September 16 2016
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.