Regular readers will know that I like to base the locations of my novels on actual places. There will – of necessity – always be some artistic license and pure fictional content. But, you’ll find plenty of genuine sites recreated and featured throughout the course of each story.
For my seventh horror novel, ‘Scribe,’ it was important to contrast the comfortable Suffolk life of protagonist, Michael Brooks, with a different setting as he seeks to recover from the loss of his wife. I opted for the windswept wildness of beautiful Northumberland, which plays a striking role as a character in its own right. Michael rents a converted watermill and former gamekeeper’s bothy between the rivers Coquet and Breamish. While the site of Shillmoor Barton (a manorial estate with clusters of farms) is a fiction, Shillmoor itself exists. I love the Breamish valley and the hamlet of Ingram, which also features in the book. Other iconic Northumberland sites make appearances, including Alnwick, Morpeth, Wooler and Lindisfarne. It’s a part of the world I’ve stayed in and explored many times.
On a similar note, Michael hails from Framlingham in Suffolk and lives in Woodbridge, where some old friends of mine reside. It was a delight to include several of my favourite Framlingham places, including ‘The Crown Hotel,’ Framlingham Castle and St Michael’s church in various scenes throughout the book.
For the spooky house in which the principal action takes place, I drew upon true inspiration. If you’ve read the interview on my ‘About’ page, you’ll be familiar with a house I once stayed in, which played out (in minor respects) like a classic ghost story. The converted watermill and former bothy exists in border country, though it lies on the other side of the Tweed, about forty-eight miles from Shillmoor as the crow flies. From the single-railed footbridge crossing a cascade, to the setting and interior furnishings, it’s real. There was little I needed to invent. It made such a perfect, remote location. I’ve placed a plunge pool beneath the cascade and amped the size of the woodshed a little. But the rest would be recognisable if you ever stayed there – right down to the loft hatch above the master bed.
As I write this, it was seventeen years ago that I rented the mill alone. It dropped off the radar for a while, but has been back as a popular holiday let for many years. If there ever were any genuine, strange goings-on, all seems well now. The house is beautifully decorated and sits in a breathtaking setting. Don’t blame me if you read ‘Scribe’ while holidaying in the house and experience uncomfortable dreams, though. Definitely don’t blame the owners! It’s a stunning retreat in a fabulous landscape.
‘Scribe’ will be available in Kindle format from 25th March at an introductory price for its first month of 99c / 99p. The paperback version is already available to purchase, with Amazon estimating delivery in time for the eBook release date.
My latest novel, ‘The
Lychgate,’ allowed me to indulge in writing some good, old-fashioned,
last person standing survival horror. I always have a strong pull towards ‘story,’ so there had to be more meat on
the bone than pure situational hi-jinks. By the time everything kicks off, the
reader should feel invested in the characters and back-story. A tale that makes
sense, rather than offering some weak excuse for undead corpses going on a wild
killing spree as an afterthought.
The premise surrounding the book
had been bouncing around in my mind (and sitting on my ideas notepad) for about
a year. Lychgates have always held a distinct fascination. The variety and
history behind them, adds to the enjoyment of visiting many an English church.
As a long-time fan of fantasy literature and a student of folklore, the common
etymology shared by a mythical ‘Lich’
creature and this familiar churchyard architecture was too good to pass up. A
Lich is typically the resurrected but decayed body of a holy man, raised by
devoted followers reciting their ancient incantations. Legend depicts them
being master manipulators, enslaving an army of the risen dead. Both ‘Lich’ and ‘Lychgate’ come from the old English word ‘Lic,’ or corpse. Before mortuaries and refrigeration, when most
people died at home, bodies would reside with a guard under the lychgate until
the funeral took place. The service began at the gate and proceeded inside the
church; re-emerging for burial within its consecrated boundary.
For setting, I toyed with a
variety of environments. The one I kept coming back to, and which provided
ample scope for isolation and subsequent wild terror (hidden from the modern
world), was the South Lincolnshire Fens: Big skies, bleak landscapes, and
difficult to traverse terrain thanks to criss-crossing drainage channels. Close
enough to civilisation to be engaging, yet remote enough to provoke a sense of
A creepy setting always works
best when it’s an integral part of the story, rather than a tacked-on device
for dramatic effect. So it was that I delved into local history, in search of
characters and legends around which I could build the monster’s genesis. The
British Museum features a historic, pictorial document called ‘The Guthlac Roll.’ This depicts the
story of St. Guthlac, a late seventh century Mercian soldier turned monk. He resided
as an anchorite on the island of Croyland, where present day Crowland sits
today. Guthlac was said to have settled in an oratory formed from a barrow,
with his younger sister St. Pega and a male helper called Beccelm. Pega left to
found her own oratory at Peakirk, when both those sites were still islands in
the previously undrained fens. After Guthlac’s death, Pega supposedly moved several
items from her brother’s tomb, before his resting place was re-located. His
body was re-sited a couple more times after the construction of Crowland Abbey.
