Friday, May 31, 2013

Seventeenth and eighteenth century memes

As I was saying in my last post, yesterday I went over to Innerpeffray Library to show the Bookwitch around, and whilst I was there I had a bit of a poke about for anything that might interest the readers of this blog.

Apart from the gripping first hand account of torture at the hands of the Inquisition, I also had a look at a gentler book - the fabulous Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes. I think if I were allowed to have one single book from the library for my very own, it would be this one. It is an alphabetical encyclopaedia of animals - most of them real ones but some mythical ones such as satyrs and sphinxes have crept in too! Also one has to suspect that the illustrator had not actually seen all of the creatures he depicted; there is an otter who looks more like some kind of very grumpy small lion!

One of my very favourite entries is all about the Cat (left). Underneath this lovely picture the author remarks, "Once cattes were all wilde, but afterwards they retyred to houses, wherefore there are plenty of them in all countries." There is a great deal more text, far more than I could transcribe in a short visit, but it was so good that I have promised myself that I will copy it all down at a future date and post it here. I feel Seventeenth Century LOLcats have definite blog post potential!


This book was published in 1785. I mainly picked it up because I still have a bee in my bonnet about the case of the Reverend Richard Duncan, minister of Kinkell and Trinity Gask, who was hanged at Crieff in 1682 for infanticide. Sadly, somewhat as suspected, the case was not notorious enough to find a place in Arnot's book. I did however come across another case that I thought was worthy of a mention here - because it's all about writers!

Yes, dear reader, I am shocked to say that in days gone by, writers were not always the respectable, placid and clean-living individuals who appear today at signings and book festivals. Back in the lawless eighteenth century, they were no strangers to bad language and brawling! Tsk.

Hence the sobering tale of "George Cumming, Writer", who, together with another writer, John Hall, got himself into a nasty brawl in Edinburgh one September night in the early 1700s. The book describes the incident as follows:

"The indictment set forth, that the prisoner, being upon the street of Portsburgh, a suburb of Edinburgh, on the 5th of the preceding month of September, between nine and ten at night, the deceased Patrick Falconer, and other two soldiers of Lord Lindesay’s regiment, walked peaceably by him in the way to their quarters; when the prisoner gave the soldiers opprobrious language, and, without any just provocation, drew his sword, with which he maliciously run the deceased through the body, of which he died within twenty-four hours. 

The parties were pretty much agreed as to the facts which gave rise to this prosecution: That the prisoner, entertaining a notion that the soldiers had made a rude answer to his companions, who enquired of them what o’clock it was, gave the soldiers abusive language, upon which they went up to him, and attacked him with their drawn bayonets: That the prisoner received them with a drawn sword, and, after some skirmishing, killed the deceased."

The case seems mainly to have turned on who started the fight - whether "George Cummings, Writer" had been the first to insult the soldiers or whether they had started it by being rude to him. Cummings' goose was unfortunately cooked by the testimony of a local apothecary:

"James Porteous, apothecary in Edinburgh, deposed, that, in the beginning of September last, he was one evening in the street of Portsburgh, between nine and ten o’clock, in company with three other persons, of whom the prisoner was one. The prisoner went to a house to call for his cloak, and the deceased, with two other soldiers, came up with the deponent and his companions, who asked at them, ‘what o’clock it was?’ He cannot be positive what answer they made; but the prisoner, who was a little way behind them, called the soldiers sons of whores and sons of bitches. The soldiers asked what he said, and he repeated the words, calling, at the same time, to his companions to beat the soldiers. The soldiers then drew their bayonets, passed by the deponent and his companions, and went up to the prisoner, who advanced to them, and, when he was within sword’s length of them, drew it; and within a quarter of an hour, the deponent heard one cry, Murder!"

The court sentenced the prisoner to be hanged, and his personal estate to be forfeited. Writers, beware...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"I survived the Inquisition"

I'm currently hard at work on another round of edits of The Demons of Ghent (the sequel to Silent Saturday, and due out in 2014) but I took a day off today to take book blogger The Bookwitch to one of my very favourite places, the Library of Innerpeffray. Whilst the Bookwitch was listening to librarian Lara Haggerty talking about the library, I thought I would peruse some of the older books and find a few curiosities for my blog.

