Gothic Ghost Story

The next project is just that – a Gothic ghost story. The novella concerns a young woman living in Ireland in the dark days following the Great War. I’ve made a start and here is the opening paragraph. It unnerved me so much I had to stop writing.

When I close my eyes I can still see it; dark and brooding in the twilight, the windows empty and wide like the eyes of a lost child, a house ordinary enough for the late eighteenth century yet heavy with a palpable melancholy, as if its very fabric had been soured by some dreadful, catastrophic tragedy. And even though the events which I am about to describe are almost thirty years in the past, in my mind’s eye I can still see the grey stone blocks, the jutting angles of the asymmetrical roof, the porch with its fine, marbled, pillars, and the five foot-worn steps to the front door. And there I must halt because nothing on this earth – nothing – would induce me even to approach, let alone cross, that threshold again.

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If I can hold my unnerved nerves it will be ready in time for the Christmas season so you can cuddle up with all doors securely fastened and a stiff brandy at your elbow …

But be warned – this will scare the pants off you.

 

 

 

 

credits: thanks to Lafa-Art for the evocative image

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Life in the glass cube

They’re crammed into a huge glass cube.

They can’t move a muscle; ten million others press against them, all fighting for room, all shouting the same thing – it’s hard to hear exactly what because the noise is deafening.

Outside the glass, fast-moving shapes zoom in, take a quick look, and zoom away again. This happens so swiftly it’s hard to follow. Sometimes one or two shapes part the glass, reach in and touch one of the shouting people. Most times they just look, hover and leave.

Every day, the roof of the glass cube opens and more people are poured in.

The shapes mill around in confusion.

They hover. They squash up against the outside of the glass and peer in.

Very occasionally they suddenly converge upon one individual in the crowded glass cube. Some common agreement has been arrived at. There is something different about the person they have selected, something which makes them stand out from the others.

This individual is plucked from the glass cube, never to return. They are taken to a clean, roomy cube where they are nurtured, communicated with and, most importantly, read.

How did this happen? What was different? How did the mysterious shapes make their unanimous decision?

cube

An Empty Glass Cube. Half close your eyes and fill it with authors.

 

The glass cube, of course, represents the online bookstores. The cramped millions are the indie authors – and traditional authors too (let’s not forget them).

The zooming shapes are the internet surfers, the book-buying public.

They can, and do, find authors who write books they want to read. They support them, and in doing so make the author a success.

Case in point? How about Rachel Abbott?

So, here’s the thing: How do you get noticed in a vast, glass room where you can’t move for people? Where the noise is so overwhelming that it’s impossible for the shapes to think, let alone make any kind of decision?

The decision you want them to make.

A buying decision.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Stop shouting ‘Buy My Book!’ Or, as more often seen (conceptually, of course), BUY MY BOOK!
  • Check out Joanna Penn’s very helpful website/blog
  • Interact with your shopping and browsing shapes (I like to think of nice shapes!) – they are your potential buyers, after all. You are nicely shaped, right?
  • Keep these potential buyers up to date by blogging/updating your website with interesting and informative stuff regularly
  • Keep writing!
  • Consider occasional promotions – free books/reduced price for limited period
  • Wear smart, attractive, intriguing clothing (this means ‘get a good cover design’!)
  • Diversify. Publish on Kobo, Nook, Audiobook, Kindle, Print
  • Be realistic. Rome wasn’t built in a day (or in a glass cube, I know ….)

Enough from me. I’m off to practice what I preach. Move over, I’m getting squashed …

More info about my books (in a quiet whisper) at www.scott-hunter.net

Remembering the Western Front

I don’t know what it is that fascinates me about the First World War – particularly the Western Front and the carnage of the battle which has become known simply by the name of the nondescript river near which it was fought – The Somme.

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was there – how close to the front I may never know; he was a quartermaster in one of the Highland regiments. I have a box of correspondence of his from those days somewhere. Maybe this year, one hundred years after it all started, is the time to pull it out of the attic to see if the contents will shed any light on his experiences.

Maybe it’s just that the literature I’ve read – Faulks’ Birdsong, Hill’s Strange Meeting to name just two – has left a deep impression upon my psyche of what these men, so unfortunate to have been born in the late Victorian era, went through in those dark years of 1914-1918.

Maybe it’s the thought of the huge loss of life? Casualties on a scale previously unimaginable as row after row of trudging Tommies went down under the withering fire of the German machine guns.

