The Evolution of my Animus ~ how he grows and changes as I do

The Evolution of my Animus ~ how he grows and changes as I do

During a conversation on Twitter with Marc Nash I made a throwaway comment about having hero/animus issues. What I’d meant was how the hero (or if you prefer ‘main character’) of one of my novels reflected my own animus. If you are not familiar with the concept of animus/anima then do have a bit of a read. I’m not a psychotherapist and I’m just a writer so those with more wisdom than I on this subject will need to bear with me, without yelling at me that I’ve got it wrong.

Wikipedia, that first port of call for information has this to say about what the anima/animus actually is/are:

The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.

The anima and animus can be identified as the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that a male possesses or the masculine ones possessed by the female, respectively. It is an archetype of the collective unconscious and not an aggregate of father or mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or teachers, though these aspects of the personal unconscious can influence the person for good or ill.”

Much of my life I have found I am a poor fit for being terribly feminine. I climbed trees and made boats and roamed the countryside pretending to be an astronaut. But when I wasn’t being a tom-boy, I wrote. My first novel was written when I was ten years old. I’ll tell you a little more about that shortly.

Jung, whose work on the anima and animus is really worth dipping into, explained that neither is static and is something with develops and changes as the person grows. I’m only going to focus on the animus here as for my sins, I am a woman.

Jung stated that there are four parallel levels of animus development in a female.

The animus “first appears as a personification of mere physical power – for instance as an athletic champion or muscle man, such as ‘the fictional jungle hero Tarzan‘”.

In the next phase, the animus “possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action…the romantic man – the 19th century British poet Shelley; or the man of action – America’s Ernest Hemingway, war hero, hunter, etc.”

In the third phase “the animus becomes the word, often appearing as a professor or clergyman…the bearer of the word –Lloyd George, the great political orator”

“Finally, in his fourth manifestation, the animus is the incarnation of meaning. On this highest level he becomes (like the anima) a mediator of…spiritual profundity”.Jung noted that “in mythology, this aspect of the animus appears as Hermes, messenger of the gods; in dreams he is a helpful guide.” Like Sophia this is the highest level of mediation between the unconscious and conscious mind.

My first novel had an astronaut as the hero. At the time I was fascinated by science fiction and read avidly pretty much everything the library held in the genre. I read things that were so beyond suitable (rest assured, though, parents, much of it went over my head and I only understood a lot later if I reread things) and some fiction written for kids. I was amused greatly recently by an advertising campaign for Lynx deodorant where macho archetypes such as life guards and fire fighters were ‘trumped’ by an astronaut, and if this is to be believed then the astronaut is the ultimate champion or muscle man!

By the next novel, the hero had become a detective. I was completely (and irrevocably) in love with Sherlock Holmes and once I had devoured all the novels and short stories, I branched out into detective fiction of all kinds. For me, the detective was the ultimate romantic man. I stayed writing the detective/adventure genre for all of my teens, only venturing into other areas in my later teens when I became increasingly interested in the paranormal and what you might term the mysteries of life.

The hero of my novel written in my mid twenties was a lost soul, really, betwixt and between the romantic man of earlier but never quite evolving into the ‘word’ that Jung describes. He carried no great message either for me or for any readers at the time. My own descent into depression and apathy at this time following a rejection of a second novel that had reached committee stage at one of the big publishers, meant that I ceased to write.

But the processes beneath it all carry on like an underground river which seeped into the foundations and causes an eventual collapse of my resolve never to write again. A story, and an evolved hero took over my life, almost ten years ago now and if I look too closely at the time, I quake at the implications of it. I won’t talk about the story as such because that is another thing altogether. But I’d like to talk about the hero.

He’s not me, obviously. He’s himself. I’ve often wondered if he exists somewhere out there; in my psyche he’s so complete I think I know him better than I know myself. So the lines can become blurred. He’s the kind of person who makes an impact on others, usually despite not wanting to; he’d rather hide away and not mix with people. There’s events in his life he’s managed to wall over, remove from his everyday consciousness so that he doesn’t get ripped apart by them all the time. He’s intuitive but also quite reluctant to trust that sense of ‘knowing’ that he gets, often over-riding it to try to deal with things logically, rationally. His father is the kind of man who holds up logic, reason, good sense, as things to aspire to, to live your life by, and Antony desperately wants to please his father, to emulate him. Antony’s the quiet, shy clever kid in the corner that got picked on till he turned on his attacker and flattened him; but the bullies had to get in one final beating just to hammer the message home: you’ll never really beat us. He’s wary of people because he’s had too many so far who’ve let him down.

