Reading Time: 4 minutes
John S Tantalon, author of recently published The Haunted Realms of Surrey and Hampshire, talks to DAVID SAUNDERSON about uncovering eerie tales that have captivated locals for generations.
John S Tantalon Author Interview
Spooky Isles: Congratulations on your new book, it’s a great read. Can you tell us about your connection to Surrey and Hampshire and what inspired you to write a book specifically about these haunted realms?
John S Tantalon: Greetings, Spooky Isles. I first ventured to Hampshire in 2007 when I met my ex-partner, who lived in Aldershot. This town, with its deep military history, intrigued me. As I delved into its ghost stories, I realised that Hampshire was a haunted hotspot. I also discovered the Isle of Wight, with its many ghosts and excellent books by author Gay Baldwin. After attending the Newport Ghost Walk and hearing stories from historian Mark Tuckey, I knew I had to delve deeper into the haunted realms of Surrey and Hampshire.
Spooky Isles: In your previous books, you focused on Scotland. Surrey and Hampshire couldn’t be any further away!
John S Tantalon: Although I continued working in Edinburgh, I visited Hampshire each month for the following 15 years. Aldershot, in particular, fascinated me with its stories, such as the infamous House of Old Mother Squalls. I encountered numerous tales and connections during my visits, which became the catalyst for my new book.
Spooky Isles: How did you come across the stories featured in “The Haunted Realms of Surrey and Hampshire”?
John S Tantalon: My research spanned over 15 years, and I visited each location featured in the book. I would pick a place, gather as many books as possible, and conduct interviews. Many of the stories came from word-of-mouth accounts shared by witnesses, residents, and employees. I was fortunate to meet great witnesses and homeowners who contributed to the book.
Spooky Isles: Could you share one of the most intriguing or chilling stories from the book that left a lasting impression on you? What made it particularly fascinating or surprising?
John S Tantalon: There are several stories that stood out during my research. One that left a lasting impression was the tragic tale of Sweet Fanny Adams in Alton. The story of a child found mutilated on the flood plains led to the now-famous term “Sweet FA.” The residents of Alton still bear the weight of this tragedy, and their stories were incredibly somber and impactful.
Spooky Isles: As an Edinburgh-based author, what challenges did you face when investigating and writing about locations in England? Did you notice any differences in the haunted folklore between Scotland and Surrey/Hampshire?
John S Tantalon: Writing the book was more a labour of love than a challenge. The research took many years, and gaining access to locations and witnesses required multiple visits. I encountered some resistance, such as with the story of Mother Squalls in Aldershot. The locals were not initially thrilled with my interest in their church grounds and the legendary yew tree. However, overall, the journey to collect stories in Surrey and Hampshire was a fascinating one.
Spooky Isles: Are there any notable historical or cultural aspects of Surrey and Hampshire that contribute to their haunted reputation? How did you incorporate these elements into the book?
John S Tantalon: Surrey and Hampshire have rich and ancient histories. The Isle of Wight, in particular, fascinated me with its laid-back feel, stunning scenery and ghosts. Locations like Carisbrooke Castle and the Ventnor Botanical Gardens provided historical context and ghostly tales that I incorporated into the book. The tragic histories and legends of these regions added depth to their haunted reputations.
Spooky Isles: Have you personally visited the haunted locations mentioned in the book? If so, could you share your experiences and any encounters you had with the supernatural?
John S Tantalon: Yes, I visited every single location in the book. The many visits were necessary for thorough research and building contacts. I had a few eerie incidents along the way. One night, I found myself alone and lost on the platform of Brookwood, near Brookwood Cemetery. The deserted train station in the late hours and my encounter with a mysterious lone woman made for a chilling experience. There were other strange occurrences that added to the supernatural ambiance of the journey.
Spooky Isles: How do you approach the storytelling aspect of your book?
John S Tantalon: In my storytelling, I aim to include a mix of elements. I incorporate historical facts, eyewitness accounts, and personal narratives to bring the haunted tales to life. Humour, dramatic moments and gory details are strategically woven into the stories. Conducting interviews with witnesses, residents, and employees adds a personal touch and authenticity to the narratives.
Spooky Isles: What do you hope readers will take away from The Haunted Realms of Surrey and Hampshire? Is there a particular message or feeling you aim to convey through your exploration of these ghostly locations?
John S Tantalon: My intention with this book is to provide readers with an all-in-one directory of the haunted realms of Surrey and Hampshire. I hope readers will appreciate the comprehensive collection of ghost stories, historical facts, and personal experiences. It’s a tour book for those seeking a supernatural treat while exploring these counties. I want readers to immerse themselves in the chilling tales and get a sense of the haunted reputation that pervades these regions.
Spooky Isles: After completing this book, do you have any plans to explore other regions or countries known for their haunted history? If so, where would you be interested in venturing next?
John S Tantalon: I have already begun working on my next project, which will take me back to Edinburgh, Scotland. The untitled book will feature mysterious tales from Arthurs Seat, haunted hospitals, pubs, and even a supposed underground hellfire club. I’ll also share some personal experiences and reveal a story that I’ve been forbidden to discuss until now. Edinburgh has a wealth of ghostly history and folklore that I’m excited to delve into once again.