Every season has its fun and excitements. One thing I missed when I lived overseas, was the rhythm and variety of English seasons. Sometimes we underrate our temperate climate.
At this time of year with the blossoms coming through, warmer days and the freshness of new life in the air, it always makes me feel like a child again. There’s a certain thrill and anticipation at this turning point away from the cold, grey, dark winter days.
Here in my beautiful market town on the Swale in Kent, abundant life is shooting forth. Each morning (reasonable weather permitting) I like to take a stroll before settling down to work for the day. I have several variations on a favourite circular route, which inspired those of the lead characters back when I wrote ‘Maria’s Walk.’
This morning I happened upon a glorious Magnolia tree. My ageing phone camera didn’t do it justice, but I still thought it worth sharing the image. I’m having an ‘odds and ends’ day: spring cleaning, tweaking the website and performing basic household maintenance. It marks a pleasant respite from the manic schedule I was on to get the new book ready to fly, over the last month.
By next week I should be into outlining the fourth novel in greater detail, ready for drafting to start in April.
Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a peaceful week. One with an opportunity to enjoy nature at her finest, clothed in the breathtaking garments of spring.
It was a joy to use the Cotswolds as a setting for my second horror novel, ‘Nevermere.’
I first went to this beautiful region as a child, and have been a regular visitor ever since. A keen walker, its array of interlocking sheep hills, little rivers and charming woodland valleys always lifts my spirits. Whether I’m spending a week or more renting a cottage or just a few days on a short break, the effect is ever one of rejuvenation. It’s a place I know extensively and have spent time in every season.
I always break into a smile after responding with authority to a request from a tourist for which local knowledge is essential. The typical look of incredulity when their follow-on question about how long I’ve lived there is answered, never ceases to disappoint.
Over the years I have witnessed the Cotswolds become ever more popular. The downside is that – like many pretty rural communities up and down our land – it has been the target of second home purchases by the wealthy. Well-heeled incomers have turned village locals into gastro-pubs, many of the houses sit empty of year-round residents, and local youngsters have zero chance of owning a home in the place they grew up. It’s such a talked-about topic, that I thoroughly enjoyed making my protagonists encounter these experiences first hand. The character of Bob Faringdon was especially a joy to write. It has been my pleasure to meet many wonderful, old-school Cotswold locals. ‘Nevermere’ is even dedicated to one-such chap, who grew up in a village where I rented a cottage for five years.
If you’re interested in some real-life, regional ghost stories, this is a good place to start.
Should this blog post or my second book inspire you, the Cotswolds is a fine choice for a holiday or mini-break destination. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it. But, please allow the region to leave its mark on you, rather than the other way around.
At this season, I always enjoy a re-read of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story, ‘A Christmas Carol.’ In fact, you will often find me wandering past a former inn he used to frequent, on my way to Canterbury Cathedral for the carol service. During the long wait – necessary if you want a seat – I immerse myself once again in the yuletide tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his spooky, yet heart-warming journey to become a better man.
Dickens produced this beloved novella in 1843. It has never been out of print since. From the preface to his readers, we know we are in for a delightful ride:
‘I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful friend and servant.
In the first stave, he gets right into the plot without any flannel:
‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’
One of the most iconic story openers in history, for my money!
However you choose to celebrate the holiday season, I wish you and yours a time of peace, plenty and wellbeing. To those of you who have followed this site since its inception a couple of months ago, or even those just joining in, I appreciate your taking the time to read this. An extra special thank you goes out to readers who have purchased either of my first two indie horror novels. A third is well into the outlining stage. Writing will commence at pace in the New Year.
Merry Christmas, Folks!
‘Nevermere’ opens with an ‘Ordeal by Water’ witch trial during the English Civil War in 1644.
While the rest of the book is set in the present day, repercussions from this action impact on the modern inhabitants of a small, Gloucestershire village. For the opening scene, I wanted to get a very genuine feel for the setting. The reader only spends one chapter in that timeframe, so it needed to stand apart.
At first, I found myself writing in ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’ to such an extent that it became an unwieldy caricature. This is a technique used to comic effect in several films. I adore the Disney production of ‘Hocus Pocus’ and watch it every year. There we have three witches from 1693, who – thanks to a spell – come back to life in 1993. To create a definite sense of two timeframes colliding, the witches all speak in (what writers sometimes call) ‘Bygonese.’
