A New Approach to Ogham Reading

I am passionately interested in the Celtic ogham characters and their use in divination, and have written three books on the subject:  The Book of OghamThe Ogham Roads, and the booklet How to Read Ogham, which was written under the pen name Orry Whitehand.  (All three titles are available from Amazon.)

The ogham fews have always proved to be a very clear and illuminating way of giving full and insightful readings.  The general way of using them is for the client to draw slivers of wood marked with oghams from a bag, which are then arranged according to a pattern (generally based upon the fivefold Celtic cosmological structure) in order to be read and interpreted.

It is whilst wearing my ‘mystery entertainer’ hat that I have begun to devise a new way for the oghams to be selected, one which gives the client a much greater sense of immersion and which draws upon their own subconscious impression of the meanings of shapes and sounds.  If your client’s own subconscious can offer up its contents to you for reading, how much more pertinent than simply drawings sticks from a bag?  It also makes the client feel much more personally invested in the reading, and they go away feeling that they have had a genuinely magical experience.

The technique is simple.  The client is relaxed and placed in a light, waking trance, still perfectly aware of their surroundings, but their minds turned inward and open to the promptings of their own subconscious.

Ask the client to close their eyes, then begin to guide them on a mental journey, describing the things they see and hear as they enter more deeply into the trance state.  The landscape should be suitably Celtic, such as a deep forest, or a coastline, or highlands.  Select the type of landscape which you feel best suits the tenor of their question.  Be sure to emphasise the non-visual impressions of the place which will help them to enter deeper trance too.  For example, if a coastal region, describe the texture of the rocks, the surging motion of the sea, the feel of the wind and the spray on their face, the sounds of gulls, the scent and taste of salt in the air … you get the picture.

When they feel centred and ‘present’ in the place, guide them to a specific meeting place, such as a cave by the shore, a hut in the hills, or a grove in the forest.  Here they meet a figure who embodies their subconscious understanding of their situation, those insights into their question which they know deep down but have not consciously realised or accepted.  Obviously, don’t describe the figure to them in these terms:  it may be a wise man or woman, a druid, a hermit, or it may be a fairy creature, perhaps a tall, regal, shining woman or a small, gnarled, gnome-like figure.  Perhaps allow them to perceive the figure for themselves and describe it to you instead of the other way around, if you feel they are sufficiently immersed by this point?

Once they have found the figure, describe how it will begin to offer them symbols which may be read and interpreted as an answer to their question.  These symbols will be ogham fews.

fig 1-1

The beauty of ogham in a situation such as this is that each symbol is a simple combination of two factors:  (a) whether the notches are to the right, to the left, diagonal or straight across; (b) how many notches there are, between 1 and 5.  For example, from the diagram above, the ‘T’ ogham is three notches to the left of the stem-line.  This makes them very easy to visualise even if you have only seen them for a few seconds before.  The client would be shown very briefly a chart similar to the above before entering their trance, and would now be asked to accept one ogham at a time from their guide, describing its number of notches and their position, till all places on the reading layout were filled.  Note that they do not have to remember the letter values of the symbols, indeed it is better if they don’t and are simply reacting to subconscious prompts.

Note that it is also possible – and may in some instances be preferable – for the client to hear the guide speak to them, uttering one sound for each ogham to be drawn, instead of a visual symbol.  This would then be allocated the appropriate few from the chart and noted for the reading (if more complex sounds were made, the initial letter is taken).

When all of the places in the layout have been filled, the client is led back to the place they began and gently brought out of trance, opening their eyes once more in the waking world.  But the reading layout is now full and may be read and interpreted by the reader as normal.  The difference is that the client feels much more a ‘part’ of the reading, more immersed in it, having journeyed to discover the fews personally, and the subconscious has also been much more deeply engaged, leading to the likelihood of more profound insights.

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Stagnant Waters

I have just published my latest novel, a horror titled The Waters of Life.  I’ve certainly delved into horror before and will do again, but nevertheless this book is extraordinary even by my standards.  I thought a blog was in order to trace my thought processes in the writing of this book.

