I’ve written a Christmas ghost story. I’ve been a huge fan of ghost stories ever since I first terrified myself with the flesh-creeping fiction of MR James, and there’s no better time for reading tales of the supernatural than at Christmas. Isn’t that why Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is such an enduring classic? (Incidentally I make a point of watching at least one film version of A Christmas Carol every year. Several of them are gems, but my all-time favourite is by the Muppets, and features Michael Caine in his finest hour).
Most of you know me for my Greek books and my Greek island connections, but I’ve written this ghost story to honour my English heritage. My ancestry lies in Lincolnshire, a county in middle-England famed for its flatness and its fens – areas very like the Netherlands in appearance, and in large part claimed from the sea as agricultural land by Dutchmen in the 18th and 19th centuries. But some of the fens – from Lincolnshire stretching into Cambridgeshire – resisted draining, and have remained wild and treacherous landscapes of wetland and marsh. They’re havens for bird-life, and attract hunters and fishermen, as well as artists (and writers) who fall in love with their peculiar beauty. In certain light and certain weather they’re sinister places, and it’s their other-worldly quality I’ve called on in Swan’s Lament.
Like many people (Scrooge included), I’m nostalgic for Christmas Past, and that’s why I’ve given a ‘retro’ mood to Swan’s Lament, setting it in a time – well within living memory - when people were content with far less than we expect now. I’ve tried to capture the excitement of those few days immediately prior to Christmas through a child’s eyes, drawing on memories of when it was normal to find an orange in the toe of your Christmas stocking, and when your mother would have been delighted if you’d bought her bath-cubes (remember bath-cubes??) as a gift.
But it’s not nostalgia that makes a ghost story, it’s the tingle of fear, the feeling you just can’t shake that maybe there is something on the other side of the door, rattling the latch or causing that candle to blow out. Evoking that fear is an art-form, presented as a master-class in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, a chilling story which makes use – to excellent effect – of every word in the supernatural writer’s vocabulary. If Swan’s Lament is only half as spine-chilling as The Woman in Black, I shall consider my work well done. All I can say is, I wrote it in a cottage in the fens when I was all by myself, and thinking about what I was writing cost me more than one night’s sleep. In the best way possible, I hope it may do the same for you. Happy Christmas reading!
Author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, books with a touch of mythology set in almost-contemporary Greece, and featuring lots of fabulous Greek food.
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