Yesterday, I FINALLY posted my review of Blackened Cottage by A.E. Richards. Tonight, I give you my interview with the amazing author and a little treat at the end. :3 Enjoy, loves!
1. What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
Blackened Cottage is like another main character. Using memories of a cottage I know intimately, I darkened these mental images, or ‘blackened’ them, building a sense of the sinister and portraying the cottage almost as a prison for Lisbeth. For me, this accentuated the ghostly feel of the story while nuancing the gothic horrors soon to attack. Blackened Cottage becomes a symbol for the evil that pulses through the novel. Its blackness represents depravity and loss. To Lisbeth, the cottage is an alien place yet one she knows too well, and ultimately, one she must escape.
2. What specific themes did you emphasize throughout the novel? What are you trying to get across to the reader?
Sanity versus madness. Can anyone ever be fully sane, or are we all susceptible to the pull of insanity? Depending on the trauma of our experiences, we can be closer to madness than we believe possible. Real versus imagined. How far can the subjectivity of our perceptions blur the ‘truth’? No-one’s perception of, and reaction to, the world is identical. We are all prone to dreaming, fantasising, using different ways to escape – at least for a little while – the terrible realities that confront us.
3. Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
I would say that every character is authentic, but of course suspense of disbelief is required on the part of the reader to a certain degree because Lisbeth’s life is threatened time and time again throughout the story. I can relate to Lisbeth’s loneliness and sadness, and to the warmer aspects of other characters, but I can in no way relate to Mortimer. He is purest evil. The loquacious Mary does remind me of one relative in particular who can talk for England!
4. How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
Lisbeth journies through a huge rite of passage, discovering sense of self, the fact that she has lost her memory, that things are not quite as she believed them to be and as a result her identity evolves. Her life changes dramatically, transforming from a stifled, static one to an adventurous one filled with friendship and peril. Lisbeth’s change of place triggers an enormous change in her and propels the story into action.
5. In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of your world view?
I suppose Lisbeth’s journey from isolation and entrapment to freedom and happiness reveals my view that life can change for the better if the person suffering makes one brave step to alter the present state of affairs. It also exposes my view of life as an unpredictable, chaotic thing affected and directed by those you come into contact with throughout your life in minor and major ways. People influence the experiences that shape us in positive and negatives ways, and difficult times make us stronger ultimately. As long as we have the loving support of people, we will prevail.
6. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
The darkness of the book made me realise how much I have changed over the last few years. I can now see more deeply into the negative aspects of people and of life. At times, I heard my old self in Lisbeth’s bleaker contemplations and this disturbed me a little, but I think my experiences have enabled me to see more deeply into the sadder truth of things.
7. Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
There was only Lisbeth’s character who evolved in my mind and had a voice before I even opened the blank page. Perhaps she grew unconsciously within me over the last few years.
8. What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
I researched preachers and sermons of the time, the evolution of hypnosis and psychoanalysis, nineteeth century costume and customs. I gained a great appreciation for the oratic powers of the famous nineteenth century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
9. What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I usually start with a character who has a problem and the story builds from there. I try to write 1,000 – 2,000 words daily and try to add at least something to the story every day. If I get bored when writing, I know I am going wrong, because if I get bored, the reader will.
10. How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
I play hard and work hard. If I am truly stuck, I take a deep breath, re-read the last section and just start to write without stopping for as long as I can, telling myself that if it’s crap at least I’ve tried to write something and maybe a sentence or two will be worth keeping. If not, at least I’ve practised writing.
11. Favorite book from childhood.
‘The Worst Witch’ series by Jill Murphy when I was seven, R.L.Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ aged nine, Francis Hodgeson Burnett’s ‘A Little Princess’ at eleven, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ aged thirteen and Harry Potters aged fifteen.
12. What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
My lap top, a Winnie-the-Pooh mug, chocolate crumbs, framed photographs of my parents and boyfriend, a pot of highlighters, a pink stapler and three edited drafts of my latest novel.
Thank you so much, Abby, for the interview!
I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did! And now…
If it were not for little Eddie, I fear I would lose my mind.
Father has not spoken once since you left us. In truth, he barely glances in my direction and, if he comes near, which thankfully is a rare thing indeed, a frightful tension accompanies him and I have to fight the urge to flee the room.
I am confined to the new house for the foreseeable period and I do not know why. I just know that Father’s brief note carried a warning tone that could be dangerous to ignore.
We are hidden away in the countryside far from anyone, in a hideous place rather aptly called Blackened Cottage, for its outer walls are painted entirely black. Sadly, the cottage is about as welcoming as the Reaper’s smile. Inside, the walls are the colour of jaundiced skin. A cloying odour of rancid milk permeates the air, and dust muffles every surface as if the building has not been lived in for one hundred years.
