OK, this is part review, part unashamed plug. Mark Wallbank, founder of the paranormal group Haunted Auckland, generously sent me a copy of his new book, 'Talking to Shadows', which arrived yesterday. I found myself reading in until very late last night.
It's full of accounts of Haunted Auckland's investigations, team members' experiences, and thoughts and advice on paranormal investigation by the author and various others experienced in the paranormal field in NZ and Australia.
While I would take issue with much of the chapter 'The paranormal vs. science...', 'I found the chapters 'I've been thinking' and 'No excuses' to be very honest and down-to-earth. They represent self-questioning views with a voice of reason and with depth of thought, sadly rare things in the paranormal field. 'No excuses' is humorously self-deprecating, showing that the author has his ego in check and is not claiming to be some kind of know-it-all paranormal expert. In fact, the entire book raises more questions than answers, which is to its credit.
Minor gripes: most photos are not captioned, and editing and proofreading could've been a little more thorough, but the book is well structured and reads easily. I only put 'Talking to Shadows' down when my eyes were too tired for more, otherwise I would've read it cover to cover, and at 392 pages it is a substantial book!
There is lots of food for thought here, so I'd recommend 'Talking to Shadows' to anyone generally interested in the paranormal and especially to those actively involved in paranormal investigation, or who are thinking of getting into it. While not intended to serve as a manual, 'Talking to Shadows' contains a wealth of information derived from experience that would otherwise take years, and many blunders, to find out for oneself.
'Talking to Shadows' is available from Amazon, or directly from the author- better if you're in NZ and want a print copy.
And while you're shopping on Amazon, why not get Mark's first book to accompany this one - 'Voices in the Walls', and pick up a copy of 'Spooked - Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand' to complete your set of recent New Zealand paranormal books.
If you're going to Paracon Australia in May this year, Mark will be there with piles of both books, and the last few copies I have of Spooked will be available in the bookstall as well.
My wife Denise got this book from the library, and, commandeering it, I managed to read most of it in one session, something I can't often do. "Scepticism and Critical Thinking 101" is one way of describing it, but the book covers cosmology, ethics, belief systems and other big topics in a way designed to get the reader thinking and then (hopefully) looking for more. Dr Spackman (a Kiwi) fills the text with engaging analogies that make some quite complex topics accessible to a wide readership. His introduction to Quantum Theory - a subject that makes everyone's head spin, including the people who developed it - is brilliant.
Dr Spackman covers territory that a number of greater names (Dawkins, DeBotton, et al) have addressed in depth, and he offers them as suggested readings not in an appendix but within the text, usually including a picture of the book cover. Gotta love that. (Also, footnotes are avoided, which is refreshing.) But Dr Spackman includes a lot of original thinking, and, in the final chapters, some realistic solutions to some of the real-world problems he's highlighted.
The main reason I'm reviewing The Ant and the Ferrari here is that I believe anyone who is seriously interested in investigating paranormal phenomena needs to develop their critical thinking skills. These skills are, unfortunately, not only absent from the NZ school curriculum but, unless you pursue certain courses of study, aren't included in many university degrees either. (I would also recommend "Oddzone - Paranormal phenomena, alien abductions, animal mysteries, psychics and mediums and other weird kiwi stuff" by Vicki Hyde. New Holland Publishers NZ Ltd, 2006.)
Entitled 'Something Spooky is Going On', Chapter 11 is a bit of an orphan in the book, but it is particularly interesting regarding the paranormal. Dr Spackman describes an uncanny encounter with a woman who divulges information to him that, apparently, she could only have acquired by mental telepathy. He introduces the chapter thus:
"If you're beginning to think I'm a 'dyed-in-the-wool' scientist who has little room for 'mystical' experiences, you'd better fasten your seat belt, because we're about to take a radical change in direction.
"I'm going to tell you about an experience I had that went against everything I had previously believed. I'd much rather it hadn't happened, because until then my view of the Universe made comfortable sense in my own mind. ... Suddenly my complacency came to a screeching halt. ... If anything it makes this book far more difficult to write and I would prefer that it hadn't happened."
I was expecting a rational explanation for the event, or for Dr Spackman to discount the whole thing later in the book, but he doesn't. It would've been so easy for him to leave Chapter 11 out of the book entirely, epsecially as it doesn't vitally connect with any of the other themes discussed, but I love that it's there, even though it will leave him open to ridicule by hardcore sceptics.
Accounts of paranormal experiences are quite common; I reckon about every other person has had something unexplained happen to them; but when someone as clear-thinking and (you would expect) otherwise not disposed to having paranormal experiences is prepared to publish one, it counts for a lot.
You'll have to acquire the book to read the account, as I'm not going to quote any of it here. Happy reading.
Review: Dead Haunted – Paranormal Encounters and Investigations
Author: Phil Whyman
Publisher: New Holland, London, 2007
Dead Haunted is an attractive book. At first glance, anyway. Then you begin reading it. Immediately, Whyman’s chatty, meandering tone irritates. Here’s a sample:
2. Partial Manifestations
These are similar to full bodied manifestations, though I tend to think this type has a rather more frightening appearance. Why? Well imagine the following scenes…
You walk into a room and as you do you are met with the floating torso of a man! Or, you walk into a room and you meet a pair of legs slowly walking towards you, with no torso in sight!
Get the idea? Well, I’ll tell you one thing – I’d probably be out of that room quicker than a rat wearing running shoes. Don’t you think it would be scarier seeing part of a person than the whole thin? I thought so!
If the lame attempt at humour and the liberal scattering of exclamation marks do not irritate you intensely, you may be able to enjoy this book.
That is if you can get over the design. Pages 22-23 are probably the worst. We’re talking light, sans-serif over a bluey-green, blown up, grainy photograph. Even with my new reading glasses and a good supply of light, this spread on poltergeists is almost impossible to read, and this is not an isolated case. Later on, there are many pages of cursive text reversed out on black.
The photographs and their treatment by the designer are appealing, but as soon as you study the content of the photos you will notice that a high proportion of them are gratuitous – merely there to decorate and add flavour. Plus, they all have irritating artificial, fuzzy borders, as do the pages. The book is totally over-designed.
However, from Chapter 5 (Investigation Equipment) onwards, the content picks up. Chapter 7, on how to conduct a paranormal investigation, is pretty useful. The chapter profiling the medium Dave Wharmby is also a good read. Much of the rest of the book comprises reports of investigations the author has taken part in (Whyman is part of the Most Haunted team) and these are all somewhat interesting, but perhaps too numerous. There are also some personal accounts of ghostly encounters, by various people, and a list of Whyman’s top ten most haunted locations. This is excellent if you happen to live in the UK, but if you reside in other parts of the world (except perhaps the East Coast and the South of the US) you may find yourself feeling extremely jealous.
From the pitch of the text and the design of the book, it is clearly aimed at younger readers. For us adults, it’s too damned hard to read, and the content is too lightweight to be of much use. I would suggest this book would make an ideal gift for a teenager who’s interested in the paranormal (ghosts, primarily) and in learning how to conduct investigations. A less graphically beautiful but far more practical volume (and one that will encourage a higher level of critical thinking in your teenage ghost hunter) is ‘The Paranormal Investigator’s Handbook’, edited by Valerie Hope & Maurice Townsend (Collins & Brown, 1999).
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.