First I’d like to say how pleased I am to be invited by Haunted America Tours to offer my 20 question answers along side people experienced in the field of the paranormal. My knowledge of such things is limited to pure fascination of the subject, plus books and movies, although I've had a fair share of unexplained occurrences.
I grew up in the 50s in Phoenix Arizona, have two wonderful children and four fabulous grandchildren. My children’s childhood was far from usual and they did a lot of eye rolling where their mother was concerned because of my chosen career.
As a lover of fantasy and sci-fi I've spent over thirty years creating whimsical characters from polymer clay, all of them one-of-a-kind and many as art to wear. That line is called Originals by LE, which sells to collectors, celebrities, shops and galleries.
But in the last few years my attention has shifted more to the Ghost Dolls and writing their story.
Always drawn to the world of fantasy and having lived two years in England in the 70's (my daughter was born in Suffolk) I was bewitched by the charm and magic there and yearned to go back someday.
Sweeney Todd, West End London
In 1998 I was working as a web designer for an Internet company in the Northwest US. With vacation time coming up I decided to investigate walking holidays in England.
St. James Park, London
I researched various sites and read what people had to say. Soon I happened across an affable British fellow, Robert Allan who knew all the best places to visit and had similar interests to mine. We hit it off right away and to cut a long story short, after knowing each other for more than a year we were married and have been for 7 years!
Rob & Leigh
During our first year together Rob wanted to show me to some places reputed to be haunted or having mystical ties. He took me to Cornwall before we moved there for good.
Boscastle and harbour
One of our first haunted stops was the historic harbour village of Boscastle where we stayed overnight in a haunted hotel. We found that experience both enlightening and eerie. Read more about it on question 6.
We moved permanently to Cornwall in 2003 and because of Rob's years of experience in the multimedia profession we started up a video production company called Heartland Productions. We produce videos, mainly the corporate kind but some general and many showcasing Cornwall.
Our videos are not paranormal - to my knowledge, but you might check out some of our sample video clips and let us know if you detect anything strange. Or you might just enjoy seeing Cornwall. www.heartlandproductions.com/videogallery.htm and www.heartlandproductions.com/tvc/videogallery.htm. There is a definite attraction to this place. It is also the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.
We’d love to produce films purely for entertainment, possibly ghost stories. Inspiration is everywhere.
Jack sees dead people?
Even our terrier 'Kernow' Jack has twice spotted something ghostly - in our own livingroom!
Jack (who I also found on the net!) is smart and talented and has a few tricks up his hairy paw when we’re ready to start filming. Check out his fun site: www.kernowjack.com (Kernow is the Cornish word for Cornwall)
So Rob carries on with the business, which allows me to get in some time writing the story of Ravensbreath Island. I'm pretty fortunate.
20 Questions M Leigh Allen
1. Where do you see ghost hunting and Paranormal groups, web sites or Ghost information, tours, Books or items like your own in 10 years?
As long as there are people there will be a hunger, curiosity and excitement to understand what is in the peripheral and to hear good stories. Personally I think the Internet is the greatest conduit for expanding interest in the paranormal. Through that medium everything else: books, ghost tours, sightings, will prosper like never before. And speaking for myself as an artist who conjures up characters and figures, the Internet is the ideal place. How else could my ghost orphans and their story Ravensbreath Island, be communicated to the entire planet from their little room in the dark castle in Cornwall, 24/7?
2. What would you personally consider to be the definitive proof that ghosts are real?
Seeing or speaking to one and having it speak back! Sometimes I think I’ve come very close, perhaps closer than I realize.
3. Are your Dolls really Haunted?
Absolutely. It wasn’t my idea to bring them into the world; it was theirs entirely, along with their story currently under pen. I let them tell me who they are because I don't have a clue.
4. Are you sceptical of the claims other make of their findings?
Sure, but I go by my gut feeling and can usually tell if someone’s pulling my leg. And I always question. I play the preverbal Devil’s Advocate - just ask my husband. But there are cases and stories I believe do have merit and whether true or not gives one pause for thought and opens the mind to ideas and possibilities. And is definitely exciting.
