'I've never been so frightened': Find out what really spooked Black Country ghost story author
For more than a decade author Alan Smith has been captivating audiences with his spine-tingling ghost stories.
Now, as we look ahead towards Halloween, he will be sharing a new tale during a series of readings at libraries in South Staffordshire.
The writer, whose pen name is A.G. Smith, has always been fascinated by the supernatural.
"I've always had a love of ghost stories because of my dad. We used to watch the BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas and I just remember being struck by how they managed to evoke feelings of terror, suspense and dread while showing you very little at all," he tells Weekend.
Alan wrote his first ghost story, a tale called An Unwise Purchase which was about a second hand brooch that brings more than bad luck, around 12 years ago.
"A man goes into into an antique shop to buy a present for his mother. He finds a brooch which he thinks will make the perfect present and takes it to the counter.
"The owner is surprised because he can't remember seeing it on the shelves.
"The man takes it home and is haunted. He keeps seeing this lady in the distance. He's feeling very tense and at night has very vivid dreams where he is stalked by the woman he keeps seeing.
"It turns out the brooch belonged to this lady. She loved the brooch. She didn't want to leave it to anyone in her will, she wanted it to be buried with her. But it had been sold on and she believed it still belonged to her," says Alan, who grew up in Wordsley.
It led to him doing his first ever ghost story reading at Wordsley Library, which he said was a nerve-wracking experience.
"It's something I had never done before. Much to my surprise a decent audience turned out and it went down well. I was approached by Wordsley History Society who wanted me to do something for them. I put on an evening of ghost stories at Wordsley Community Centre for 250 people.
"I had never been as frightened as much as I was that night. I had no idea how many people there were until someone told me it was standing room only," Alan recalls.
Since then he has continued to do readings every year at libraries in South Staffordshire and Dudley.
"It's grown and grown every year," says Alan, who has also led ghosts walks around Enville and Bodenham Arboretum.
It led to a collaboration with Stourbridge actor Alan Birch, star of David Tristram’s cult Inspector Drake films.
Together they formed Weeping Bank Productions, a theatre company bringing his original ghost stories to life on stage.
Over the years there have been sell-out shows in Birmingham and London, and Alan was stunned when one of his literary heroes, Robin Jarvis, went along to a show and enthused about it on social media.
"He was my absolutely hero. If I ever dreamt about being a writer, I wanted to be a writer like him. He was absolutely the inspiration for me to put pen to paper," says Alan.
"My other inspiration was my teacher Mrs Allen at Belle Vue Primary School in Wordsley. She inspired me when I was struggling with creative writing. It was clearly a passion and she was the teacher who never held me back. She said 'you've got something here, don't give up on this, keep writing."
During lockdown, Alan founded the Paperchains project with reading consultant David Kendall to ensure that when stories of the Covid-19 lockdowns were told they included those from people with experience of prison, armed services or homelessness, and their families.
It resulted in an anthology, Paperchains: Our Stories of Lockdown, and the tales were also turned into a live show which was performed at this year's Hay Festival.
"It's a real snapshot of this moment in history. We had people like Stephen Fry wanting to support it and get involved," says Alan.
But for the next few months his attention will turn once again to sharing his latest ghost stories with audiences over the coming weeks.
While Weeping Bank Productions will also be hosting the Black Country Horror Shorts Film Festival at the Ruskin Centre in Stourbridge on Saturday, November 19.
Alan's new story, titled The Oratory, is described as a terrifying tale of witchcraft and possession and he says he's grateful for the support of the libraries where he will be giving his readings.
"The library teams always go above and beyond for these events. The new story is about the Magpie Witch and the folly, which is like a church but was never consecrated, where she lived. I have drawn inspiration from Enville and Kinver and the landscape. I spent a lot of time walking around Enville and the Sheepwalks.
"Hopefully it will cause people to jump out of their seat - that's normally what happens. There is nothing offensive in them, they're not fill of blood, guts and gore, but they aren't suitable for under-12s.
"Little is always more with ghost stories. I don't like the ghost described in detail, I would rather provide glimpses of what they might look like and let people use their own imagination, they will come up with something far more frightening.
"I think a good ghost story is one that leaves you thinking about it when you goto sleep or for a few days afterwards.
"Hopefully people will enjoy a good scare."
The ghost story readings take place at 7.30pm at Codsall Library (01902 506060) on October 4, Wombourne Library (01902 506055) on October 13 and Perton Library (01902 506055) on October 27. Tickets cost £4.
There will also be a Christmas-themed reading titled Silent Nightmares, which will feature two ghost stories, at 6.30pm on December 1 in The Reading Room at Dudley Library. For tickets call 01384 815560.
For more information, see www.weepingbankproductions.co.uk