Wednesday, 25 January 2023

The Viennese Way of Death

 

“Only in Vienna…”

 If I had a penny for every time I have heard that expression, I would be living in splendour right now.

 Weird House Press has just released my trilogy – Nemesis of the Gods. For the first time, all three novels – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients – are together in one volume. Centreing on the sinister archaeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, much of the action takes place in Vienna, Austria’s imperial capital and surely one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. Its streets team with culture and its proud residents are almost fiercely protective of their enigmatic, sometimes quirky, and endlessly fascinating home, where everyone from Strauss to Klimt and Freud lived and worked.

 Vienna is home to well over a hundred museums. It seems there is one for almost anything – Chimney Sweeps, Boy Scouts, Tobacco, Trams, Undertakers, Contraception and Abortion… the list goes on and on. And that’s in addition to the wealth of art and history museums on a grand scale. One of the quirkiest – and the first of its kind anywhere in the world – is the Funeral Museum which has been relocated from the centre of Vienna to its new home in the Zentralfriedhof – Vienna’s main cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

 When you enter, you are plunged into a dark, funereal atmosphere where the history of funerals and of the main funeral directors’ company in Vienna – Bestattung Wien – is laid out in all its pomp and ceremony. The Viennese have always had something of a fascination with death and the quest to achieve a Schöne Leich (literally ‘beautiful corpse’) is a passion. Most frequently that means creating the most lavish of funerals. This was especially the case in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when it seemed people vied with each other to create the most over-the-top ceremony.

 Bestattung Wien prides itself on being able to create the most unusual and individually designed funerals. So successful is it that people even come from abroad in order to have their unique vision executed. Who would believe it? Funeral tourism! The company handles some 20,000 funerals a year, in Vienna and the surrounding area. Anything from traditional limousines, to horse-drawn vehicles. The coffins are made by their own coffin makers and pretty much anything your heart desires can be arranged – at a price of course.  The museum features insignia, ceremonial uniforms, lanterns, a full-size horse-drawn hearse containing a coffin (but minus the horses, of course!)

 In a more modern vein, there is a display cabinet featuring a number of items including a small box with a tiny blue diamond. Yes, this is someone’s ashes, turned into an imitation diamond. The relative could, if they wanted, have this mounted into a piece of jewellery so they could wear their loved one around their neck, on their wrist, finger or even in a brooch worn over their heart.  All this is on display at the museum, providing a unique insight into the Viennese way of death.

 You will also see death masks, and a picture showing the specially designed Sitzsarg or ‘sitting-up’ coffin, based on a painting by Rene Magritte. Only one of these was ever made and it used to be on show but apparently not anymore.

 Also on display are reminders that medical science was not always as accurate as it is today when determining whether a person was actually dead. In the first half of the 19th century, there was a widespread fear of being buried alive so a piece of string was attached to the deceased’s finger before burial. This string led into the cemetery warden’s office so that, in the event the ‘corpse’ woke up, they would ring the bell.  Sadly, this led to a great many false alarms. Decomposition, shifting earth, release of gases after death all lead to changes in the position of the body sufficient to make the bell ring. Eventually the wardens got so fed up, they ceased the practice of attaching the warning bells, but you can see them here.

 Even today, if you are still concerned that you might wake up after being buried, you can specify another option to ensure this could never happen by stating in your Will that, once your death has been pronounced, a thin stiletto-like knife should be used to pierce your heart. Now there can be no mistake. In the museum, one such stiletto is displayed in all its glory, on purple velvet in a glass case. Chilling. That will cost you around 300 Euros.

 In the so-called Age of Enlightenment, in the 18th century, Emperor Josef II saw fit to ban all cemeteries from the centre of Vienna and introduced the ‘reusable’ coffin. This contained a retractable hatch at the bottom. The body was placed in it, lowered, and the hatch released. The corpse, wrapped only in a sack would then fall into the grave. The coffin could then be used again and again. Needless to say, this did not agree with the Viennese way of death, the ‘beautiful corpse’ and all the pomp and ceremony, and was abandoned.

 The museum also features a section dedicated to the burials of six famous people from the modern era– some of whom may be less familiar to non-Austrians although Falco (Rock me Amadeus) is well-remembered, as is Curd Jürgens the actor who played a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me.

 The Viennese dark sense of humour is also evident in the museum’s gift shop where it is possible to buy coffin-shaped USB memory sticks and cigarette cases bearing the words, Rauchen sichert Arbeitsplätze (‘smoking secures jobs’).

