Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Children's games

I'm off to Amsterdam tomorrow. I am at the last stages of writing my new book, The Mask, which is set in Amsterdam and I need to check on some details and make lots of notes about the specifics of the places I visit in the novel.

I was in Amsterdam last year when the Dutch translation of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship was awarded a Vlag & Wimpel. I had a feeling straight away that Amsterdam would make a great setting for a creepy novel and so it has turned out.

The Mask is the first chiller I've written that has a contemporary setting - although there is also a historical element to it. The plot revolves around a boy, Alex, who visits the city with his father and is haunted by the ghost of a girl who once lived in the hotel he is staying in - a girl who lived there when it was a merchant's house in the seventeenth century.

The title refers to the fact that the girl is never seen without the mask she wears and never leaves the house. In my novel - though not in reality - there is a strange painting of the girl wearing her mask in the Rijksmuseum. She is standing at the window looking out onto the moonlit canal where children are playing. When Alex happens across the mask in a market stall and puts it on, he sees this scene: he sees the canalside as it was back then - and sees too those mysterious children playing in the moonlight.

And they see him.

Images are often starting points for me with books and The Mask probably started with a detail from a painting by Breughel called Children's Games. As always with Breughel paintings, there are strange things happening all over the place and one of the strange things in this picture is the creepy mask that is visible in the window at the top left. I think I may have had a detail showing this in a school text book series called Voices. But I may not. It was a long time ago.

That masked face at the window has haunted me ever since I first saw it, forty years or so ago, and though the mask is not the mask in my book, and the period is not the same, this was the seed that developed, over time, into my current novel.

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