5. If you could investigate your "Dream Haunted Hot Spot" where would it be?
One of the huge old mansions here in England - one that goes back centuries and is full of history. I worked as the webmaster at such a place, Knebworth House www.knebworthhouse.com for the first four years in the UK, and it was magic. The same family has lived there for over 500 years. The place is full of history and when I asked the owner if there are ghosts in the house he quietly said, “Yes,” but offered no more.
There is talk Knebworth House is haunted by the spirit of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, one of the most popular novelists of 19th century England, author of “The Last Days of Pompeii” among other writings and responsible for coining the phrases, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, and “It was a dark and stormy night…”
Bulwer- Lytton was a great friend of Charles Dickens. They remained lifetime friends. Dickens was a frequent visitor to Knebworth and with his celebrated troupe of amateur actors, performed in private theatricals there in 1850.
Sir Winston Churchill was a close friend of Victor, 2nd Earl of Lytton and his wife Pamela. A painting by Churchill hangs in the Banqueting Hall.
It’s been said that Elizabeth I slept in one of the rooms on her travels from London to the North and it is a proven fact that Mick Jagger slept in that same bed because he left his Y-fronts (underpants) (now locked in the vault) draped over the footboard!
Knebworth Gate Griffons
One of my duties at Knebworth was to take photos of nearly every inch of the estate for the Television and Film locations section of their website so I got to go where no outsider has gone before.
Well, okay, that’s stretching it because there are many, many forbidden rooms in the house. It’s like that in all the old mansions. They have secret rooms everywhere. How do I know, if they're secret? A guide told me. Heaven forbid I should get to discover and explore any myself!
Around every corner there are heavy wood doors, locked and private. I tell you, you really want to know what or who is in there!
Often I ate my lunch on the roof with the griffons, gargoyles and barrel bats and that was marvellous and a little bit creepy. Took lots of pictures from up there too.
When Queen played Knebworth Park, Freddie Mercury was quoted, "This is an enormous place even by our standards. I tell you it looks beautiful from up here!" ~ Freddie Mercury 1986. He’s right!
You can see where I ate my sandwich.
Knebworth Collector's Rock book
Knebworth is world famous for hosting rock concerts, from the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Queen and many, many more. You can read about it here or if you're into rock memorabilia then you might want to purchase the fabulous collector's edition hardback book I actually helped design and put together for Knebworth, “30 Years of Greatest Rock Venue in the World!” It’s great nostalgia and as far as I know you can only get it at Knebworth. You will even see Mick’s skivvies on page 12!
I love the tower at Knebworth.
The time I spent there helped fashion ideas for Ravensbreath Castle and its many rooms and provided insight about the ghost orphans and other characters and creatures not yet disclosed. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
6. What was your first Paranormal encounter?
I decided to choose a place where I felt something the strongest and that was the Wellington Hotel in the quaint harbour village of Boscastle here in Cornwall.
The Wellington Hotel, Boscastle Cornwall
The whole weekend was mystical because down the road from the Wellington, is a Witchcraft Museum, which boasts the most extensive collection of witchcraft history and artefacts in the world.
It’s an absolute not-to-miss if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
At the time we visited Boscastle, the Wellington Hotel was owned by Victor Torbutt and his wife Solange. Victor is a real character. He granted us a video interview and told us that there are at least two resident ghosts in the hotel. One, a man dressed in 17th century garb, dubbed 'The Coachman'. Victor swears to have seen him walking along the landing above the reception desk several times. The other, a young woman dressed in a white gown who had jumped from the second floor window because of a broken heart.
The Wellington upper window
It was in her room that we stayed.
We captured a lot of video footage while at the Wellington and may decide to put some of it together to share on our website and invite visitors to see if they notice or feel anything from it. It wouldn't be a surprise.
We will be encouraged to do so if we hear from interested parties. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to see some of the haunting footage. If we hear from enough people we will dig out the tapes and get them online.
Along with the interview and footage with Victor we have some with Graham King, owner of the Witchcraft Museum.