 As I said at the beginning, “Only in Vienna…”

 Nemesis of the Gods

An obsession beyond reason. A passion that transcends the grave…

 #1 Wrath of the Ancients

 1913. Storm clouds gather over Europe – and in a basement in Vienna, an unquiet spirit stirs…

Adeline always dreamed of visiting the Austrian capital, so the chance to work there seems like a dream come true. But, from the moment she sets foot in the elegant mansion that belonged to the late archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, she senses a presence—one so menacing and evil, she fears for her sanity and her life.

Strange noises from behind the walls, shadowy figures that cannot be there, hieroglyphics that appear on the wall, and an enigmatic portrait of a long dead Egyptian queen. Quintillus had made the discovery of the century—so why did he hide it?

Ancient enemies are at war in this mysterious house, and Adeline’s fate is inextricably woven with theirs.

#2 Waking the Ancients

 Quintillus is waiting. Arsinoe will have her revenge…

 It should have been the assignment of a lifetime. Newly arrived in Vienna and living in a sumptuous mansion, Paula’s only challenge appears to be learning the language. But Villa Dürnstein is a house of sinister secrets—most of them in the basement. There, the unquiet spirit of Dr. Emeryk Quintillus continues to search for the woman who will take on the essence of Cleopatra. His obsession with her has reached fever-pitch.

Now he has found her.

 #3 Damned by the Ancients

 Dare to defy the gods and you will pay the price…

 Vienna, 1908 – Quintillus, brings Gabriele Ziegler to the studio of Gustav Klimt. The artist will paint the troubled girl as Cleopatra, with whom Quintillus is infatuated, but the painting is cursed and the girl is possessed by the spirit of Cleopatra’s long-dead sister, the vengeful Arsinoe.

Now Arsinoe and Quintillus begin their unholy alliance.

Vienna 2018 – nine-year-old Heidi Mortimer can see things others cannot. Her almost cat-like vision enables her to see the mysterious man in the basement. He asks for her help but her parents will not believe her. Yet in the basement, Quintillus is trapped, but not for long. He knows the little girl will help him.

Whatever the cost.

 Available from:

Weird House Press

Amazon

Images:

C.Wraith Walker and Weird House Press

Shutterstock


Friday, 23 December 2022

Living with Ghosts, and Other Dark Observations


At this time of the year, what better than a ghost story? It's a tradition, isn't it? And how much better when that ghost story happens to be true?

I have often been asked (understandably, given the nature of what I write) if I believe in ghosts. I answer, ‘yes’. The next question is invariably. ‘Have you ever seen one?’ Again, ‘yes’ is my response. People want details. I tell them, but, of course such phenomena can be explained away by the sceptical. ‘A trick of the light’, ‘Your imagination playing tricks on you,’ or the incredulous look behind which lurks, ‘you’re weird’. All, of course, are quite possibly true (especially the latter), but I have seen and heard a lot of things I couldn’t quite so easily explain. 

For a number of years, we divided our time between a flat in North Wales and a house in Liverpool. The house in Liverpool contained nothing particularly ghostly – although I did once see the apparition of the cat I grew up with who, at that time, had been deceased for around four years. This was a happy experience that stayed with me for weeks.

The flat in North Wales on the other hand… Okay, I'm going to say it. We lived with a ghost. There is no getting away from it. In fact the building itself continues to be haunted by more than one restless spirit – and one of them was caught on camera!

The building dates from the mid-eighteenth century and has gone through many different configurations as shops and homes. The ground floor is now a social club with a two-floor flat above. This was unoccupied for many years until we moved in following extensive renovations. Almost immediately things started to happen. They were mostly homely, welcoming events as if our invisible ‘visitor’ wanted to make us feel comfortable.

We would sometimes arrive to find the TV and/or lights switched on, and, before you say we had carelessly left them on before we left a few days earlier, we hadn’t. We had checked that everything was switched off just a few minutes before we left. In the case of the TV, even if we had left it on, the set would have automatically switched itself off after a couple of hours of inactivity. And no, sorry, no-one else had access.

Meanwhile, in another part of the building, used by the club, other things were happening. In the Snooker Room, chalk was regularly moved, as were beer mats, and then, at around six one morning, my husband came down to our kitchen, whereupon he heard the distinctive sound of the club's upstairs gents’ toilet flushing. This is next to the Snooker Room and on the other side of our wall. My husband logged the time precisely, thinking that maybe the cleaners had arrived unusually early. 

When, mid-morning, he heard the sound of the barman arriving to start his shift, my husband, who was Treasurer, went downstairs to the club and asked to check the CCTV. Evidently the cleaners had arrived later, at their usual time, so who had been in the Gents? Fortunately CCTV was trained on the area immediately outside it. As my husband watched and, at precisely the same time as he had logged the flushing of the toilet, there was a distinctive, fast-moving, waft of white smoke across the camera. He continued to watch. Nothing else happened. Other staff watched it. I watched it.

No one has yet been able to explain it. There was no one there or we would have seen them. The cameras were installed to ensure no hiding place for anyone entering or leaving the building and they are motion activated. They were all in perfect working order when the incident happened.

Since then, things have continued to move from time to time in the Snooker Room and a couple of the bar staff have been so unnerved by the goings-on there that they have refused to go up there alone. One of the staff was certain he heard his name called one night when he was locking up after everyone had gone home. He was so sure of what he had heard that he answered. There was no one there.

A psychic-medium was shoved violently when she entered the room (with no prior knowledge of its reputation). I was pushed violently backwards and forwards before being thrown off the stair. The injuries I sustained were so severe, the doctors at the hospital couldn’t believe only one stair was involved.  I have never been in that room since.

Thankfully, the ghost in our flat was always friendly. My husband was often aware of her moving around when he was there alone, and there was the curious incident of the washing machine – the detergent drawer was mysteriously and impossibly pushed out when it was operating. For all the years we lived there though, neither of us ever felt threatened in that flat and now, three and a half years later, that flat is once again empty...

Or is it?

Now, if you want to be transported back in time to experience more ghostly and demonic goings-on, try this:

Eligos is waiting…fulfill your destiny

1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill's subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet.

Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past... Something or someone - is targeting her.

Dark Observation is available here:





Bookshop.org (where you can support your favourite local bookshop)

and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)


Thank you all for your support throughout 2022. Here's to a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year!



Images:
Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Studio
Shutterstock

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

The Crow Witch is Here - and She's Brought a Few Friends


Each story sucked me in immediately and I just couldn’t stop reading until the end. So be careful if you’re prone to telling yourself you’ll read just one more page…” – Erica Robyn Reads

"This collection is perfect for an evening as you await the witching hour or a banging on your door. Full of tricks but in itself a treat of good supernatural horror. Highly recommended for the season of the witch!" - Runalongwomble

If you love to relax on a cold and dark winter evening with a good spooky story, The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings by Catherine Cavendish has seven that will send shivers down your spine." - What's Good To Read

"The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings is a feast for fans of dark tales and adult-aimed fairy tales." - Daniel Robichaud, Considering Stories

“The gothic style of Catherine Cavendish takes you deep into an atmospheric read… Snuggle down in your cozy chair and spend some time with this author as she unfolds the spooky stories within.” – Book Nook Retreat

I've never had an entire fiction collection before, but now - thanks to the wonderful folk at Weird House Press - I do. What's more, it's just in time for Halloween!

As is the way with fiction collections, there may be some titles you recognize - one in particular - but this is a chance to meet some new... Well, maybe friends is stretching it a little. Some of these characters are evil. I mean evil on a scale where you wouldn't wish them on your worst enemy. Or then again, perhaps you would.

Collectively, they are called:

The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings

Come and meet them:

 
Marzana's Hut

A derelict cabin in the wood and a mysterious portrait that is far more deadly than oil paint and canvas

Sour Grapes

When the seeds of revenge are sown, beware the harvest

The Oubliette of Elie Loyd

A woman who seems to step out of an old Hollywood movie, and a castle with a murderous past

Euphemia Christie

It began with a gravestone...but where would it end?

The Lost Prophecy of Ursula Sontheil

The world would know her as Mother Shipton - a seer? A witch? Her predictions were many, but there is one more. One she hid away for a future generation...

Daft Old Bat

Some called her crazy, others feared her. Only the foolish would ridicule her, for this old woman knew the secrets of the land and how to harness its power

The Malan Witch

"Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs."

Robyn learns the legend of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings

As the nights draw in and the temperature plummets, beware the witch's curse. And stay out of the shadows, for far more lurks there than you could ever imagine...

Available here:

Weird House Press

(A limited number of signed editions are available from the publisher but hurry - there are not many left and when they're gone, they're gone!)


Images:
Shutterstock
Weird House Press




Monday, 10 October 2022

The Secrets of Wewelsburg Castle

  

My new novel, Dark Observation, centres on the occult and contains references to some sinister beliefs that found favour with the Nazis during some of the darkest days of the twentieth century. Indeed it could be said to be cursed with the horrors its walls have witnessed.

The unique and imposing triangular Wewelsburg Castle built in Renaissance style between 1603 and 1609 was intended originally as a residence for the Prince Bishops of Paderborn in Germany. It stands high on a rock with views over the Alme Valley and can be found in the village of Büren.

Following its initial purpose, the castle changed hands a number of times until, in 1933, Hitler’s right-hand man, Heinrich Himmler, signed a 100-year lease for it at a nominal rent of one mark per year. He saw, despite its much decayed state, potential as a training ground for the soon to be infamous Schutzstaffel (SS), of which he was the commander.

Himmler, in common with a number of leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, was obsessed with old Germanic and Norse myth and legend as well as occult rituals with their roots firmly planted in the sort of Dark Arts that had so bewitched Aleister Crowley among others. In Himmler’s eyes, Wewelsburg was the perfect place to indoctrinate SS soldiers with these heinous beliefs. 

To Himmler, Wewelsburg was the Grail Castle. He believed that once the Nazis had conquered the world, establishing the Aryan reign that would last a thousand years, artifacts accumulated in the castle as well as the building itself would radiate magical powers.

 Included among these trophies was to be the Spear of Destiny, prized by Hitler as having shown him his future when he saw it on display at the Hofburg museum in Vienna. Himmler slept with a replica of it in his bedroom and was obsessed with acquiring as many of the actual holy relics as possible.

pictured: Himmler (left) Heydrich (centre)

Work began on restoring the Castle and moulding it into a centre of the universe for all Aryans. This included constructing a magnificent marble altar with the letters ‘SS’ engraved on it. A former cistern was turned into a crypt for ritual purposes where it was intended that the ashes of the most senior SS leaders would be buried and venerated, with an eternal flame burning to act as a focal point. 

Baptismal activities took place here – the children involved being products of the Lebensborn breeding programme designed to perpetuate the pure Aryan race. Himmler also intended to replace Christmas with a winter solstice festival based on ancient pagan ritual to supplement the main midsummer solstice which he also sought to establish. Elsewhere, a round table with twelve chairs, reminiscent of the mythical King Arthur and his knights, was also built.

Edward Bulwer Lytton

All in all, ‘Dark Camelot,’ as many in the Nazi Party came to refer to Wewelsburg, was to become a cathedral where senior ‘priests’ met to engage in worship of the dark and mythological world in which Edward Bulwer Lytton’s fictional work, The Coming Race, with its depiction of an alien super race dwelling deep within the earth, was accepted as fact. Those who worshipped at Wewelsburg were true believers in the most evil of fantasies and millions of innocent men, women and children would pay the price.

SS soldiers were carefully picked. They had to look a certain way and be malleable enough to be persuaded to believe what their leaders wanted them to believe. Not only that, they would be desensitized to such a degree that they could not only bear incredible suffering themselves, but also be totally oblivious to the suffering they inflicted on others. It was brainwashing with no room for conscience or compassion. Much of this happened at Wewelsburg, secluded enough to prevent prying eyes or unwanted leaks of information.

Himmler’s plans never reached completion although the renovation continued for twelve years under SS control. His ideas grew ever more grandiose including plans to create a circular fortification around the hill on which the castle stood which would have resulted in the eviction of the entire surrounding town, as well as flooding the whole valley around Wewelsburg.

SS Generals' Hall, Wewelsburg
Needless to say, with such vast schemes, he required a workforce of sufficient numbers to realize them. Accordingly, Himmler created his own private concentration camp comprising some 4,000 people, only around half of whom survived. The conditions were appalling and abuse by the SS was rife. Once it became obvious that Germany was not going to win the war, Himmler ordered the destruction of the castle. A fire was set which destroyed much of the interior but the sturdy stone walls - particularly of the North Tower - remained. It was in this tower that Himmler had concentrated much of his effort. Hardly surprising then that, seeing it still standing proud, among so much that had been destroyed, people began to wonder at how much of the occult had insinuated itself into its masonry.

These days, Wewelsburg is restored and open as a museum. But what secrets do its ancient walls retain? Relics and artifacts from Himmler’s time there are on show, amongst much else from the castle’s long history. It has been said that Wewelsburg shows more clearly than probably anywhere, how steeped in the occult the Nazi leadership became, and how dependent upon it they were in the realization of their vile dreams.

“A dark, disturbing thrill ride” – Publishers’ Weekly

"An engaging, multigenerational tale of dark magic and occult" - Booklist

“A wonderful eerie piece of historical horror” - Runalongwomble

“Drawing on magical realism and giving it a more nefarious angle, and then taking it one step further” – Cheryl M-M’s Blogspot


Eligos is waiting…fulfil your destiny

1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill's subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet.

Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past... Something or someone - is targeting her.

Click on the link below to see/hear an excerpt:

Dark Observation is available here:

Flame Tree Press

Simon and Schuster

Amazon


Barnes and Noble

Waterstones

Bookshop.org (where you can support your favourite local bookshop)

and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)


Images:

Shutterstock

Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Studio

Author's own