Events bring him to crisis point and beyond it into a free-fall where all he’d once held as certain, sacred, have become unanchored in his new reality. Having lost all his certainties he is faced with starting again, of setting out on a journey to find the self he’d lost or buried long ago. That’s where the third stage of animus expression kicks in. He’s faced with the need to speak, to bring back the truths and to voice them, to release the toxic secrets of his life and be free.

To aid him in this quest, another representation of my animus emerges. Father Peter is the wise old man so many people have said to me they’d love to meet and spend time with. He’s the guide to Antony’s dark journey, and he’s the ‘mediator of…spiritual profundity’. He doesn’t make it easy for his young protégée but he fulfils a role that has long been lacking in the lad’s life: someone who can listen to him, with intelligence and wisdom and discernment. The Bet has two further novels that follow it, as yet unpublished, but the journey Antony takes becomes deeper and darker in each one. For him realising that there is no final resolution for his trials is a tough one, because he’s so very scarred and damaged, yet his ability to keep going even when the journey becomes subterranean is what I hope may inspire others who come to read it. You see, as I have said before, if life is a journey, then any short-cut is a death trap. We all grow and evolve and change during our lives; attempts to remain still usually result in being swept away on the tide of life itself. 

When the song falls silent ~ disconnection and disorientation

When the song falls silent ~ disconnection and disorientation

I was chatting with Madison Woods on Facebook the other day, and discussing a post she’d written about the three kinds of music. And the fourth kind.


This is what she says:

Instrumental music is the music most people will think of when the word ‘music’ is used. It’s the kind you hear with your ears and tap your foot or sing along with. Music of the spheres is the sound emitted by celestial bodies as they move through space. I have heard of this and even listened to recordings made from outer space, but it wasn’t something I’d connected with when I first heard about it. Music of humans is the musical harmony between the souls of humans. It is this one that struck the chord with me when I heard about it for the first time this morning.

This music between souls of humans explains a lot about why some people just don’t get along from the get-go, and why some click and resonate so well from the very first time they meet. It adds to the explanation of the phenomenon of soul-mates. Until I met Rob, I didn’t believe in soul-mates, by the way, so I’m a relatively newly converted believer.

And now I remember how this had to do with the marketing. It is from this place of harmonic resonance that the connections between people arise to make the kind of marketing Lynn talks about in her book possible. It’s about forming communities and tribes (a well-used, maybe over-used, buzz word in the online social marketing arena) of others who share your world-views. Its not necessarily about forming mono-cultures of those who are pursuing the same goals as us (i.e. writers grouping with writers… satisfying on a personal level, but perhaps not a good marketing strategy). In a village full of bakers, who’s going to shoe the horses or till the ground?

The thing I haven’t mentioned yet that excites me most of all about this whole music business is a fourth kind of music – one she didn’t mention, and I haven’t seen referenced anywhere, but I have heard. It is the between music. I know some of you hear it and just don’t know what it is. I feel it between myself and the earth, and I actually hear the earth humming at night sometimes. I sense between music while walking in the woods beneath the trees. Certain plants, certain animals, particular rocks and certain seasons all resonate with me in ways that can be explained by this kind of music I can’t define except as between.”

I confess it brought up some powerful thoughts in me, because I knew exactly what she was talking about. It’s almost impossible to describe in ordinary terms and for those who are sceptics, then I suspect you have plenty of explanations for what I have felt and heard. The best way to illustrate it is via my own fiction; the following are two excerpts from The Bet, where the main character is trying to understand a number of things about his life and is sent on a long walk on the North York moors to try and get his thoughts straight.

So he walked, obediently, and found himself getting higher and higher into the hills and this breathtaking silence and crystalline air. When he’d gone as far as he dared and still be able to get back before dark, he stopped. He was on open moorland, scarcely a tree in sight save low scrubby birch and rowan. There was snow on the ground up here, frozen hard and untouched by the bright winter sun, and the sky was like an immense dome of icy blue glass. He felt as though he could almost touch the sky; it seemed so close and solid. Tufts of heather showed black through the snow here and there, and large grey boulders, lichen-stained and worn by weather littered the ground. His breath hung around him in white clouds, and he could feel the sweat from the steep climb drying and cooling on his skin. There was a curlew calling somewhere, but he couldn’t see it however hard he tried. He cleared a rock of snow and sat down cautiously and let his breathing slow and quieten till all he could hear was this great empty moorland. There were lots of small sounds, once he was himself quiet enough to hear them. A thrush was breaking open a snail, halfway down the valley it must have been but the sound of shell on stone reached him so clearly it could have been only a few feet away, such was the clarity of sound. A grouse clattered somewhere behind him; its call of “go back go back”, reminding him he would need to turn round and go back soon. After he had sat for some time, he fancied he could hear something beyond the small noises of animal and bird life, or the occasional aeroplane, or distant car, or even the soft soughing of the wind among the heather and stones; a kind of gigantic pulse, soft and deep and very slow. He was aware he had got very cold, that his bum had become numb with sitting on the cold unyielding rock, but still he listened, entranced.

