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.


  1. This is all very interesting. I used to live in Cambridge, and I know those meadows well. I'll have to get hold of Uncle Montagues Tales of Terror.

  2. I hope you enjoy it if you do. Especially as you share a name with the main character in The Demon Bench End! You're not demonically possessed yourself I trust?

  3. It definitely does stick in people's minds. It is probably one of my favorite stories of the three books thus far. It hits all the right notes as far as being creepy and gothic. Has a nice sense of history to it. Fascinating to read a little of the origins of/inspirations for the story. I'm nearly done with Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and will be anxiously awaiting the next one!

  4. Thanks Carl. No more Tales of Terror quite yet - although they are being reissued in March with a new story in each. Actually it's more than just a story - it adds to each book and joins each book to the next. Also there are three new stories in a World Book Day book I'm doing here in the UK with Philip Reeve.

  5. That sounds interesting. Will they be re-releasing them in the U.S. and U.K.?

    In the meantime I'm looking forward to Dead of Winter.

    And let me say here, referring back to the Tales books, that you've got yourself one amazing illustrator in David Roberts. His art and your words allow these books to feel like they were something written long ago which gives them a great nostalgic feel for adults like myself while still being engaging for young children.

  6. Not sure about a US re-issue. I'd have to check on that. They only went with the first two Tales of Terror in the States. I'll try and find out.

    And David Roberts did a fine job. having said that - I should point out that the re-issues will have new covers and no illustrations.

  7. Not possessed so as you'd notice, though I'd be tempted to sell my soul for a website like yours. I love the moving candle and the creepy things going on in the half-light.

    These books go straight to the top of my reading wish list, though it sounds like I have to hurry if I want them with illustrations in.

  8. The Tales of Terror website is the work of Adrian Downie at Bloomsbury. He's great. And I dare say you'll be able to get the illustrated copies for a while yet. Thanks for getting in touch and hope you enjoy reading them.

  9. i am reading the uk addition of uncle montague's tale of terror with my school and have found that the demon bench end is my favourite story so far. i have yet to make a presentation about it for a competition