Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Those Were The Days...

A few of us who went to the same High School have set up a page on Facebook. It's a secret group, of course, so we can reminisce in total freedom, confident that no one will sue us for defamation, libel or any other misdemeanour. 

But this is one instance I know I can share with you, because it's the subject of the thread which has seen the most activity of any since the page started (I think). The subject? You probably guessed from the title of this piece. Nostalgia. Most of us attended school in the mid to late Sixties- Seventies and, in essence, somebody said, 'remember gabardine macs and duffel bags?' - and it all took off from there. More than 100 posts later, it's still going strong - and it only started a day or two ago. AND there aren't all that many of us.
The dreaded liberty bodice

Since then various of us have mentioned anything from liberty bodices (horrid things!), slide rules, comptometers, log tables, pumps and tape recorders, through to Soir de Paris perfume, Take Your Pick and Double Your Money on TV.

I recalled an unfortunate accident involving a bottle of Vecchia Romagna and a pair of wide flared jeans (circa 1977). Those damn jeans were so wide it was easy to get yourself tangled up in them. I did. Fell over. Smashed the bottle. Didn't taste a drop of Vecchia Romagna from that day till my recent trip to southern Italy in May this year. Brought a bottle back, with some trepidation. Fortunately it survived, thanks to sensible bootcut jeans and trainers.

Then there were the infamous '70s platform shoes. Great gallumphing things they were. You could barely stand in them, let alone walk and when you did, it was with a lumbering elephantine gait. Accidents galore ranged from, miscalculating the extra height they added (where limited headroom was available, this could result in severe concussion) to falling off the wretched things and twisting, spraining or fracturing feet and ankles.

Then there were the smells of the '70s. I worked in a Chemist's shop on Saturdays in my last two years at school. To walk into our shop was to be greeted with the heady mixed aromas of Aqua Manda and Hai Karate, not to mention 'the great smell of Brut'. Ah, that Aqua Manda. Loads of teenage girls wore it. (I did myself, from time to time, when I wasn't indulging in the testers for Chanel No. 5 or Cuir de Russie!) As likely as not, the entire back cover of our favourite magazine - Honey or Petticoat  - would consist of a full page ad. for the stuff. Great if you wanted to smell like a Terry's Chocolate Orange. And we must have done. It sold by the bucket load in our shop alone.

Mary Quant make up was all the rage. Our mothers and grandmothers dabbed bright red spots on their cheeks, courtesy of Bourjois' little black and white boxes. They smoothed Pond's cold cream on their faces at night. And we thought they were archaic, as we smeared on chalk white lipstick and tried to do our eyes like Julie Driscoll.

I experimented (unsuccessfully) with Maybelline false eyelashes. The glue itched and every time I blinked, I felt as if I was lowering and raising a set of spidery Venetian blinds. They seemed strangely heavy as well.

As for music, Radio Luxembourg (or '208' as it was affectionately known, thanks to its position on the Medium Wave dial of your transistor radio) was only surpassed by pirate stations, Radio Caroline, or Atlantic. But the pirate stations could only be received in parts of the UK. Once I moved to Liverpool, Radio 208 was the permanent station on my dial for that blissful time when I sank beneath the sheets, with my earpiece wedged in my ear. It only broadcast after 7p.m. at night anyway. I cried when it went off the air for good. Radio One just didn't cut it for me.

But time trudges on. Actually, it seems more like a gallop these days. The Spice Girls are hurtling towards their 40s (three have already arrived). Robbie Williams is a nice, respectable family man in a three piece suit, writing and singing songs that offer advice to his baby daughter. Even Paul McCartney's famous 'baby' face is etched deep in wrinkles (and he really can't hit those high notes anymore, but nobody dares tell him I suppose).

Today's Generation Y is the first to be born during the computer age. They will never know the dubious joys of changing a typewriter ribbon, LPs you played on your record player, or (if you were posh) Hi Fi. Never will they have to untangle a cassette that has somehow wound itself like spaghetti around the inner workings of the player. Not for them, school satchels, pac-a-macs, thinking how great it was to have FOUR channels on your TV, kitchen geysers, antimacassars, candlewick bedspreads and smoke-filled cinemas where you could 'Look at Life' before the main feature - and get a second (usually naff) film as well.

Nostalgia is great, isn't it? As I've been writing this, another half dozen contributions have been made to that Facebook thread, each one conjuring up a new, and mostly cherished, memory. Yet these days we have so much more. Medical advances are helping rid us of once deadly disease, and conquering illnesses that would once have come packaged with an inevitable death sentence. Technology helps us to do more and to speed up previously time-consuming, labour intensive tasks. Yes, there are downsides - enough for volumes, let alone a blog post. But I, for one, wouldn't swap my computer for a typewriter, and I'm lost without my iPad and mobile phone. I'm even learning to love my iPod!

They say ''the past is a foreign country". Perhaps, after all, it's better it stays that way; a place I love to visit, safe in the knowledge I can return home whenever I want. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

'The Pendle Curse' is Coming!

Thrilled to announce that I have just signed my third contract with Samhain Publishing. The Pendle Curse will be my next published novel!

No cover art yet of course but, this is the real Pendle Hill where most of the action takes place.

Here's a taste of what to expect:

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill in Lancaster. Now they are back, with vengeance in mind…

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of abating. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man – somehow out of time – who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she must go there.

But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil, and a curse that will not die. 

