Tuesday, 7 September 2010
The demon bench end
The Demon Bench End was one of the few stories I had actually taken to a point of completion years and years before I ever became a published writer, although it was originally written as a story for adults and had a contemporary setting (at one stage being set in Maine in New England).
The Demon Bench End - as it appears in Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - is one of my favourites in the Tales of Terror series. At any one time, I have lots of stories in my head and in my notebooks: stories that are need of an ending, or endings that lack a beginning, or stories that simply need fleshing out or honing down. There are stories that I know will be better if I just bed them down for a while and come back to them. The Demon Bench End was one of those.
The basic idea of a demonically-possessed carving was there right from the beginning. But almost everything else changed over the years.
Location plays a huge part in classic English tales of the supernatural, particularly in the stories of M R James. I moved to Cambridge four years ago and it is Cambridge and Grantchester, and the river meadows between them, that provides the backdrop to The Demon Bench End. Thomas' father is the kind of arrogant medievalist who often meets a sticky end in M R James stories, but my story is for a younger audience and so I direct the attentions of the demon towards Thomas himself.
The notion of it being a bench end comes directly from taking Gothic architecture as part of my art A-level in secondary school. My art teacher, Joe Taylor, would take us off in the school mini bus to look at abbeys and castles on a Sunday. I became a little obsessed with the subject and still get ridiculously excited by a nice bit of chevron molding or a green man carving. Misericords and bench ends always intrigue me. I seem to remember Philip Larkin describing John Betjemen and John Piper as being 'randy for the antique'. I'm certainly a little infatuated.
East Anglian churches seem particularly well-endowed with carved bench ends - often elaborate figures on the ends of pews, smoothed and blurred by centuries of handling - and as many of M R James' stories have an East Anglian setting, this too seemed appropriate. The wonderful Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh was especially in my mind, with its bench ends depicting the seven deadly sins.
It is a story that I remember really enjoying writing and is one that particularly seems to stick in readers' minds.