It's never difficult to find something interesting in the library! Today a book from 1746 caught my eye. It has the rather-less-than-snappy title The SUFFERINGS OF JOHN COUSTOS FOR FREE-MASONRY AND FOR His refusing to turn ROMAN CATHOLIC, IN THE INQUISITION at Lisbon;

Where he was sentenc’d, during Four Years, to the GALLEY, and afterwards releas’d from thence by the gracious Interposition of his present Majesty King George II.

It's a first hand description of what it was like to be captured and tortured by the Inquisition (this was in Portugal, by the way. I tend to think "Inquisition" = "Spanish" but there was one in Portugal too. A kind of franchise perhaps...). The author, John Coustos, was tortured in an attempt to make him give up freemasonry and convert to Catholicism. It makes horrific but compelling reading; I think everyone shudders to think about the Inquisition but I have to admit I didn't know there was a first-hand description available of what it was like actually to undergo torture at the Inquisitors' hands. 

The illustration above is one of three in the book. John Coustos describes the scene as follows:

"The Reader will naturally suppose that I must be seiz’d with Horror, when, at my entring this infernal Place, I saw myself, on a sudden, surrounded by six Wretches, who, after preparing the Tortures, strip’d me naked (all to Linen Drawers); when, laying me on my Back, they began to lay hold of every Part of my Body. First, they put round my Neck an Iron Collar, which was fastned to the Scaffold; they then fix’d a Ring to each Foot; and this being one, they stretched my Limbs with all their Might. They next wound two Ropes round each Arm, and two round each Thigh, which Ropes pass’d under the Scaffol, through Holes made for that Purpose; and were all drawn tight, at the same time, by four Men, upon a Signal made for this Purpose.
The Reader must believe that my Pains must be intolerable, when I solemnly declare, that these Ropes, which were of the Size of one’s little Finger, pierc’d through my Flesh quite to the Bone; making the Blood gush out at the eight different Places that were thus bound. As I persisted in refusing to discover any more than what has been seen in the Interrogatories above; the Ropes were thus drawn together four different Times. At my Side stood a Physician and Surgeon, who often felt my Temples, to judge of the Danger I might be in; by which Means my Tortures were suspended, at Intervals, that I might have an Opportunity of recovering myself a little.
Whilst I was thus suffering, they were so barbarously unjust as to declare, that, were I to die under the Torture, I should be guilty, by my Obstinacy, of Self-Murder. In fine, the last Time the Ropes were drawn tight, I grew so exceedingly weak, occasioned by the Blood’s Circulation being stopp’d, and the Pains I endur’d, that I fainted quite away; insomuch that I was carried back to my Dungeon, without my once perceiving it." 

Naturally there wasn't time to transcribe the entire book but I leafed through to the end to find out how exactly poor John Coustos escaped (yes, I have now turned into one of those sinners who reads the end before reading the rest of the book). He was finally sentenced to four years' labour in the galleys, but after a period working as a galley slave his health collapsed and he had to be allowed to rest. (This in itself surprised me a bit - I had imagined that the galley slaves were simply worked to death.) Once away from the galleys Coustos applied to Lord Harrington for help, and after a somewhat convoluted series of referrals the King himself got involved and asked for him to be pardoned. The Inquisitors seemingly agreed that Coustos should be allowed to leave the country, but they asked him some very detailed questions about when and how he proposed to depart, which made him suspect that they were going to make a last minute attempt to detain him again. So he told them he was going to leave at 9a.m. on the following Monday morning - but instead he packed up and left immediately. He spent several weeks hiding on board a ship at anchor near Lisbon and finally sailed away safely. (Everyone loves a happy ending, no?)

PS For anyone who is interested in the Bookwitch's version of today's events, it's here:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Scared? You will be. I hope so, anyway...

As you may know, last night I took part in a ghost story evening at the wonderful Innerpeffray Library near Crieff. The event was part of the Museums At Night initiative which runs from 16th to 18th of this month.