The footage taken in the Wellington doesn’t show anything that is obvious to us, visually anyway and we’re not the most paranormally sensitive people, but there might well be a presence or two afoot. What I can testify is that when I filmed the staircase outside our room on the second floor I could feel the air. It was heavy and thick, there was definitely something going on but I don’t know what. I would imagine the paranormal investigators on this Haunted America Tours website could offer explanations about that.
I filmed downstairs and came back up and into many unoccupied rooms. I actually filmed about 30 or 40 minutes up and down the stairs. I think the building has three floors. It was thrilling so I got a bit carried away.
7.Tell us about your very haunted Dolls, how they’re made and upcoming book?
First, about the book Ravensbreath Island. It's a fantasy about a young American family, the Brumbles, who, due to a terrible tragedy that has shattered their lives, impulsively move to a mysterious island in the sea off the coast of Cornwall - a very magical but foreboding place. It is the family's hope that they will recover some happiness there as well as answers to many questions. www.ravensbreath.com/ghosts/ghostorphans.html
It was at the point while writing the story, when the family arrived on the island and discovered the sinister Ravensbreath Castle at the top of the rocky mount, that I asked myself the question, who or what lives in that creepy castle?
The answer came quickly in the form of a pushy girl stomping her way thru the neurons in my brain. Scrawny she was, about eleven years old, with wild black hair and huge brown eyes. She looked quite worse for wear, in fact she looked half worn away!
The ghost girl told me her name was Annabel Lee and instantly demanded I create her as a real thing. I considered this and thought there's not that much of her to create! Parts of her body, like knees and elbows were half missing; her ashen skin was thin and marked with phantom veins and dark shadows. Her satin dress was singed and tattered and stained with what looked like blood, and in fact turned out to be rat blood!
Curious to see where this idea was going, as I'm not in the habit of having ghoulish characters tell me what to do, I sat down with a lump of clay and Annabel guided my hands through every last detail of her creation. When finished and sufficiently pleased with herself she allowed her shy brother Percy to appear in my mind.
I created Percy as he described. Percy is about nine, with a mop of unruly red hair, green eyes, velvet suit and ruffled shirt, all tattered, stained and singed like Annabel's. His friend, Boris the beetle (even deader) is in a pouch by his side.
Once finished with Percy seven more ghost children emerged from the dark corners of my mind. I set to work per their instruction. They are:
Patch Boo Molly Ratgirl Toby Tinker Baby
All 9 Ghost Dolls
What I find so curious is that each one of the ghost children has revealed a personal history to me. I think maybe they really are the spirits of children who once lived in Victorian times and they want me to incorporate them in this story. Every one is a remarkable character.
I think one of the reasons they're so anxious to be written in is that they are fading away due to the fact that for over a century they've been lost in the Netherworld and completely forgotten, as though they never existed at all. So into the book I will put them and hopefully, with the help of the Brumble children, the ghosts can find a way not to be forgotten, to remain in the hearts and minds of everyone and have a chance to move on and join families they lost so long ago. It will be interesting to see if that happens and if it does will it happen for all the children?
The dolls are small. They range from 7 inches, which includes, Annabel Lee, Ratgirl and Boo. Percy is a little shorter; Patch is a little taller – then down to about three inches for Baby. Toby, Tinker and Molly range around 4 inches tall.
The body parts are sculpted from polymer clay, which is fired hard, distressed and assembled with wire. Each doll is hand-painted. Their wild and crazy hair is Tibetan Lamb’s wool, except for Toby who's fur headed. The clothes: satin dresses, petticoats, sashes, knee britches etc., are all cut and sewn by hand. Like the bodies the clothes are distressed and singed because singeing is Annabel’s favourite pastime. Didn’t I tell you she does that?
Ravensbreath Island is about the ghost orphans, the Brumble family, what they're dealing with and a whole lot more.
Last weekend one of the littlest ghost dolls, Molly, had an all night adventure when she was lost in haunted Rocky Valley. Find out more here.
8. If you could work side by side with one of the Paranormal Investigator greats, who would it be?
I don’t know one but would like to. Think of the questions I could ask him/her. It would be cool!
9. Read any good Paranormal Books lately other then your own?
Not specifically paranormal lately. There are some great books written about Cornish ghost hunting, hauntings and stories because Cornwall is the most haunted part of the British Isles so I will be looking into those.
