Article published on October 1, 2015.
For those coming along to our readers day on Saturday Oct 3rd, 2015 an interesting insight from one of our speakers. And if you’re not able to join us then, it’s still worth checking out.
“I have felt compelled by this story, landscape and these characters for many years. In 1910, Iris Villarca lives at Rawblood, a lonely house in the heart of Dartmoor. The Villarca family are all haunted by her. She comes in the night, white and skeletal, and takes their lives. Iris’s narrative is interwoven with the past, the voices of the dead – Villarcas, taken by her. Each voice, each narrative, is rooted in a particular era of the ghost story – from its birth, springing from the Gothic novel, to the boy-soldier phantoms of World War I.
Rawblood feels extremely personal to me, for something so apparently removed from my own experience. During my childhood and adolescence my family moved from the US to Kenya, to Madagascar, then to Yemen, Morocco, and back to the US. We returned each summer to a 17th century stone cottage tucked into a valley beneath the swooping heights of Hamel Down, on Dartmoor. The house was surrounded by the little old oak woodlands, heather, hills. After the tropics, Dartmoor was exotic, with its mists and bogs; a bleak, grand landscape. It made its way into my subconscious, as it has done with many other writers. It’s a natural literary home for demonic hounds, ghosts, murder. A fertile breeding ground for the imagination and the perfect setting for dark, solitary acts.
The cottage was partly built on the foundations of an older Devon longhouse and partly on some that were even older. There is a dwelling marked on that site in the Domesday Book. The walls were solid granite, seven feet thick. The hearth could have comfortably accommodated an ox. In that house I rarely lasted the length of a night in my own bedroom. My sister awoke, most mornings, to find me curled up on her floor.
I was continually troubled by something, or someone, in my room. A malign presence. It didn’t take any recognisable form, but was vaguely rhomboid and spun with colour. It would hover before my face, red and seething. Occasionally this presence would shove me out of bed with a firm hand in the small of my back. An overwhelming intent emanated from it. The dark air was alive with its will, a vast sense of purpose; but no indication of what that purpose might be, or whether I myself was a part of it, or an obstacle to it, or irrelevant.
This persisted for some six years. I never grew accustomed. Each night, the fear was as paralysing as the first time. Other people who slept in the room disliked the atmosphere, and often complained of cold and discomfort. No one else reported seeing anything. When I was fifteen we sold that house. The presence did not follow us.
There is a particular, and inimitable calibre of fear that is engendered by the ghost story. I recall my feelings on first reading The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. The tale reaches its climax as a mother and father cower away from a pounding at the front door that they know to be their son, risen from the grave. I was afraid, and suitably thrilled. But most of all I recognised a mode of storytelling which gave expression to the fear I felt in the night. It is fear that reaches past rational thought, evoking horror that cannot be explicitly described, and is more awful for it. Rawblood owes its heritage to the literature of the uncanny: M.R. James, Charles Dickens, Sheridan le Fanu, to Stephen King, Susan Hill, Kelly Link, Hilary Mantel, Shirley Jackson, Jeremy Dyson, and many others.
What could that purpose have been, that I felt so strongly in the dark? When I started writingRawblood five years ago I wanted toaddress the question of what ghosts might want. Traditionally there is some revenge to be enacted, some mortal task left undone, some corpse unburied. But perhaps ghosts are driven by something entirely other. Rawblood explores these possibilities. I hope it brings you both enjoyment and fear, a combination which, in the right proportions, is very pleasurable.”