I said I’d be back, didn’t I? And threatened to tell you all about this staircase:
I’m a (wo)man of my word.
It’s in an old house in a place called Locronan in Brittany, and it’s where I set my contribution to the new URBAN MYTHIC 2 anthology from Alchemy Press. The idea was for each story in there – while obviously being different – to update an existing myth or legend and bring it into the 21st Century.
Being a macabre sort (well, I do write horror too, y’know) I’ve always been fascinated by the Breton legend of the Ankou. While there’s plenty of psychopomp figures in myth – and more than a few skeletal grim reapers – the cult of the Ankou is peculiar to Brittany.
I’ve already talked a little about the legend and the idea behind the story here – where you’ll also see an ancient picture of me, taken in the basement vaults of our old house in Brighton. It’s “moody” because it’s about three degrees and I have water dripping down the back of my neck… – but what appeals to me about the Ankou is his impermanence. He changes with the year, and there’s something very human about that as well as something transformative. It’s the kind of idea that gets under my skin and sticks.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the region, but I still did a fair amount of reading around by way of research (any excuse), both of collected legends and collected folktales and responses to them.
(Just out of shot, my well-chewed Breton-French and French-English dictionaries. And a really big pile of headache pills…)
As soon as I knew I wanted to write about the Ankou, I wanted the story to happen in Locronan. It’s a very small town perched high up on a hill, and it’s very deliberately kept as traditional as possible – particularly the town square. As a result, it feels like – tourists aside – you’ve fallen through some kind of wormhole into a recent past that won’t ever quite rest, but hangs around the corners of the square smoking and being disreputable. It’s the perfect setting for a story which is all about the past and how it creeps through into the present.
In particular, I’ve always loved the house in this photo – now a bookshop dedicated to Breton and Celtic mythology, but like most of the houses in Locronan, it may well have once belonged to a weaver (the production of textiles, and sailcloth in particular, made Locronan an important place back in the day).
Somewhat fittingly for a story about the unreliability of memory, I seem to remember that once there was a loom on the ground floor… but I can’t be sure. When I went back this summer, if there ever had been a loom, it’s long gone.
Either way, that’s where the story came from: a story about memory and family and death and life… and the Ankou, who warns us all that we weave our own reckoning: “according to your work, your reward”.
And, as it’s me, and there’s always a song the story sounds a little like this…