The Pendle Curse was inspired by actual events. In 1612, a group of alleged witches, living and operating in the Pendle district of Lancashire, were tried and convicted of crimes apparently caused by their use of witchcraft. Two main families were involved - Elizabeth Southernes (aka Demdike), her daughter, Elizabeth Device, and grandchildren Alizon and James, and their neighbours: Anne Whittle (aka Chattox) and her daughter Anne Redferne. The two families were bitter rivals. Each accused the other, until they ultimately destroyed themselves.

Significantly, one of the chief accusers was a young child called Jennet Device - her age is variously given as anything from nine to eleven - who testified against her own  mother, brother and sister. So tiny was she that she had to be raised onto a table so the rowdy court could see her as she pointed the finger again and again at each of the accused.

If readers in the USA are unaware of the story of the Pendle Witches, this brief explanation will probably still strike a chord. The trial of these witches was faithfully recorded in meticulous detail and subsequently published as, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, by the court clerk, Thomas Potts. Although purportedly a verbatim account of what actually happened, it is more of a reflection on the events. 

Yet it proved important enough to become a virtual template for another trial eighty years later, and over three thousand miles away - in Salem, Massachusetts. There, another trial of alleged witches set family against family and neighbour against neighbour. And there also, the testimony of a child was key to the prosecution.

That's the historical background and inspiration, but The Pendle Curse is, of course a horror novel. The evil my present day main character, Laura, has to face drives her to the brink of madness. Or maybe even over it. She can trust nothing and no one; not even the landscape around her, as it nestles - apparently innocently - under the glowering rise of Pendle Hill.

The Pendle Curse is coming...

Trust no one

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Saving Grace Devine - Behind The Scenes

I am delighted to announce that my Horror novel - Saving Grace Devine - is published today (July 1st) by Samhain Publishing.

I have posted elsewhere that the inspiration for this story originated in a nightmare I had, where I was in Stromness Museum, unrolling an old painting. The picture showed a drowning (or drowned) girl in a lake, or some other body of dark green water. Macabre enough in its own way, but not especially scary, just an odd dream. The nightmare came when she opened her eyes, and the terror in them jolted me awake.

This isn't the first time  a dream of mine has triggered off a story. Indeed, there are some plot lines tacked to a board above my desk that testify to the vivid clarity of some of my most frightening nightmares. They'll all get written one of these days, but for now it's Grace's turn.

As my dream had been set in Stromness Museum, I suppose it was only natural that I would turn to the Orkneys for my settings. I created my own island - Arnsay -a sort of mash-up between the Orkney Mainland and the island of Hoy, with variations to suit the story. 

I have visited Orkney many times. There is a magic about those islands, off the north coast of Scotland. Away from the main towns of Kirkwall and Stromness, an aura of calm, timelessness and peace surrounds you. The light is different there too. There are days when it is positively silver; shimmering and mystical. And then there's the history. The tall standing stones at Brodgar form a perfect circle, built around 2500-2000BC. For centuries people made their way there for reasons we cannot be certain of. To worship perhaps. Maybe to honour their dead - there are burial mounds all around there. As at Stonehenge and Avebury, their counterparts hundreds of miles to the south, visitors come to touch the stones, to meditate and try and make some form of contact with their power. Some even marry there.

The Neolithic village of Skara Brae, uncovered during a massive storm in 1850, with its network of interconnecting passageways and remnants of stone furniture, requires little imagination to recreate the everyday lives of the people who lived here some 5000 years ago, and deserted their village at around the time the standing stones were being erected. One house in particular is so well preserved you can see the stone dresser, beds, central hearth, storage cupboards. You could almost move in!

There are lakes aplenty - both salt and fresh water - and standing by the calm waters, with the ever-present wind blowing through my hair, I watch kittiwakes and arctic terns swooping down, before rising high in the sky. I see oystercatchers feeding, their orange-red bills providing a vivid splash of colour. There are puffins, fulmars, guillemots and skuas and a whole host of birds rarely seen elsewhere in the U.K. They add to the uniqueness of this unspoiled landscape.

Many stories have been told and written of these islands and will continue to be, as their beauty and majesty captures generation after generation.

But only part of Saving Grace Devine is set up there.

Another part of the story takes place in Edinburgh - one of my favourite places. This city has a fascinating history, both above and below ground. There's the old city and the new one (dating from Georgian times). In the Old City (in the vicinity of the Royal Mile), beneath what is now ground level, lies a network of narrow streets, known as Closes, where people were born, lived, worked and died. It is said the infamous bodysnatchers Burke and Hare hid their bodies down here. Persistent stories of plague, murder and hauntings abound. And in Mary King's Close, a lost and lonely little ghost girl searches for her missing doll...

The Real Mary King's Close is a tourist attraction, and an absolute must for anyone even vaguely interested in history in general and/or hauntings in particular. Four hundred years of human habitation have left their mark and the whole place is brimfull of atmosphere. Whenever I've visited there, I have had the distinct impression I was being watched; that something lurked in the shadows, just out of my range of vision. Something evil. Menacing. Needless to say, part of my story had to be set there.

My main character - Alex Fletcher - finds herself cast back in time to the Edinburgh of 1912, with its unfamiliar sights and sounds. In a well to do part of the city, who knows what lurks behind the elegant facades? There, evil awaits her, and her very soul is in peril.

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.

Ebook editions available here:
 Samhain Publishing

Paperback available here:
 Samhain Publishing

  and you might find these links interesting;