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Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that many of the survivors were utterly unable to live a normal life after demobilisation – and this not always due to physical infirmity, but rather the colossal mental trauma inflicted by sights, sounds and circumstances no human being should ever have had to endure.

According to my late father my grandfather ‘never spoke’ of his experiences on the Western Front. And how could these veterans have shared what they had experienced?

Neither you, nor I, nor anyone alive will ever know what it was like. We’d have to have fought alongside them, crouching terrified under bursting shells, dodging snipers’ bullets, burying friends and enemies side by side in the filth. That’s the only way we could ever empathise.

How can we hope to understand what it felt like to be huddled at the foot of the trench ladder waiting for the whistle to blow on that fateful July morning in 1916; to know that the German wire was not cut, as the bombardments had intended it to be, to know that you were required to walk – walk! – fully loaded with rifle, pack and other heavy accoutrements, into the path of countless traversing machine guns?

There’s something about that awful morning which haunts me and won’t let go.

Susan Hill (‘Strange Meeting’) tells us that it was only when she had finished her novel that she was able to ‘let go’ of her obsession with the Great War.

So maybe that’s what I need to do: write it out of my system.

In memory of those ordinary, long-dead soldiers.

Like Wraysford, Weir, Hilliard, Barton.

Not fiction.

History.

 

 

Audiobooks hit the mainstream!

OK, so it’s been a while. But every so often a man needs to diversify a little to placate the bank manager, if you know what I mean.

No? Not to worry, on with the news:

Firstly, the fabulous Catherine O’Brien has completed audio narration of ‘The Ley Lines of Lushbury’ – available NOW from Audible/Amazon

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Secondly, the awesome Wayne Farrell is, even as we speak, putting the finishing touches to the first in the DCI Brendan Moran Crime series to hit Audio, ‘Black December’ – available very soon from Audible/Amazon – of course, in the meantime you can always read the paperback or Kindle or Kobo versions … spoiled for choice, I’d say. More news very soon …

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The Past isn’t over. Yet.

The Wonder of Rome

This is one of many blog posts which will run for four days from 15th-19th August, 2013, celebrating Roman historical fiction…

…and there’s a prize for the most interesting comment! 

My novel, ‘The Serpent & The Slave’, is set in Britannia, in 367AD,  a turbulent time of invasion which hinted at Rome’s loosening grip on our sceptred isle.

Below are my notes from the afterword which I hope you will find intriguing!

At the time of the great ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’ of 367 AD, Valentinian was the emperor of the West. Historians reckon that such an invasion would have required a coordinator of some stature; someone familiar not only with the structure and strength of Roman military deployments but also with a keen understanding of which political issues were likely to affect the emperor’s judgement. Paulus Catena certainly fits the bill and it seemed rather a waste to allow the man known as The Chain to rest in peace after his execution in Africa.

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In terms of the ‘look and feel’ of fourth century Britain, I have tried to paint as accurate a picture as possible.

The provinces were divided as described, Corinium being the capital of Britannia Prima. Interestingly, there was indeed a fourth century governor by the name of Lucius Septimius, although I cannot claim that the character described in ‘The Serpent and the Slave’ bears any resemblance to the original, save for the fact that the real Lucius was also a dedicated pagan. We know this because he is noted as making an ‘almost aggressively pagan dedication at Corinium’ by Peter Salway in his excellent work, ‘Roman Britain’. The Alamann chieftain, Fraomar, also has a real counterpart in an Alamannic chieftain who was sent to Britain in 372. Salway confirms this to be a known fact and I quote: ‘Fraomar was in fact sent to Britain as a deliberate act of Imperial favour by Valentinian 1 as a military tribune to command a normal Roman unit of Alamanni already stationed in the island’.

Religion

The fourth century was a time of religious change. Constantine had legalized and formalized Christianity during his reign in the early years of the century but there was still a strong pagan tradition, particularly amongst the civil magistracy. The short reign of Magnentius whose tolerance, even encouragement, of pagan worship caused many to ‘come out’ and resume their old ways of worship led directly to the Pauline persecutions when Constantius gained control of Britain. No doubt there were many who simply continued their pagan practices in secret. Valentinian himself was of Christian persuasion, although I suspect that he, like so many others, could best be described as having a ‘nominal’ rather than a ‘life-changing’ faith, such as demonstrated by the character of Freia. Many slaves, the downtrodden members of a corrupt society, embraced the new religion as being one that offered hope, salvation and equality. What more could a slave wish for than this? Small wonder then that many found the answer they sought in the person of the humble rabbi from Galilee, Jesus Christ, the chosen one of God. 