I'm hard put to think of a better place to hold a ghost story evening than Innerpeffray Library! The very first time I visited the library, I thought to myself, wow, this is like stepping into an M.R.James story. Stuffed with antiquarian books, it has all the atmosphere of a country house library of a century ago.

Lara, the Innerpeffray librarian, had added to the atmosphere of the event by lighting it with electric candles. I'm not euphemistically referring to modern lights here - these really do look exactly like candles but they have tiny bulbs instead of a naked flame. Ghost stories by candlelight is a super idea but inadvisable when there are thousands of antique books piled up on all sides!

The evening kicked off with tea, coffee and biscuits and an introduction by Lara, who said some nice things about my work that I would not have liked to say myself. Then I talked for a little while about the perennial attraction of creepy stories. I'd backed up my ideas about this with some quotations from the American mystery writer Arthur B. Reeve; rather amusingly, Reeve asserts in his introduction to The Best Ghost Stories (1919) that people can be divided into psychics and non-psychics by getting them to close their eyes and saying "horse" to them. If they immediately visualise a horse in their mind's eye, they are more likely to be psychic! I tried this out on the audience and one lady declared that she had seen part of a horse! Perhaps this makes her a little bit psychic...

Given that I had been talking about the appeal of creepy tales throughout history, I then handed over to Lara who read a selection of antique ghost stories from the library's collection. The sources included the Treatise of Specters, a great favourite of mine - basically a kind of anthology of spooky stories dating back to classical times in some cases. Some excerpts from the Treatise have previously appeared on this blog.

Next, I talked about the supernatural tales that had inspired my first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, set in the real town of Bad Münstereifel, where we used to live. The folk legends of the town were collected in the very early 1900s by Father Karl Krause, the parish priest in the nearby village of Eschweiler, and published in the newsletter of the Eifel Club. Some of these tales are retold in my novel, and woven into the plot. I read the one about the Eternal Huntsman who is supposed to ride out of the ruined castle on the Quecken hill and roam the forest around Münstereifel; I then read from the later scene in which Stefan, the heroine's friend, goes to the old castle on Walpurgis night to see if he can discover anything. Of course he does see something terrifying - but is it the Huntsman?

After that, I handed over to Innerpeffray volunteer Bill, who read a story he had written - with a codicil that made everyone gasp! I'm not giving any spoilers though, in the hope that Bill can be induced to read it again at future events. He also read a wonderful poem he had composed in Scots dialect, about a church mouse who sees something terrifying in the graveyard after dark. I was very impressed with the poem and I do hope that in due course it will reach a wider audience. 

The rest of the evening was taken up by my reading two of my own ghostly short stories: The Game of Bear and Nathair Dhubh. Both of these appeared in my recent collection The Sea Change

The Game of Bear is an unfinished fragment of a story by the great M.R.James, with a completion by myself (there are also other endings in existence by other authors) and published by kind permission of N.J.R.James and Rosemary Pardoe, who transcribed the fragment from the manuscript in King's College, Cambridge library. 

I chose Nathair Dhubh as my other story to read because it is actually set in Scotland in 1938. When I wrote the story, some years ago, I wanted to set it in Scotland because it is all about climbing, but not being a Scot myself I was not confident of writing a Scots character with Scots dialogue, so I made the narrator "Jim" a Scot by birth who had moved away in his late teens and now had a Northern English accent instead. Of course, this still left me with the slight difficulty that "Jim" is in his 80s and North English and male, and I am in my 40s and Southern English and female! But the audience had to live with that..! It is a curious fact that although my novels to date are all written with a female voice, in my short fiction I often fall naturally into a male narrative voice. It seems "Jim" wanted his story to be told, even if it had to be told through the medium of a female reader. 

This was the first time I had ever read any of my ghost stories in public, and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the experience. When reading from a novel, you are naturally required to choose an excerpt, and it can be quite hard to create a satisfying reading experience, since you inevitably have to stop somewhere in the middle of the action. I very much enjoyed bringing these tales to a proper conclusion. Also, it is alway fun of course if you get to a particularly nasty bit and see the looks on people's faces!