A fox called harshly somewhere in the distance, making him glance up. The sky was still light but the sun was gone.”

Later he is attempting to explain his experiences:

““It felt as though something very large was alive up there, that was what it seemed like,” Ashurst went on. “So large I couldn’t see it. Am I making any sense?”

Perfect sense. I go up on the moor quite often; it’s a very clear place. No illusions up there.”

So I wasn’t imagining it, then?”

Good God, no. I feel as if I can see into forever from up there.”

Yes, but it was something else too.”

Go on. Don’t be afraid to say whatever you felt.”

Ashurst hesitated, trying desperately to arrange words, which wouldn’t stay where he put them. Finally, he said, simply,

I felt as if the whole world were actually alive and I could feel its in-breath and its out-breath.”

The old man smiled and poured more tea.”

During much of my life, I have been able to still myself and feel that giant in-breath and out-breath, that deep, silent pulse of life, often up on mountainsides or by the ocean at twilight. I’ve been able to feel it in a busy London park, hearing the sublime, silent songs of the beds of flowers and the towering plane trees. I’ve been able to hold a wild mouse in the palm of my hand, meet the minute eyes and hear the song of that little creature. Many times I have pressed by ear to the trunk of a spring-time silver birch and beneath the river of rushing sap I have heard the voice of the tree itself. I’ve sat in Quaker Meeting and felt and heard the collective song of the community, humming softly beneath the sound of ticking clocks, rasping breath and gurgling stomachs.

But lately I feel as if I have gone profoundly deaf. Worse, as if the song never existed and that I have been deluded to think it did. Yet reading Madison’s post reminded me that if I am deluded, then not only is she also deluded but vast numbers of people have also been, and I feel a measure of comfort.

I have no answers to this yet, beyond the knowledge that the disconnection and disorientation I feel may be just a part of the journey, a passage through silence and perhaps into a deeper faith and a deeper relationship with the mystery that is life.

Where dreams & reality meet, imagination is born ~ what inspires a writer?

Where dreams & reality meet, imagination is born ~ what inspires a writer?


(This article originally appeared at and I reiterate the trigger warning put there. The following article contains brief but potentially upsetting references to neo-natal death, still-birth and maternal death)

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s a question most writers get asked, and if they’re anything like me, the usual result is a shuffling of feet and a slight awkwardness. The chances are, if you can explain where a certain idea came from, it’s not going to be easy to get from that kernel of inspiration to the finished product without a great deal of narrative.

But often that narrative can be as extraordinary as the story it inspired. One review of my latest novel The Bet expressed some concern about where certain parts of the storyline came from, and the reviewer was worried for my well being if any part of it was from life experience. She’s someone I’ve known only through the internet, but for quite a considerable time, and she’d seen no traces in my publicly expressed self of some of the traumas depicted in the novel.

The Bet opens with snow, and a numb, traumatised young man making a journey to hospital to visit his wife and newborn son. For reasons that become clear by the end of the chapter, he chooses to bypass protocol and smuggle the baby out of hospital to take him home. His guilty flight through snowbound, frozen countryside on foot is obviously not something I ever did myself but it has a strange, rather powerful story behind it.

It comes partially from a dream, but that dream was probably the product of experiences my mind never got a proper chance to process at the time.

When my only child was born in the late 80s, I was living in the north east of England, a long way from my own family. The birth was a rather tough one, and I only found out later by a chance conversation with a midwife that it was only because of their skills I had a live baby to take home. The cord was wrapped twice round the baby’s neck; without expert assistance my child would have died during birth. I was quite ill following the delivery, with a severe kidney infection that left me unable to do anything much other than breastfeed (I’m a cussed, determined sort) and sleep. Much of the care for the newborn was done by either staff or by my husband when he visited, or the occasional friend who came. As my health improved I slept a little less and watched and listened a little more.

