My new, upcoming indie horror title, ‘Maypole,’ opens with the central character, Lisa Marston, fleeing her abusive boyfriend. The chase begins at their flat in the old town part of Durham and follows a specific route (about 0.6 of a mile) to the traffic lights on Church Street. Here the pursuer gets in a scrap with a passing motorist and is arrested by police.
For those unfamiliar with this beautiful northern city, I include a series of images below to illustrate the route of the chase and an approximation of the journey seen through the fleeing woman’s eyes.
I hope you enjoy them.
‘Maypole,’ is due for release in paperback and Kindle on 27th June. The Kindle version is available for pre-order now.
Recently I was part of a discussion that has cropped up several times over the years, in relation to the Stephen King classic, ‘Salem’s Lot.’
Whether you’ve read the book, seen the film adaptation or both; one scene sticks with everyone I speak to. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s the night time vampiric visitations of the Glick boys: first Ralphie to ‘convert’ his elder brother Danny. Then Danny, to sire Mark Petrie and bring him into the fold.
The first – brother on brother – is creepy and reminiscent of the Count’s visits to his victims in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’
But it’s the second visitation that haunts readers/viewers over forty years on: eerie clouds swirling outside Mark’s bedroom window. The floating approach of his school friend, sporting evil eyes and protruding fangs. A scratching of fingernails on the glass. The vampire calling out for Mark to let him in. Then Mark vacillating between acquiescence and confrontation; culminating in the latter as he snaps a cross from his graveyard diorama to drive the creature off.
Since the 1979 film production, audiences have grown accustomed to blatant gore and vivid portrayals of demonic forces. In a desensitised world of splatter-punk eviscerations, the afore-mentioned scene might sound banal. But it isn’t. Had the vampire been some OTT special effects horror that burst through the window and drained its victim dry, that might have been shocking – for a moment. Then viewers would have forgotten all about it and probably never given the encounter a second thought.
To my mind, Danny’s visit is memorable and frightening because it utilises one of the key tools in the horror writer’s kit: ISOLATION. Stephen King wields it with masterful brilliance.
Isolation can be both blatant and/or subtle in horror. We’re all familiar with the blatant scenarios: A person/people get cut off on an island/up a mountain/in a forest. Bad things are coming to get them and nobody’s riding to the rescue. Typically there might be a chance to escape, but it will involve a perilous trip into the monster’s den to retrieve a vital item, etc. Along the way, someone will probably die.
Subtler forms of isolation often revolve around societal mores and expectations, or being a misfit in a situation. Anyone who has suffered a mental health issue, physical disability or disfigurement knows what it’s like to feel all alone in a crowded place. Even introverted, loner types like myself are still social creatures at heart, despite a need for plenty of solo downtime to recharge. Being all alone is such a common human fear, some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.
In horror, this subtle isolation may manifest as someone who knows supernatural things are going on, but is afraid nobody else will believe them. Perhaps an entire group suspects creepy forces are at play individually, but none will discuss it collectively. If they did and banded together, maybe survival would become possible? They’re all isolated. A ‘dinner bell’ for the hungry antagonist, no doubt. Cue blood-curdling screams as it starts devouring the low hanging fruit first.
With regard to ‘Salem’s Lot,’ you have Mark Petrie as a victim of isolation. Earlier, his father rags on him for playing with magic tricks and building monster model kits. This gives us an insight into the kind of lad Mark might be: creative, imaginative, sensitive. Not a jock. An outsider from the ‘group’ in school. Someone who prefers one or two close genuine friends to a gaggle of surface relationships. In that sense he’s already isolated. Now King adds another layer of isolation, because his father instructs the boy to grow up and stop daydreaming about monsters. Great. So who’s he going to tell when his best (and probably only) friend appears at the window as a vampire?
Let’s add it all up:
He’s isolated as something of an introvert to begin with.
He’s isolated from his parents and can’t tell them about the real monster.
He’s isolated by losing his close friend to the vampire’s curse.
He’s isolated because there’s nowhere to run, nobody to tell, and the vampires could be back at his window any time they choose.
He’s isolated because he’s still a kid in an adult world.
As we know, Mark goes on to battle the creatures with the central character, Ben Mears. Even then they end up on the run, an isolated pair looking over their shoulders for those in pursuit.
Psychological fears remain scariest of all. I’ve no objection to gore – it features in my work. But sometimes it’s what you don’t show that stays with people. A scene like that can keep your audience drawing the curtains as soon as darkness descends forty years later, and not because they’re fastidious and organised…
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.
Well, if you’re going to start the week off right, waking up to the book review I found this morning is one good example of how to do it.
When I released my debut horror novel, ‘Maria’s Walk,’ I chose not to solicit reviews from anyone and just let the chips fall where they may. I’m an author in a number of different genres, but decided to let my horror work develop organically and see what sort of responses (if any) it received.
The following succinct review is from a reader in the US on Amazon, who found the tale to have had an emotional impact upon her. Clearly the mix of horror, romance and good old-fashioned storytelling worked like a charm here. It was so nice of this lady to jot down a few kind words, and also very much appreciated.
So, a big thank you to ‘Jennie’ – whoever she may be – for making my Monday morning such a happy one with this first review of my first horror novel. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Your encouragement certainly made sitting down to continue work on my second horror novel an effortless task.
When you read the first couple of chapters from my debut horror novel, ‘Maria’s Walk,’ it becomes clear that Jack Foreman is one of the key protagonists. Here he comes, back home to Ardenham after the sudden death of his parents. An ex-minister, he’s lost his religious faith and has been struggling to make a go of ordinary life in the corporate workplace.
Then during a café breakfast, he has an unexpected encounter with Gabriella Wagstaff. She joins him for coffee and you know the sparks are going to fly – even if the fire is a long, slow burn. It’s a coffee that changes her life (and his, for that matter).
“Jack?” the musical, lilting female voice evidenced a hint of surprise and cheekiness. It stirred the diner from further deep thoughts his fathomless mind had wandered into whilst eating. “Jack Foreman?” the tone sounded again, as if to reinforce its first word with a reassurance tag provided by his surname.
Jack looked up, a piece of sausage and mushroom squashed together on the back of his fork.
A slender, shapely woman – about five and a half feet tall – had walked past him on the pavement, before glancing back over her shoulder. Long, wavy, light brown hair cascaded across bare shoulders leading down to a white, strapless top. Below that a slim waist and tight, rounded buttocks were wrapped in a pair of stonewashed jeans. Her legs ended in bare ankles and open low-heeled sandals. Jack moved his focus back north. It followed an elegant neck to where a pair of aventurine eyes sparkled out from beneath subtly shadowed lids. Neatly trimmed eyebrows raised slightly as the woman regarded him. A long, slender nose led down to full, coral lips and pristine white teeth.
The man regarded her a moment longer, before his mind adjusted for the years and the penny dropped who it was.
“Gaby? Gaby Wagstaff?!” Jack released the knife and fork with a clatter, rising to his feet as the vision approached wearing a wide smile. He took her by the hand and planted a reciprocated gentle kiss on the side of her face.
This younger sister of his childhood best friend, was deliberately created to be a perfect mirror character for Jack. In fact, the book is nothing without her. She is – in many ways – a stronger person than the quiet, brooding but sensitive man.
Gaby has been a massive success in the city, but now lost her faith in empty materialism. At the same time, her long-supressed psychic abilities kick-in with a vengeance.
So in Jack we have someone who once focused on the spiritual and ignored the material, but has now lost faith in the spiritual but wrestles with the material. While in Gaby we have someone who once focused on the material and ignored the spiritual, but has now lost faith in the material but wrestles with the spiritual.
Gaby wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s gentle but tenacious and often doubts her abilities. She finds strength in sharing her concerns with Jack. Her love for him and the figures in the unravelling backstory behind how the haunting of ‘Maria’s Walk’ came about, evidence genuine tenderness and empathy.
As the drama relating to the ghost of Maria unfolds, the conflict moves from internal struggles Jack and Gaby are wrestling with, to a full-blown, physical, emotional and spiritual battle that challenges both their worldviews. It takes a real ghost to help lay their personal ghosts to rest.