Strewth mate! Old Crotchet at number one down under? She’s been having a bonzer time. I tell ya, it’s been a real boil-over that’s had me grinning like a shot fox, or it would have done if she’d been romping up the charts for paid rather than free downloads. Still, it’s better than staring at a brown-eyed mullet, although the sight of her in a cozzie would be about as welcome as a bunyip in your grundies. Crikey, I’m as gobsmacked as you are that she’s doing so well against all those better looking and younger Sheilas, nabbing the top slot in occult horror. Well, I’d better stop yabbering on. You can find her here, whether you’re in Australia, or, well . . . myBook.to/Oldcrotchet
Looking grumpier and more sinister than ever, Old Crotchet is back. Emerging from a seventeenth-century dresser near you, soon. Whatever you do, don’t forget to invite her to dinner.
Dissatisfied with her former unflattering portrayal, the harridan compelled me to devise this new depiction of her squat and portly frame against an appropriate period backdrop. She does seem to have something of a glow about her, doesn’t she? That said, it doesn’t appear to be a very healthy one. Would I have been able to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into believing that this was the picture of a ghost? Perhaps if I had used a few hatpins and some cardboard cutouts he would have been more likely to believe in its veracity.
Previously published as standalone pieces in my West Country Tales series, this anthology gathers together five twisted tales of the uncanny that venture beyond the mere ‘funny peculiar’, into the realms of black comedy and satire. From the acid-fried occult oddity of Gwydion’s Dawn, to the bizarre rites of a seventeenth-century cunning man in The Cleft Owl; the psychological horror of 3:05 am, to the vengeful fury of a woman of more than 300 years of age in Old Crotchet, nothing will unsettle the reader more than the playful malignancy of the guide in Agnes of Grimstone Peverell. It would seem that in this much-loved and familiar region of rural England, it is not difficult to unwittingly unleash unseen forces which render it both hostile, and dangerous (and in writing this I am not referring to the effects of imbibing excessive quantities of scrumpy, although that can, of course, have the self-same effect).
The ‘horror’ that you will encounter within is of the understated English variety; it is often implied and psychological, rather than being of the type favoured by the exponents of the ‘slasher’ genre. There is also – with the exception of The Cleft Owl – as much humour as there is terror.
Whereas these tales are unconstrained by the bounds of any single genre, amongst their number you will find plenty to engage your attention should you possess a taste for mysteries, the paranormal, ghost stories, the occult, psychological horror and historical fiction, as well as, of course, satire.
To view a sample, or to purchase, please click on the image above. Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
All being well, an anthology of my tales entitled ‘Wry Out West’ should be published and available for purchase by the end of next week – Friday 28th April. All that remains to be done is for me to tweak the cover artwork a little, and to finish formatting the text. Unlike the novelettes and novellas that I have thus far published in Kindle ebook format, this collection will also be available as a paperback.
It will contain the following five tales:
· 3:05 am
‘The Rude Woman of Cerne’ is omitted from this collection merely on grounds of length, and will eventually become available in hard copy as part of a future anthology, but that may be a year to eighteen months away, owing to my next priority being the completion of a novel that I have been working on this past two years. It will likely be bundled with the forthcoming tales: ‘Upon Barden Moor’ (currently scheduled for publication in October) and ‘With These Hands’, with the latter being intended for a pre-Christmas release this year. Whereas the last of these tales will unfold on Dartmoor, ‘Upon Barden Moor’ is set in the Yorkshire Dales, marking a geographical departure from the West Country.
I will post a cover preview for the anthology here early next week. The Kindle version will be priced at £2.99, but the price of the paperback has yet to be set. Once I am fully apprised of the printing costs, I will update readers here.
Free to download on Kindle from Thursday 16th to Friday 17th March (otherwise 99p/99c, or free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers), a wry supernatural comedy – Old Crotchet.
Old Crotchet – her manor, her rules. Cross her at your peril. There’s little that will rile a woman more than 300 years of age than the arrival of some flighty young upstart intent upon displacing her. It is Twelfth Night by the old reckoning, and festivities are about to commence as something sinister stirs from its protracted dormancy, awakened, it seems, by the arrival of two young guests. The old ways, they find, should not be treated lightly.
The first in a cycle of wry standalone tales, many with a supernatural or occult theme, set in the West Country. To preview or download this novelette, please click on the image above.