In British hospitals giving birth is seen as a pretty safe thing, or at least that’s the perception that was around at the time. However, the week that I spent on the maternity ward was a remarkable one. In those seven days there was one still birth, one maternal death and one neonatal death. The effect on the marvellous staff, from doctors, midwives and nursing staff was profound. On a maternity ward, tears and emotional storms are seen as normal, but that week, staff were seen weeping in each other’s arms, drying their eyes and moving on. As a longer stay patient, I got to know some well, and they told me things. Like their outrage that about twenty people had come to view the still-born babe, even though they were only remotely connected. “Ghouls,” said one midwife to me. “But if the parents have said yes…how can we stop them?”.

On my fourth day, I was woken in the middle of the night by the arrival of a girl who’d gone into premature labour. At a more civilised hour, we met properly and talked. Her baby, born at just 27 weeks was in the Special Care Unit. She showed me photos. I held her hand, feeling guilty for my healthy newborn. She was moved later than day to be downstairs in the SCU, and came back up a few times to talk to me. Then the next day, the chaplain came round the wards. He’d been called for an emergency baptism. The baby died shortly afterwards.

Spin forwards about 18 months. Snow on the ground, a house without heating and a hyperactive toddler worn out by playing in the snow with a friend’s kids, I got a chance for a daytime nap. Under duvet and blankets, I slipped into deep, disturbed sleep, and into dreams that felt too real, too uncomfortable. I was not me; I was young and male and very confused and numb with emotion and cold. I was hiking through deep snow, with a baby in a papoose against my chest; I was desperate to get home before the baby awoke and needed feeding. Scared and in frozen distress, my mind was playing horrible tricks on me, and I wanted skis so I could go faster (I didn’t ski for the first time until more than twenty years after this dream) and make sure I wasn’t caught. I woke, with the dream blazing in my head and the certainty I had to write a story out of it.

The dream became a short story, which months later started to develop into a novel. That novel was my first foray into the publishing world but though it got a long way, it never made it to publication and never will. A long hiatus from writing followed, after a second novel almost made it but caused me a near-fatal illness. But the seed of that story lay dormant, and when circumstances changed, it began to grow. It grew in a very different direction, and it grew very fast. Before I realised it, disturbing but compelling scenes started to fill my mind when it idled when walking or running or washing the dishes. It became more and more clear that I simply had to write this story, or go mad trying to repress it. Since chasing a publishing deal had nearly killed me once, I chose not to think about that. I chose to sit down and write like a woman possessed, until the story was OUT.

It had taken years to fully gestate and now it was not willing for me to take a long time over bringing it to birth. Showing my ‘offspring’ to a wider world would take a good deal more time, but now it’s out there.

I’m aware this novel deals with painful, difficult themes. I can’t pretend it doesn’t. I’ve done my best in my life not to shy away from the less than sunny side of living but what I believe I have done with this novel is to leave the reader with more than a sense of hope. This is a novel that is ultimately about redemption and understanding, of integrating the inevitable tragedies that happen (undeservedly or otherwise) into a greater pattern. The main character’s father tells him a quote from the German philosopher Goethe: “That which we understand, we do not blame.” The Bet is a journey towards that depth of understanding that leads to forgiveness and wholeness.

The Undercover Soundtrack

A month or two back, the lovely Roz Morris asked me if I’d consider doing The Undercover Soundtrack, a series she runs on her blog where writers share the music they write to.

I agreed( I almost bit her hand off!) and this is the result. Hope you enjoy the music and find it revealing too.

So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?


So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?


Yesterday I taught my last ever lesson in my current job. It’s not even current, so I must get used to that first. I’ve known this was coming, since last summer when a little voice in my head said, “This is the last proper summer school you’ll teach.” I tried to dismiss it but it turned out to be true.

I’m not sure how I feel, to be honest. There’s an undercurrent of relief; there have been aggravations galore I shan’t go into here in detail. But after five and a half years, I wish it were ending better. It feels like a damp squib, this tiny slice of previous glories. The first summer school I taught at we had probably about three hundred students over the July and August, sneaking into September. This year we had just thirteen students over three weeks. Three were Spanish and the rest were Chinese, who had three hours of morning teaching five days a week, and three hours of afternoon teaching four days a week. I did all their tours too. It wasn’t easy. So much of English history and culture is a total blank to Chinese people. And since the kids were all aged about 14, their interest in either culture or history was limited. I felt much of the time I was talking to myself.