I used to browse through Fate Magazine and do enjoy books about strange phenomenon like Charles Fort’s. ‘Book of the Damned’, which is really old too but it gives me ideas. I love weird stuff. It would be great to read some good books on the paranormal and am open to suggestions.
10. What Question do people ask you most when you tell them you make haunted dolls, or a ghost story book writer?
What made you pick those subjects? Of course anyone who knows me wouldn't ask that question.
How did you come up with the idea for the haunted dolls?
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn't my idea. They invaded my mind and insisted I create them as real things and write their story. This is not the same as sitting down to think of what to make or write next. Each character has told me about themselves and a little about who they were when alive with family and friends and what they do now. Believe me, these ghost dolls are haunted with little spirits inside.
As far as the ghost storybook writer, it didn't start out a story just about ghosts; there are other characters as well. Ravensbreath Island is a mystery and the ghost children wanted to tell their story and be included so it’s in there.
11. In your Personal opinion, Where is the most Haunted city in the world?
I couldn’t answer that but would imagine it might be where the most distressed deaths have occurred and the departed find it hard to let go and move on. I hope there aren’t many of those places.
12. Do you feel more people should get involved with Ghost hunting or Paranormal Investigation?
I don’t know if should is the word. I guess I would need to know more about what's to gain in getting involved other than because it’s a fascinating subject we all wonder about.
13. What does the future hold for you?
Open doors if the Ravensbreath tales are successful, and if they are then I would have to put it down to the ghost orphans haunting me.
14. Do you believe that Dolls can become haunted?
Not in the sense that Chucky is, thank you very much. And I believe people can be talked into thinking a doll is haunted. But then there is something to be said for dolls like mine who seem to be real little personalities manifested in doll form. So, I guess yes in some cases.
15. What is your favorite of all your dolls?
Well, I don't really have a favorite and I could get in trouble even reading that question. Would have to say Annabel just to keep the peace. Toby is very sweet. Did I tell you Toby has a pet bumblebee called Béchamel that he keeps in a copper cage? They are inseparable. And although no one is nicer than young Toby, if Béchamel is parted from him then all hell breaks loose. But thankfully that's hardly ever happened.
See the little bug on Toby's forehead?
16. Tell us about your haunted Dolls future where do you see them going in the future?
With success, on the big screen in the movie of Ravensbreath Island, music score by John Williams. Or Danny Elfman , Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer. Ha ha ha!
17. What is the hardest part about Making your dolls?
The clothes are the hardest because they’re so tiny. The dolls are very time consuming, not that I don’t love each and every one of them and they are worth it, but being one person I can't produce dolls and write their story at the same time so they must wait patiently until I finish the book.
I am very interested in having a manufacturer produce their doll selves so any manufacturers out there, please get in touch. email@example.com
18. How do you come up with your ideas?
That question again! As you know, in the case of the ghost dolls, I didn’t. Otherwise, with my regular artwork found at www.originalsbyle.com I just think of things that tickle me. I’m a person who notices everything, which really helps get the creative juices flowing. Also, I get custom orders from people for subjects they think of and I'll create that piece to their specifications.
As for stories, I am always thinking up stories in my head. Life is a story in my head. The goal is to get the good stories written down like Ravensbreath Island and hope people like them.
19. Have you ever taken a ghost Tour?
I never have but there is a guy named Ian Addicoat in Cornwall who gives tours, and I think Rob and I will sign up to go on one.
Standing Stones and dog on Bodmin Moor
Recently there was a ghost tour at the famous Jamaica Inn not far from here but we missed it. I’ll bet it’s a creepy one because it’s on the edge of Bodmin Moor, which is a haunted spooky place, a lot of sightings out there like the Beast of Bodmin. Maybe next time.
20. What is your best Haunted Dolls quality that puts a smile on your face?
Oh they are all so lovely, even if they are pitiful and frazzled little beings. They are vulnerable and fading and need help. They need to be with their families before they disappear completely. But just thinking about them puts a smile on my face because their personalities are so enchanting and special and I hope those qualities will someday, soon, be shared with the world.
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