The Waters Of Life

The actual initial idea for the story was sparked by a comment from a fellow indie author and friend named May J. Panayi (be sure to check her books out too; ‘Malbed Mews‘ is a real stunner if you like your horrors).  In one of her travel blogs, when referencing a trip to Greece, she mentioned “drinking water from the tomb”.  This inspired a raft of grotesque thoughts and scenarios.

So my tale became woven around the tomb of a saintly abbot, from which a spring with alleged healing properties flowed.

From the outset, I decided I wanted to write a real horror, a story which would be utterly doom-laden, downbeat and oppressive, in which not a single character would have a happy ending.  At the end of every horror book or movie, there are generally one or two characters who limp away from the carnage at the end.  I was determined that this would not be the case with The Waters of Life.  There is no sigh of relief for the reader as the final page is turned.  I wanted this book to truly horrify, to be misery incarnate.

So, in order to accomplish this I had to decide upon the nature of the horror.  The only way to write such a bleak novel convincingly would be to write about those things which truly horrify me and which turn my stomach.

This, to me, meant body horror.  I have always felt that there can be nothing more horrible than when your own body turns against you and begins changing or killing you from within, an enemy that you cannot flee, which alters your very identity and sense of self.  A quick look back at the things which had genuinely frightened me as a child confirmed this feeling:  Doctor Who episodes such as ‘The Green Death‘ and ‘The Ark in Space‘, which both featured extreme body horror, and more recent horror writings such as Brian Lumley’s eerie and grotesque ‘Fruiting Bodies‘ and Guy N. Smith’s exquisitely revolting ‘The Festering‘.

The most terrifying and blood curdling examples of body horror, which have often been evoked in horror literature, are deadly, disfiguring diseases, which arouse both pity and revulsion and unreasoning terror in equal measures.  So a hideous contagion became the core threat of my novel, all tied in with themes of gangsters, brutality and torture; long-buried evil and sinister religious orders.

I think I succeeded in capturing what I set out to do.  The Waters of Life is not an easy read, it is uncomfortable, skin crawling (literally!), repellent and heart-rending.  Reading it will not make you feel good.  But it may manage to fulfill the original remit of tragedy:  to prove a catharsis, a purging of your darkest fears and emotions.  There is a human need to vent such emotions, which was why I chose to write such a book.

To make the unrelenting misery and horror easier to bear, the Kindle edition costs a mere 99p / 99c, or is free to read through the Kindle Unlimited service.

I will close with the back cover blurb from the book, and those who wish to sample more will find the entire prologue here at an earlier blog entry.

“Eric Turner, a journalist specialising in accounts of the paranormal, investigates a healing well associated with a saintly abbot in the rural village of Scratchbury. Here he finds evidence of astonishing, miraculous cures: a blind woman who can see; a hunchbacked schoolgirl whose spine has straightened.

“But why is everyone else in the village so deathly ill?

“Why is a gangster so obsessed with shooting a movie in the ruins of the old monastery?

“Who are the ruthless order of monks who will defend their secret at any cost, even murder?

“As Eric investigates. he discovers to his horror that an evil that has been entombed for a thousand years is breaking free at last, and it brings plague and suffering in its wake. A pestilence stalks the land, and all flesh is its plaything.”

So You’ve Just Self-Published Your First Book and it isn’t Selling?

Indie writers, eh?  We’ve all been there, we’ve put the finishing touches to our first novel, our veritable masterpiece, we’ve uploaded the files and ticked the boxes to complete the self-publishing process, we’ve converted the files for Kindle and now … now we sit back, checking our Amazon reports every 5 minutes, rubbing our hands together as we wait for the sales to start flooding in.  Which they don’t.

Don’t be disheartened.  This is how we all begin.  We’re one among millions and nobody knows who we are or why they should risk their hard-earned cash and time on us.  We have to learn how to make our book noticed, how to make people willing to take a chance on reading our work.  It takes time and effort.