So I came home yesterday afternoon and felt flat and a bit underwhelmed.

I’m moving in a few weeks time to somewhere inland, too far to drive back for the money I get offered, even allowing for the fact that I’ve heard only of a possible week of work next March. So time to draw a final line under it and start again with something else, something new.

But what? I’ve tried looking ahead and I can see only a blank, a void. This worries me, though from past experience it tends to mean that the future is still shaping itself, and elements are coming together but not yet enough to see a coherent whole.

I’m looking forward to having a nice view from my study window and a bigger house in what looks like being a lovely place. But work? I can’t see what I’m going to be doing.

My own plans include releasing a new novel at the end of September. Two good friends with eagle eyes are proofreading for me at the moment, my dear friend Andrew has done me a fabulous cover.


It’s a novel I am deeply proud of (not that I am not proud of the others at all, but this one is….. well, it’s different) and one I hope that people will like. I’m not sure what genre it fits into. The cover suggests a mystery or even a horror/ghost story, and while there are certainly elements in it of those genres, it’s not really either. It’s not a romance, though for some there may seem to be elements of it there(at least on the very surface). The only description I can give is of a psychological drama. For those who have read Away With The Fairies, the sequel of this new novel, The Bet, also has Isobel in it, but The Bet can stand alone. (It has two sequels, just so’s you know) Here’s the current blurb/synopsis:


The Bet

by Vivienne Tuffnell




Jenny likes a challenge and Antony is the biggest challenge of her life….



Boys like you get preyed upon,” Antony’s father tells him in a rare moment of honesty and openness, but Richard can have no idea just how vulnerable his eighteen-year-old son truly is. From a family where nothing is quite as it seems and where secrecy is the norm, Antony seems fair game to the predatory Jenny. Her relentless pursuit of him originates in a mean-spirited bet made with her colleague Judy, Antony’s former history teacher, who has challenged Jenny to track him down and seduce him.


Jenny is totally unprepared for Antony’s refusal to sleep with her or to have any sort of relationship other than friendship. She’s never met anyone quite like him before and her obsession deepens the more he rejects her. She’s no idea what he’s already been through and as far as she’s concerned it’s irrelevant.


Pretty soon, for both of them it becomes a much more serious matter than a mere bet and the consequences are unimaginable for either of them.

 Anyway, I’m aiming to get this out around the 28th of September, if t

he move goes smoothly and I’m able to get all the other things done that need doing. In the meantime, if anyone would like to contribute a guest post (I have one awaiting the autumn from a regular commenter Jonathan), I’d be very happy to host it. I’m finding it hard to string words together right now.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, my friends. I’ll try and get myself back to my twice a week blogging as soon as life settles a bit.



A haunting house ~ how setting for a story matters

A haunting house ~ how setting for a story matters


Have you ever read a story where the setting makes as big an impression on you as the characters or the plot? Where the place of the story is as vital a cast member as the main character? One such novel is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca where the rambling beauty and luxury of Manderley and its grounds take precedence over the mousy, insignificant and never-named narrator, the second Mrs de Winter. Or The Far Pavilions where India during the Raj is displayed in mesmerising detail. These are rare novels where the place the story takes place is perfectly balanced with the rest of the components of the story, and combine being perfect backdrops with being almost an entity in their own right. Fantasy novels create entire worlds for the story to unfold onto, and Middle Earth springs to mind instantly, the Shire as home for hobbits especially contrasting with the ruinous splendour of Minas Tirith and the horror of the land of Mordor.

I can’t count myself in the same league as any of these writers. I’m much smaller in scope and in vision. Much of both Strangers & Pilgrims and Away with the Fairies (see their separate pages at the top of the header if you’re curious)  is set in small cottages, isolated from community and located in the English countryside. As Jean Raffa commented in her review of Strangers & Pilgrims, it’s quite clear how much I love the land I live in by the way I write about it. I can’t say I’m never going to write about an exotic far off land, but the balance of probability is that I won’t. Advice I was given as a teenager by a moderately famous writer was to write what you know about best. While imagination is a grand tool, I’m too limited as a person and as a writer to write solely from what my mind alone constructs and so places especially are always drawn from my personal experience. I’ve never once named the locations of stories, leaving readers to decide for themselves roughly where a book is set. I’ve also avoided intricate descriptions of interiors unless there is a good reason for doing so.