I hope to do another ghost story event at some future date, perhaps Hallowe'en, so keep an eye out for details, which I'll post on this blog as well as Goodreads and my Facebook books page

Meanwhile, a very big thank you to Lara for organising this event, to Bill for taking part alongside me, and to everyone who attended for listening. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why I love history...

A very short post today; simply something I had to share. It's from the Annals of Auchterarder & Memorials of Strathearn by Alexander George Reid, which I have been perusing for my researches into the churches of St. MacKessog and Saint Bean (Kinkell). It's about the Jacobite rising of 1715. 

"An account of the burning of Auchterarder is given by Mr. John Steedman, the minister of the parish, in a contemporary letter to Wodrow, the historian. Mr. Steedman was a timorous man, and was afraid to preach in his church while the neighbourhood was occupied by the Rebel Army. Mr. William Reid, minister of the adjoining parish of Dunning, was of sterner material, and exchanged pulpits with his brother clergyman for several Sundays, conducting worship at Auchterarder with a loaded pistol hanging at his breast."

Bless you for including that, A.G.Reid. You've made my day. 

Presbyters and pistols: the old church at Dunning. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Jamesian adventure

As you may know if you have visited my blog before, I am a great fan of the ghost stories of M.R.James. One of my favourites is A Neighbour's Landmark - not everyone's choice perhaps, but I find it peculiarly creepy. 

The ghost is first introduced by means of an excerpt from a book that the narrator has been reading in his host's library, thus:

"When I turned over to a Letter from a Beneficed Clergyman in the Country to the Bishop of C —— r, I was becoming languid, and I gazed for some moments at the following sentence without surprise:

‘This Abuse (for I think myself justified in calling it by that name) is one which I am persuaded Your Lordship would (if ’twere known to you) exert your utmost efforts to do away. But I am also persuaded that you know no more of its existence than (in the words of the Country Song)

That which walks in Betton Wood
Knows why it walks or why it cries.’

Then indeed I did sit up in my chair, and run my finger along the lines to make sure that I had read them right. There was no mistake. Nothing more was to be gathered from the rest of the pamphlet. The next paragraph definitely changed the subject: ‘But I have said enough upon this Topick’ were its opening words."

Of course, later in the story the narrator discovers at first hand how terrible the crying of the ghost is. 

I'm afraid I can't offer a story quite as spine-chilling as his, but my latest adventure in exploring old churches and their graveyards does have some similarities with it. Recently, I visited the ruined church of St. MacKessog near Auchterarder here in Perthshire (see photo above). I blogged about my visit afterwards, and later about some other details I had discovered from ferreting about in the old books in the local library. 

One of the books I used was a facsimile of Alexander George Reid's book Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, published in 1899. I found the information about St. MacKessog's that I had been looking for, but naturally I perused the rest of the book, which has some interesting tales of local history including witch burnings! And thus I came across the chapter intriguingly titled The Terrible Parish.  

There is, it appears, a "Country Song" about the parish in question. Reid tells us, "Little Dunkeld was commonly held to be the "Terrible Parish" in Scotland referred to in the old rhyme; but the real locality is that of the parish of Kinkell, in Strathearn, the mistake in identity having arisen in the similarity of names. The lines are as follows: -
'Was there e'er a parish, a parish, a parish;
Was there e'er a parish as that o' Kinkell?
They've hangit the minister, drooned the precentor,
Dang doon the steeple, and drucken the bell.' 
The explanation given of the circumstances which gave rise to the rhyme is that the minister had been hanged, the precentor drowned in attempting to cross the Earn from the adjoining parish of Trinity-Gask, the steeple had been taken down, and that the bell had been sold to the parish of Cockpen, near Edinburgh."

Reid relates that the minister in question was Mr. Richard Duncan, who had his degree from the University of Edinburgh on 2nd July 1667, was licensed by the Bishop of that Diocese on 10th April 1673, and ordained minister of Kinkell between 16th September and 11th November 1674. 

