How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I simply couldn’t resist the obvious title to this post about my debut horror novel, ‘Maria’s Walk,’ because – despite being the name of a famous song from ‘The Sound of Music’ – it is also an apt description of the central issue faced by the book’s main characters.

For me, the story is a deeply personal one on a number of levels. Those who have read ‘An Interview with De’Ath’ (see the ‘About’ page) will know a little of my own history of spiritual evolution. There is certainly a lot of myself to be found in Jack Foreman (one of the story’s protagonists). The journey he undertakes resonates strongly with my own, as do the challenges of faith he encounters.

Fictitious Ardenham – the setting for the novel – is based quite closely on my own sleepy medieval English country market hometown on the Swale estuary in Kent. While names of key locations / businesses / historical figures etc. have naturally been altered appropriately, I still deliberately wrote the tale in such a manner that those with local knowledge will immediately feel at home in the setting of the story.

As kids, we grew up and went to a school similar to Abbey Wood Primary. Our lives were frequently overshadowed by the real-life haunting on which Maria is based. If you hadn’t encountered those manifestations personally, you almost certainly knew somebody who had. My own Catholic priest while I was a lad, got called upon to perform blessings at some of the new residences built along the route (walk) of the girl’s demise. Residences that suffered significant psychic disturbances. The opening scene of the book where a kid wakes up screaming after falling asleep in class – remembering a terrifying encounter while camping in the woods – actually happened. Cars conking out on the wooded hill, followed by the spirit drifting across the road or seemingly gliding over the surface of the old gravel pit lakes (which weren’t lakes during her lifetime) are all tales you’ll encounter first or second hand if you ask around.

To this day, walking or driving through the haunted wood is not the most pleasant experience, although ignorance may in fact be bliss if you are from out of town and don’t know the stories. It’s partly a heritage country park these days. One doesn’t have to do much digging to learn of a recent episode with some poor soul who has unwittingly encountered the spirit we all know as ‘Diana.’ There are a number of tales about who she was and how she died, to be found in our oral folklore. I have woven some of that together and developed a fictional account and fully-fledged fictitious backstory springing from one such possibility.

Writing ‘Maria’s Walk’ gave me the opportunity to vicariously play with the idea of some person or people attempting to finally lay that poor soul to rest. It also enabled me to work from a broad palette of themes including (but not limited to): unrequited love, societal mores and expectations, post evangelicalism, spiritual/religious questioning of faith, reincarnation, demonic influence, possession and spiritual warfare.

I’m a firm believer that good horror writing should be about more than just scaring or disturbing your readers. People want three dimensional characters they can empathise with, a vivid, detailed setting that feels like a real place (Ardenham is strongly based on one, of course), and a resolution that appears to have pushed back the darkness – for now.

‘Maria’s Walk’ is more than just a ghost story. It’s a love story too and a tale about good conquering evil at the hands of two old friends: A confused, unsure couple who discover they are part of a tragedy, love triangle, and spiritual battle that has been taking place in their old hometown for nearly two hundred years. Their own level of involvement even catches them unawares, but answers several questions and soothes many anxieties with which they have both been struggling.

So, how do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, somewhere along the way, it looks like Jack and Gaby might find the answer…

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