I’m not pretending to have all the answers, because I simply don’t.  Seven years on from the publishing of Rampant Damsels, my first novel, I still wish I sold many more books than I do.  Having said that, I’ve progressed from being someone who sells 3 or 4 books per month to someone who sells about 300 books, with royalties of £600 – £700 per month.  So I guess I’m doing something right and that it may prove worthwhile for me to share a few observations from my experience here.

Forget the Mega-Bucks

Don’t be fooled by the stories of people publishing their first book on Kindle and selling hundreds of thousands of copies.  It it happens at all, it happens to one person in a million, by sheer fluke or by having huge industry connections in the first place.  Progress will be slow – very slow to start with – and as long as you realise that this is perfectly normal, you won’t become so downcast about it.  In time (and I’m talking years, not weeks) you may earn enough from your writing to cut the day job back to part time hours, as I have, with a view to becoming a full time writer just another couple of years down the line.  You’re unlikely to get wealthy, or even comfortably well off, but with persistence and determination you may eventually be able to make a modest living doing what you love:  writing.  Be realistic and you’ll keep going and be able to avoid disillusionment.

Effective Marketing

You’ll read all sorts of marketing tips and be exposed to all sorts of advice which once worked wonders.  But my experience is that most of this advice is hogwash.  It probably worked once, but has become over-saturated and doesn’t work any more.  Twitter is a case in point.  When Twitter was new and fresh, tweeting the details of your new book could bring in a flood of responses, I’ve no doubt.  These days it’s clogged solid; anyone who subscribes to one of these book-tweeting services is going to find their Twitter feed choked and – just like me – they’re going to scroll rapidly through without pausing to look at any of them.  Sad, but true.  So if you see those ads promising that for a small fee they’ll tweet your book details to a guaranteed 250,000 followers, nab a sales-related money back guarantee before you try it, because the results are likely to be zilch.

The same goes for Facebook groups which promote authors and their titles.  You’ll find that the only members of these groups are other authors, who are each only interested in plugging their own babies and won’t spare a second glance for anyone else’s.  You’ll find precious few readers there.  Maybe once, but not any more, it’s glutted, loud and ugly.  Be honest with yourself and assess how you’d use such a group and you can be sure that others will be using it exactly the same way.  You may dutifully browse a couple of other posts for the first day or two, but after that you’ll simply post your own then move on without a second glance.  You won’t have time to do anything else.

The truth is, there’s precious little that works except for paid advertising (and I’m not talking about Twitter, I mean proper ads on genre websites (not writing websites!) or in printed magazines) or the much better and more cost effective (i.e. free) method of connecting with your readers and encouraging them to stay in touch with you.  Sure, you’ll probably have an author’s page on Facebook, but encourage people to friend you on your personal page.  Let them get to know you as a person, and you can also share your writing progress and projects on your personal page.  Don’t ram it down anyone’s throats.  Don’t ceaselessly spam ads, just give updates every few days among your personal news and funnies, with maybe a direct book link when a new title is published, or promoting an old one once a week or so, sharing a particularly good review or some such.  Less can indeed be more.  Keep people engaged with you in a broad sense and they’re far more likely to pay attention when you post about your books.

Engaging with people in this way (which has formed the majority of my own marketing to date) will enormously enhance the next and crucial type of marketing:

Word of Mouth

Engaging with readers, having them like you and what you do, will result in them sharing the links that you do post, spreading the word far further than you could yourself.  They will enthusiastically talk about your writings to others.  Make sure you’re grateful and try to thank them for it when they do, because this is the type of marketing that money can’t buy.

Reviews

Book reviews are very important.  Every positive book review (4 or 5 star) on Amazon is worth its weight in gold.  Readers are far more likely to buy a book which has a few reviews under its belt instead of being an unknown quantity.  Here’s where I give a plug to the only Facebook writers’ group I bother with:  Writers Who Review.  They’re a fantastically friendly and helpful bunch and if you’re an indie writer, you should go take a look the very next time you log into Facebook and be sure to participate.  Be sure to read the group instructions first.  Take my word for it, you’ll love ’em!

