Sunday, November 3, 2013

The inspiring scent of sewers!

25th November to 1st December 2013 is Book Week Scotland and I am pleased to say that as part of the book-related activities I shall be appearing at Breadalbane Community Campus Library in Aberfeldy to talk about the inspiration for my work. 

The theme of the talk is "Sewers, Bell-towers and Catacombs"because these are some of the things I have visited as part of the research I do for my novels, and they - and other creepy locations - have inspired some of my scariest scenes. 

The talk will be accompanied by slides with photographs of some of these places so if you've always longed to know what it's like down the Brussels sewers or the Paris catacombs, come along and see for yourself!

The talk begins at 4pm. Tickets are FREE but you are asked to reserve them in advance from the Community Library (01887 822405). 

Friday, November 1, 2013

FACT: only 1 in 8 motorists stop for vampires on Hallowe'en...

If you were driving along an unlit single track road in the middle of the countryside after dark on Hallowe'en, and you suddenly saw a figure in a black velvet evening cape and cowl standing outside a churchyard trying to flag you down, would you stop?
I'm here to tell you that only one in eight motorists would stop. The other seven wouldn't even slow down; they'd put their foot down and zoom away up the darkened lane.
How do I know this? Because, gentle reader, last night that figure in the black cape outside the lonely churchyard was me.
How do I get myself into these situations? The evening started so well. Yesterday I was "Writer in Residence" at Innerpeffray Library, challenged to write a ghost story about the library which I would read out at a special Hallowe'en event in the evening. As you may know if you have read any of my previous ramblings, Innerpeffray Library is Scotland's oldest lending library and housed in a stunning Georgian building next to Innerpeffray chapel. As the library building is not only charmingly antique but also overlooks the churchyard, it is the ideal setting for some spectral shenanigans.
I had a very intense but enjoyable day of writing, finishing three minutes before closing time. I'm pleased with the stories, which I read out that evening by the eerie light of electric candles (naked flames being prohibited on account of all the books). I am also delighted to say that to thanks to the kind assistance of Lara and Ralph Haggerty, a recording was made of the reading, and assuming that the sound quality is sufficiently good throughout, I shall be making this available online for those who would like to hear the stories.
Anyway - one of the things about Innerpeffray is that it is not easy to get to if you don't have a car, being "out in the middle of nowhere" about five miles from Crieff. Once upon a time there was a railway station at Innerpeffray, but that is long gone. I have cycled there, but not after dark in cold weather. So on a chilly and indeed wet October evening, you really do have to drive there.
Shortly before the event I was contacted by an American acquaintance, an academic seconded to a Scottish university for a few months; he was interested in attending the reading but wanted some advice about how to get to it. To cut a long story short, I said I would give him a lift there and back. All the other options were impractical or very expensive, and he did seem very keen to come.

So, I did the event, dressed appropriately in funereal black from head to toe, including a black velvet evening cloak with a huge cowl that I bought years ago in Barcelona and rarely wear because my husband always says it reminds him of the "Scottish Widows"advertisements. 
Afterwards whilst I was packing up my things, I happened to mention to the American professor that Innerpeffray is very close to a couple of interesting and atmospheric ruined churches, and that it was a pity it wasn't daylight otherwise we could have stopped off on the way home to look at one of them.  Someone - I forget who - then suggested that perhaps we could stop and look at one of them anyway. It was dark, and it was damp and cold, but it was Hallowe'en - what better time to go and look at a creepy old church? So the three of us - the American professor, my daughter and myself - piled into the car and went off to look. 
 You do rather need eyes in the back of your head to find this particular church, especially after dark, and we had one or two false turns, but eventually we came across it, and I parked in the only possible spot, a little triangle of grass outside the churchyard gate. There is nowhere else to park that isn't dangerously obstructive of the narrow road, so it had to be there. 
We went into the churchyard and had a look around by the light of my daughter's iPod, which was the only torch we had with us. We didn't go into the ruined church; abandoned buildings are hazardous enough in daylight and this was pitch dark. I congratulated myself silently on my responsible behaviour, not realising that pride comes before a fall... 
We got back to the car, tried to drive back onto the road, and discovered that we were stuck fast in the mud. Then followed a considerable length of time during which we tried fruitlessly to get the car out. We tried putting tree branches under the wheels; we tried putting the floor mats from the car under the wheels. We tried reversing, and simply got stuck in a different patch of mud. We tried again with two of us pushing. Nothing helped at all. The wheels simply kept spinning, throwing up huge gouts of wet brown mud. By this time it was raining heavily, and the car just kept sinking more and more deeply into the morass. 
I telephoned my husband to tell him what was going on, in case he wondered where we had got to, but it was no use asking him to come and help because we only have one car, and I was in it. We also tried flagging down passing vehicles, but nobody stopped. I suppose you cannot blame them, really! By this time it was past ten o'clock, pitch dark and raining heavily, and it was Hallowe'en. There we were standing at the edge of a lonely road outside a disused graveyard with a ruined church in the middle of it, with me dressed in a black evening cloak and cowl. Short of trying to thumb a lift with a sign marked TRANSYLVANIA I couldn't have looked any more dodgy! Seven cars passed us and zoomed hastily on up the lane, the drivers probably rubbing their eyes and pinching themselves. 
Finally, a couple of vehicles driving in convoy stopped for us. One of them was a very large van, and the owner actually had a tow rope. Within a relatively short time they had hauled the car back onto the road, a task somewhat akin to pulling a dinosaur out of a tar pit. I can truthfully say it has been a long time since I have been so grateful to anyone. So, to you two knights of the road, in the unlikely event that you are reading this: once again, THANK YOU. 
After that, we had a relatively uneventful journey through the rain to drop the mud-spattered American academic at his home, and then drive back to Crieff. 
So this, dear reader, is how I know that 7 out of 8 motorists won't stop for vampires on Hallowe'en.