Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The new bits

Today my blog tour arrives at Carly Bennett's Writing from the Tub site.

The plan to rejacket the Tales of Terror series had been around for a long time, but last year Bloomsbury came up with the idea of adding a new story. It was a good idea.

So far I have talked about some of the inspirations for the stories in each book, but I have not mentioned the new sections. As the books are now hitting the bookshops, I thought I'd take a look at those added stories today. I'll start with the new edition of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.

The Snow Globe

The Snow Globe sees Edgar return to Uncle Montague's house. Despite the fear induced by his last visit, he feels compelled to return by his addiction to Uncle Montague's stories (perhaps a bit of author wishful thinking going on here!). I enjoy trying to link all the worlds of my books, and after writing my novel The Dead of Winter, I decided to make winter a common theme in all these new sections. Edgar picks up a snow globe with the figure of a skater inside and despite having being warned never to touch anything in the study without permission, he shakes it. . .


Near where I live in Cambridge is a small enclosed meadow. It is at the start of the busy path to Grantchester and in the summer hundreds of people must walk by without noticing that there is an old cast iron lamp post in the middle of the field.

In days gone by, the field would be flooded in winter. The water would freeze and an ice rink would appear, complete with lamp to light the skaters. It must have looked magical.

There is a tradition of fen skating in this area; a tradition that has been revived recently during the last two hard winters. There is, of course, a famous skating scene in Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden when Tom and Hatty skate along the frozen river to Ely.

All these things contributed in some way to this story, which follows 'willful' Diana Partington as she ignores her mother's advice and goes skating into the middle of the frozen lake to partner a handsome young man she has noticed.

But they are skating on very thin ice.

After the story Edgar finds that he is trapped in the house by a sudden and heavy snow fall. Uncle Montague asks if he would like another story to pass the time. Knowing that each of the objects in the study seems to have its own tale, he asks what the story might be behind the ship - a rather peculiar, black and rotting ship - in a bottle nearby.

Which leads me of course to Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.


Father sees Cathy and Ethan awake from the sleep they fell into at the end of the previous edition of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. They find their father sitting in the room with them. He tells them a story in an effort to try and explain his terrible actions.

The Mermaid

The Mermaid almost appeared in the first edition of Tales of Terror from the Tunnels Mouth - or at least a version of it almost did. Mermaids are usually depicted as beautiful, flaxen haired lovelies with the tails of some dull, unspecified but benign fish. Why?

There are lots of fish in the sea. . .

At the end of the story is a very gentle nod towards James Joyce. I love the last few paragraphs of The Dead and his description of snow falling - 'the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight' and 'softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves,' and his linking of those snow flakes with human souls drifting in the darkness.

I find snow very magical. Most people do, who don't have to cope with too much of it. It has a complex effect on familiar surroundings. It doesn't simply make things feel more pleasant, in the way sunshine does - it changes things utterly. It is beautiful, of course, but it is also dangerous. It can be used for sentimental effect, or for a chilling one.

The snowy world of Narnia was hugely appealing to me and to all the children who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but of course, the winter represented evil - the grip of the cold-hearted White Witch. The snow that falls on George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life seems belligerent and heartless, as though it is trying to erase him.

I have always loved snow myself - the look of it, the feel of it, the eerie dreamlike silence it brings with it. I love the way it turns adults into children. As a child I used to look up into the clouds as the snow flakes fell towards me, imagining that I was flying up into the sky with the flakes falling past me.

The Rest Cure

The Rest Cure sees Robert, traumatised by his experiences in Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth, spending some time convalescing with his stepmother in a small cottage in East Anglia. He realises he has misjudged his stepmother and is also forced to accept that she does possess some powers of precognition and telepathy. She tells him a story. . .

The Voice

The Voice is one of my favourite stories from the whole collection. It was a story that I worried over for a long time. There are some stories that are completely reliant on the controlled releease of information - this is one of those. It must never feel like that of course. The reader needs to see the swan, not the flapping feet below the water. It has to glide. Right up until the point it rears up and pecks you on the backside.

The snow that is falling throughout these new sections now comes to the cottage. To quote James Joyce again. . .

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

And through this swirling snow, they see a boy walking past. . .

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