Keep Writing

You’ve written a book, so you know you can do it.  Now write another!  And another!  And another!  Nothing gains momentum to your sales like an ever increasing number of titles.  Every time someone buys one of your books and likes it, they have others to try.  The more books you have out there, the better you will do, your sales increase exponentially.

Sequels are a special case.  Some of my novels are standalone, others (such as the Damsels series – currently 5 books) are linked.  With sequels, you’re playing a long game, one with short term bitter disappointment but long term rewards.  This is easily understood.  If you have only sold 50 copies so far of your first book, this effectively limits the potential market for the sequel to a mere 50 people, and only a small fraction of them will buy it (at least in the short term; some may add it to their list of ‘stuff to read’, but not get round to picking a copy up till two or three years from now).  So you spend all of that time writing a book that you know in advance that hardly anyone is going to buy (or at least not until the reader base of the original title has significantly increased).  But by the same token, if a sequel is planned or promised, you can’t hold it back for years till the first novel sells more, because those early readers will get mightily fed up and view you as ‘the person who doesn’t deliver’.  Your sequels are an investment for the future.  As word of mouth spreads and reviews come in and you start to attract more readers, if you have later volumes in the series already written and available, you’re going to make a lot of new readers very happy and very loyal, they’re likely to devour them all with relish.

It’s a simple equation and probably the biggest factor to take into account:  more books = more sales.

Try Non-Fiction

I learned very early on to intersperse my fiction titles with non-fiction.  Everybody knows a lot about something.  Write about the things you’re passionate about.  Consider a ‘How To’ manual.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be long.  I’m fascinated by runes, ogham and the occult arts and have written large series of books on these subjects alongside my fiction.

The truth is that non-fiction titles sell far, far better than fiction and at higher prices.  This is simply because the market is nowhere near so saturated.  You may, like me, adore writing your novels and wish to be best known for them, but you may nonetheless find that it’s your non-fiction that ends up financing your novel-writing, at least in the early years.  It’s something you really should bear in mind as a few good non-fiction titles can give you an enormous step-up.  I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction titles, the latter outselling the former by a ratio of at least 10:1.

Use the KDP Select Programme

You’re going to read differing opinions on this, but you should make the ebook editions of your titles exclusive to Amazon and enroll them in the KDP Select programme.  This means that people who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Lending Library will be able to freely borrow your books as part of their subscription and you will be paid for every page that they read.  With full length novels, the KDP Select royalties are generally higher than the value of an actual sale, given the prices most ebooks have to be sold at to be competitive (.99 to 2.99).

The arguments you’ll hear against enrolling with KDP Select revolve around “not putting all your eggs in one basket”, or not wanting to alienate those readers who don’t use Amazon.  Come off it.  Amazon rules online book sales by a huge margin.  My ebooks used to feature in other stores and less than 1% of my sales ever came from non-Amazon sources.  The royalties I get from KDP Select make a huge difference to my monthly income and you’d be crazy to miss out on this revenue stream.  It also allows you to promote your books as ‘free to read’ for folks who subscribe to the service.  If someone can legitimately read your book without paying for it – and you still get paid! – that’s a powerful incentive.  “Come on!” you can say.  “Give my novel a go.  What have you got to lose?”

Book Covers

The cover art for your book is enormously important and I’ve learned the hard way how vital it is to create a professional, eye-catching image.  I’ve tried to ‘do it myself’ in the past and have suffered with lack-lustre sales in consequence.  A lot of people tell me that my horror novel Earth Mother is one of my very best novels.  But its sales have remained dismal and the only reason this should be so is that its cover is dull and uninteresting.  I’m having it redone in a couple of weeks’ time and will share the results here then.

Good covers can cost money, and sometimes (as with the recent Damsels and the Dark Arts title) I’ll pay full price to get a really good artist to produce a work precisely to my specifications.  But if the cover image has some room to manoeuvre, there are a great many artists offering their services on Fiverr, who will produce a very decent cover at a great price.  A good cover will pay for itself, and these days you don’t need to pay through the nose for one.

dames and the dark arts cover with titles

Ultimately, there appear to be no secrets to writing success (provided you can write to begin with, of course) beyond hard work, perseverance and productivity.  There’s no pot of gold to be found here as far as I can see, but I have managed to cut my day job back to a three day week (which is a good reward in itself) and face the very real prospect of becoming a full time writer in the not too distant future.  My sales keep slowly but steadily rising and I keep producing new books.

