The Next Chapter

Why Christy Ann Conlin loves ghost stories

Christy Ann Conlin on her gothic novel The Memento, which is set on the coast of the Bay of Fundy.
Christy Ann Conlin was raised on ghost stories. Her new novel, The Memento, is set in a haunted manor house in rural Nova Scotia, where she grew up. (Doubleday Canada)

Christy Ann Conlin's gothic novel The Memento is set on the coast of the Bay of Fundy, where she grew up. Conlin was raised on ghost stories and she brings that heritage into the novel, which features a haunted manor house, threatening apparitions and dark family secrets. 

Shelagh Rogers: What is it about rural Nova Scotia that makes it such fertile ground for a ghost story?

Christy Ann Conlin: Rural Nova Scotia is steeped in folklore and superstition. I grew up immersed in a world of ghost stories and antiques. We would gather around the fireplace in the winter or the beach fire in the summer and my grandmother would tell us stories. It was very much a part of everyday life. Everyone had family stories and there was a very strong oral tradition.

SR: What was it about antiques that might lead to stories?

CAC: My mother and my grandmother had a really strong belief that objects that were special to people and retained an aspect of that person after they passed. This was an idea that I grew up with and didn't question. There was a real reverence and respect, and a sense of caution as well, with using antique china or sitting in an antique chair. We used some of these things, but there was always a sense of awe and mystery around them and a sense of connection to the past.

SR: You seem attracted to things that give you the shivers.

CAC: I really think most of us, as children, are captivated and terrified by the unknown. The sounds we hear outside at night that we don't understand. As children we're very drawn to scary stories because they encapsulate that fear. That stayed with me as I grew up, and I was really captivated by the role that fear played as we matured. It's always present, but it becomes even more terrifying when we're grown up because we're supposed to be in control of our world and have the ability to understand our past and what's happening around us, and yet there's still so much we can't explain. We have to navigate our way through that fear. It's not necessarily a bad thing — it can teach us to have a healthy respect and to exercise caution. Fear can be our companion, help us take stock, help us make good choices.

SR: Is the creepy, isolated manor house in your book based on a real place?

CAC: There were three experiences I've had that really came together and gave birth to Petal's End, the grand, rambling estate in The Memento. There's a grand home at Starr's Point which is now a museum called Prescott House, and it's a spectacular mansion with beautiful gardens. It's really quite extraordinary. There's also a grand Victorian mansion in Annapolis Royal which is now an inn. When you drive by, you can feel the stories cascading out the windows. It's magnificent.

And then I had another experience, when I was in Northern Ireland finishing my first novel. We were driving in the countryside and we came across an abandoned estate with a manor home. The windows were boarded up but you could still see this circular driveway on the river. We went in and there was a massive, walled garden that stretched for acres. There was a hole in the wall, and having been a lover of the The Secret Garden, we couldn't help going in through the hole, and inside we found this massive, abandoned, tangled world in decay. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Christy Ann Conlin's favourite ghost stories: