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 helplessness.
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 overall tale.
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.
My second horror novel, ‘Nevermere,’ features a family of five who move from London to the Cotswolds.
Douglas Ashbourne finds himself made redundant at Christmas from his project management job. His wife, Elizabeth, convinces him to start a new career at her late grandfather’s cottage. A career that involves him turning his hobby into a full-time business.
What is the hobby?
This story was a great joy to write, as it includes two of my favourite things:
- The Cotswolds – A place where I have spent considerable time over the years.
- Making meads, melomels and country fruit wines.
The oldest alcoholic drink – 9,000 years from archaeological evidence, mead has gained increasing popularity of late. This is due in no small part to works of fantasy fiction entering the mainstream as hit television shows.
The images in this post feature some of my own meads and melomels from this past year (though there were many more).
The word ‘Honeymoon’ derives from a tradition of giving newlywed couples enough mead to last an entire lunar cycle. This was thought to bring good luck to the marriage, aid fertility and virility.
If you’re stuck for gift ideas this Christmas, how about helping someone get a little De’Ath in their life?
All my titles are available in paperback as well as Kindle format. The good news is, the paperbacks are also enrolled in ‘Matchbook.’ This means that if you purchase one, you can also acquire the Kindle version at a decent discount. So, why not treat someone else and yourself at the same time?
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.