It was after re-reading my own first chapter, I knew that wasn’t going to work in a more serious, chilling tale. So, I decided to read up on historical linguistics. It was during this research that I learned nobody was still using ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ in everyday speech much after 1600. Studies of diarists of the period – like Samuel Pepys – proved quite enlightening. So too were several articles by academic authorities on old speech.
So it was that I came to re-write the opening with more generic language. I added common terminology and salutations from the era like ‘Goodwife’ or ‘Goody’ and so forth. The result is a chapter that is a lot easier to read. It conveys an atmospheric setting without the language becoming intrusive or lunging into cartoonish parody.
‘Susan Blackwood. You have been found guilty via ordeal by water of the crime of witchcraft. That you did send out your spirit to attack Goodwife Parsons in an act of maleficium has now been irrefutably established.’
I’m sure you get the idea.
Regular readers will be aware that the fictitious town of ‘Ardenham’ from ‘Maria’s Walk’ is actually based on Faversham, my hometown on the Swale Estuary in Kent.
Maria herself was also inspired by a famous, real-life spectre known as ‘Diana.’ The book is dedicated to her. Maria’s character in the story is loosely drawn from a number of local speculations about who Diana may have been (albeit with much invention and embellishment to bring the plot to life).
Here are a few locations that inspired places in the book, with appropriate quotations and the odd note for your enjoyment.
Let’s start with the title image from this post.
The guildhall stood an elegant, green, rendered structure with high, arched windows. The building rested on thick wooden stilts allowing a market to be held underneath. Once the local court house, it also featured a clock, flagpole and weather vane in the shape of a dragon. All around, wonky timber-framed buildings with high-pitched roofs clustered about the three principal streets that fed into this oft-photographed civic space.
On the other side of Dark Hill sat Westbrook Pond, fed from the Westbrook Stream that eventually flowed into Ardenham Creek in the centre of town. Lavington church reflected down into the mirror-like calm water from a tree-lined ridge above, and proved a popular scene for artists and photographers of all flavours. Jack had many fond memories of feeding the ducks there with his grandparents, whenever they came down to stay at Christmas back in the Seventies.
The Mermaid Inn
(Description based on the inn during the Regency period, as seen in a psychic dream by Gaby. It’s worth mentioning that the actual pub which inspired it – ‘The Anchor’ – is a great place to visit today. You can still sit in the room out back, where Richard Belmont meets with his henchmen in the book).
‘The Mermaid’ was a large, tumbledown, timber-framed old inn squatting at the far end of Abbey Street. The place sat just before the wharf entrance to Ardenham Creek, where sailing vessels loaded and unloaded their cargo. Its reputation as a dirty, over-crowded den of cutthroats and villains of all shapes and sizes was well deserved. If you were a merchant, deckhand or salty sea dog in search of rough grog, a good fight, or pox-infested tumble with a coarse strumpet, you need go no further into town. The more genteel population of Ardenham secretly hoped the inn would never burn down nor shut its doors. While there were certainly other rough drinking establishments, fleshpots and diverse dens of iniquity to be found close by, its proximity to the embarkation/disembarkation point of maritime crews kept some of the rougher elements at arm’s length. Many never went any further than ‘The Mermaid,’ unless they had other business to attend to.
Glyndale Park Manor
(Note that the description doesn’t match the image here, as the building had a facelift during Victorian times. The reason this is an old black and white photo, is due to the fact the manor – Syndale – suffered a dramatic fire and was torn down in the 1960’s. Today there is a motel and gym on the site, which does indeed offer a commanding view of the estuary and town).
Their cork heels crunched on the gravel path. It led up to the tall pillars that supported a shady front porch fronting Glyndale Park Manor. White rendering shone in the late September morning sun, affording the impressive structure an almost ethereal quality to match its palatial grandeur. Even though the old place had clearly seen better days – particularly when examined up close – it was still an elegant former residence.
Gaby angled her head to look at Ardenham nestling in the shallow, rolling valley behind and just to the right of Abbey Wood. Above the assorted roofs, Lavington church could clearly be seen standing sentinel atop Dark Hill. Beyond, the estuary sparkled like a shimmering blanket of sequins.
(There are of course many sinister descriptions of Abbey Wood in the book. The real place – ‘Bysing Wood’ – can be pretty wild and creepy at times. However, since I have a more pleasant photo here of some bluebells in spring, I’ll include a quotation from near the end of the story).
Gaby grabbed his arm with a gasp, glancing around. “Jack, do you realise where we are?”
Jack studied his surroundings more closely. “Goodness. I hardly recognised it with all the carpets of bluebells. It’s the dell.”
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this little tour around Ardenham.