Get in the mood for Halloween with a story from our spooky series, the Dutch Hotel. Every autumn, renowned historical novelist Angus MacPeabody works on his latest creation in Room 13, drawing inspiration from an old typewriter.... and perhaps from the ghosts of the hotel's past.
This is Jana, and I’m here with the latest episode in our spooky series, The Dutch Hotel.
‘The Ghost Writer’
Nafsi and Yogi are brother and sister who live in London’s Dutch Hotel, run by their parents, Alan and Angeliki. And there’s one thing that makes the hotel more interesting than most: it’s haunted. Two sets of staff work at the hotel. The living ones of the present and the ghostly ones of the past who appear from time to time. You never know when the ghostly ones might show up!
Ever since Alan and Angeliki re-opened the hotel, it’s become a fashionable resting place on the London scene.
If you like spotting famous faces, you might catch some celebrity guests at the Dutch Hotel: Royalty, Actors, Politicians, TV Professors, Opera Stars, Rappers, YouTubers, and Influencers.
But you might not notice a writer because authors are more famous for their words than their faces.
Sometimes, a writer’s mugshot might make it onto the back cover of their book, but unless they are unusually beautiful or handsome, it will be a miniature picture of their face.
Every autumn, just such a person stayed at the Dutch Hotel.
He was the historical novelist Angus MacPeabody, whose lifetime habit was to spend the autumn months in London.
His favourite place to stay was Suite 13 at the Dutch Hotel. In this very room, back in 1973, he had composed the opening chapter of his bestselling novel, "The Forbidden Waltz.” It was later made into a movie, bringing him fame and fortune, though you probably would not recognise his face.
One morning in early October, the kids, Nafsi and Yogi, were walking past the door of room 13 on the way up to the apartment where they lived with their parents. They both stopped when they heard a sound.
“What’s that?” asked Nafsi.
“Maybe one of the ghosts is clanking some chains to get ready for Halloween,” suggested Yogi.
“Maybe,” said Nafsi, “But I think we better tell Mum because it’s very odd.”
They found Mum in the kitchen of their apartment, making jam sandwiches for their 11sies. “Mum,” said Yogi, “There’s a ghost making loud clanking noises in Room 13.”
“Really?” asked Mum.
“Like this, Clatter-clat-clatter-clat-clat.”
“Oh, that’s the sound of inspiration,” said Mum. “An author stays there crafting his masterpiece on an ancient mechanical typewriter. It’s very noisy!”
“You mean he’s writing a book? Why does he use an old typing machine? Can’t he afford a computer?” asked Yogi.
“He’s old-fashioned and clings to his habits of a lifetime,” said Mum. “Better not tamper with a successful formula! The words from that typewriter have sold millions of copies.”
The next morning, when the kids went downstairs on their way to school, they saw the author emerge from room 13. He had a neat grey beard and wore a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.
When they were out of earshot, Yogi said, “He doesn’t look rich. Maybe writing doesn’t really pay that well.”
“If he can afford to live in the Dutch Hotel, he can’t be too badly off,” said Nafsi.
“Perhaps Dad gives him a discount because he feels sorry for him or he likes his books,” added Yogi.
“I don’t think so,” said Nafsi. “Zelda would never allow him to do that.”
Zelda was the owner of the hotel, and she had a very hard business head.
It was raining in the morning, but the autumn weather was fine in the afternoon. The kids took their miniature poodle, Heracles, for a walk in Kensington Gardens, where the trees were turning into rich colours of russet and gold. As they sauntered along, they stumbled upon the author sitting on a bench, stroking his silver beard and holding out a nut for a squirrel, who was cautiously crawling towards it. Heracles shot like a bullet at the creature. In an act of sheer agility, the squirrel miraculously veered up a tree trunk at the very last moment.
“Shouldn't your dog be on a lead?” inquired the author, his brow furrowed with annoyance.
“Dogs are allowed to roam freely in the park,” said Nafsi. “Don't worry, though. Heracles only ever catches a squirrel in his dreams.”
The author frowned until Yogi asked, “Aren't you a famous author?”
“And how did you come by that morsel of information?” Mr MacPeabody enquired.