That doesn’t mean I can’t myself visualise clearly what a place is like. I can. I’d just rather not bog down a reader in too much extraneous detail. I’ve written about two cottages (Isobel’s cottage, for those interested, appears in two more novels) in books already released, and there’s a third one to appear in a book later this year (I hope) but there’s a reason why I find the cottage such an appealing setting. It’s cosy and intimate and lends itself well to both intense dialogue and to introspection for the characters. It’s cut off in some way from the hustle and bustle of a community. It also has history and stability. Isobel’s cottage is old, and a little run down and lacking in modern amenities. It emphasises the time out aspect of her needs, and the isolation from everyday concerns.

There’s also a few vicarages in my books. I’ve lived most of my adult life in one, though for the last five or so years, I’ve lived in an ordinary private home. Again, write what you know, but for many people what goes on inside a rectory, vicarage or manse is unknown and a little mysterious. There are pressures that most folks do not understand or imagine. Isobel’s experience is far from unusual and she copes better with it than I did. Her vicarage is a composite of the ones I have lived in or visited, and the constant barrage of phone calls etc is accurate to my experience of it.

The novel I am most proud of and hope to release this year has several settings. There is a cottage, and a vicarage but there is also something quite different: a large, rambling old mansion:

Once she got up close to the house, she began to think hard. She walked round the outside of the building, counting chimneys and windows, stared at the extent of the grounds. She gazed at the house with an historian’s eye, saw the elegant melding of eras in the large house, saw stonework that must be mediaeval and timber framing that must be Tudor. She looked at it with the eyes of an estate agent and she saw a fortune.”

Now since I wrote my first novel at ten, this house or a version of it has been in my mind, growing and changing as my understanding and imagination also grew and changed. As the story emerged that I named The Bet, the house in which much of it takes place also emerged, vivid in my mind to the extent that I can see the rooms clearly:

When they got into the old nursery, Jenny was speechless for all of a minute, staring round with amazed eyes. It was a huge room, the floor polished boards covered with another ancient but probably priceless Persian carpet, like something out of the Arabian Nights. One entire wall seemed to be tall windows with leaded panes, a radiator underneath. The original furnishings from Ashurst’s brief childhood here were still exactly as they had been then, more or less untouched since he’d left, asleep in his father’s arms after his brush with death he still didn’t remember.

Bloody hell, it’s freezing,” she said and she went across and put her hand on the radiator. “Stone cold. We’ll need better heating in here for a start.”

She went over to the carved crib, touching it in disbelief.

This is practically medieval, this crib thing,” she said, running her hand along the smooth wood.

Jacobean,” Ashurst said automatically.

Christ,” said Jenny. “Still I bet any toxic substances have been slobbered away by generations of little Ashursts, so it should be safe enough with a new mattress and stuff. Oh, what a lovely rocking horse. No wonder you’re so spoiled if this is what you started life with. What’s the little room at the end?”

During my life, I’ve visited many old houses and have made mental snapshots that I have stored in my memory to use as building blocks for images. Dreams only ever use things stored in the memory for their visual images, producing intricate composites of hundreds of details and the finished dream is a new product. It’s the same with settings for stories; we use hundreds of tiny details and create something new and unique. At the weekend, I visited Strangers’ Hall in Norwich and was struck by how similar the house is to the one in The Bet. The Hall was first begun in medieval times, dating from the twelfth century and was added to and altered constantly. There’s a great hall, and leaded windows looking down on knot gardens.

The biggest of the bedrooms on show is strikingly like the one in my story, down to the four poster bed with reproduction curtains.

 “The big bed, a Tudor four-poster, much restored with modern mattress and reproduction curtains was full of shadows. He knew that if he opened the drawer in the oak cabinet next to the bed, he would find his father’s reading glasses.”

Of course, the reader doesn’t need to know every single detail. I talk about faded and worn Persian carpets but I don’t describe the colour or the pattern. I can see it in my mind. I don’t describe the layout of the house, but I know my way round. It’s a maze of rooms and corridors and little staircases, far too big for one lonely traumatised young man to live in alone. In the first chapters, he wanders constantly round from room to room, trying to find somewhere he can be at peace, and failing; I wandered with him, observing as he stumbled up steps, stood at doorways and stared into darkened rooms.

The house in this story is integral to both the plot and the main characters but I hope that readers can construct their own mental version of it from what I chose to include. Constructing a setting for a story is a tough job, trying to balance between too much detail and not enough, but to achieve the goal of making that setting as haunting as the story is something I hope I have managed to do in all my stories. We’ll see later this year if I have managed to convey how much this house that has haunted me since I was about ten can haunt readers too.


or USA: