Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Fear in the Woods

Courtesy of WallpaperSafari
In Unspeakable Things, Sarah moves into her abandoned childhood home, in the middle of deep, dark woods. The woods seem creepy from her first walk on moving in day:

‘A sudden crackling sound made her whip her head round. What’s that? Just trees and fraught stillness in the greenish light. She turned back to the bush and began to force her way through, pushing branches aside. They whipped into place again behind her.’

When her uncle turns up on her doorstep, woodland debris gusts in with him, and she quickly shuts the door on the hectic darkness.

When he reveals a dreadful secret to her, they are in the middle of the woods. His revelation is punctuated by the nasty chattering of squirrels.

Later, eight-year-old Mary is left alone in the pitch-black woods. Her brother has told her that demons live there.

‘She called, “Daddy! Daddy!” in case he was hiding behind a tree. But there was no answer. Which way was home in all this blackness? Something swooped at her and flapped in her hair and she screamed and hit out, remembering demons…’

You’d think I hate woods, wouldn’t you? And yet I love them! I was brought up on walks in the Kentish countryside, from the time my little legs could carry me. Perhaps because of these happy memories, I walk into a wooded place and my heart finds peace. I walk alone in our local woods and have never felt safer.

Jon is doing Forest School training and goes off once a week to make fires, paint mud faces on trees, coppice and whittle things and generally revel in this fabulous environment. I picture him on these days as a forest sprite with a hat made from an acorn cup. This past weekend he took me to one of the sites – a wonderful, unspoilt stretch of heath and ancient woodland that no one seems to know about – on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we had it to ourselves.

It was idyllic. The chestnuts are so abundant this year that with every sigh of the wind, they thumped to the ground around us and bounced, fat and glossy, from their spiky shells. We spent a wonderful afternoon walking under a canopy of autumn colours and narrowly avoiding chestnut-related head injuries.

I love woods. So why do they haunt my novel, the heart of darkness into which Sarah unwittingly wanders?

Of course, sudden inexplicable fear in woods is the origin of the word ‘panic’, because the ancients believed it was caused by the god Pan. From the dawn of culture to the Blair Witch Project, woods have been used as a sinister setting, alive with unseen threats and evil forces.

In Unspeakable Things, Sarah must explore and confront the unknown – and maybe that’s what the woods are there for. Enticing at first, they close in around her, fraught with danger. Will she find her way out? Or will demons get her?

Unspeakable Things will be published in January. 

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