For the first few years everything appears to have gone well, but then Mr. Duncan got himself into difficulties over the maintenance of the church along with that of Trinity-Gask. Both required rebuilding , but some of those required to contribute towards the cost were failing to do so. Meanwhile, Mr. Duncan complained to the Synod that some ash trees growing in the churchyard had been cut down and the wood sold to pay for a new bell, without his agreement.

At a subsequent Synod meeting in 1681 the elders of the church seem to have got their own back by making complaints against Mr. Duncan, "representing his gross ignorance in re-baptising a child, and other gross, rude, and scandalous offences and misdemeanours". It ended with his being deposed from his position, but much worse was to come.

On June 6th 1682, Mr. Duncan was found guilty of murdering his own illegitimate child by a servant girl named Catherine Stalker, and condemned to death. The baby's body had been found buried under the hearth stone in his house. It is said that a last-minute reprieve was obtained, but the messenger arrived twenty minutes too late. The minister had been hanged.

The story goes that Mr. Duncan declared his innocence right up to the end, and said that as proof of it, after his execution a white dove would land on the gallows - and "this, accordingly, took place."

The other disasters listed in the song are also supposed to have really taken place. The minister who officiated at Trinity-Gask also had to appear at Kinkell every other week, and it was on one such occasion that the precentor drowned whilst crossing the river Earn. 

Meanwhile the church at Kinkell remained in a ruinous state for some time after Mr. Duncan's death. Eventually it was rebuilt, but without the steeple, which was presumably demolished when the ruins were levelled for the rebuilding. 

Reid says that the church bell was cast on the continent in 1680 for the parish of Kinkell, but was moved to Cockpen by 1708. It was first hung in the old parish church of Cockpen (later ruined) and then moved to the new church about a mile away in 1820. In Reid's time at least, it was still in use there. 

Of course, having read all of this, I was desperate to see the church itself! Once again a ruin, it nevertheless has entries on the websites of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (Canmore) and the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches. All the same, it would be quite possible to drive past it a hundred times and never notice it was there. 

The church lies between Innerpeffray and Auchterarder, but is set back from the road and hidden from sight on one side by a residential house and on another by trees overhanging a stream. If my daughter and I had not known precisely where to look, we probably wouldn't have seen it at all. Anyway, find it we did. We took a lot of photographs and explored the site as thoroughly as possible. 

The church itself is very overgrown with ivy, although it is more visible than St. MacKessog's because in places the ivy is dead and brown:  

The interior has been divided into three parts, two of which are just about accessible if you don't mind ducking under some obstinate tree branches; the third, at the east end, is sealed off and the interior can only be glimpsed through a small window on the south side:

No matter how much you try to crane through the window, it is not possible to see the east wall. My daughter and I thoroughly creeped ourselves out by wondering what had been sealed up in there, and whether there might be someone or something standing there silently, just out of sight! 

If you would like to see the full set of photographs, they are on my Churches I Have Visited page on Facebook. I'll be making another trip to the library to see whether the graveyard inscriptions have been recorded in the Monumental Inscriptions book. I am particularly interested in this grave:

It appears to be the only one on the north side of the church (though there are plenty on the south side) and this did make me wonder whether it might be the grave of a suicide, since these were sometimes buried on the north side of churches (when they were allowed in the churchyard at all). I may, however, be putting two and two together and making about sixty-three...


It isn't easy being green...

 For the past few days, I have been absolutely dying to get at another ruined mediaeval church. I'm not saying which ruined mediaeval church, because I'm hoping to blog about it properly later, but it is one that has a particular allure for me because it has a history of murder and catastrophe attached to it. Unfortunately for me, it is also seven miles from here, and not exactly on the bus route. I do cycle about a bit, and have done a longer ride than the 14 mile round trip required to see the church, but that is strictly a dry weather option, and today the sky is looking ominously grey.

Since 2008, we have been a one car family, and occasionally a no-car family. This was never much of a problem when we lived in Belgium because our village was well served by frequent buses which conveniently ran between the swimming pool in Overijse, the town of Tervuren with its tram line into Brussels, and the airport. We mainly have one car because of the cost of running two, but I have always hoped that even if we suddenly became filthy rich we would stick to our ecological principles and try to manage with one.

