Thursday, April 17, 2014

Silent Saturday is coming to get you!

If you happened to live in Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) and you also happened to live fairly close to a village church (as I did when we lived there), you would probably notice something this Saturday. Or rather, you would notice the absence of something. Those jolly church bells that ring every quarter of an hour during the week and a lot more on Sundays would be silent.

This is because the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter is Stille Zaterdag or "Silent Saturday," which soberly commemorates the time Jesus lay in the tomb. On that day, no church bells are rung in Flanders. Flemish children are told that this is because the bells have flown away to Rome to collect Easter eggs from the Pope (as illustrated in this airline poster at Zaventem, left!). I've sometimes wondered how they are supposed to do that - presumably they'd have to fly back upside down?!

When I heard about this tradition, my first thought was that if I were a little Flemish kid, I would be mad keen to get into the church bell-tower on Silent Saturday and see whether the bells really had flown away or not. After all, it'd be less of a grey area than say, the existence of Santa Claus, who was in fact a real-life historical character: the Bishop of Myra, no less. Either the bells would be there or they wouldn't. I'd be dying to know. And this is the starting-point for my book, Silent Saturday. When she is only seven years old, heroine Veerle De Keyser climbs the belfry of her local church with her friend Kris, in an attempt to find out the truth.

Of course, what they find confirms Kris' suspicions: the adults have been lying through their teeth, and the bells haven't gone anywhere at all. So the friends decide that while they are up the tower, they may as well take a peek out of the windows at the village below. What they see is shocking and bloody: the aftermath of an appalling murder, the worst thing that has ever happened in their little community. The killer was so unrelenting and savage that the press dub him The Hunter.

Ten years later, the teenaged Veerle runs into Kris again in unusual circumstances, and they embark on a series of audacious urban exploration adventures. But the past is about to catch up with them, as it becomes apparent that someone is, once again, hunting human prey - and they could be next.

If you fancy some seasonal reading, Silent Saturday is now out in affordable paperback - and in June it will be followed by the sequel, The Demons of Ghent. Watch out for more and higher bell-towers, and some very nasty deaths!

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