There are few authors who do not extol the virtues of rewriting your manuscript, usually recommending that you should do so several times over, but how much is enough, and how should you approach it? For a lucky handful of souls, the words may spring ready formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, but I have not encountered anyone for whom this is the norm. The occasional sentence or paragraph may present itself in such a fashion, but not, surely, anything longer.
One piece of advice frequently given, and followed, is that a writer should hammer out a rough draft before going back and tearing the whole thing to pieces, restructuring its plot, characters and prose, and then going back and repeating the process. Others, such as myself, prefer to adopt a more organic approach to composition, revising as they go along, constantly tweaking and moulding to ensure that the tale emerges in a pleasing shape and style, to which so drastic an act of violence need not be necessary. It may well be the case that ideas relating to its enhancement later suggest themselves, but as I tend to plan my pieces in considerable depth before writing the first line, drastic revision is seldom necessary.
Those who write for a publisher have deadlines to meet, but for those of us who are able to dictate our own writing timetable, we possess the luxury of being able to impose or revoke them at will. Personally, I do find self-imposed deadlines useful, as they help to keep me on track and stop me from drifting too far from the daily discipline of writing. Although I can take as long as I wish, once I have come up with a story I am generally impatient to get it typed, knocked into shape and made available for all to read. That said, I do not allow deadlines to prompt me into releasing anything before I am fully satisfied that it has taken its final form, or more accurately, I should say that this will be the case from hereon, for there has been one instance in which I released a novella where I was not entirely happy with its ending. This, however, has now since been remedied and ‘Gwydion’s Dawn’ has been republished, but why did I initially release it in less than its fully realised state?
To answer this question, it is necessary to return to the matter of deadlines. As a rule, I tend to be constantly generating ideas, and at any given time will have a number of projects under development. Thus, at present for example, I am nearing completion of a novella – ‘The Rude Woman of Cerne’ – am a third of the way through a novelette (although it may yet morph into a novella) entitled ‘The Cleft Owl’, and half way through writing the novel ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return.’ In addition, there are half a dozen or so embryonic plots floating around for further novelettes/novellas, and three novels. Having a timetabled plan with projected completion dates and release schedules thus comes in useful, ensuring that at any one time I prioritise a particular work. Problems only really arise if this schedule is interrupted by the intrusion of something unexpected, as was the case this past July when I awoke from a vivid nightmare and immediately scrawled down five pages of notes that became ‘3:05 am’. This story was the closest that I have ever come to experiencing an Athena springing from the head of Zeus moment. So striking was the effect of this dream, that I felt impelled to drop writing ‘Gwydion’s Dawn’ until ‘3:05 am’ was completed and published. This, naturally, threw me off track. So, why should this be a problem? As my deadlines are self-imposed rather than external, why would I wish to stick to such a deadline?
I stuck to my initial declared deadline for one straightforward reason: I had, rather blithely and naively, declared on my website, blog and Amazon author page, as well as in the supplementary matter to ‘Old Crotchet’, that ‘Gwydion’s Dawn’ would be released before the end of July 2016. As I had announced this, I felt that I had to stick to the deadline, and thus the novella came to be uploaded on 31 July with an ending which was a little rushed and compressed, that made for a less satisfying read than the preceding portions of the story. This, however, was a state of affairs that I could not let stand, so I returned to the manuscript late last month and fleshed out that which I had seen in my mind’s eye, but was left obscured from the reader in its initial abridged form. It now possesses the ending that it should have done all along.
What have I learned from this experience of self-imposed deadlines? Do not make rash and specific statements with respect to release dates; it is better to keep them vague. It is, moreover, better to break a deadline, than to break the flow of your story. As for ‘The Rude Woman of Cerne’, I hope to publish this before October is out, but do not be surprised if it should not appear until early November. ‘The Cleft Owl, will be released before Christmas, hopefully during the latter part of next month.
The instant that I saw her and her companion, I knew that I would have to write about her. It was not only her face, but also her mode of dress and stature, as well as her stiff deportment, which invited comment. I cannot say that I fell in love with her, for I do not generally find women with thick leathery skin and unprepossessing looks topped off by a sinister expression appealing, but she did intrigue me. She also appeared to be somewhere in the region of four hundred years old. Whether the two of them are Jacobean or late Elizabethan, or merely fashioned to appear of that age, it is hard to say, but what can be said of them with some certainty is this: their appearance is singular.
Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset, the seat of the Lyte family from the 13th to the 18th centuries, was restored to its present charming state under the ownership of Sir Walter Jenner, who purchased the estate in 1907, but since 1949 it has been under the stewardship of the National Trust. It has served as home to these two antiquated ladies for an unspecified period of time, and who brought them into the house, and for what reason, has been long lost to memory. The guides at the house refer to these two figures as ‘the good companions’, and although their purpose is uncertain, it has been suggested that they were employed on those inauspicious occasions when thirteen diners were expected for dinner, with one, or both of them, being brought to table to make up the numbers. This detail was the germ around which the story of Old Crotchet was to coalesce.
Both the mannequins and their residence invited something of a supernatural treatment, and it was with a nod or two to M.R. James, that the idea of penning a ghostly tale against a festive backdrop suggested itself. That it has been published in the height of summer – insofar as it may be termed as such, given the autumnal feel to the weather of late – is somewhat inapposite, yet unavoidable, for having completed it in April, I did not wish to wait until winter to make it available to the public. This does however remain, in many respects, ‘a ghost story for Christmas.’
It seemed apt to set it at a moment in the past when the old rural order was reaching its point of dissolution, and longstanding customs and folkways – such as wassailing, as detailed by Ronald Hutton in his ‘The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain’ – were dying out, or almost dead. There was no period of social disjuncture greater than that occasioned by the Great War of the last century, a conflict that hastened the decline of the country house and social deference, as well as accelerating technological development. It is thus the clash of the modern with the traditional, the urban with the rural, symbolised by the arrival of George with his young wife Celia in their Talbot Tourer, which awakens Old Crotchet, like some domestic guardian spirit, from her many centuries of slumber.
Hinton St Cuthbert Manor exists in the imagination alone; it is something of a composite, an amalgam of the imaginary and the real, drawing elements and features from a number of historic houses in the south of Somerset. From Lytes Cary it takes its relatively modest dimensions and Great Hall, the latter with its beautiful vaulted ceiling, wooden panelling and stained glass windows providing the perfect setting for a Twelfth Night dinner. Other aspects of its appearance – its honeyed Hamstone exterior, barley twist chimneys and plasterwork ceilings for example – were drawn from Barrington Court and Montacute House, both of which are open to the public, and under the care of the National Trust.
Although the publication of Old Crotchet is out of season given its midwinter setting, it appears to be in step with an appetite to revive the ghost story for a contemporary television audience, as evidenced by the current screening of a new supernatural drama series by the BBC – ‘The Living and the Dead.’ This, coincidentally, also happens to be set in Somerset, albeit some three decades earlier in 1894. Like ‘Old Crotchet’, it focuses upon the theme of the intrusion of the modern and the metropolitan – in the form of Nathan and Charlotte Appleby – into the world of the traditional and the rural, and its coming leading to the awakening of a supernatural presence that has long lain dormant. That is where the similarities between the two come to an end, for the tone employed in each differs significantly, with Old Crotchet being shot through with a strong vein of wry humour, which is absent from the BBC production.
From what I have seen thus far, ‘The Living and the Dead’ is handsomely filmed, and in terms of its look manages to capture its era successfully, although some of the characterisation is perhaps better placed in the 1990s rather than the 1890s. If you do not find its initial instalments engaging, it is worth persevering with, for it truly gets into its stride by the third episode. I shall reserve judgement on its overall merit until I have watched the entire series. Clearly, a considerable amount of investment has been ploughed into its production, yet for all that, a big budget need not be necessary to create a piece of television that elicits a sense of psychological unease in the viewer. One need look no further than Christopher Lee’s masterful delivery of a number of M.R. James’s tales in his ‘Ghost Stories for Christmas’, originally screened in 2000, for an example of what can be achieved using relatively modest resources. It is a great pity that he is no longer with us, and given that I have mentioned him, it would be remiss of me not to note that some reviewers have drawn parallels between ‘The Living and the Dead’ and ‘The Wicker Man.’
Although the writers of the former appear to have drawn upon some elements of the latter, it falls far short of approaching the 1973 cult classic’s atmosphere, originality and deranged air of menace, so eloquently embodied in Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle. ‘The Wicker Man’,whose director Robin Hardy has just passed away, was a unique cultural artefact, very much of its time, with its texture being enriched by its idiosyncratic soundtrack. ‘The Living and the Dead’ should thus also be considered on its own terms, and seen as a reworking of certain supernatural themes with a contemporary audience in mind.
Old Crotchet is the first in a series of West Country Tales, many of which will possess a supernatural or occult element, as well as a marked streak of wry humour. To preview, or purchase Old Crotchet for 99p or 99c, please click here. This novelette is free to download for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.