Almost three years ago I wrote a novella. It was supposed to be novel, a gilded masterpiece, a groundbreaking work of speculative fiction, as mystifying and fear-inducing as Jay Anson’s Amityville Horror. The world and their friends would endlessly speculate on whether MJ Wesolowski’s terrifying book was based on real events or an elaborate hoax.
Thing was; I didn’t really have an idea. No; I had an idea, it just wasn’t a very original one. I’ll create a place, I thought to myself, a haunted, cursed place. A place that might be real, a distant, oblique stead that people will pay pilgrimage to in years to come; that horror aficionados will flock to in their multitudes. Think Derry, , think Providence, think Westeros.
Only I couldn’t think of a place.
And all my ideas were either rubbish or derivative.
Then we went on holiday. My heavily pregnant wife spent her afternoons napping while I constructed my masterpiece. My constructing my masterpiece, I wrestled endlessly with a bad Wi-Fi signal and watched Newcastle United pre-season friendlies.
We were in Northumberland; the wild lands of North East England, lands blighted for years by the wars of England and Scotland, soaked in the blood of conflict. Northumberland has a fierce and proud identity; back in time it had its own breed of warriors known as Border Rievers; the notorious and lawless families of the Anglo-Scottish divide who fought in the name of no one but their own.
Northumberland also boasts some of England’s most beautiful coastlines and countryside; Lindisfarne or Holy Island, its ruins still standing after some of the earliest Viking pillages on English soil; the wildlife sanctuary of the Farne Islands themselves and further inland, the formidable Chillingham Castle, England’s most haunted building.
Why not create my story here?
We rode on a boat out to the Farne Islands; the slate blue of the north sea thudding against the prow; the brown stacks of land rose from the waters in ominous cliffs like RR Martin’s Pyke, home of the infamous Greyjoys.
Seals fill these waters and the eerie cries of the Kittiwakes rained down on us from their nests, perched taught and precarious on the edges of the cliffs. The Vikings used to say that Kittiwakes were the souls of their heroes that perished at sea. When you here the onomatopoeic wail of their cries
You can believe it yourself.
Then it came to me. This ancient place, rich in history, conflict and spilled blood would be the location for my story.
Named after the heather-clad moorland of Northumberland’s wilds; ‘The Black Land’ would be a story of ancient evil; of a place that will not be tamed.
Fast forward to a year later and The Black Land was finished (it almost wasn’t; I actually almost gave up on it because an ending simply wouldn’t come, no matter how hard I tried. It took some gentle encouragement from a good writer friend of mine; he basically berated me for the ending being rubbish and the story being much too short.)
A few more months of writing a proper ending and editing (repeat and keep on repeating…)before the manuscript was taken on by US-based indie-publisher ‘Blood Bound Books.‘
It was even better when a very good friend of mine and immaculate low/horror artists Richard Disley agreed to create the front cover for me. (Go check him out, he is MINT!)
I gave Richard the manuscript and let him create what he saw in the book with no input from me. The result was magnificent; it was as if Richard had reached into my brain and plucked what I was trying to create….maybe he did…I’ll never know.
During the final content edits of the novella, I wrote quite a significant back-story to one of the characters; that was, unfortunately cut from the final edit because of time constraints. It doesn’t affect the continuity of the story, it was just a little bit of author-flouncing.
However I was proud of it and when the book came out, totally forgot I had ever written this extra chapter.
So, I thought, why not give out that extra chapter on my blog?
It’ll be sort of like a bonus bit of literature that someone, sometime, maybe might even enjoy, if they really have nothing better to do.
I’ll also include some of the concept sketches for the front cover which are hauntingly beautiful…
For those of you who haven’t read The Black Land, it is available here (UK folk) and here (US folk) in either paperback or kindle (The bonus for buying the paperback is you get Richard’s amazing artwork in full colour!) and I would ask you if you have read it, would you mind writing a quick review on Amazon or goodreads (It does wonders for my ego you know!) even if you hated every single word and want to express that…
The next post (probably next week sometime) will be
The Black Land: Bonus Material part 1 of 4: Matty Dunn’s story.
It occurs just after the main character of the Black Land has convinced local fisherman Matty Dunn (A good Riever name!) to sail him to the cursed island of Blámenholm.