Now that we live in rural Scotland, however, it can be a challenge getting about on days when I don't have access to the car. Getting the grocery shopping in is not a big problem because most supermarkets do home delivery. I work at home anyway so I don't have to worry about commuting. What was less ideal was the time the cat had an emergency appointment at the vet and the local taxi company refused to take us home afterwards. Walking back up the hill carrying a cat basket occupied by 5kg of irritable ginger tomcat was not a lot of fun.

Also, there are times when it would be nice to get out and about. At such times I rather mourn the demise of the Crieff railway line, which closed down in 1964, about six weeks before I was born. It might seem daft to mourn something that vanished before I even appeared, but you can still see many traces of the line in the countryside around here - such as the bridges (above and below).

I guess that back in 1964, when more and more families were buying their own cars, and some of the rural railway lines were increasingly unprofitable, it must have seemed sensible to close down the station. All the same, I can't help thinking what wonderful train journeys there must have been, passing through woodland and over rivers towards Comrie or Methven.

Up until 1951 there was actually a station at Innerpeffray too, on the Crieff and Methven Junction Railway line. Imagine that! I could have hopped on a train at Crieff and hopped off near the library. Of course, back then, it would have been a steam locomotive, too...

Anyway, I shall get to see my ruined church, hopefully later today, when I shall have the car for a bit, and then I will report back with full details! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

More rummagings amongst the dead

 Recently I blogged about an amazing ruined church I had visited, on the road between Innerpeffray and Auchterarder. This was the one I didn't even realise was there when I entered the graveyard, because the building is entirely concealed with vegetation!

If you have some patience for my ramblings about old churchyards, I'm pleased to say that I've found out a bit more about it. I paid a visit to Strathearn Community Library and did a bit of ferreting about in old books (never a bad way to spend an hour or two). The library has a great two-volume work by A.Mitchell recording pre-1855 memorial inscriptions in Perthshire churchyards, so I consulted that first. It also has a facsimile edition of a book published in 1899, entitled Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, and I was actually able to borrow that one and bring it home to peruse.

Annals of Auchterarder has several pages about the church, which I will try to summarise. The first mention of it is in the foundation charter by Gilbert, Earl of Strathearn, dated 1200, "in favour of the Abbey of Inchaffray."At that time it was referred to as the "Church of Saint Meckessock of Eochterardeour". I suppose we should be thankful that the spelling has been simplified over the last 800 years.

The book describes the church as "a long, narrow building with no architectural beauty." The foundation cross, a slab with a Latin cross on it, had been exhumed some years before the book was published (ie in the late 1800s) and was now standing within the walls, and the font had been moved to the new parish church in the town of Auchterarder.

Saint MacKessog was also the patron saint of Luss and Comrie. He was born around 460 A.D. and his saint's day is 10th March. Up until shortly before the publication of the Annals in 1899 there was a fair held in the town on that day in his honour.

The church was used as a place of worship until the reign of Charles I (1600-1649), and the story goes that the roof fell in one Sunday shortly after the congregation had left! Certainly it has fallen in; the nave is open to the sky.

As for the tombs, I was able to identify the occupants of some of these thanks to the book of Perthshire memorial inscriptions. The entry for the church, described as "Auchterarder Kirkton", says that the survey was carried out in June 1972 by Alison M. Mitchell.
Back in 1972, now over 40 years ago, when she noted down the words carved into the gravestones, many were clearly legible that are now too mossy or weathered to be read.

The three tombs below are described as follows:

To the right: James Graham(?); there was a coat of arms on this one.
Centre: James Drummond, "portioner Ochterarder", died 18.9.1818; his wife Janet Graham, died 20.1.1803; their daughter Elizabeth, died 17.4.1835 (wife of James Moir, died 1844, with daughter Janet died 1819).
To the left: John Graham, "portioner Ochterarder", his wife Giella (Binning), their son Patrick, died 20.7.17-0 and son James, died 28.5.1775. There was a coat of arms on this tomb too, identical to the one on James Graham's.