The Roman Army

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The army saw many structural changes during the 3rd and 4th Centuries. The legions were redeployed and reabsorbed into two distinct groups, the limitanei, operating on the frontiers and the comitatenses, originally stationed with the emperor, but later becoming more of a mobile field army to be deployed as the need arose. The thinking behind this change was based on the premise that a reasonably well maintained border force combined with a high quality mobile army would be the most effective way to deal with the many and varied threats to the empire. Britannia did suffer from a degradation of troops as demand across the channel became more pressing, but the double defeats in 367AD of the Saxon Shore Count, Nectarides, and the dux Britanniarum, Fullofaudes, left the country vulnerable in the extreme to the invaders. Many Roman troops deserted after the defeats and took to wandering the countryside, no doubt undertaking a little plunder and pillage themselves. In ‘The Serpent and the Slave’, the character Scapulus and his men had awarded themselves ‘leave of absence’ from the army, and this is indeed what many of the army remnant actually did. It was only when Count Theodosius arrived late in 367AD and offered free pardon, food and supplies to any renegade troops wishing to give themselves up that the Britannic army began to reassemble itself into some sort of order. For the hapless ordinary folk of Britannia, particularly those living in the countryside, it must have been a very unpleasant and trying time to have lived through.

Excerpt from ‘The Serpent & The Slave’

The Rhine Frontier, Gaul – Sept 367AD

In the headquarters tent of the Rhine campaign, the Emperor Valentinian, arguably the most powerful man in the known world, leaned back with some discomfort on the curule, an elaborately carved oak seat inlaid with ivory. The chair had been especially commissioned for his imperial behind, and was the only obvious indication of his status, except perhaps for the imperial purple of his cloak. The emperor’s back was playing up again and he was not in a good mood. ‘Well?’ He barked at the tribune.

Well, don’t just stand there like a wilting vine, man. Show him in!’

‘Caesar.’ The tribune saluted and signalled to the tent guard.

The tent flap opened and a man entered. He had a pinched, hunted appearance in marked contrast to his speech, which was direct and confident. ‘You sent for me, Caesar?’

‘I did.’ The emperor stood up carefully with a grimace of pain. The seat was murdering his vertebrae. He drew a hand wearily across his eyes. ‘Nipius. I seem to remember that you had a hankering for foreign travel.’

‘Caesar?’ Nipius frowned.

‘I’ve had an interesting communication from Britannia. From Septimius in Corinium.’

Nipius raised an eyebrow quizzically.

‘They have, apparently, in custody a member of the royal Alamannic line. One named Fraomar. Ring any bells?’

‘Chnodomar’s brother. Went missing after Strasbourg.’

Valentinian nodded approvingly. ‘The same.’

‘We were outnumbered three to one,’ Nipius recalled,  ‘but Julian led us to a great victory.’

Valentinian allowed himself a smile. ‘His gods certainly seemed to be with him that day. But I heard it was the Magister Equitum who deserves the credit for the victory.’

Nipius bowed stiffly. ‘Caesar is too kind.’

‘A shame that the victory of Strasbourg was marred by Fraomar’s escape.’

For the first time, Nipius seemed uncomfortable. Rain began to drum softly on the leather covering of the tent roof as Valentinian continued:

‘But you are a popular man, Nipius. Your exploits are legendary. You have – what can I say– ’ Valentinian stroked his chin thoughtfully, ‘a loyal following?’

‘I am fortunate enough to have the respect of my men, yes Caesar.’

Valentinian grunted. ‘Well, naturally I thought of you for this little job.’

‘What does Caesar command?’

‘A simple ‘go fetch’ job, nothing more. Give you a break. God knows you probably need one. And a chance to set the record straight.’

Nipius smiled thinly. ‘I am most grateful to Caesar.’