“Our parents manage the Dutch Hotel, and we hear you clanking away on your old-fashioned typewriter.”
“I trust my creative endeavours haven't proven to be an insufferable disturbance.”
“Nah, it’s okay. But why don’t you get a computer?”
The author chuckled. "Aye, my young friends, I wrote my first bestseller on that old typewriter back in 1973, right there in Room 13 of the Dutch Hotel. It's a special room, a magical place where my stories spring to life! Every autumn, I make a pilgrimage to London, and in that very room, my typewriter gives birth to new tales. Then, when I return to my exile in Guernsey, strictly for tax purposes, my secretary types it all onto the computer. It's the only method that suits my craft."
“It’s a good job you’re superstitious,” said Yogi, “Because our Hotel is haunted, you know.”
“Yes, I have heard the tales. Maybe it’s the ghosts who secretly inspire me!”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. They are real, you know.”
“What’s so special about Room 13?” asked Nafsi.
A mysterious smile appeared on MacPeabody’s face. "Well, it's mostly a superstition, you see, but there's a story behind it as well. Around a hundred years ago, a writer named Christina Jean Knightly stayed in that room. She penned marvellous books, including her absolute best, 'A Liverish Shade of Purple.' Whenever I'm in that room, I sense her creative spirit, like a soft whisper of inspiration."
“Cool,” said Yogi. “A lot of rich and famous people have lived in our hotel.”
He leaned closer.
“But the interesting twist, my young friends, is that Christina Jean Knightly, despite her brilliance, never basked in the light of fame. Her name is hardly known. It wasn't until after she passed away that her literary gems reached the hands of a select few readers and authors. She's been a hidden muse for many of us!"
“That’s a shame she didn’t become rich and famous,” said Yogi.
“By the way,” said Nafsi. “I want to be an author. What’s your best writing tip?”
“Discipline, my dear. Embrace a steadfast routine. Sit yourself down at a prescribed hour and do not stir until a thousand words adorn your canvas.”
“And where do you get your ideas?”
“The fertile soil of reality. Who knows, perhaps even you two will enliven the pages of my next book!”
“Cool,” said Yogi. “My name’s Yogi. Be sure to remember my name when you write your story.”
“And I’m Nafsi, but I bet you would rather write about the Hotel’s ghosts. They are far more interesting!”
The kids continued their walk. They didn’t cross paths with Angus MacPeabody for a few days, but the “Clackety Clack Clack ” of his typewriter had become part of the hotel’s daily routine, like the laundry collection, the vacuuming, and the check-out by 12 noon. His creative endeavours started at 8.30 sharp every morning and continued until around midday.
“He is very disciplined. He doesn’t stop typing until he’s written his daily 1000 words,” Nafsi said to Mum as they walked past Room 13 one morning.
“Only he told us that in a jokey way,” said Yogi. “He likes to use long words that are hard to understand because he’s a writer.”
“Well, Dad read one of his books, so he can’t be too difficult to understand,” said Mum. “He kept saying it was total rubbish but couldn’t put it down until he reached the last page.”
“His next book won’t be rubbish,” said Yogi, “Because he’s going to write about us!”
“Oh, is he?” said Mum. “Well, I hope he changes our names.”
“We told him not to,” said Yogi. “Because we want to be famous.”
Mum winced. Then she said: “Did he reveal what he likes so much about room 13?”
“Oh yes,” said Nafsi. “He said a lady writer lived in that room 100 years ago, and he likes her writing. He says she’s a genius. It’s sad because only a few people ever read her books.”
“Hmm, that rings a bell,” said Mum. “I think her portrait is hanging in the bar. They refer to her as ‘The authoress’.
I think she was like Agatha Christie, only less well-known. I’ll have a word with Marek,” - he was the bar manager - “Perhaps he can transfer her painting to Mr MacPeabody’s room. A touch of inspiration, you know!”
Mum put her plan into action, and Mr. MacPeabody genuinely appreciated the kind gesture. Christina Jean Knightly's portrait now adorned the wall behind his work desk, and her painted eyes seemed to observe his creative endeavours with a certain artistic curiosity.
