Please join us in welcoming author Amy Rae Durreson today, on the tour for her new novel, Spindrift, a contemporary story with a historical twist. And ghosts. Let’s not forget the ghosts.
I love writing ghost stories. In particular, I love the kind of ghost story that slowly builds its tension through hints and suggestions of the uncanny. Two of my favourite supernatural writers are M.R. James and Oliver Onions, both of whom build dread through the slow realisation that the unknown is all too close—James championed what he called ‘retience’ in ghost stories and Onions preferred ghosts ‘of so plausible an exterior that they are hardly known to have been ghosts until they have passed.’ (I highly recommend reading his introduction to The Dead of Night to any would-be ghost story writer). The slow creeping awareness that something about the person in the corner of our vision is wrong, that the person who just passed us cannot possibly be real, that no one can really be breathing in the darkness under the stairs—that’s where the most powerful fear of the supernatural lives.
Of course that creates problems of its own. Once a ghost becomes too concrete, it loses its power and the point at which that line is crossed varies from reader to reader. Fear, like humour, is a very subjective thing (personally, the moment a horror story produces excess amounts of bodily fluids is the point where I stop feeling scared and start picking apart the writing techniques instead). What is a slow build of dread for one reader may be dull for another. I find sound-based haunting more scary than visual ghosts, but I know not everyone agrees. Spindrift, my new ghost story, does have visual ghosts, since the protagonist is an artist and I wanted to keep things visual, so I’ll be interested to find out whether people find them more or less frightening than my last ghost story, which was primarily sound-based.
The need to keep things subtle becomes tricky when you realise that your plot needs you to reveal specific detail about your ghosts and what happened to them. My solution to this in Spindrift was to have my characters discover, and slowly decipher, the encrypted diary of one of the ghosts, an artist from the early years of the twentieth century who recorded his secret affair with a local fisherman, his muse and model. Joshua’s diary let me reveal key details of his affair and set up all sorts of parallels with the modern characters.
Siôn, my protagonist, is the one breaking the code. He’s an amateur artist himself, and even as he reveals the details of that long-ago affair, he is falling in love with Mattie, the great-great-grandson of that fisherman.
The diary isn’t the only way in which the past intrudes on Siôn and Mattie’s present. It’s his interest in the long ago artists which draws Sion to the village in the first place. He meets Mattie when he ventures into the museum where Mattie is volunteering. Mattie’s uncle tell colourful anecdotes of local history over Sunday lunch and an old homework assignment belonging to his cousin Caitlyn holds key information. This was one of the easiest parts of the book to write. You can’t walk more than a mile or two in the UK before you stumble over at least a signboard telling you about local history. Walking across the British countryside is always a walk across time as well. The more I write ghost stories the more I’ve been drawn to read about the landscape and to dig into the history of the land beneath my feet. Weaving that fascination into this story was a delight. It’s also set by the sea, and the some of the most haunted places in the village are those liminal spaces between the safe haven of the village and the dangerous waters—the breakwater that protects the harbour, the abandoned jetty in the next bay and, to a lesser extent, doorways, windows, even the parish boundary—all places where the bitterness and grief of the drowned men can break through into the world of the living.
Although I write about ghosts, I veer towards scepticism myself (not entirely, because people I trust have experienced uncanny things). I’ve definitely visited places where the sense of past lives felt almost tangible. There’s a footpath in the local woods I can’t walk down without the hairs lifting on the back of my neck, a long barrow I’ll never visit again, and the more benign atmosphere of certain beech woods in spring, or the peaceful slumber of certain castle ruins.
If anyone else has stories of especially atmospheric places, I’d love to hear them.
About the Book
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 200 Pages
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht
Purchase Links: DSP || Amazon || ARe || Kobo || iTunes || B&N
Blurb: When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.
But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.
He spent the morning out of the village, up on the cliff tops a mile away, where the remains of an old mine still scarred the grassy slopes. Abandoned machinery still moldered in the grass, overgrown and crumbling with rust, and the jetties and breakwaters below were little more than rubble, almost reclaimed by the sea. Siôn painted in vicious slashes and dark colors, letting the reds and blacks bleed across the page in a way he hadn’t since before the bridge, before he left the city.
By lunchtime he felt a little better. He ate his sandwiches looking over the sea and breathed in slowly.
He needed to apologize to Mattie—to explain somehow that it had been fear, not rejection. That he needed to be kind to himself. It had been a hard lesson to learn, but a necessary one.
Mattie was gone from the museum by the time he got back, so Siôn ventured back to the cottage and hesitated for a while before putting the packet of pink wafers he’d bought through the letter box. It wasn’t much of an apology, but hopefully Mattie would appreciate it.
He had passed two parked coaches on the way back down, and the lower lanes were milling with elderly visitors. Siôn dodged around them, but their enthusiasm caught his attention. He didn’t want to paint any of them individually, but he ventured along the breakwater to see what the crowd looked like from a distance and had to smile at the mass of color and movement framed by the cottages. The tide was out, and there were at least four old men in the sea with their trousers rolled up. An ice-cream stand was perched on the end of the quay, and there was a crowd around it. Every bench was full, as was most of the seawall below the heaped rocks of the breakwater, and gulls were wheeling overhead. He’d forgotten the pull of the sea on a sunny Saturday in June, and immediately tried to find a spot that was as far away from the crowds as possible.
Siôn couldn’t find anywhere to sit, so he ignored the warning signs to scramble up onto the top of the breakwater. Several younger visitors had done the same and were sitting in a laughing huddle farther along. Siôn ignored them and began to sketch quickly. He didn’t feel like painting again, but this was soothing and satisfying in itself.
He was so relaxed that he barely noticed the noise behind him at first. It was very faint, just an extra slop of the waves against the breakwater and a soft scrabble as if something was heaving itself up onto the thin shoal behind the harbor bar. Remembering the seal he had glimpsed that morning, Siôn knelt up and turned to look, amused. A fearless seal, clearly.
But when he looked down, it wasn’t a seal at all.
A drowned man stared up at him from under the water.
About the Author
Amy has a terrible weakness for sarcastic dragons, shy boys with sweet smiles, and good pots of tea. She is yet to write a shy, tea-loving dragon, but she’s determined to get there one day (so far, all of her dragons are arrogant gits who prefer red wine). Amy is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon.