Monday, December 10, 2012
As I've mentioned before, the idea for the trilogy started with a tradition which I heard about at my Dutch class whilst I was living in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). "Stille Zaterdag" ("Silent Saturday") is the day after Good Friday and on that day the church bells are not rung. Flemish children are told that the bells have flown away to Rome to collect Easter eggs from the Pope. I was both enchanted and intrigued by this tradition and immediately thought that if I were a Flemish child, I would want to climb the church belfry on Silent Saturday and see for myself whether the bells had really gone or not! This is what happens in the opening scene of the book - only the children who climb the tower look out and see something truly horrific happening below them in the village.
It wasn't until very recently that I started to wonder when Silent Saturday would fall in 2013. I knew the book was coming out in early April and wondered whether its publication might dovetail with the real Silent Saturday. In fact they are very close together, as Silent Saturday falls on 30th March 2013.
I am therefore delighted to say that after some careful enquiries about logistics I am going to be in Brussels on 30th March to do some interviews and book signings. I will post exact times and locations once they are finalised, along with details of UK-based launch events. If you are one of my Belgium-based readers, I'd love it if you would come along on Silent Saturday, to get your signed copy of the book, or just to chat and perhaps ask questions if you have any. You may recognise many of the locations, such as Tervuren park(!) and some other features of life in Belgium, such as the 44 tram, frangipane and bessenjenever. The symbiosis of local Belgian and expat lives also plays a major role in the plot. Also importantly, there are some gruesome deaths! It is a thriller, after all...
Sunday, December 9, 2012
I also went to the Random House Children's Books Christmas party, which was great fun; being an author is lonely work since you spend most days closeted alone with your laptop, so it is very nice to see some flesh-and-blood colleagues for once. However, the party was in London and I live in Perthshire, so getting there was a bit of a challenge. I couldn't afford to spend a fortune on travel and I couldn't be away overnight without my long-suffering husband taking two days off work to be with the kids, so I opted for flying up and down on the same day with a budget airline. This meant getting up at 3.30 a.m. to drive to Edinburgh airport, and getting home at 10.30 p.m.(!) I knew I would be exhausted afterwards and that I wouldn't get anything done the following day (Friday) at all, and I was right. All the same, my 4 a.m. drive through the dark, deserted and snowy Perthshire countryside was rather enjoyable. I saw a pair of eyes gleaming at me from the undergrowth (probably a fox), saw a large white bird (probably an owl) swoop across the road, and on one lonely stretch of road a whole herd of deer were crossing.
Once I actually got to London I had a bit of time to kill so I decided to do a lightning raid on the Victoria and Albert Museum. I mainly went to pay my respects to the Steinfeld glass in room 64 again. Since I take such a personal interest in the glass (whose history inspired my book The Glass Demon), I am always a bit surprised to see the panels on display sitting there in a corner of the room with no-one taking any particular notice of them. I am mortally tempted to grab passers-by and tell them all about it, but I suspect I would come across as some kind of crazy female Ancient Mariner.
Anyway, I went to look at the glass, and after that I popped into the Japanese section. My daughter is a big fan of manga and anime so I thought I would have a look and see if there was anything I could photograph for her - some Japanese paintings, perhaps. In fact, there was something better, and it was pretty clearly signposted by the group of teenage girls sitting on the floor in the middle of the gallery, admiring the exhibits: a whole series of Japanese "Lolita" costumes, which looked as though they had come straight from the pages of a manga.
Monday, November 19, 2012
I have been writing short supernatural fiction for some years; the earliest of the stories included in this collection appeared in 2005 in All Hallows, the journal of the Ghost Story Society. I'm a massive fan of ghost stories - my bookshelves are lined with everything from crumbling old Fontana anthologies to Koji Suzuki's Ring. I sometimes run workshops on ghost story writing too, which I usually introduce by explaining my pet theory that writing them is a fabulous training ground for writing in general: it is easy to write a story that is simply gross or disgusting, but it requires skill to make the flesh creep. I very much hope that the readers of The Sea Change & other stories will find their flesh creeping pleasantly!
These seven tales are set in locations as diverse as the French Pyrenees, rural Slovakia, the German Eifel and the seabed, ten fathoms down off the south coast of England. I am particularly pleased to say that the collection includes my ending to M.R.James's unfinished story The Game of Bear; this appeared in print in the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter in 2009 but has never been available to a wider audience until now. It is now republished with the kind permission of N.R.J.James and Rosemary Pardoe.
For more details, and to pre-order the book, see: Swan River Press - The Sea Change
The cover art above is by Jason Zerrillo.
"Enticingly horrid" is the reaction of one of my Twitter friends!
Sunday, November 18, 2012
On an autumn day in 1908, a thirty-three year old Roman Catholic priest named Nikola Reinartz stepped out of the bright sunshine of an Indian summer and into the vaulted interior of Ashridge Park chapel, the private chapel of Earl Brownlow in Hertfordshire. His heart thumping, he gazed in awe at the stained glass which filled the chapel’s eleven gothic windows. As he was to relate many years later, “With a stroke of magic I felt myself transported home to the Rheinland!” Gazing at the glass, “fabulous work in beautiful subtle colours”, he was able to pick out the name of Steinfeld abbey in the Eifel, the abbey itself in the background of one of the scenes, and the familiar figures of white-robed Premonstratensian brothers. There could be no doubt about it: Steinfeld’s greatest treasure, its magnificent stained glass, had been rediscovered after a hundred years of obscurity. The road to this discovery was paved with strange coincidences, and at the heart of the story lay a remarkable correspondence between Father Reinartz and M.R.James, then the Provost of King’s College, Cambridge. This is the story of that correspondence.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
I'm pleased to say that Jenna's blog post is now up; you can read it here:
Jenna's Next Big Thing
Susy will be posting soon, and I'll post a link to her blog too in due course.
Meanwhile I'm beetling away at the sequel to Silent Saturday, whose title is The Demons of Ghent (no prizes for guessing where that one is set!). I'll also be blogging soon with some interesting news about a separate project I am working on - one with a ghostly theme! - and once I get an hour or two to sort through the relevant photos I shall be posting the long-promised article about the Steinfeld glass.
Busy, busy, busy! :-)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I have been spending quite a lot of time recently at Innerpeffray Library, the oldest lending library in Scotland, where I have been transcribing excerpts (especially the bits about lechery and bawdiness) from various arcane antiquarian books for the edification of my readers.
So, especially for Hallowe'en, here are some sections from my great favourite, the Treatise of Specters, and from that other rollicking tome, The Discovery of Witchcraft.
Let us start with the Treatise, which offers us some delightful tales of leprosy inflicted by witchcraft.
These two passages are from the part entitled An History of Strange Apparitions, and cunning delusions of Devils.
The first one brings whole new meaning to that thing my mother used to say to me when I was a child, about not making a nasty face in case the wind changed and it stuck that way. Here, a sudden wind brings disfiguring disease:
NB Brisacum is probably the French town of Neuf-Brisach, close to the German border. The other name was not clearly legible but is evidently another town close by.
The second story, below, mentions the "black wood", presumably the Black Forest on the other side of the border. Here, a witch engages in the traditional occupation of cursing her tormenter:
When Innerpeffray Library opens again in March I shall post some more excerpts. In the meantime I hope those who have read the ones I have already posted have enjoyed them, and I wish everyone a Happy Hallowe'en!
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Blankenheim is a small German town about 20km from Bad Münstereifel (Bad Münstereifel was my home from 2001 to 2008 and the setting of two of my books, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden and Wish Me Dead). Like other towns and villages in the region, Blankenheim has a "normal" Karneval celebration around February every year. Unusually, it also has a ghostly Karneval procession too.
The Geisterzug consists of residents of the town dressed as ghosts - only not any old ghosts, and other eldritch creatures such as vampires, ghouls and zombies are not allowed. The ghost costume is made by wearing a sheet with ears (or perhaps they are horns) knotted into it, for a distinctive effect which you can see in the video. The "ghosts" proceed through the narrow streets of Blankenheim in a zigzagging dance to the strains of Juh jah, Kribbel en der Botz, a local Karneval song (Kribbel en der Botz means something along the lines of ants in your pants). This is the music you can hear playing in the film.
The ghosts are accompanied by witches with fearsome papier maché masks and carrying brooms with which they menace the spectators; some people think that this is connected to an older ritual of driving out evil spirits at the end of winter. There is also a "head ghost" who unlike the others has wings, and rides on a horse, and a devil. During the procession the electrical lights in the town are extinguished and torches are carried.
I have attended the Geisterzug twice and it made a very strong impression on me. It reminds me somewhat of the sinister procession in The Wicker Man (original version)! There are other (and bigger) ghost parades in other places, but this one is peculiarly atmospheric, given the backdrop of Blankenheim itself, with its cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. Very creepy!