Despite appearances, this isn’t a photograph of my son being subjected to his first stern telling-off. This snap was taken in the house where Gabriel was born a few weeks earlier. It’s on Hercules Road in North Lambeth, a location that features in The House of Lost Souls and The Lazarus Prophecy and also more prominently in The Lucifer Chord, which is the novel I’m currently writing.
This might not be the oldest house I’ve lived in. The cottage I lived in for a few productive months in Shaftesbury in 2011 probably predates it. But it is an old house, as that fireplace suggests. It’s Grade 11 listed and was built in about 1820 and English Heritage were very keen for the front door to be regularly painted; a big, wooden, Georgian door and a daunting task for anyone as consistently hopeless at DIY as I am.
Personal experience of old dwellings is my point, here. When my daughter Avalon, then 6, saw the Shaftesbury cottage for the first time, she asked me. ‘Have people died here?’ On balance the answer was probably yes – as it would surely be too for the Lambeth house. But neither address was remotely atmospheric in a sinister or disquieting way.
I like to write about haunted houses. It’s a classic horror trope and one I think pretty much inexhaustible. I did it in THOLS and in Dark Echo and I think probably most successfully so far in my novella An Absence of Natural Light. And of course the crofter’s cottage on New Hope Island is a place of shifting mood and character and malevolence throughout my Colony trilogy. I’m doing it again in The Lucifer Chord, where Ruthie Gillespie has just endured a very unsettling experience in a flat at Proctor Court in Shadwell close to London’s old Victorian docks. On paper it’s a coveted address, close to the river, at the heart of things. But as the estate agent trying to sell it implies to Ruthie later, there’s a reason it’s always vacant.
This is one of those occasions when I’m very glad to be making the story up rather than writing from personal experience. On a lighter note, the baby in that picture has just completed Feshers’ Week at Sussex University. Please don’t anyone tell me time flies. I’m painfully aware of the fact.
Corfu almost exactly 29 years ago photographed by my brother Haydn earning absolutely zero points for artistic impression from a diving board that always looks to me like a prop out of an episode of Thunderbirds. This is the kind of thing my generation spent their childhoods doing at the open air pool in Southport criminally demolished back in the early 1990s. I describe it in Dark Echo, when in 1927 Jane Boyte is there and sees Harry Spalding execute a perfect pike and enter the water with barely a ripple. I was never that fastidious and always much more of a show-off.
Because I didn’t want to hang around waiting for my Colony Trilogy closer Harvest of Scorn to come out, I’ve been getting on with The Lucifer Chord. This is the first stand-alone novel to feature my character Ruthie Gillespie. She’s been commissioned by a music mogul to research the life and death of a legendary rock star. What she discovers is intended to provide the copy in a lavish booklet included in the definitive box-set celebrating the band this rock star led. Sixty-odd pages into my story and Ruthie has just discovered that Ghost Legion frontman Martin Mear had a connection to the Jericho Society. Anyone who has read The Going and the Rise will know that she’s come across this sinister cult before. And that they’re very bad news…
If you’re wondering why Ruthie has taken on this job and is in London rather than on Wight, you’ll find the answers to those questions at the conclusion of Harvest of Scorn. I write chronologically and try to keep things honest. Michael Aldridge, my lovelorn architect from The Going, is in this one too. I like him. Though whether he’ll enjoy his participation in the story (or even survive it) is yet to be determined. I make them up as I go along. I like to think they’re less predictable that way, but the truth is it’s the only technique I’ve got. A bit like being on that diving board. I was a pretty indifferent diver, but could always do the back somersault okay.