I hope that this may have helped with some of the things to avoid, some of the things to do, and finding the best way forward.

A Peek Into Horror

My latest novel is a horror.  I wanted to write a horror story so bleak, stomach churning and pitiless that it will redefine the meaning of the word.  And so, I would like to introduce you to The Waters of Life.

The Waters Of Life

Perhaps the best way to make this introduction is to allow you to actually read a little bit of it.  I must warn you that it’s definitely not for the squeamish.  So here you’ll find the book’s prologue.

This prologue is set in the Tenth Century, but the rest of the novel is in modern times.  There are a few little clues and pointers tucked away in the prologue which indicate the types of things which ultimately remanifest and cause terror over a thousand years later.  All is not always as it seems…

Please be aware that this is a work in progress and not yet thoroughly edited.

*********

PROLOGUE:

UNCLEAN LODGINGS

Unclean! Unclean!” The weak, throaty voice rasped its hoarse warning as its owner shuffled laboriously along the dirt track, ringing a mournful note on a bell to reinforce the warning.

Peter the leper had very little to be thankful for in his life. He felt grateful that the damage to his nerves meant that he could not feel the agonies of the rot that gnawed at his body, the flesh that sloughed from his bones. But that was about the only blessing he could count, until the day when his loathsome disease might finally extinguish his tormented existence.

Peter always kept moving. It didn’t do for a leper to remain in one place for too long, the local people gave beggars money and food so they would go away. Those who dared linger for more than a day or two would be driven off with sticks and stones, as people’s fear of the disease took hold. But here, at the monastery at Scratchbury, he had always been made to feel welcome for a few days, on the orders of Abbot Wulfred. The Abbot was a saintly man, who fed, clothed and sheltered the children of the local poor families, and who always had a warm fire and a comfortable bed for a passing leper to use. He had always left the monastery feeling stronger and well fed, with a sack full of food. But not this time.

It took Peter three months to do his regular circuit of the villages in the region. This time, when he arrived at the monastery and knocked upon its great doors, they had only been opened a fraction. The monk who peered out had crossed himself and regarded Peter with undisguised revulsion. He had been told that Abbot Wulfred had died and that the monastery no longer had anything to offer the unclean. If Peter did not move on immediately, he would be driven off with staves.

The night was cold and windy. A storm was brewing, Peter knew that the rain would soon start falling. What had happened to so harden the hearts of the monks after Wulfred’s death? Now Peter’s only real rest and comfort was lost to him. The other unfortunates who crawled from one town or village to the next in search of alms would be in the same sorry situation. Wulfred’s hospitality could literally be a life saver at this time of year. But now he was gone, and the spirit of charity had died with him. Perhaps now Peter would finally die too and his suffering would come to an end?

“Unclean! Unclean!” he called out his feeble warning again to inform any others foolish enough to be out walking on this stormy night that they should not draw too close. He rang his bell, which was tied to his wrist, for his remaining two fingers and thumb were too swollen and numb to grip it.

The wind blew harder and the rain came with it, lashing Peter’s rags and drenching him in seconds. He knew the cold would be better. He had no feeling at all in his extremities, the nerves completely dead, but his diseased flesh would suffer the predations of frostbite nonetheless, accelerating the creeping rot which had already claimed some of his fingers and most of his toes, twisting his limbs and reducing his face to a featureless slab of sick meat. If he lost any more toes, he would no longer be able to walk, and would have to crawl or drag himself along on a low cart like some of the other lepers did, or those who had lost their legs in the incessant wars. Please, he begged, please, just let there be an end to it.

The dirt track, which was now reduced to mud in the driving rain, was approaching the shore of the lake. Peter looked blearily ahead. His vision was blurred, he knew that he would become blind before long, and he struggled to discern what the large, square bulk was that loomed to the left of the path. He drew closer, squinting hard, then he recognised it. It was the vault where the monks buried their dead. Usually, it was concealed in the trees, but winter had stripped away the foliage, leaving it exposed to view. A thought struck Peter and he shuffled unsteadily closer.

