legends

The Coming Storm

I’ve got a few festival appearances coming up over the next couple of months, as well as a couple of other bits and pieces, so it’s probably time for a quick update. (I’ll put relevant dates on the “Events” page too.)

YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) 2015

Friday 17th July, 2.30 – 3.15.

I’ll be appearing on the “Thrills & Chills: Writing Horror” panel with Will Hill, Darren Shan, Dawn Kurtagich and Matt Whyman, discussing why we love horror, why we write it and why it’ll always be popular. This will be followed up by a signing.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tuesday 25th August, 7.00 – 8.00

I’m hugely excited about this, as it’s the first year I’ll be at Edinburgh. Join myself and Kevin Brooks to talk about the darker side of the subjects that can crop up in contemporary YA: boredom, destruction, stress and fear.

The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival

Saturday 3rd October, 6.30 – 7.30

This feels very like my “home” festival: I’ve been going to the Bath Children’s Litfest for a couple of years now, and it always feels special. This time, however, I’ll be on the stage as well as in the audience, in conversation with YA horror superstars Charlie Higson and Darren Shan as we look at the enduring appeal of zombies and how they’ve brought a fresh spin to everybody’s favourite shambling flesh-eaters in their new books.

YA Shot

Wednesday 28th October

YA Shot is a one-day festival of YA & MG literature organised by author Alexia Casale, Hillingdon Borough Libraries and Waterstones Uxbridge. Details TBC.

 

On the writing front, I’m delighted to have a story in the forthcoming “Legends 2: Stories in Honour of David Gemmell” anthology, alongside fantastic authors like John Gwynne, Rowena Cory Daniels and Mark Lawrence. (A paperback and a limited-edition signed copy are available from Spacewitch Books).

I don’t venture into the epic and heroic very often, so this is a new sphere for me. However, I’m a big fan of the Gemmell Awards and the work they do, and I was delighted to be asked to contribute and to be able to support them. My story, “Oak”, is set just after the Norman invasion and coronation of William I, and both something completely new and very old: it was inspired by some of the legends of a very well-known (perhaps the most well-known) sorcerer from the area where I grew up. No pointy hats, I promise.

 

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The Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard

One of my favourite London street names is “Bleeding Heart Yard”. It’s just off Hatton Garden, right at the edge of the City of London – and not far from the Barbican, where I used to live. Its unusual name stems from a particularly grim London legend.

The land was given to Sir Christopher Hatton by Elizabeth I. When he married, his wife’s dances became a high-point of the social season. One night, as a great ball was in progress, a black-robed man with a twisted hand threw open the doors to the ballroom and walked among the dancers until he found Lady Hatton; first, sweeping her into a dance, then leading her from the room.

Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning… and the assembled company heard a piercing scream from outside. Rushing to the aid of their hostess, the party were able to find no trace of her… except for her still-beating heart in the courtyard.

Lady Hatton, so the legend goes, chose to dance with the devil – and paid for it with her soul.

 

The Curious Legend of Dirty Dick

There’s a funny little pub on Bishopsgate in the City of London called Dirty Dicks. It’s narrow, but it’s easy to spot–partly because it’s got a bright red neon sign above it, and partly because there’s always a stag-night party in one stage of pissheadedness or another having their photo taken outside. It’s called Dirty Dicks (and, by the way, if you’re googling it, I cannot advise you strongly enough to check you have “safe search” enabled. Promise me you’ll check first? Please?)

It always used to fascinate me when I walked past it–usually on the way to the even more exotically-named Woodins Shades… what can I say? They had pool tables… and I figured there had to be a reason for giving a pub a name like that. Besides luring in men of a certain age wearing red polyester wigs, that is.

“Dirty Dick” was, in fact, Nathaniel Bentley, an 18th-Century merchant who owned a hardware shop and warehouse on Leadenhall Street. He was something of a dandy: stylish and well-dressed, he was nicknamed “The Beau of Leadenhall Street”.

This changed with the death of his fiancee: according to legend, he refused to wash or to change his clothes after that day, and became a complete recluse. When his cats died, he left their corpses to rot where they fell. Some versions of the story tell that his fiancee died on the very eve of their wedding and–distraught and heartbroken–Bentley simply locked the door of the dining room, leaving the table laid and the wedding breakfast to moulder within…

Sounding familiar yet?

The long and short of it was that Bentley became a celebrity of sorts–any letter addressed to “The Dirty Warehouse, London” automatically found its way to Leadenhall and that nickname, “Dirty Dick”, stuck.

Bentley ceased trading in 1804, and died shortly after. But his legacy of filth lived on: so infamous had his warehouse become that the owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery in its various incarnations bought the contents of the building and, after its demolition, moved them (cats and all) to another location nearby: the Old Jerusalem pub, which in due course changed its name…to Dirty Dicks.

As for the cats–and everything else–they used to be on display in the bar (in some instances, on the bar), although today they’re tucked away in a glass case.

Suffer the Little Children

At Reculver in Kent, not far from Herne Bay, there’s a ruined church.

The Romans–always ones with an eye for strategy– built one of their Saxon Shore forts here and it became an important lookout point over the mouths to the Thames and the Medway rivers.

Later, the Anglo-Saxon kings took it as a seat of power: Aethelberht of Kent was said to have moved his court here from Canterbury, taking over the abandoned Roman site. A large church–St Mary’s–was later constructed, and along with it a wealthy monastery. A 7th Century cross, most likely a high cross, was discovered by archeologists outside the church and is now kept at Canterbury cathedral.

The church, and the village it served, was perilously close to the sea by the 17th Century, and by the 18th, the village was largely abandoned and a new church built further inland. St Mary’s was suddenly surplus to requirements.

As the buildings around it (including the vicarage and the original village inn) were claimed by the sea, the majority of the church was demolished. Its imposing towers, the Twin Sisters, were allowed to remain as a navigational aid, and the ruins were protected from further sea-attacks by the construction of a series of groynes.

Illustrious–and complicated–as its history is, it comes with an even more interesting and particularly gruesome legend–that if you listen carefully, you will hear the sound of a crying baby in the ruins of the church. And that’s fair enough, you know. Ruined churches. They’re spooky, right? But in the 1960s, archeologists working on the site discovered a number of children’s skeletons buried deep beneath the walls of the Roman fort. The legend tells that they were buried alive as a sacrifice to protect the fort and its inhabitants….

Is it me, or did it suddenly get a bit chilly in here? Brrr.