But then, one Saturday morning,the upper echelons of the hotel vibrated with a loud commotion. Doors slammed thunderously, and the voice of Mr. MacPeabody could be heard pleading, “No, No, please, don't! I implore you, I shall accede to your terms, one and all!"
A moment later, there was an earth-shattering crash in the downstairs lobby. A mysterious metal object had made an unscheduled descent from the dizzying heights of the top-floor balcony. It crash-landed about four feet from online influencer Olivia Trendsetter, who let out a scream as piercing as a police siren. The ensuing chaos unfolded before the lens of her boyfriend and camera operator, who live-streamed the bedlam to a staggering quarter of a million online followers.
Nafsi happened to be among those watching online. She sat in the family's apartment, following Olivia Trendsetter's channel. Normally, Olivia's fashion and beauty tips didn't pique her interest. Still, ever since her stay at the Dutch Hotel, she had grown curious about Olivia's updates, which, as it turned out, weren't going too well today. Olivia couldn't seem to stop screaming.
"Hey, Dad!" Nafsi called out, "Something's just crashed in the hotel lobby and nearly hit Olivia Trendsetter! And I think it's a metal typewriter!"
Dad had also heard the uproar and was already on his way down in the elevator. Their apartment was on the top floor, near where the mysterious object had been dropped from. Nafsi and Yogi rushed onto the landing and spotted Mr MacPeabody slouched in an armchair in an alcove. His face had turned as pale as if he'd seen a ghost, and he was breathing heavily, attempting to regain his composure.
"Are you alright?" inquired Nafsi.
"No, my dear. I'm afraid you find me in quite a state!" responded the author.
Yogi chimed in, asking, "What happened?"
After the author collected himself, he recounted the strange incident.
"I was seated at my desk, my fingers dancing across the keys of my trusty typewriter. The words flowed from me as if I were in a trance. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was a complete shock! I turned around and there stood a woman as if she had just materialised in my room. At first, I thought she might be the cleaning maid."
"Do you need something?" I asked.
"Yes, I need my typewriter," she replied.
"Madam, that is my typewriter," I insisted. "But she seized my machine in a flash and bolted through the door. I tried to follow, but I was not as sprightly as I once was, and she was remarkably nimble. She dashed off, her feet hardly touching the ground, until she reached this very point on the top floor. From here, she threatened to drop the machine over the edge. I pleaded with her not to, but she would not listen. And then, she let it fall. It was a horrifying moment. By some miracle, it didn’t land on someone’s head! However, I'm afraid the machine is now a mangled lump of twisted metal beyond any hope of repair.”
"I wonder who it was?" pondered Yogi.
"I fear she might be some obsessed stalker," MacPeabody replied with concern in his voice.
Nafsi checked her phone.
"Olivia Trendsetter is claiming that somebody tried to assassinate her."
"I do hope she is not accusing me! I've no idea who the Trendsetter is, let alone harboring any grudge against her well-being," MacPeabody exclaimed.
"No worries," Yogi reassured him. "I don't think she's ever heard of you… No offence, but she's more into makeup."
Mum was also curious about the commotion. Nafsi and Yogi filled her in on what had happened.
“My goodness, what a shock! This woman sounds dangerous!” she exclaimed. “The Police, the ambulance, and the fire brigade have all shown up. Poor Dad is having to deal with them all. Is there anything I can do for you Mr MacPeabody. Cup of tea?”
“Aye, yes, would you be so kind as to fetch a glass of water and my pills? They are on the shelf in my bathroom.”
Mum went into Room 13 to complete the request. When she came back with the pills and the water, she was wearing a puzzled expression.
“What is it, Mum?” asked Nafsi.
“That painting, the one of the authoress. You know how I said she seemed to have a sad expression on her face?”
“Yes,” said Nafsi.
"Well, now she's positively smiling."
Mr. MacPeabody swallowed his pills and sipped from the glass of water. "I feel better now, thank you," he said. "Shall we return to the room and take a look at this mysterious painting?"
Following his suggestion, the four of them ventured back into Room 13. Mum's initial assessment of the painting proved to be correct; it was now adorned with a cheeky grin.
