt something from my life playing out. I’ve been haunted by my father’s indiscretions and mistakes.
I like psychoanalytic theories involving ghosts, transgenerational hauntings; I like the kind of ghost Marx writes about … a ghost that hasn’t happened yet (‘A Spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism); and I like ghosts by MR James, the terrifying kind. I’d recommend Ken McMullen’s film Ghost Dance, not least because it stars Robbie Coltrane and Jacques Derrida and I cried when I saw Ghost (the Patrick Swayze one). Ghosts, then. What can ghosts tell us, whatever they are?
- A lot of people live ghost-lives. They carry on driven by a promise caught up in the future: one day I stop working like this. I promise you, when we get there I promise I will stop. The only thing that’s real about this is that person’s absence while they work. Even when they are there, with you, a part of them will not be. It’s promised to the future, not you. Your relationship with them now is always diminished. These people don’t often know how to stop.
- Ghosts don’t only drag up the past. We can be haunted by spectres of the future: not only in our imaginations but in things we see (a black man being punched in the face by a white man at a rally for Donald Trump). A Spectre is haunting America – the spectre of Trump.
- what haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others (Nicolas Abraham)
- When you remind me of somebody they are suddenly somehow here.
- I’m listening to a dead man’s voice and it chills me (Bowie). What am I in touch with of him that scares me?
- I’m reading a dead woman’s words and they excite me (Woolf). What am I feeling of her that moves me?