Today I’m stepping back and leaving you in the capable hands of my fellow author, Catherine Cavendish. Take it away, Cat…
My latest Paranormal Horror novella, Miss Abigail’s Room is set in 1896 in a large, grand (well it used to be anyway) country house in rural Wiltshire and much of the story concerns the servants who worked below stairs.
TV series such as Downton Abbeyand the original Upstairs, Downstairs have painted a rather cosy picture of servant life in the late Victorian/Edwardian eras and beyond, but the truth is often much harsher. Many of us today have grandparents and great-grandparents who worked ‘in service’ and not all of them had the kindly Mrs Bridges or the, strict but fair, Mr Hudson to turn to.
Many will tell tales of drudgery and eighteen hour days, followed by rotten food or upstairs’ leftovers, a hard bed and a freezing cold room to sleep in. Privacy was not an option, with same-sex servants sharing not only a room, but quite often a bed. As for a private life – forget it. ‘No followers’ was a frequent condition of employment and male and female servants slept well apart from each other.
But for many girls and boys from large families, a life in service provided a lucky escape from overcrowding, grinding poverty and a life of crime on the streets. My main character, Becky, is just such an example. Hailing from one filthy room in a cockroach-infested tenement in Hoxton, London, she would rather do anything – even go into that evil room – rather than face going back to her childhood home.
My late maternal grandmother was in service for the local squire and his family, from a tender age (probably thirteen or fourteen at the latest) until she married the coachman in 1909. She told of a strict hierarchy and firm discipline. Below stairs, the butler ruled as King, with the housekeeper as Queen. You did as you were told and never answered back. You knew your place and you kept to it. In return, you ate three good meals a day, had clothes (all right, a uniform) to wear, somewhere to sleep and you were paid for your services (albeit not very well). In the house where my grandmother worked, the squire’s wife was most particular about ensuring the servants were well fed and looked after. Most were grateful for it and worked hard, rewarding their employers with loyalty. Given the conditions, Grandma was luckier than many in service, I know.
Nowadays, our world is vastly different from the one my grandmother inhabited. We would balk at the deferential attitude she and her fellow servants adopted towards their employers. We would sneer at the thought of referring to anyone as our ‘betters’ and we would want to improve our lot in life, rather than be satisfied with our ‘station’.
Are we living in better times as a result? In many important ways, yes, I believe we are. But are we any happier or more fulfilled? In some ways, maybe not. My grandmother said she was perfectly happy with her station in life. She never aspired towards anything else. She never had any money, but she did have a happy marriage and three children she took a pride in raising to have good values and a strong moral compass. As far as she was concerned, she had a happy and fulfilled life.
Isn’t that what we all strive for?
Miss Abigail’s Room is out now. Here’s the blurb:
It wasn’t so much the blood on the floor that Becky minded. It was the way it kept coming back…
As the lowest ranking parlour maid at Stonefleet Hall, Becky gets all the dirtiest jobs. But the one she hates the most is cleaning Miss Abigail’s room. There’s a strange, empty smell to the place, and a feeling that nothing right or Christian resides there in the mistress’s absence. And then there’s the blood, the spot that comes back no matter often Becky scrubs it clean. Becky wishes she had somewhere else to go, but without means or a good recommendation from her household, there is nothing for her outside the only home she’s known for eighteen years. So when a sickening doll made of wax and feathers turns up, Becky’s dreams of freedom and green grass become even more distant. Until the staff members start to die.
A darning needle though the heart of the gruesome doll puts everyone at Stonefleet Hall at odds. The head parlour maid seems like someone else, the butler pretends nothing’s amiss, and everyone thinks Becky’s losing her mind. But when the shambling old lord of the manor looks at her, why does he scream as though he’s seen the hounds of hell?
noun: the night of 31 October, the eve of All Saints’ Day, often celebrated by children dressing up in frightening masks and costumes. Halloween is thought to be associated with the Celtic festival Samhain, when ghosts and spirits were believed to be abroad.
We all knew that, didn’t we? Do you know what I do on Halloween? I watch the film of the same name. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it but it remains in my top ten. Maybe it’s the creepy Donald Pleasence – who was always one of my favourite actors – who makes it. I love the music, too. I know. Weird…
So it’s a great excuse to give away some books – some lovely paperbacks of Diavolino which is a great story for Halloween! What’s more I’ll sign them. The first is a Goodreads giveaway, all you have to do is click on the link below and enter. There is one book to win there:
The second copy I’m giving away directly to the person who can persuade me that their TOP 3 choice of horror films of all time is the best. In the event more than one person has the same list I’ll put those entrants in a hat and draw one lucky winner. I will do that on Halloween, so you have the rest of the month to get posting your ideas in the comments box below!
What are you waiting for? Don’t hang around, you never know who is watching…
I had a great day yesterday at Waterstones York. I want to say a special ‘thank you’ to Kirstie Lount the events manager who really pulled out all the stops to make this work, but also to every one of the fantastic staff; they were all so attentive AND I noticed just how much effort they put in constantly to keep the store tip top and the customers satisfied. We almost wiped out the Diavolino stocks by 5pm and the few that were left I signed and they are now available in store to purchase – but there’s only handful so get along soon if you missed out yesterday. And they are selling for £10.99 which is cheaper than Amazon.
28-29 High Ousegate, York YO1 8RX
I also want to thank horror writer Julia Kavan who travelled from Cambridgeshire to support me and keep me company. I think she was a little overawed by the York nightlife after the event – but so was I! And Catherine Cavendish, another horror writer from the Etopia Press stable, forced her husband to drive her all the way from Liverpool so that she could be with me. It was really nice for the three of us to get together as we have known each other in a virtual sense for a long time, from the days before any of us was published. Louise Cole of Firedance Books – someone else we have all known but never met – came along, too. Last but not least, Susan Roebuck was tweeting and Facebooking from…Portugal! Thanks everyone. But why am I so unphotogenic?
Yes, as soon as the Jubilee weekend was over, Diavolino in paperback finally appeared officially on Amazon.co.uk
It says ‘not currently in stock’ but I’ll bet you that will change quickly. Why? Because thanks to you they’ve already been processing orders. When I last looked, Diavolino was at number 29 in Fantasy Horror, and that’s within hours of the site being open for orders. It would be really great if that continued (hint).
Thanks to all of you. I’ll come up with some competition/freeby shortly so watch this space (*competition is HERE)