He rounded the stone structure until he reached the door and he tried the latch. Yes, it was open! Abbot Wulfred must have been laid to rest here and the monks had not yet chained the door closed after the funeral. Sobbing with relief, Peter heaved the portal open and scrambled down the dank stone steps, pulling the door closed behind him. The sound of the howling wind and lashing rain was muted now.

Peter stumbled down the steps until he stood on the earthen floor below. The bones of most of the monks were placed in alcoves around the walls, but a stone sarcophagus had been placed in the centre of the floor. Perhaps this was where Abbot Wulfred now lay in his final sleep? Regardless, the good Abbot had unwittingly extended his hospitality to Peter one final time, giving him shelter from the storm that raged outside. Peter leaned back against the sarcophagus and curled himself up as best he could, until sleep took him and his mind was able to escape the prison of his wracked body for a few merciful hours.

Peter slept late and his dreams were peaceful. When he awoke, he could hear the faint sounds of bird song from outside. Sunlight shone around the edges of the door. The storm had evidently passed.

He struggled awkwardly onto his elbows and knees, then levered himself upright. Standing up was difficult without proper use of his ruined hands. The bottom of his rags slapped wetly against the sarcophagus and the filthy strips wrapped around his misshapen feet also squelched as he staggered forward. Perhaps the rain had got into the vault, making a puddle? He struggled up the steps, opening the door wide to let the light in, and looked back down into the vault’s interior.

He could see water on the floor, reflecting the sunlight, but it was not a puddle, it seemed to be moving, a shallow stream. He shambled back down the steps to investigate and saw that the water was pouring out of the sarcophagus. A small crack was in the stone base, from which the little stream flowed. The sarcophagus must have been placed over an underground stream, which had perhaps risen and flowed into it as the rains fell overnight. The stream crossed the floor and spilled through a second crack beneath the wall.

Peter examined the water. It continued to flow steadily and it seemed very clear and clean, sparkling in the light that shone down into the vault through the door. He was very thirsty, so he lowered his head and drank deeply. The water was very cold and seemed to seize his spirit and body in a chilly grip. He straightened up, droplets falling from the flat slab of his face, his eyelids fluttering. He could feel his heart palpitating, hear his sick blood pumping in his ears. Something strange was happening. He couldn’t …

When Peter awoke, the light was no longer angling down into the vault, though it was still daytime outside. That meant the sun must have moved a fair distance in its course. He must have slept for several hours and it was now afternoon. He placed his hand flat on the earth floor to lever himself upwards and then stopped and stared in absolute shock. His hand was whole and healthy, with its full complement of perfectly formed fingers! His right hand had been missing two of its fingers and the others were mere useless twigs, bags of skin filled with pus. But now his hand was whole again. He spread his fingers, feeling the rough, but yielding sensation of the soil beneath his hand. His nerves had regenerated too: he could feel again!

He scrambled to his feet, and found it easy to do so. He checked his other extremities, his mind awhirl. They were all whole and blooming with health, ruddy-complexioned and fair to behold. His twisted limbs were now straight and strong. He raised a hand to his face and felt features that had long since been gnawed away by his sickness: he had nose, lips, cheeks, all full and fair. His eyesight was clear and sharp.

“My God!” he exclaimed, his voice shaking but hearty, “I have been healed! Blessed Abbot! I am whole and clean again!” He threw himself to the ground and prostrated himself in prayer before Wulfred’s tomb, blessing the waters that flowed over the old saint’s remains, which had brought him such healing.

It was late afternoon when Peter ran into the village square at Scratchbury. He greeted the beggars, showing them his unblemished flesh. “My friends, I have been healed!” he cried. “See, my sores have gone, my body is renewed.”

They squinted at him and looked at each other in puzzlement. Could this really be Peter, the disease-ravaged leper who dragged himself from town to town?

Peter was making quite a commotion in the square and quite a few people were beginning to gather around, although they all kept a distance from him, wary. When he tried to enter the village inn, a sturdy fellow with a staff blocked his way.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man demanded.

“Forgive me, friend,” blurted Peter, grinning happily and spreading his hands to show his perfect body. “There is no reason to fear. See, my leprosy has left me. I drank of the water that flows from Abbot Wulfred’s tomb and the good saint has washed away my sickness. I am whole once more!”

“You still can’t come in here,” the man insisted, shaking his grizzled head. “The leper’s bell still hangs from your wrist and the taint of the sickness must linger on those rags you wear.”

“Does he claim a miracle, then?” asked another man, a travelling apothecary. “Hold out your arms, man, and uncover your face.”

Peter did as he was bade. The apothecary edged closer, examining him and sniffing deeply. “His flesh seems sound and I cannot smell the rot,” he said. “This man was a leper, you say?”

“He was,” said a woman in the crowd. “He would arrive here begging every season, we would give him food and money to send him on his way. He was thick with it, the flesh hanging from his putrid bones, a terror to our children.”

“Aye, and we let him and his kind linger here too long,” shouted another woman. “We showed them charity when we should have driven them hence, for so many of our little ones have fallen sick these last few months.”

“Then it would appear that a miracle has indeed come to pass,” said the apothecary, “for this man has no leprosy upon him now. You may be right about his garments, though, they are filthy and the disease may cling to them. These he must burn. Fetch him some other raiment and let him remain here while one of you fetches the priest.”

Peter was tossed a smock and hose by the innkeeper’s wife and was forced to change there and then, in front of all. He then gathered up his old rags and bundled them onto a fire.

By this time, the village priest had arrived and stood at a distance, regarding Peter through anxious eyes, uncertain of what to do. “You claim to have been miraculously healed, my son,” he stammered. “Tell me, how did this happen?”

“I sheltered from the storm in the vault by the lake last night, where the monks lay their dead,” explained Peter. “When I woke this morning, I saw a stream of water trickling from a crack in Abbot Wulfred’s tomb. I drank from it and fell into a swoon. When I recovered, I was completely healed, just as you see me now.” He spread his arms, letting the priest see that his body was clean and whole.

“Do you claim that the Abbot is a Saint, then?” demanded the priest.

“I do not know,” said Peter. “I say only what I have experienced. But why should the Abbot not be a Saint? He was a kind and charitable man in life, perhaps God has blessed his remains in death?”

The priest shook his head. “This is too hard a matter for me to decide. I must ask the Bishop for his judgement, and he will no doubt require the advice of the monks. You, fellow, must be held in the church until they have decided this difficult matter.”

This was good enough for the villagers. who prodded Peter into the church with their staves. The priest locked him in a storeroom and gave him food and water, but they would not release him nor speak to him further.

On the fifth day of his confinement, Peter heard the key turning in the storeroom lock and a solemn, brown-robed man with a shaven head entered the room. He appeared to be one of the monks from Wulfred’s monastery.

“Tell me your story, fellow,” said the monk in soft tones.

Peter told his story once again, leaving out no detail. The monk nodded solemnly throughout.

When Peter had finished speaking, the monk sighed deeply and raised his eyes as if in prayer. He stood motionless for a few moments, then fixed Peter with a penetrating gaze and said, “I believe you. That water has indeed healed you of your leprosy, for I recall you visiting the monastery when afflicted. Such deformities cannot be disguised, therefore your cure is undeniable. However, we cannot allow others to seek a cure for their sicknesses in that stream. Such would be a terrible thing. We must decide what is to be done. God be with you.” He then left the room, locking a confused Peter inside again.

The next day, the storeroom was opened and two villagers entered. They shackled Peter’s wrists and ankles, touching him with scarcely concealed revulsion, then they led him to the village hall.

The interior of the hall had been set out like a court room, with the village headman and priest sitting on the right of the Bishop. To his left sat two monks, their hoods drawn low to conceal their features. Peter was placed standing before them, then the villagers holding him retreated.

