Happily immersed in vintage Stephen King, listening to the audiobook of It and re-reading The Shining. This experience is taking me back to the mid-1980s when I first got through these mighty tomes. Involuntary memory is a curious phenomenon, I’m recalling all sorts of ancillary stuff from that period which I thought had long vanished from recollection. And I’ve reached two firm conclusions. The first is that King didn’t get where he is by accident. He’s a superb storyteller. The second is that Steven Weber, the actor who narrates It, is a very talented performer. With a lot of stamina, by the way. This listen is more than forty hours of thrills and chills in a breathtakingly imaginative tale.
Some of you will be familiar with Ruthie Gillespie, my character who debuted in The Going and the Rise and then featured in books 2 and 3 of my Colony trilogy. When I think of Ruthie’s involvement with New Hope Island I’m always reminded of the doleful old Alexei Sayle joke: “I got my girlfriend in trouble. (Pause): ‘Got her involved in the civil war in Angola.’
I got Ruthie in trouble by involving her in murky matters in the Outer Hebrides in a story begun long before she became embroiled in it. I’ve felt ever since then that she deserves a stand-alone novel all of her own and I’m working on that. It’s about 50 per cent done. I’m working too on a film treatment. I’m writing another Jericho Society novella. And I’m mulling over a Colony prequel in which a young and freshly promoted Patrick Lassiter is the main protagonist. It’s set in North London in 1989 and he’s investigating the suspicious death of a spirit medium. I did a lot of crime reporting in the Camden Town area for five years from ’82. I know the ground, the background and the methodology employed in police investigations back then. So no research really necessary. Will it involve the paranormal? Yes and no; there’s a lot of deliberate ambiguity planned for this one, a mood of uncertainty and distinct uneasiness. Patsy’s in for a hard time.
Today’s picture is the Polish cover of my witchcraft novel, The Magdalena Curse. This edition sold proportionally better than either the American or UK versions. I always think of this as the Nigella cover, since to me its subject looks much more like a woman famous for cooking on telly than it does a powerful sorceress with malevolent plans for the world. As anyone who’s read the novel will know, the last thing on Lavinia Mallory’s mind is baking anyone a cake.
I’ve spent this week doing a final edit on a Jericho Society novella set 18 months after the events that occurred in The Going and the Rise. Two central characters from that story are present in this one in Goth author Ruthie Gillespie and lovelorn architect Michael Aldridge. Chronologically, the story takes place after the events involving Ruthie in the closing chapter of my Colony trilogy, but that’s only referenced in passing. Ruthie’s a resilient woman, as this new tale gives her ample cause to be.
The Boston Artefact of the story’s title is a goblet or chalice of dubious provenance acquired by a distinguished London based auction house. It’s fashioned from pewter and gold, heavily bejewelled and exquisitely engraved. It bears no hallmarks or maker’s name, but carbon dating puts its manufacture at the end of the 18th century. Stylistically, it appears to be French. Despite its rarity, aesthetic qualities and potential value under the hammer, house antiquities expert Veronica Slade finds it loathsome to look at and almost unendurable to touch.
So she researches its strange engravings and finds an unexpected match, her probing hampered, though, by contact from someone claiming to be the rightful owner of the chalice and rather badly wanting it back.
My plan is to complete four Jericho Society themed novellas, starting with The Going, given a faithful chronology and featuring a consistent line-up of characters who come and go through each. Well, those that survive, at least. This story also involves two characters from my novel Dark Echo, where I originated the Jericho Society. But it makes perfect sense whether you’ve read that book or you haven’t. The idea is that all the JS novellas work as stand-alones, though it will be tempting to bundle them together in one volume when I’ve completed all four.
A word about today’s picture, taken on Corfu in the summer of 1983. The sunglasses – tortoiseshell frames, green lenses – were bought from one of those independent King’s Road boutiques internet shopping has since made extinct. Looking at this photo, my son would probably say that’s a good thing. But the significant detail is the tombstone of a book I’ve got between my hands. It’s Stephen King’s The Stand. And all these years later, if there’s a better dystopian novel out there, I’ve yet to find it.
This is where my fiction writing career really began, in the summer of 1994 on the Isle of Wight, when I saw the forbidding edifice of the building that would become the Fischer mansion in The House of Lost Souls. I didn’t know it then, of course. I wouldn’t know it until I came to write the first novel published under the name F.G. Cottam a full eleven years later and in a different century from the one in which this picture was taken.
The subconscious mind is a strange thing. It might actually be more accurately described as a strange place. What happens there doesn’t stay there, it strays into our consciousness and influences the way we think. A month after this picture was taken, I was approached out of the blue by an American publishing company and asked to launch the British edition of Men’s Health Magazine. In 1999 I’d write the first of four historical novels that would be published under the name Francis, rather than the initials F.G. I did one a year of those before deciding to change tack and attempt something paranormally themed.
That grand pile of masonry I’d seen on the island had never left me in the meantime. I’d often pondered on how imposingly sinister it had looked, glimpsed through a fold of gentle hills in broad daylight on a sunny afternoon. When first I saw it my brother and myself, on a cycling holiday, had stopped on the road between Blackgang Chine and Freshwater Bay at a cottage with a sign advertising afternoon teas. So I saw what would become my own house of horrors munching on a teacake and sipping from a china cup of Earl Grey.
Wight gets a terrible time in my stories for so lovely a place. It’s featured since THOLS in my full-length fiction in The Waiting Room, two of the three books in my Colony trilogy and in my novellas The Going and the Rise and (the yet to be published) The Boston Artefact. What can I say? I love it as a location and have since first visiting the island at the age of 19. I can’t in reality get out of my chair and stroll along Ventnor’s pretty seafront and order a drink at sunset to sip outside the Spyglass Inn. But I can do it on the page and sometimes, that’s the next best thing.
I know there’s no justification for that cycling outfit, by the way. There’s absolutely no excuse. I’m just glad the Men’s Health people from the States never saw me attired that way. If they had, my employment history might never have involved some very pleasurable trips to places on the other side of the Atlantic.