Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Creeper's Cottage for #IndieApril

Next stop on the Indie April book tour is Creeper's Cottage.

This was written entirely for the fun of it.

Through my publisher, Ghostwoods, I made the acquaintance of the lovely David Southwell, who turned out to be a fan of Rosy Hours. He provided a quote for the back and has been extremely supportive of my writing.

Around the same time, he was working on his project called Hookland. Or The Phoenix Guide to Strange England. I've explained what Hookland is before, but in brief it's a mythical county in England where folklore lives and breathes. Any weird stories, old wives tales or creepy occurrences from across the British Isles have a home there. A fantasy world which all sorts of artists can add to by writing stories, posting photographs and artwork.

I was strongly drawn to this as I'm a huge fan of things like #FolkloreThursday and anything a little Fortean. I'm also a huge fan of MUDs and collaborative worldbuilding. So I leapt at the chance to look over an early edition of the Hookland Guide for Writers, which laid out the geography and key folklore.

It just felt very natural to set a novel there.

Rosy Hours had taken a lot of research. There had been inter-library loans, documentaries, photographic archives... a labour of love. Once it was done, I didn't really feel like diving straight into another book that would require more research. I wanted to write something fun, with all the creative license I wanted.

Hookland was perfect. I grew up in a small village famed for its witchcraft. The guide reminded me of all those moonlit back lanes and empty pubs with the creaking boards above the door. It was any rural English backwater, and at the same time it was not. It was whatever else you wanted to throw in there.

I'm also a huge Peaky Blinders fan, and round about that time I went on a trip to the Black Country Museum with dad and Marilyn. That's where they filmed parts of it. It's one of a handful of 'living museums' across the country. There's another one in Wales. The idea is that listed buildings that are in danger of dereliction can be taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt on museum land, so that future generations can visit them. You can wander through the houses and they bring the past to life with actors and farm animals.

It was whilst at the Black Country Museum that we went inside an old squatter's cottage, where itinerant workers used to live. I just stood there thinking, they transferred the bricks, but what else did they bring with them? All the hopes and fears, memories, tears and laughter those walls must have absorbed over the years. It wasn't just a house they'd brought with them, but all the history that went with it.

Perfect premise for a ghost story. 

The inspiration for Creeper's Cottage at the
Black Country Museum

So, the story is about a lord living in Hookland who is trying to start his very own living museum, only things start to get a little creepy. It's a ghost story.

The whole thing was so much fun to right. I didn't really set off with much more of an idea of the plot beyond the living museum, so the characters surprised me as they turned up. You don't need to know a single thing about Hookland to enjoy it, but, as with Rosy Hours, if you do know the background there's a few Easter eggs in there.

I took the liberty of transposing one place I know from my home county to Hookland. The Marchers's wooden house is a real place. And yes, in summer, musicians sometimes turn up and jam, and we go swimming. I call it 'my local pool.' And it is an old brick-maker's reservoir, so it's safe to swim because there are no pipes below. Places are powerful, and I wanted to preserve this one.

Picture courtesy of Sean Boustred

To say there was no research involved is a fib. I contacted living museums to learn about the process of moving houses, to try to make it authentic. Looked up a lot of building practices and even how to put in a root barricade, which weirdly served me well the other day as my landlord had to put one in my garden to protect the wall from the roots of a palm tree. I stood there, hands on hips, and in my most knowledgeable voice suggested how far the barricade should be from the tree - because I'd read all about it for no other reason than to make half a paragraph seem like I knew what I was talking about.

Writers are all professional diletantes. We learn so much stuff we'll never need again, but every now and then, a situation presents itself where you look like the smartest kid in school. So long as no one asks a follow-up question, you're sorted.

And, although the Hookland Writers Bible was fictional, it took almost as much research as writing about an actual historical place, because I had to make sure that what I wrote didn't directly contravene anything David wrote - it's his world, after all. The book needed to compliment what he had created rather than compromise it.

This was also the first book I ever decided to self-publish. I didn't think it was likely to find a publisher given the niche market and fan base, so I finally got to grips with typesetting. It was tough going, but I'm glad I did it. It's given me a greater respect for publishers, but also more freedom as an author that I don't have to bind myself to what I think a publisher might take. I can write what I like and still have a decent POD product at the end.

So far, I've had a small amount of really lovely feedback from citizens of Hookland, though not many reviews. I'm happy though. It was fun to write and design. And a big 'thank you' to José Bethencourt Suárez for the cover, which rocks.  


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