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from ‘The Serpent & the Slave’, by Scott Hunter

Here are the other links for this Blog hop:

http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.co.uk/

http://elisabethstorrs.blogspot.com.au/

http://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/writeblog/

http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.ruthdownie.com

http://wordpress.mcscott.co.uk

http://www.frednath.com/blog

www.eaglehasfallen.com

http://teacake421.livejournal.com

http://themasterofverona.typepad.com/the_master_of_verona/

http://alison-morton.com/blog/

http://petreaburchard.com/blog-2/

http://timhodkinson.blogspot.com/

www.eaglehasfallen.com

Http://sjat.wordpress.com

 

Dominus mihi adjutor

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A simple bookstall – or not …

The idea was very straightforward:

Buy some stock, get a small display unit/table, bring the laptop. Use a few posters. print some flyers.

Find a comfortable slot in the town centre. Chat to the public. Sign and sell some books.

Busking, but with books.

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Easy, right?

Wrong.

The local council said: ‘Sorry, we only have six street trader licenses to give out and they’re all allocated.’

The Oracle Shopping Mall said: ‘Sure, but you have to use one of our display units. We only rent them for a week and the rental price is £1000’.

I’m working on a solution because these licensing and rental restrictions/impositions are crazy. Free enterprise? Where?

Anyone else thought of/had issues with doing this? Let’s talk!

DCI Brendan Moran # 3 – a taster…

DCI Brendan Moran returns in the sequel to ‘Creatures of Dust’. The title is ‘Death Walks Behind you’ and the novel will be published in early 2015. In the meantime, here is the prologue …

Death Walks Behind You

Death Walks Behind You

Prologue

Linda Harrison wouldn’t have described herself as an outdoor type but she did enjoy her early morning perambulations, a word her husband had mischievously coined to describe her regular forays into Cernham Woods. Linda and Matthew were a dog couple, the proud owners of a hyperactive Cocker Spaniel and a pair of young Boxers. Linda was only too aware that to forgo their morning constitutional would mean that the three would spend the rest of the day tearing the house apart, a reality she’d had to deal with on more than one occasion when illness or practical necessity had conspired to keep her indoors. Matt knew this, of course, but persisted with his teasing as though her morning routine was little more than some selfish indulgence.

‘Pippa! Stop that!’ Her thoughts were interrupted as the young Spaniel plunged into one of Cernham’s many puddles. ‘Out!’ Linda scolded the bitch who was clearly having a wonderful time. ‘Not another bath, I can’t believe it! You are one high maintenance dog, girl.’ Alf and Bennie, the Boxers, sniffed around the puddle’s perimeter. Thank goodness they weren’t water dogs like Pippa.

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Linda strode on, wrapping her scarf more securely around her neck. Although the year was turning and Spring was imminent the dank air held little pretence of warmth. As she turned onto the path by the farmer’s field she shivered, a long, body-shaking shiver that left her wishing for the warmth of her wood-burning stove. Matt was a great wood cutter and she took comfort in the knowledge that their log pile would last well into the new season. Linda smiled to herself as she thought of her husband’s ritualistic autumn preparations: chopping and splitting, hewing and stacking, his lean, wiry frame stalking the garden, axe in hand and a glint in his eye.

‘Come on, guys!’ she called the dogs after her. There were few folk around this morning, but it was dull and misty so Linda wasn’t particularly surprised. Sensible people would wait for the sun to burn off the mist before braving the elements, besides, many of the dog walkers with whom she came into regular contact only appeared in the woods after the school run, or later in the day before the teatime chores were squared up to. No school runs for us, though, Linda said quietly to herself. At forty-two the sands of time had pretty much run out for Linda and Matt. No amount of IVF, dietary regimes or periods of intense sexual activity had made the slightest difference to her body’s flat refusal to conceive. Still, they had each other, the dogs, a nice house, Matt’s secure job in town. All in all, much to be thankful for.

Footsteps behind interrupted her reverie. She turned and acknowledged the half-grunted ‘morning’ as a cagouled shape walked by, green Wellingtons slapping on the muddy farm path. Not one of the regulars. And no dog. Linda deliberately slowed her pace to put a comfortable distance between herself and the stranger. She never worried about walking on her own, but it was wise to be vigilant. She stopped altogether at the next gap in the hedgerow to watch the mist rolling across the fields. It was a beautiful, almost other-worldly sight. A kite called mournfully for its mate somewhere high above and she felt a warm sweep of contentment. This was England, her England and no one would shift her from it. You could keep the holiday cottages in Tuscany and the South of France. This was her country and she loved it, whatever the weather. Pippa appeared at her feet, sniffing and whimpering. ‘What’s up, girl?’ She bent to stroke the spaniel’s head. ‘Where are the two B’s?’