For me, the floorboards are the cottage’s one redeeming feature. They are finest oak, beautiful when shaved of dust. You would admire them Mama.
Downstairs there is a study that I have never entered, a small, dank kitchen and a medium-sized living room with a bricked in fireplace. A narrow staircase leads upstairs to just two bedrooms so Father sleeps in the study. I gave the bigger bedroom to Eddie. He needs it more than me.
Father’s silence does not merely estrange me, it scares me. Though Eddie says nothing, I know it disturbs him too. Occasionally, I catch Father staring at his reflection with a strange intensity. His eyes seem darker these days, and my spine prickles when he enters the room. Mostly he keeps to his study, for which I am glad.
I spend my days tutoring Eddie in Mathematics and English. He is a good pupil. He works hard and asks a lot of questions. Fortunately, he has ceased asking about Father. It is almost as if Eddie has accepted our new reality far more readily than I.
Loneliness burns my chest, but I cannot leave – not while Eddie is so young. We celebrated his eighth birthday yesterday. Just he and I. I made him a puzzle. It was his only present. Either Father forgot or he no longer cares, but I dare not approach him to ask.
Oh Mama, I cannot believe you have been gone a year. Would that you could return and take us away from all of this.
Father’s footsteps are on the landing! I must hide this. ‘Til tomorrow Mama,
I hide my letter just as Father’s footsteps pause outside my door. My heart drums even though I am almost certain he will not enter my room. The floorboards creak once, twice, thrice. He is moving away. I let out a sigh and unclench my fists. He has never hurt me or Eddie, but I can feel his soul darkening. His mind slipping.
Eddie is in the garden but it is getting dark so I gently open my door and tiptoe down the staircase. Every board creaks and gives a little underfoot. I wonder how long it will be before a step gives way. A tiny part of me hopes that when that day comes, Father will be the one who crashes through the floor. Things would be so much easier if he were not around.
Immediately I feel guilty for the thought and bite my lip until it stings.
I creep past Father’s study. As usual, the door is firmly shut.
With bare feet and strumming heart, I hastily exit the living room. In this house, I cannot walk slowly.
Eddie is play-fighting with Jack. Jack is his imaginary friend.
Jack is also eight years old. He has carrot-orange hair and freckles. He wears an old-fashioned sailor uniform. Eddie says Jack wears the same thing every day.
“Time for supper, Eddie.”
“Can Jack come too? Please, please, please?”
I search his delicate, innocent face. His brown hair flops down over his right eye. He always reminds me of a puppy. Unconditionally loving. My heart twinges. I brave a smile.
“Jack can most certainly join you – as long as he minds his table manners.”
“Yes!” Eddie exclaims, “Come Jack, you can sit next to me.”
Not for the first time, I glimpse a form beside Eddie as he hurries into the cottage. I shake my head, certain I am imagining things.
Following quickly, I leave the garden with its dark cords of ivy and enter the kitchen.
I decide to explore the garden tomorrow in the daylight when Eddie takes his afternoon nap. Eddie tells me it is far bigger than it first appears.
My Dearest Lisbeth,
Times are hard. I miss you and Eddie dearly. I am sorry for leaving you with that soulless man, but you are strong, kind and good and I am hopeful that your loving spirit will ferry you through the loneliness that you speak of.
With regards to your Father, do you remember what I told you before I left? DO NOT TRUST HIM. If he is electing not to converse with you this is a good thing. Believe me. He is a dire man. His soul dissolves by the day; I could feel it then, and now, so can you. Be careful. Trust your instincts.
I will write again shortly. All my love,
Afternoon birds beckon me outside. Their song is a lullaby strangely hypnotic.
Despite the chill air, the sun is blinding.
I pull my black shawl tighter and exhale a misty steam. My feet are bare on the long, cold grass but my toes remain warm. My gown sweeps the earth picking up damp soil that is almost black.
I turn around and stare at the cottage. Four unblinking eyes surrounded by darkness. The queerness of its ebony coating stills my heart for a moment and I shudder. Why would someone paint a house black? Who would paint a house black? My mind creates a figure shrouded in black. Its face is hooded, but underneath its curling lips grin wickedly.
Dispelling this unnerving image, I gather my dirtied skirts and slowly descend.
I walk slowly between sapless oaks; dusty branches like broken limbs; a throng of dead daddy long legs on their backs. A sad thought occurs to me: Winter is starving the garden of life, just as loneliness is depriving me of hope.
The grass tickles my ankles and calves. Crisp brown leaves cringe, crunch. The sound is satisfying but the scraping feeling irritates. Still, I feel freer with my soles bared. I always have and always will. It is something Mama loves about me so I cling to it.
A jackdaw brazenly lands, stabs at the earth, rips out a worm, chokes it down. Strolls a little. Stabs at the earth again.