NB A portioner was a laird of a small estate.

The mural memorial seen in the background of this picture (below) was to Peter Smitton of Holltoun, died 14.11.1794, his first wife Susanna George, who died on 28.9.1757 and his second wife Elizabeth Ritchie, who died on 10.10.1760; also three infant children. 

The gravestone below tells rather a sad story. It memorialises William Reid and his wife Jean Menzies, and their children. They had a daughter Elizabeth, who died on 2.1.1862, and two sons: Andrew, who died on 23.8.1839 and William, who died on Christmas Eve 1835, apparently at the age of 7. That must have been a terrible Christmas for that family. Another daughter, Jane, survived into adulthood and died in 1931. 

After each death date a number is given which I took to be the age of the person at death. This would however mean that if little William Reid and Jane Reid were siblings, they were born 30 years apart, which is not impossible but would make one of them a very early or very late baby indeed. I wondered therefore whether Jane might in fact be a granddaughter, perhaps the child of Elizabeth. Sometimes finding out a piece of information just seems to lead to more questions! 

Finally, if you are interested in seeing what the church looks like underneath all that vegetation, there are a couple of old black and white photographs on the website of the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches.  Go right down to the bottom of the page and click on either image 7 or image 8. 

There is no date given for the photos but you can clearly see in image 7 the three tombs of the Grahams and Drummonds shown in my photo above - all of them pretty much moss-free. So perhaps this was how the church and graveyard looked when Alison M. Mitchell visited it. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mayday Mayday!

It's a topical time of year for those of my books that were set in Germany.

Last night was Walpurgis, the night when the witches are supposed to meet, and also the night of the opening scene of Wish me dead, in which a group of friends decide to go and visit the ruined cottage belonging to a long-dead witch. There, they make wishes, and one of them comes true...

Today, however, is May Day, and that also features in one of my books. In The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, the heroine Pia Kolvenbach and her friend Stefan are drawn into the mystery of a series of disappearances in their quiet little home town of Bad Münstereifel. Suspecting a supernatural cause, Stefan proposes that he and Pia should go and visit the ruined castle on the Quecken hill near the town on Walpurgis night, reasoning that if there is anything to see it must happen then.

Pia protests that her mother is never going to let her go to the Quecken hill after dark, and it is then that Stefan comes up with a brilliant idea (or so he thinks). This is what happens:

‘My mother is never going to let me go up there after dark,’ I pointed out.
‘Can’t you make up some excuse?’
‘Like what?’ I could not think of any possible circumstances under which it would be allowed.
‘We’ll – we’ll say we’re going to put up a Maibaum.’
‘A Maibaum?’ I had to admit this was a stroke of genius.
A Maibaum – or May tree – was a tree, usually a young silver birch, chopped off at the base, the branches decorated with long streamers of coloured crêpe paper. Every village in the Eifel had one on May Day, but it was also a tradition that young men would put a Maibaum up outside the house of their girlfriend on the night before May Day, so that she would see it when she got up in the morning. This meant that the last night of April had to be the only night of the year when half the youth of the town could be creeping about in the small hours with legitimate cause. All the same . . .
‘Who would we be putting a Maibaum up for?’ I asked. ‘And, anyway, girls don’t usually put them up at all.’
‘Easy,’ said Stefan, who was obviously developing the plan at breakneck pace. ‘We’ll say we’re helping my cousin Boris.’
‘Hmmm.’ I still had my doubts.
Boris was a hulking monster of an eighteen-year-old, with long hair that looked as though it had been styled with motor oil, and mean little eyes so deep-set that they seemed to be peering at you through slits in a helmet. So far as I knew he had no girlfriend and, even if he had, he did not give the impression that he would be the sort who offers flowers and opens doors and puts up May trees. Certainly, I couldn’t imagine him asking two ten-year-olds to accompany him on a romantic mission of that kind. Still, in the absence of any more inspired idea, I agreed to suggest the plan to my mother..."

Of course, Pia's mother, as expected, does not look favourably on the idea. So what are Pia and Stefan to do? Either they can abandon the idea, or Stefan can go up there all alone...