Sherlock Holmes was inhabiting a part of my brain when I travelled to Aradale Asylum in Ararat, Victoria. The story needed to be written and I was looking for clues.
I found them at Aradale. This cluster of buildings is 150 years old, built to house those considered ‘insane’ in the late 1880s. These days, of course, most of the inhabitants would be considered ‘us’. Strong-minded women, men with grand ideas, women who wore red, people with epilepsy. All locked together in this imposing, disheartening and at times frightening institution.
On the second night we went ghost hunting with The Australian Paranormal Society and Allen Tiller, who is in the program Haunting: Australia. They did an Aradale episode.
All was fine until we got locked in the high security men’s ward. This was where they locked up the spree killers, the blood-lusters, the cannibals, including one so desperate for human meat they had to lock him in a cage out in the yard.
Did we see ghosts? I didn’t think so. But I did take this photo of one of the cells. Is that a man in a suit on the right?
We also visited the morgue. There was less atmosphere here than elsewhere, though it was cold and the air had a hint of...something.
Outside the morgue stands a massive pink peppercorn tree. Our guide told us it was planted to cover the smell of the morgue, so the stench didn’t waft over the buildings, into the wards, the kitchens, the dining hall.
Photo by William Tabone, Australian Paranormal Society.
Later, I sat under another peppercorn tree, looking over the “Married Staff Quarters” (considered by some to be the most haunted building) and I began with the question: How can this peppercorn tree, pink and pretty, help Sherlock? How might he engage with it? And the idea for Sherlock as architect came to me.
You can see how the mood of Aradale affected me. The sense of lost souls, of lost lives, of secrets and lies. Hopefully I’ve captured some of this mood in The Lantern Men.
Kaaron Warren (kaaronwarren.wordpress.com) has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She’s sold many short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification) and four short story collections. Through Splintered Walls won a Canberra Critic’s Circle Award for Fiction, an ACT Writers’ and Publisher’s Award, two Ditmar Awards, two Australian Shadows Awards and a Shirley Jackson Award. Her story “Air, Water and the Grove” won the Aurealis Award for Best SF Short Story and will appear in Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. Her latest collection is The Gate Theory. Kaaron Tweets @KaaronWarren.
She is the author of The Lantern Men short story in the new Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets anthology, out on Abaddon Books October 9th.