She peered ahead, looking for the Boxers. No sign. That was unusual; they usually stuck together, never roaming too far as Pippa was prone to do.

‘Alf? Benny?’ She picked up her stride and followed the path away from the field into the woods. ‘Come on, guys, where are you?’ She rounded a corner where the path twisted away towards the chalk pits. Aha. Behind a tree. A flash of movement. ‘Alf?’

As she drew nearer, a shape detached itself from the shadows and blocked her way. The walker she had seen a few minutes ago. Or was it? The face was covered, didn’t look right . . . She drew back in alarm, looked around for her dogs. Where were they when she needed them? The mist was thicker here; for a moment she thought her imagination was playing tricks, but then she saw the figure again just ahead, standing perfectly still. It was shaped like a man, but – somehow it wasn’t right . . .

Linda’s heart was pounding. Should she turn and run? She felt the Boxers’ chain around her neck and her fingers went to unclasp it. The next moment something had reached out of the fog and caught her by the arm.

Linda pulled away with a strength born of sheer terror. She felt fingers grasping at her coat, a brief scrabbling resistance and then she was free, stumbling and flailing through the trees, branches whipping and stinging her face. Don’t look back, she told herself, don’t . . .

She ran until she felt as if her lungs would explode. Disoriented, she came to a halt, pressed her back against the trunk of a silver birch and scanned the woodland for signs of pursuit. The woods were eerily still. Where were the dogs? She daren’t call them. Calm, Lin, calm …Linda’s breath gradually slowed to something approaching normal. Where was she? In her headlong flight she had lost all sense of direction. She began to walk cautiously to where a gap in the trees suggested one of the many walker-trodden paths might intersect with her present location. And then she heard it: the soft crunch of leaves underfoot, the slow searching tread . . .

Oh no, please . . . Linda bent low, darted away into the undergrowth. After a few seconds she recognised where she was; close to one of the smaller chalk pits. She remembered an ancient tree perched on the edge of the pit, its roots forming a knotted cage beneath the lip. If she could find it, slip inside, curl up, cover herself with leaves . . . she almost stumbled over the edge of the pit in her terror. Where was the tree? Was it as she had remembered? Yes …there…

Half slipping, sliding down the chalk face she grabbed at the roots and checked herself. There was just enough space. Heart thumping she squeezed in and lay down in the nest of foliage, sweeping handfuls of leaves over her legs and torso. For a while there was no sound except birdsong, the occasional scamper of a rabbit or squirrel. Then she heard it. Slap, slap, slap . . . marking the perimeter of the chalk pit. She lay still, hardly daring to breath. The footsteps circled once, twice. And then receded.

Linda shivered. How long should she wait? A few minutes, maybe . . . what was that? Something skittering into the chalk pit, snorting, rooting around. A dog . . . oh no, no…

A wet nose appeared through the mesh of roots. A spaniel’s nose. No, Pippa. No . . . She reached for the dog but the bitch backed away, alarmed to find a large moving object half-buried in the mulchy floor of the chalk pit. Pippa barked, and barked again.

No . . .

Linda grabbed at the roots to extricate herself but a cold hand slid between them and caught her deftly by the leg. She screamed and tried to pull back but the grip was inexorable and her voice was muted by the mist. As she was dragged into the open she made a grab for the scarf hiding her attacker’s face but he was strong and strangely elusive, moving with an assured, swaying gracefulness. Her heart skipped in fright as she saw that his head was oddly misshapen, stubby, antler-like protrusions jutting from the skull … then he was behind her, twisting her arm, making her gasp at the sudden, shocking pain. She felt something snap and the pain intensified. Probing, abrasive fingers slid around her neck, squeezing and palpating her flesh. She kicked back once, twice, tried to catch hold of his clothing but he was quick, far too quick and her hands were left clutching at the empty air.

The pressure on her neck increased, her legs thrashed once, twice and then became limp as she gave in to the inevitable.

I’m going to die …

Linda felt resistance go out of her like the final sigh from a pricked balloon; she was floating now, embracing the darkness. Somewhere far away she heard the shrill, whistling call of the Kite as it plunged and dipped in the gusting thermals high above, searching intently for its prey.

 

You can pre-order Death Walks Behind You from the Kobo Bookstore