The Bishop looked at Peter with sharp eyes that held a slight suggestion of regret. “We have considered the case of this man and the manner of the departure of his affliction,” the Bishop said. “Upon the advice of the monks who knew Abbot Wulfred, and through the guidance of God upon my soul, I declare that Wulfred is not a Saint and that this healing does not come from God. If not from God, from where? I say, from the Devil. This man has sought the aid of foul sorcery. And since the Devil’s works are illusory, his appearance of health is but a phantasm. He is still afflicted with his disease, which he has brought among us all, the Devil’s purpose being to afflict us all in our turn. By the grace of God, we are alert to the enemy’s wiles. He must be taken from this place and burnt.”

The Bishop turned to the head man, passing the execution of judgement into the hands of secular authority. “Take him to the stake!” ordered the head man.

The two villagers who had brought Peter into the hall now dragged him out into the market square. To his horror, he saw that a wooden stake had been raised in the centre, with straw, kindling and larger logs piled under it. He was hauled to the top of the pile and his shackles were fastened around it.

The priest was standing to one side, reading verses from the Bible, but Peter was too panic stricken to even register what he was saying. The villagers were all gathering around to watch. As he struggled and pissed himself in fear, someone daubed his smock with flammable oil.

The priest finished reading and there were a few moments’ silence, during which Peter could only hear the blood pounding in his own temples and his whimpering panting. Then one of the monks stepped forward and thrust a lit torch into the kindling.

As the flames caught and began to sear Peter’s feet and legs, he wished that he had never been healed, that his dead nerves had not been regenerated only for him to feel this agony through them. Then he could think no more, he only had wit enough left to scream.

The Lightning Flash

I have a notebook in my desk drawer, which is filled with little scribblings of ideas I have for stories.  Some of these date back years, others are more recent.  They are nearly all drawn from some quirky little way of looking at things from an alternate angle, or a play on words, or a phrase taken out of context that gets the creative gears turning.  It’s from this notebook that I’ll select an appealing idea for my next piece of writing.

When I have finished writing a novel and am in the process of editing it – as I am at the moment, having recently finished penning Vicars and Tarts – I will start turning the next idea chosen from the notebook over in my head, devising characters appropriate to the scenario, and so forth.  It soon reaches a stage where I have a basic plot, setting and characters.

I keep turning these things around in my mind, always working on them in the background, slowly ‘cooking’ them until they’re done.  Then there will come that sublime moment when the microwave ‘pings’.

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It’s a moment I’ve come to call the ‘lightning flash’ of inspiration.  It’s when the emerging idea really comes to life.  After turning the root ideas around in my mind, I know that I can rely upon my subconscious to step in and deliver the goods!

At a moment when my mind is absorbed in something trivial, perhaps washing the dishes or taking a shower, there will be a sudden exhilarating surge and the story will unfold before me in all its glory!  Whole new situations, events and characters will arise seemingly out of nowhere to populate the sparse idea, making it real and vital, springing into life from the deep places of my mind.  This is creativity in its purest essence.

My next novel will be a horror.  It’s to be titled The Waters of Life.  Up until this morning, I had the idea of a bishop’s tomb, from which a healing spring flows.  But there is an entity which feeds upon the sickness taken by the waters, taking loathsome life to itself.  I had the vague ideas of an investigative reporter, a church reluctant to admit to past wrongs and a community sickening as the entity takes on shape and form.

Now, after a deluge from my subconscious whilst making coffee this morning, those vague basics have been fleshed out into a complete, coherent story.  I have characters with names and personal histories, arising from the deep places fully formed.  I have a secret order of monks; I have gangsters; I have bribery, corruption and violence; I have a movie set for an exploitation film with strippers masquerading as nuns; I have delusion and self-sacrifice; and behind it all, I have the foulest, most horrifying villain imaginable.  I have all that I need to write a hard-hitting, gritty, exciting and truly chilling, stomach-churning horror novel.

I don’t know if other writers experience anything similar.  I just know that whenever I offer ideas up to my subconscious, turning them over and over in my mind as offerings to it, it will always deliver the goods!