Roundels on ‘The Guthlac Roll’ show the
saint fighting demons and driving out a demoniac. These tales offered a perfect
situation around which to introduce Nechtan, a holy man of the Bilmingas tribe
who comes into conflict with him. Keying aspects of Guthlac and Pega’s lives
into the plot became a joy after that, and added significant breadth to the
Parallels are always fun when
spinning a yarn. With ‘The Lychgate,’ there is a foundation
based on a vengeful, pagan spiritual manipulator, ousted by a new religion. He
carries that offence beyond the grave, longing for retribution and power. In
the modern world, several of the characters are ousted from their own
comfortable lives by new ‘religions’
like political correctness, corporate profiteering, liberal orthodoxy and an obsession with metrics. It is these
supplanting ideas that drive them to join life at an off-grid community. One promising
to provide an antidote to the modern world and its insane doctrines. The only
problem is that in literally digging up the past, they unearth an evil of
significant destructive power and unfathomable malevolence. Think ‘The Mummy’ meets ‘The Evil Dead’ and you’ll have some idea what to expect.
Like my other novels, ‘The Lychgate’ is to be released in paperback and Kindle formats, from 16th December. You can pre-order the Kindle version. Its page count will correct to 347, once both products go live and are linked on Amazon.
It’s been a
delightful few months, bashing away at my new novel. I decided that I wanted to
do something in the haunted house line, but with a twist. Not that there’s
anything wrong with the classic setup of wronged spooks roaming a creepy old
building. I love books like that. One joy of the ever expanding horror market,
is new authors bringing their own perspective on that delightful, tried and
Towards the end of 2013, I rented a cottage in the small Dorset village of Sydling St. Nicholas. As a keen walker, I spent time traipsing through the surrounding valleys and enjoying The Wessex Ridgeway. During a climb from Cerne Abbas up to the broad ridge (from where the word ‘Sydling’ derives) I mused what a wonderful spot it would be for a windswept haunted house. Five and a half years later I built one there (in fictional literary terms at least), and you can now read about it in ‘Caveat Emptor.’
A number of real-life local spots feature in the book, including Sydling St. Nicholas, its church and the beautiful river walk, Cerne Abbas, St. Mary’s, Giant Hill and the street of Tudor cottages outside the old abbey that form the lead character’s flat in the story. You’ll find a few snaps I took from those locations, scattered throughout this blog post.
The tale predominantly
focuses on thirty years in the life of David Holmes, a twenty year old man who
moves over from Wiltshire in 1985, to become a Dorset estate agent. His first
day on the job finds him performing a visit to a fire-damaged manor that
pre-dates the English Civil War. Recent occupants died during the
conflagration, and the house will be one of his responsibilities for sale.
Among the distinct joys of writing this book, I’ve most delighted in taking a trip down memory lane. Cars, fashions, technology, music, films, attitudes and current events are all used to set the scenes. From ‘Live Aid’ in 1985 through the ’87 hurricane, ’89 fall of the Berlin Wall, millennium bug, dot-com collapse, 911 attacks and 2015 Conservative win, there is a rich backdrop against which to present the various scenes. However, this was not done just for the heck of it. The principal antagonist is an ancient entity for whom unfolding centuries are a solitary agony, punctuated by occasional decades of joy. I won’t go into the source of that joy, because: spoilers! But observing David’s relatively brief life and the changes that occur, place the entity’s torment into a much clearer perspective.
I took a big
risk at the climax as – while the ‘baddie’ element is defeated after a fashion
– it’s not quite vanquished in the way a reader might expect. I guess it’ll be
the ‘Marmite’ of Horror/Paranormal Romance/Supernatural Suspense, in that they’ll
either love it or hate it.
At the time of
writing, ‘Caveat Emptor’ is available for pre-order in Kindle format,
ahead of its 25th March release date. As with my other work, a
paperback version will roll out around the same time. Should you clock the
Amazon page count on the pre-order, please ignore it. They always under-read by
a huge margin. The book is 81,000 words/348 pages in a 5.25 x 8 paperback. Once
the product descriptions are linked on Amazon, the Kindle page count will correct
to reflect the actual length based on the print version.
Do you believe a house can have a soul?
If you had asked that question to David Holmes back in 1985, it might have given him pause. The next three decades of his career as a Dorset estate agent, provided a very definite answer.
Meoria Grange is an impressive manor, built around the time of the English Civil War. It stands sentinel atop the Wessex Ridgeway, occupying a site of historical importance dating back into the mists of British antiquity.
When a family move in to renovate after a tragic fire, horrific outcomes draw David ever closer to their disturbing source.
Similar repetitions unfold each time he instigates another sale, until a very personal impact causes him to seek out some answers once and for all.
How can pure love and abject horror exist together with such inexplicable harmony?