"She looks like she just made a million-pound book deal!" exclaimed Yogi.
"How curious!" declared Mr. MacPeabody. "I can hardly believe my own eyes, but now I see it. The woman who threw my typewriter off the balcony looked just like her. I could swear it was she! But of course, that’s impossible."
"Of course it’s possible!" said Yogi. "We told you we have ghosts here!"
"Well, in any case, I don’t think I can live with that portrait looking over me any longer," confessed Mr MacPeabody.
"That’s understandable. I’ll call Alan and ask him to take it back downstairs,” said Mum.
Five minutes later, Dad arrived in the room. They shared the peculiar tale with him.
"I fear you cannot believe such an incredible tale. It’s stranger than fiction!" said Mr. MacPeabody.
Alan replied, "There was a time before we came to live in the Dutch Hotel when I would have found such a tale very hard to believe. But a lot of strange things happened over the past couple of years. Now I’m ready to believe anything. And as it happens, I’ve had a quick look at the CCTV footage, and yes, you are right. A woman threw the typewriter over the balcony, and she bore a resemblance to the one in the painting.
What’s more," continued Alan, "I’ve recovered this piece of paper from the typewriter. The writing appears to be in bright red ink. Take a look at what it says."
Mr MacPeabody adjusted his spectacles on his nose and began to read aloud: "This Typewriter and all its words are the property of Christina Jean Knightly."
"I’m assuming those are not your words," remarked Alan.
MacPeabody shook his head. "I know!" exclaimed Yogi. "It was a ghost writer who wrote them!"
The author settled into his writing chair.
"The tale of my writing career is stranger than any yarn I've spun in my books. I've never shared it, not even with my nearest and dearest. But it seems this is as good a time as any to make a confession. When I was a young lad, full of dreams of becoming a writer, I found myself perpetually stuck. I'd start, tear up my feeble words, and start anew. I needed a change of scenery to clear my muddled mind.
In those far-off 1970s, this place and the hotel, in particular, were quite run-down and worse for wear. Its former glory had faded, but it was within my budget. So, I took up residence in this very room and stumbled upon an old typewriter stowed away in the cupboard. It looked abandoned and unloved, so I cleaned it up and replaced the ribbon. To my delight, it did more than work; it seemed possessed. As soon as I began to type, those keys took charge. The book practically wrote itself! Of course, I took the typewriter with me when I left. I hope you won't think ill of me; it simply wouldn't work the same anywhere else, only in this hotel. I've returned each year since, save for those times when the hotel underwent repairs, and every one of my novels has been birthed on that typewriter in this very room."
“Do you think the lady in the picture might have had something to do with all this?” asked Nafsi.
The author stared at the portrait of Christina Jean Knightly, his face a mixture of astonishment and remorse.
"Is that truly you?" he whispered, his voice tremulous.
A faint, almost imperceptible nod from the portrait confirmed his suspicions.
"Those were my words that came out of the typewriter, and you never gave me any credit," her spectral voice echoed through the room.
Tears welled up in the author's eyes as he finally realized the truth. He had unknowingly been the vessel for Christina's posthumous works, taking credit for her brilliance. He bowed his head, humbled and repentant.
"I am deeply sorry, Christina. I never knew. I'll make it right; I'll ensure the world knows of your talent," he vowed.
As the words left his lips, the portrait of Christina Jean Knightly seemed to glow with a radiant, otherworldly light. Her smile softened, and she nodded in approval.
Dad had recovered the wreckage of the typewriter, but Mr MacPeabody did not want to repair it. He went out and bought a shiny new Macbook which he used to finish his novel, that he dedicated to Christina Jean Knightly - “a brilliant author, and the inspiration for my life’s work.”
And that was ‘The Ghost Writer’, read by me Jana, for Storynory. It was written by Bertie and featured Andy Kinnear as Mr MacPeabody.
Don’t forget, we have a sister podcast for grown ups called Relaxivity, with a variety of calming and soothing stories. We call it ‘a little time for yourself’
Tune in soon for more exciting tales.
From me Jana at Storynory.com, bye for now