Lamorna Ash’s first book, Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, shortlisted for the Wainwright Nature Prize 2020 and one of the Financial Times‘ Summer Books of 2020. She is a freelance writer for the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, The Fence and The Sunday Times, amongst others. She has a degree in English from Oxford and a masters in Social and Cultural Anthropology from UCL, and has written numerous plays that have toured Edinburgh, Oxford and London. She can gut most kinds of fish, quite slowly.
You know there are ghosts in our tower?
I shook my head.
You did not hear the banging?
This I had heard, but pretended not to – it being a well-known fact that if you admit the
possibility of ghosts into your frantic mind at three in the morning, you will never sleep again. I
attributed the banging to the autumnal winds and rain that had battered the shutters all night
long. I attributed it to the particular aches and moans of old stone. I did not attribute it to
We were stood in the Tower’s kitchen, on our second morning at the Santa Maddalena
Foundation. My eyes were on the Moka Pot suspended over the hob, waiting for that thick, life-
giving substance to rise up through its metal chambers – an alchemical process I could not quite
believe in, either. The author Nadia Terranova, my tower-mate, was leaning in the doorway.
My room was full of them, Nadia said, spreading her arms wide in demonstration. Legions of
ghosts had passed through here last night. But, she reassured me, these were not malicious spirts;
they only wanted us to acknowledge them, to concede their existence.
Our conversation left me somehow embarrassed, as if my way of interacting with the world had
been called into question, and found to be lacking. Weren’t you supposed to vanquish ghosts
with reason? Wasn’t that part of becoming an adult?
That evening, we stayed up late drinking red wine in a room half-red and half-white, the two
regions divided by a great stone archway across the centre of the room, which had been the
feature that convinced the Baronessa to buy Santa Maddalena in the first place, having reminded
her of a similar archway in another of her beloved homes in Greece.
Nadia had brought her Tarot pack to dinner and invited us, in turn, to sit before her so she
might read our cards. Those present watched in silence, nodding their heads reverentially as
Nadia interpreted their love lives, their careers, their familial relationships.
For the second time that day, I found myself embarrassed. What I had learned in my twenty-five
years of life so far was that you were not supposed to take things seriously, especially those
which could not be proven, which required some spiritual leap of faith. And yet, I was the only
person in the room who seemed uncomfortable.
My time at Santa Maddalena could be described as a gradual progression towards belief. Not in a
religious sense, exactly. More that, the extraordinary, sensitive individuals I found myself
amongst while staying in Donnini taught me to believe in the world in a more open way.
Through them, I could better appreciate the many realities operating at once. As the weeks drew
on, the light, the colour and shape of things grew clearer, sharper and, at the same time, more
mystical. It became easier to write.
When Nadia read our Tarots again a few days later, I leaned in closer. I worked harder to let go
of the preconceptions I had unwittingly carried with me to Florence Airport. By the end of the
evening, I could just make out the shining lines that connected our pasts to our presents and
possible futures as Nadia conjured them for us in words. That night, I told the ghosts in the
Tower I was ready to admit them.