Location is crucial to my stories because they rely so heavily on atmosphere. To really feel the sense of dread and impeding doom I aim for, you have to feel you’re inhabiting the place I’m describing rather than sitting in a comfy chair cradling your reader device of choice.
My just-published novella The Going and the Rise is set on the Isle of Wight. Like anywhere with a long history in England, the island has its fair share of spectral legends. I first went there at the age of 19 in the summer of ’76 – that idyllic summer that was the hottest and driest for 500 years. I remember seeing the smoke rising from grass and forest fires in the Sussex countryside through the coach windows en route.
That was the summer Elton John and Kiki Dee were never off the radio belting out, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. It was the summer a long-haired Swede named Bjorn Borg won his first Wimbledon title. It was the last family holiday I would ever go on and my 16 year-old brother and I had an absolute blast. I also had an encounter that might have influenced me and my fiction and coloured forever my thinking about the island.
Phil Rickman once asked me as a guest on his radio show had I ever seen a ghost. I answered, truthfully, no. Then he asked me would I like to.
‘No, I bloody wouldn’t,’ I replied, equally truthfully.
So, no phantoms. At least, not yet. But in the summer of ’76 at Ventnor I did meet a woman who claimed to be a witch. She was entirely serious. She was darkly exotic and quite mature (probably late 20’s – but that’s mature enough when you’re 19). I didn’t know whether to believe she was capable of magic, but she certainly believed it and in all respects, she appeared completely sane.
She might have been the spark, or the catalyst. Or I might have used Wight anyway, I love the island and it suits the nature of the story I wanted to tell. But I do wonder…
The Going and the Rise is still available to get for free here. It’s events unfold over a balmy summer, but I hope it’s capable of chilling you a bit despite that. It’s set in Ventnor, and we all know how quickly the weather on the coast can worsen.