Guest post by Cass Green, author of In A Cottage In A Wood

Category: Author Post

IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY…

I would like to hold my hands up right now and say that if you are creeped out by my new book IN A COTTAGE IN A WOOD, then I couldn’t be more… not-sorry. I admit it; I totally set out to scare people. I spooked myself, so it seems only fair.

While I was writing it, I got to thinking about why woods play such a prominent role in our nightmares. Maybe it is because they feature in so many of the fairy tales we’re exposed to at a tender age? Here, tall trees mean places to hide for blood-thirsty wolves, or else they have cottages snuck away that seem to promise gingerbread and fun but really only mean horrible endings.

It was only after I’d finished writing the book, though, that I found myself remembering one of the strangest experiences of my childhood that took place in woods.

I was ten or eleven. A girl I didn’t know well at school – let’s call her Sally – invited me to stay with her during half-term. Sally was one of those girls who seemed to know adult stuff I didn’t and was therefore a bit dangerous and exciting. Naturally I said yes.

She lived in the wooded grounds of a country house, where her mother was currently the only employee. One afternoon as we rode lazy circles around a tennis court on our bikes, Sally told me, with a sly look in her eye, that the whole place was haunted. Her mother, she said, would hear ghostly footsteps close by each evening as she walked between the Big House and their cottage.

I did what any child on the receiving end of this kind of news does; ie, scoffed loudly to hide how scared I was. (It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I was an over-imaginative child and easy prey for anyone who could spin a scary yarn.)

That evening, an old friend of the family came to dinner. With his Captain Bird’s Eye beard and his ready smile, Uncle Jack (as they called him) seemed like an avuncular, jolly presence. It was only when the dinner things were cleared away and Sally’s mum and he exchanged meaningful looks that I started to wonder if something strange was going on.

Uncle Jack produced a strange wooden shield with carvings on it from a cloth bag and the two adults disappeared outside into the darkness, with a promise that they wouldn’t be long and warnings that we should stay indoors.

As we did the washing up together, I asked Sally what they were up to. She replied, casually, ‘Oh, Uncle Jack is performing an exorcism. So Mum doesn’t have any more trouble from the ghost…’

 

That night was filled with vivid nightmares and as dawn finally broke, I made a resolution. I wasn’t staying in this creepy place a moment longer. I would pretend I was ill and needed to go home. I managed to make a sneaky phone call and within hours my Dad came to pick me up. I’d never been more pleased to see him.

I forgot about this whole thing for so long.

But maybe it was there in the back of my mind, nudging my subconscious, and helping me to re-connect to old childhood terrors?

And maybe it played a role in me writing this book.

I’ll never know now, but I hope Sally’s mum got some peace on her nocturnal walks home after that night.

I didn’t want to hang around to find out.

IN A COTTAGE IN A WOOD is published on 21st September 2017.

On the setting of I Know My Name by CJ Cooke

Category: Author Post

Setting is crucial to establish the tone and atmosphere of a novel, and I thought carefully about the ‘where’ of I KNOW MY NAME long before crafting the who, what, and why.

            The book has two narrators – Eloise, who is stranded on an island off the coast of Crete, and her husband Lochlan, who is tearing apart Twickenham to find his wife. Eloise’s stranding on an abandoned island is symbolically tied up with the themes of the story, such as memory loss, isolation, and trauma. The island is fictional, and I called it Komméno, which roughly translates as ‘broken’.

Having travelled to Crete for a research trip during the writing period, my first representations of the island were paradisiacal (as Crete is!), but gradually I changed this to depict the island as a savage wilderness. Eloise is stranded there, after all, with only four dubious strangers for company and completely cut off from the main island. She can’t remember who she is, and the island works to evoke that sense of distressing detachment from an integral part of her identity. Logistics played a role, too: if I’d drawn Komméno as a haven of gold beaches and verdant pastures, the reader might have wondered why Eloise wanted to leave at all! Symbolically Komméno works to capture the fragmentation of her marriage to Lochlan and to convey her memory loss and subsequent recollections.

