Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Day!

Today my blog tour arrives at Wondrous Reads. . .

It's World Book Day here in the UK and I ought to be sharing an event with Philip Reeve at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Sadly, due to my recent illness I thought it best to cancel. Philip Womack is going to stand in for me and will do an excellent job of it I'm sure.

My story for World Book Day is called Teacher's Tales of Terror and tells of a supply teacher coming to a school that is celebrating World Book Day by having a Victorian dressing up day.

Mr Munro

The grim-faced Mr Munro arrives at St Apollonia's like a chill breeze. He is named for H H Munro, who wrote as Saki. After making it clear to the children that he will take no nonsense from them, he opens up a book and begins to tell them a story. . .

The Jet Brooch

The Jet Brooch is set in Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. It is a town I am very fond of. When I was growing up in Newcastle, we went there quite often. My father had sung here in choir festivals as a boy - in the wonderful St Mary's Church, with its interior of boxed pews and balconies and white twisted columns. I can remember lots of family trips there when I was young, and more recent trips with my wife and son, climbing the long flight of stone steps up to the abbey, to the church and to the gravestones, eaten by salt and soot, that are gradually tumbling over the cliffs.

Whitby is a superb location for a story. Bram Stoker spotted that when he stayed there and chose it as the place that Dracula would come ashore. It is famous for the seventh century Synod of Whitby, which resolved a dispute over deciding the date for Easter. It is famous for its whaling industry and two huge whale bones stand above the cliffs like an enormous wishbone topped with a harpoon point. It is also famous for the black stone called jet, so beloved of the morbid Victorians as jewelry. . .

The idea for the particular jet brooch in this story came from the St Hilda's snakestones carved from the fossil ammonites so common on this coast. Hilda was the abbess of Whitby Abbey where the Synod of Whitby was convened and legend has it that she turned a plague of snakes to stones (thereby explaining the ammonites which, though they do look like coiled snakes, are of course fossil shells of a nautilus-like creature).

I conflated this idea with the alchemical idea of the uroboros - a symbol showing a snake or dragon eating its own tail, used to signify eternity or cyclicality.

This tale eats its own tail.

Simon Magus

Simon Magus is a story that I have been playing around with for a very long time. I like the story of Simon Magus being brought to earth by Simon Peter. One version of the story goes that Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer had built a wooden tower in the Forum in Rome from which he levitated. Peter called on God to end the sorcery and Simon Magus came crashing to earth, dying later of his injuries. There is a lot more to the rivalry between Simon and Peter of course (mainly to do with the early church and its battle with 'heresies'), but it was this flying story that fascinated me. Pride comes before a fall. . .

The story is set in Sienna and is yet another tale that plays on my fear of heights.


Lydia is an unashamed homage to Edgar Allan Poe, who had what can only be described as an obsession with premature burial and the blurring of the lines between sickness, sleep and death.

Lydia opens with Lady Overton brushing her daughter, Eleanor's, long red hair. She is tearfully remembering how, three months earlier, her other daughter (and Elanor's twin) had been lain to rest in the family vault. . .

Anything else I told you would ruin the story I'm afraid.

When the stories are finished, Mr Munro puts his book back in his briefcase and bids the children farewell. He has a rather troubling encounter with the headmistress as he leaves. . .

But again - I think I ought to leave it to you to find out what happens to Mr Munro on his way home.

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