I freeze and stare at it. Black beetling eyes in a puddle grey face. Sharp, stabbing black beak. Strong, hulking black body. Glossy feathers. Arrogant. Aloof. Superior.
As I advance, I wonder how to portray such a creature, even though I know I will never capture the bird’s complexity with my charcoal.
I lift my hands to inspect the state of my fingernails, and the movement disturbs the jackdaw who laboriously lifts from the ground and soars away.
The nails of my left hand are worse. Black grime sits there. Something reddish-brown also fills the space between fingertip and nail. Perhaps it is residual dirt from cleaning the brass. I taste the tip of my index finger. The flavour is distinct: dried blood. A stinging sensation draws my attention. I pull up my sleeve and gasp. A nasty slit runs from wrist to elbow. I realise I must have ripped it on a branch and not noticed. The pain is not much so I decide to rinse it when I have finished my walk.
I begin to take a step and hear a scream. It is coming from the cottage. The scream belongs to Eddie!
With storming heart I abandon my search and tear back to the cottage.
I am sitting in my study as I write this. As always, I am tired. I am tired of this life and of the man I have become. Evil thoughts are upon me every day, nay every hour. Of slashing and tearing, of ripping and slicing. In my imagination I see blood everywhere and I fear, dear diary, that my imagination will all too soon become my reality. And when it does then what will come of me, and what might my anguish cause me to do?
My daughter and my son are of no help. I wish they were gone from my life, buried deep underground and forgotten by all. My wife I feel sure has gone forever and I am beginning to accept it. But my children still haunt me. It is when I feel at my most melancholic and, yes, my most dangerous, that it seems their voices are at their loudest. It might be the simplest thing. My son calls: ‘Where are my shoes Father?’ and I hear it clearly and the sound grates on my soul. I cover my ears but I feel my hands turn to fists and I want to strike out. To stop their noise forever would be a blessing.
Am I a bad man? I believe so. My children should mean everything to me I know. I should be being kind to them, speaking softly to them, playing with them. Instead I wish them gone. Gone forever so that I hear their entreatments no more. I can no longer bear the thought of them.
My wife has left me. Some would say she has done badly by her children by what she has done and where she has gone. And yet she has at least found a way of escaping reality, whereas I am caught in a place where my brain cannot cope and where my anger rises more fiercely with every waking hour. If my children came into my study at this moment I fear what I might do.
And yet there is a chance she may return to me. Sustaining even this infinitesimal fraction of hope is draining, but I cannot give up. Not yet. Not while hope remains. So I continue to exist in this empty shell. I cannot be a good father any more or a loving husband so now I am simply a man hanging by a thread. Control of my temper is essential but difficult, oh so difficult.
She, of course, cannot be a mother or a wife any more either, but I cannot persuade myself to enter her world. I am frightened about what will happen if I do. Fearful of what I might do if I learn that all hope is gone. I just need more time. She needs more time. Time is a great healer, so they say.
I know she feels like I am abandoning her but it really is better this way. Or at least I think it is. If I were to go to her…who knows what would happen? We are both capable of doing awful things. Terrible, unspeakable things. Of that I am certain.
Sometimes, when I am out of sorts, visions flit across my mind’s eye. Visions so despicable that I dare not put them on this parchment for fear that writing them down may somehow transform them into reality. They are visions of me acting upon this heinous rage that torments my soul. They are visions of my merciless nature, savage, driven by aggression. Indeed, knowing that I am capable of conjuring up such notions scares me. It makes me aware of a dark part within my mind and of what, if pushed, I could do. I used to contain a gentle soul, but this thing that haunts me is beginning to possess my thoughts and impulses. Soon I fear I may lose myself.
At times, I wake as if from a dream even though I have not been asleep. I wake and I see red. Literally. I see red, the hue of congealed blood. The colour taints my vision, twists all logic. And if I were to look upon her in that one moment of suspended reason, I fear I would know her as the she-devil and act accordingly.
Am I going mad? Am I in danger of losing control and damaging the one thing I have left in this dismal world? Then again, I do not really have her anymore: her mind soured against me a long time ago and she has gone. She is the bitter fruit I dare not touch. Nothing I do would persuade her I mean no harm because even I cannot be persuaded of this; I am at once rankled that she will not let me go to her and yet relieved. Every day I grow more wary of the passage of my thoughts for they trek an increasingly menacing path spiked with thorns and spite.
It is better this way, for now. Better if I stay away. If not for her safety, then for my own sanity.
But there is Lisbeth, outside my door again, scuttling past like a frightened rabbit. She does right to stay away. And I must do the same otherwise my anger could explode into her like a hundred arrows laced with poison.
I must away.
She had me hooked from the start! What about you?
Until next time!