            In contrast with the raw wasteland of Komméno, the Twickenham passages are largely based in domestic interiors: the Shelley home, Max’s nursery, with a few glimpses at Eloise and Lochlan’s workplaces, and Eloise’s childhood homes. The windswept external spaces of the island, with daunting panoramas of the marooning ocean, are in stark contradistinction to the closed-in urban spaces, or the rooms, offices, and hallways of Twickenham, which point to the ordered lifestyle that Eloise has carved for her family and which Lochlan has worked hard to climb social and career ladders – only to wonder at times why he has bothered. Occasionally claustrophobic and haunting, the interiors spaces were important to me precisely because they make up so much of the daily routine of new motherhood. They also gesture towards the shift in Eloise and Lochlan’s lives from carefree globe trotters as newlyweds to the much more domestic routine imposed by parenthood.

More subtle is the indication of outward versus inward appearances – who Eloise is on the surface is not who she is inside. It is this complexity of personality, the idea of ‘keeping up appearances’, as well as confronting your past, that necessitated a thoughtful representation of setting in the book, and hopefully it comes across that way.

 

Guest post by Jaime Raven, author of The Alibi

Category: Author Post

London’s violent criminal underworld provides the backdrop to Jaime Raven’s latest novel, The Alibi. It follows on from the success of the author’s previous book, The Madam. In this guest post we learn why Jaime’s own past had such a bearing on the story – and on the creation of one of the book’s central characters, the ruthless gangster Danny Shapiro.

 

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For years I’ve followed with interest the exploits of some of London’s most notorious gangsters. Stories about them have always fascinated me.

In fact it’s probably fair to say that those villains played a small part in my decision to write The Alibi.

The book took me back to my roots in south London where I spent my childhood. My family, who were street traders, were on first-name terms with some of the leading figures in the London underworld.

I was reminded of this and other things while researching the book and now I’d like to share a few of the memories with you.

Let’s start with Charlie and Eddie Richardson, who actually get a mention in The Alibi. They ran a crime syndicate in south London during the Sixties and were two of the capital’s most sadistic gangsters. They tortured their rivals by pulling out their teeth with pliers, slicing off their toes with bolt cutters and nailing their feet to the floor.

The Richardson’s were based in Camberwell, just a mile or so from where I lived in Peckham, and my father and uncles often drank with them in local pubs.

I was once introduced to Charlie Richardson, and I recall that he ruffled my hair and gave me money to buy some sweets. Of course back then I had no interest in what kind of person he was or what he did for a living.

An important member of the Richardson gang was a man named George Cornell, who was a close friend of my uncle Jim, one of my mum’s brothers.

But Cornell upset those other famous gangsters who operated across the Thames in east London – the Kray twins. Ronnie and Reggie Kray

were involved in everything from protection rackets to robberies.

One night at the infamous Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Ronnie Kray shot and killed Cornell. I remember it being such a major talking point in my family but at the time I didn’t really understand why.

Another member of the Richardson gang was ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, who spent 42 years of his life in prison for various violent offences and was once dubbed ‘Britain’s most dangerous man.’

He wrote his memoirs before his death in 2014 and carried out ‘gangster’ tours of London on a bus.

I met the man in a pub when he was with his long-time girlfriend Marilyn Wisbey. It so happened that years earlier Marilyn had been a good friend of mine. She’s the daughter of the Great Train Robber Tommy Wisbey. We were part of the same group who partied together as teenagers.

Marilyn has published her own memoir, Gangster’s Moll, which gave a candid account of her life amongst London’s villains.

But when I first knew her she worked as a secretary to the editor of a glossy magazine. And it was thanks to her that my first short story got published. After writing it I asked her to give it to her boss and persuade him to include it in the magazine. She did and it was such a thrill to see my name in print.

I’ll be forever grateful to her because that was essentially the start of my writing career!

So finally let me return to The Alibi and one of its main characters – the gangster Danny Shapiro.

He’s loosely based on those men I’ve mentioned – the men whose criminal exploits had such a profound impact over many years on the lives of ordinary Londoners, including my own.

Danny is cold, heartless and ruthless – just like the Richardson brothers, the Krays and ‘Mad’ Frank.

But I’m also hoping that readers of The Alibi will find him interesting – and perhaps even a little charming. I won’t go so far as to say likeable – but who knows? Even the most despicable of villains can win you over on occasion – for instance when they ruffle your hair and give you money to buy some sweets…