Friday, 27 June 2014

On Tuesday, The Terror Begins...

Can the living help the dead...and at what cost?

When Alex Fletcher finds a painting of a drowned girl, she’s unnerved. When the girl in the painting opens her eyes, she is terrified. And when the girl appears to her as an apparition and begs her for help, Alex can’t refuse.

But as she digs further into Grace’s past, she is embroiled in supernatural forces she cannot control, and a timeslip back to 1912 brings her face to face with the man who killed Grace and the demonic spirit of his long-dead mother. With such nightmarish forces stacked against her, Alex’s options are few. Somehow she must save Grace, but to do so, she must pay an unimaginable price.

My footsteps echoed as I trod the creaky polished floorboards in the empty room. I couldn’t overcome the feeling of being watched. For the second time since I had arrived on Arnsay, goosebumps rose along my arms and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself, your imagination’s got the better of you again.

I shook my head and made for the nearest glass cabinet. Above it, a portrait of the museum’s benefactor—Jonas Devine—gazed out at the world. I studied his face for a minute. His dark hair, flecked with gray, receded at the temples. He had a kind expression, clear brown eyes and a neatly trimmed moustache in the style of the late Victorians. My attention returned to his eyes. The artist had captured an ethereal, faraway look in them as if his subject could see something beyond what had been in the room. He was dressed in a dark suit of the period and one hand rested on his thigh, while the other held a book. I peered closer but couldn’t see any title. Maybe it was a small Bible or perhaps a novel by his favorite writer.

I switched my gaze down to the contents of the cabinet. A pair of wire-rimmed spectacles, gloves, a pen and inkstand, all personal items from the man’s study. I moved on and came across an information board nailed to the wall. It seemed Jonas Devine had bought the house when he brought his new bride Margarita—a former music hall artist—to settle on this remote island. This had followed some unspecified need of hers to leave Edinburgh, where she worked, and where she first met Jonas. A photograph showed a dark-eyed woman dressed in Spanish style, complete with mantilla and fan. I could imagine her dancing Flamenco, flashing brown legs as she laughed and flirted with every man she saw.

Another photo showed a slightly older Margarita with a little boy of around two—her son, Adrian. Her eyes no longer flashed and the Latin flamboyance had givenway to a demure dress, well suited to a young Victorian mother. But I read defiance in her expression. I bet she could be a handful, I thought. 

I read on. Margarita had died soon after giving birth to her second son, Robert, leaving Jonas with two young boys. In 1897, he had acquired a governess—Agnes Morrison—a widow with a young daughter. They were married soon after. There was one photograph of her, with Jonas’s two sons, but no sign of her daughter. I did learn one thing about her though. Her name was Grace and she took Jonas’s surname on her mother’s marriage. Grace Devine.

An icy breeze chilled me, and I hugged myself. I had the strongest feeling of someone standing right by my shoulder, but I had heard no one come up the stairs. I braced myself, took a deep breath and whirled around, relieved to see I was still alone. But then another sound drifted towards me. A sigh. Again I told myself to stop imagining things and carried on wandering around the rooms. 

Jonas Devine had certainly been an avid collector. Stamps, coins, butterflies, all cataloged in meticulous detail and laid out for inspection. I supposed there wasn’t much else to do if you were independently wealthy and lived on a remote Scottish island in the late nineteenth century.

One room was devoted to his collection of stuffed birds and animals, all presented in glass cases, in an approximation of their real habitat. Goodness alone knew where he had displayed all these things when he was alive. I found them hideous and macabre, but then I’ve never been a fan of taxidermy.

Below each case was a chest of shallow drawers. I opened one and found a collection of cameos. Much more my taste, and he had some lovely ones too. Some were carved onto coral, others onto tortoiseshell, some on ebony and some ivory. Some were the traditional profile, but most were far more intricate, and I pulled out drawer after drawer of them, all laid out under glass. The collection must have numbered hundreds, maybe thousands, and as for their value…

In the second chest, one drawer stuck halfway and wouldn’t budge, and I could tell something was wedged inside.

I reached in and poked around until I found the culprit. A material that felt like canvas was firmly stuck there. I pushed at it but it wouldn’t shift, so I wiggled it around and tried to grab hold of it. Eventually it gave and I pulled out something that looked like a rolled up painting.

I unrolled it and revealed a strange picture. The bizarre subject was painted in blue-green hues, and represented either a lake or the sea, from underwater. In the foreground a girl floated. Her eyes were closed and I guessed she was around fourteen or fifteen years old. She was dressed in a white gown, decorated with a pattern of tiny flowers. Her feet were shod in black Victorian, buttoned-up boots and the gown billowed up from her ankles, exposing white stockings. Her hands floated next to her and her light brown hair flowed loose around her. With a pang, I realized the artist hadn’t depicted a living subject. This girl had drowned.

It could almost have been a photograph, and I had the strongest urge to touch the girl and stroke her hair, but my fingers found the unmistakable texture of oil paint.

The goosebumps arose for the third time but I ignored them, riveted by the loving attention to detail in the artist’s tragic subject. Who would paint such a picture? I searched around for a signature but couldn’t find one.

I don’t know how long I stared. The painting troubled, repelled and fascinated me all in one go. Finally, I decided to take it down to Duncan. He could find a more suitable home for it. Then, as I started to roll it up, the girl’s eyes opened.

(Copyright © 2014 Catherine Cavendish
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication)  

Are you ready for more?  

Saving Grace Devine is published in ebook and paperback on Tuesday July 1st
Ebook editions available here:
Samhain Publishing


Paperback available here:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Italian Blog


Keep Right On To The End of the Road – If You Dare

As some of you will know, my husband and I recently spent a lovely week in Italy, sampling the delights of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Paestum, the Amalfi Coast, assorted volcanoes and a few bottles of Prosecco. Needless to say, I took my trusty copy of The A-Z of Understanding Italians by Steve Emmett with me. Now, if you haven’t already got your copy of this indispensable little book, I suggest you remedy that right now because, I’m telling you from experience, very little of what you encounter in Italy will make sense without it.

I’ve asked the author of this little gem – my friend and fellow horror writer, Steve Emmett – to join me today as I share with you some of my experiences, in particular those relating to road etiquette. Steve is eminently qualified to shed light on the quirkier aspects of Italian life as he lived there for many years.

Now, Steve, let’s talk about road behaviour in Italy. The first thing we encountered was the Italian disdain for traffic lights, signals and even directions. We were on a coach, on a single lane carriageway, about to join the autostrada when, all of a sudden, this bloke in a car came towards us. He swerved onto the side of the road, narrowly missed us and sped off, to the accompaniment of much horn blaring and gesticulations from other drivers. I understand that this is quite usual behaviour in Italy. Surely this must lead to tons of accidents – although, I have to say, I never saw one.

Steve: It is amazing that there aren’t more accidents and fatalities to be honest. Whenever I used to raise the issue of their aggressive and foolhardy driving, my Italian friends used to say that it makes them very safe because they drive fast, take ‘calculated risks’ and, as a result, their reaction times are the best in Europe. But I have my doubts. Did you notice how many cars did NOT have scratches and knocks? I had a colleague who used to insist on driving me around in his Mitsubishi off-roader whenever I visited. He was all of 5’1” and used to have his seat fully forward, hunched over the steering wheel, leaning forward to peer out of the windscreen. I guess he was keen to keep his eye on the car in front, which he kept at a distance of 1cm while maintaining a speed of no lower than 100Km/h. He used to laugh when I told him he would have an accident. The last time I saw him he was on crutches and the Mitsubishi was no more.

Now you mention it, pretty much every car I saw - even the big, flash ones - had dents and scrapes in the paintwork! Another time, we were enjoying a beer in the main square of the little town where we were staying. Cars, vans and those infernal little Vespas and Hondas (more of them later) jockeyed for position, as they converged on the square from any one of four different streets. It seemed that whoever had the loudest horn had right of way. A local policeman, all dressed up in his smart uniform, just stood and watched them. When the inevitable snarl up happened, he watched it for a while and then wandered off back to his car. Is this usual?

Steve: Whaddya mean, infernal Vespas? I love them and you cannot be an Italophile if you don’t! But yes, why would the policeman want to risk spoiling his uniform by doing any work? It’s all image, you know.

Another thing we noticed was the Italian attitude to parking. It seems that, in Naples at least, if a driver cannot find a suitable parking space he (or maybe she, but we mainly saw males doing it) just stops his car anyway – even if it blocks the road. Much gesticulating and colourful language from angry fellow drivers may ensue, but the police seem to vanish into thin air and the car stays ‘parked’ where it is until its owner returns. Is this a peculiarly southern Italy thing or does it happen everywhere?

Steve: It is worse in the south. The further you get from the Swiss border, the more relaxed the Italians become, and that includes in their attitude towards parking. You have to remember that Italians do not have a sense of personal space like northern Europeans and tend to think of what they want – I am told it’s a result of centuries of fragmentation. So if Giovanni needs to stop the car and he blocks you, so what? Why would you mind? It isn’t an aggressive action at all. Daft maybe, but aggressive, no.

The most entertaining parking I saw was in Rome. A mid-sized Fiat pulled up to assess the size of the space between two cars and decided to go for it. When the space proved too short, a bit of gentle shunting back into the front grille of one, and forward into the boot of the other soon solved the problem.

That explains quite a bit.
Our coach was negotiating the steep climb up Mount Vesuvius when a carload of policemen flagged us down. They were coming down the mountain. They casually told our driver that another coach was on its way down and its gearbox had failed. Our driver, equally as casually, acknowledged the warning. The police drove off and we carried on. A couple of minutes later, this coach comes hurtling down the road. Its driver and occupants – who all looked as if they might be Italian – seemed unperturbed by it all, whereas us Brits feared for their safety. Are Italians just naturally braver than we are?

Steve: The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don't know you've crossed it until you're dead.

Now then – those Vespas and Hondas. Nifty little things, I grant you. But they’re everywhere. And I mean everywhere. You think you’re in a pedestrianized area and, all of a sudden…well, put it this way: We were ambling along a crowded street in Amalfi, minding our own business and looking in the windows of the many souvenir shops when, all of a sudden, I was caught in a pincer movement between a Vespa, ridden by a chap in a bright yellow helmet and a Honda whose owner was a young woman dressed from head to toe in black leather, with sunglasses and a determined, slightly aloof look. Neither spoke. I, on the other hand, squeaked and leaped for safety. From the casual way they rode off I can only assume this is a regular occurrence, would I be right?

Steve: Cat, you’re getting the hang of it now. Soon you’ll be able to survive in Italy all on your own. Just wait until you are sitting inside a trattoria and a Vespa buzzes past your elbow – it will be the chef, late again.

I think I would need liberal doses of Valium - or even more Prosecco!

Onto another subject. I understand that the Naples area is the most densely populated in the whole of Italy – three million people. And they are all living in the shadow of Vesuvius which, it is thought, will erupt again before long, creating much the same catastrophic devastation as occurred in AD79. Do Italians have a death wish?

Steve: You forget that even the biggest mob boss with blood on his hands is a devout Catholic and the entire nation has god on their side. And they go to confession. So they will be saved. I also refer you to an answer I gave some moments ago ;-

Well, I have to say that despite several instances of my life flashing before my eyes and having to leap out of the way just in time to avoid being mown down by a Ferrari on a pedestrian crossing, I had a wonderful time in Italy. Pompeii and Herculaneum were stunning, the food and wine were delicious, and nothing can beat sitting on our balcony, resting our weary feet while gazing out over the Bay of Naples at the deceptively peaceful Vesuvius. What are your fondest memories of your time in Italy?

Steve: Oh, so many, Cat. Despite my love of poking fun, the people. I laughed so much when I lived there. Then: sun, big skies, the light, the rain, the wind, the thunder, lightning, sand storms, food, wine, nature, sea, sand, cicadas, driving over vipers and hearing them go ‘pop’, endless nights down the garden with the fireflies – and the buzz of Vespas in Rome and Florence.
Ah yes, now you mention the wildlife, I fell in love with these little lizards. They were everywhere - one even came to visit us on our balcony. So sweet. The one in the photograph deliberately posed for his close-up, then scurried away. But you can keep the Vespas!

Thank you for being my guest today, Steve! 

You can buy The A-Z of Understanding Italians here:

About the Author:

Steve Emmett is a British author, occasional book reviewer and a member of the Society of Authors. Born in Harrogate, the genteel Yorkshire spa town where Agatha Christie hid away from the world thirty-two years earlier.

But Steve’s home town is actually Knaresborough, once a fiercely independent Urban District Council which was led for many years by Steve’s grandfather William Emmett. Knaresborough is now part of the Harrogate District and retains a small Town Council with little power. In the 1980s Steve served on both councils before breaking loose and heading back to big city life. Knaresborough is famous as the home of Mother Shipton, a cave-dwelling hag who foretold the future. Was she a witch as some say? Doubtful, but as a child Steve often visited her cave and petrifying well. He thinks this may have something to do with his interest in the dark and mysterious.

After attending King James’s (Grammar) School in the town Steve went to the York College of Arts and Technology where he took a diploma in construction and surveying, then to the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London where his eyes were opened.
Steve’s Yorkshire father had no time for the artistic talents being developed at the AA and all but dragged him back to Knaresborough to provide slave labour for the ‘family building firm’. After building a few highly compromised houses Steve returned to London in 1987. For over twenty years he ran his own real estate agency specializing in Italian country homes and, for almost ten years, lived by Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, the setting for his horror thriller, Diavolino.
Born at the end of the 1950s, Steve grew up on Dennis Wheatley novels and Hammer Horror films, and on many occasions started to put pen to paper. Completely dissatisfied and unfulfilled with his career, Steve decided in 2008 that he wanted to write and began Diavolino. Right now he is completing three dark, psychological novels and some short stories. Steve’s work is influenced by the writing of John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stephen King, M R James, Anne Rice, Yasmina Khasra and Joanne Harris (and one or two others), but he has his own distinctive style. Steve is an avid reader of horror and psychological suspense, and works as an occasional reviewer for the New York Journal of Books. He currently lives in the Yorkshire Wolds with his long-term partner, and visits his adult son in London as often as he can.

Steve is a member of the Society of Authors, the British Humanist Association and a BHA Funerals Celebrant, and a member of the committee of Galha LGBT Humanists. He is about to start work on a full-length humorous novel loosely based on his adventures in Italy.