Welcome to the Bank Holiday Weekend HEROES AND VILLAINS bloghop!
This is your chance to win a signed paperback copy of my novel THE CARETAKERS. All
you have to do is read my essay below and then comment on my Guestbook with the answers
to these two simple questions:
1) In what year was Dennis Wheatley’s STRANGE CONFLICT published?
2) What is the name of Rob Benson’s dog?
PLEASE NOTE: the winner will be the FIRST PERSON who comments with the correct answers
on my Guestbook - but to give my North American friends a chance, the contest won’t
open until 20:00 hours Saturday, and will close on 20:00 hours Monday 6th May 2013.
DO NOT POST UNTIL BEFORE 8PM (BST) SATURDAY 4TH MAY!
Please also take time to check out the links to the other participants in the bloghop
“The war is not for territory or gain or glory, but that Armageddon which was prophesied
of old. That is why the Children of Light, wherever they may be, captive or free,
must hold on to their spiritual integrity as never before and must stick at nothing,
physically, in the fight, lest the whole world fall under the domination of these
puppets who are animated by the Powers of Darkness.”
- Duke de Richlieu, in Dennis Wheatley’s STRANGE CONFLICT
Creating heroes and villains for a horror novel is no easy matter. Gone are the days
when horror stories would present a simple Good versus Evil battle with predictable
outcomes and even more predictable protagonists. Many stories would make heavy use
of Christianity and Satanism to illustrate the eternal struggle between Light and
Dark, which created an immediate bias: if God is on your side, you cannot lose.
These types of stories don’t really have much place in a 21st century, multicultural
world. Think back to the days of Dennis Wheatley, in particular his stories with
the Duke de Richlieu: these are entertaining novels with some ingenious concepts,
but the attitudes and viewpoints jar with modern audiences. Strange Conflict is one
of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve ever read, with its World War Two setting,
the use of astral projection by Nazi agents to intercept Atlantic shipping convoys,
voodoo, and Haitian zombies; but the final paragraph still annoys me:
“As long as Britain stands the Powers of Darkness cannot prevail. On Earth the Anglo-Saxon
race is the last Guardian of the Light, and I have an unshakable conviction that,
come what may, our island will prove the Bulwark of the World.”
Still, it was a product of its time (first published in 1941), and just what the
besieged islanders of Britain wanted to hear while battling the forces of an all-too-human
Since then, horror writers have taken inspiration from other countries and cultures
for their stories, as well as different periods of history. The challenge has always
been to make the threat credible, the horror feel real, and the best stories do this
by spending as much time on the characters and their motivations for taking up the
struggle. The Duke’s speech above illustrates what, for many, is the limitation of
the horror novel: the idea that human forces in conflict are good and evil, black
and white; it’s a myth that many horror writers since have tried to debunk.
When human beings fight – for whatever reason – there is no such thing as good and
evil, black and white; definitions like this only exist in the human mind, not human
interactions. Ironically (and tragically), those definitions become motivations for
some of the most destructive and barbaric periods of humanity’s history, particularly
when faith is invoked. Even in an increasingly secular age religion and faith are
powerful motivators for human beings – and so for characters in fiction.
So we come to the heroes and villains of my novel The Caretakers.
HEAR THE SCREAMS. FEEL THE PAIN. FACE THE EVIL.
As a Cambridge College celebrates a midwinter feast, four uninvited strangers uncover
a devastating secret. A secret that must never be revealed...for the love of humanity.
Andy Hughes - a man with a dark past and an even darker future. His search for a
missing student will lead him to a confrontation with an evil beyond human imagining...
Rob Benson - a van driver who discovers a dead wild boar in the back of his Transit.
A boar that just won't stay dead...
Jennifer Callaby - Andy's estranged girlfriend, who discovers the shocking truth
of The Caretakers - and the sacred task that they perform...
Jason Franklin - a prisoner who holds the key to the fates of them all, and may well
be their only salvation - if he doesn't destroy them first...
A disturbing thriller that questions the nature of evil and the price to be paid
for the continued survival of the human race - a price that for some is too great
THE CARETAKERS - a Master's Degree in terror.
When asked to describe the novel in one sentence, I said “Imagine The Wicker Man
meets Porterhouse Blue, with a touch of Hellraiser.”
The Wicker Man is, at heart, a clash of faiths: Christianity embodied by the pious
Sergeant Howie, and paganism in the form of Lord Summerisle. However, it is the search
for a missing child that is Howie’s motivation for investigating Summerisle – a similar
plot device to the one I used to bring Andy Hughes, the hero of The Caretakers, to
Cambridge. Unlike Howie, he has no desire to go to Cambridge to find the missing
student – a debt to a local gangster has to be repaid, and that is why he agrees
– and he is no policeman. He is an ex-convict who could only find employment as a
nightclub bouncer. His bouts of violence make him an unlikely hero.
Neither does he have any religious faith to motivate him when he uncovers the evil
in the Cambridge College of All Souls. It is the threat to his friends and loved
ones that keeps him fighting, and the darkness within him is actually utilised for
good – it is the only way to fight the evil.
So to the villains: David Searles and the Fellowship of All Souls College. This is
where Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse Blue shows its influence: Sharpe’s 1973 novel is a
satire on Cambridge University Colleges’ politics and university life in general,
and when I read it I knew I wanted to set a horror novel in a similar setting.
Of course, religion plays no part in the Fellowship’s motivations; Cambridge (and
Oxford) colleges were founded in the 12th century for religious as well as academic
purposes (religion and academic study were intertwined in the early middle ages)
but in the 21st century scholarship is more inclined towards scientific study. How,
then, do the leaders of a modern university college embark upon horrifying acts of
ritual murder? More importantly, how could I as the writer make that believable?
Well, I won’t give away the story here; suffice to say that the pre-Christian history
of Cambridge plays a part. Use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to read the prologue
and the first three chapters!
The Fellowship are misguided, but the Master is sincere. The horrific acts he, as
leader of the college, must continue to perform tear him apart, and he is not the
only one. It’s terrifying to read about a situation that none of the instigators
want to partake in, but feel compelled to out of a duty to protect the human race.
The duty they perform has its origins in an ancient religious belief, but the conflict
over duty and human morality is a timeless one.
It doesn’t stop there: Jason Franklin is an agent of destruction, but has very real,
human motivations for his actions. He has what modern society calls “daddy issues”,
and his perceived rejection by his father is the catalyst for the events that bring
him into the final climax.
The heroes aren’t your typical “white hats”, either. Andy Hughes’s violence and inner
rage are a product of his own heritage, his secret past, and these far from noble
qualities are what must be utilised to bring about the destruction of The Caretakers
and the obscene entity that has misguided and lied to them for centuries.
Rob Benson was originally supplied as a bit of comic relief, but a wise-cracking
sidekick has been done to death. I made sure I gave him some seedy characteristics
to balance the humour and attractiveness of his character: drink-driving, heavy dope-smoking,
refusal to grow up… but I also had to give him his own story and, more importantly,
a relevant place in the plot to ensure his addition was necessary. He does this with
aplomb, fighting the monsters in the college while Andy Hughes and David Searles
face their destiny in the fires of the Great Hall.
With all the grey areas and shifting morality, not to mention the multitude of characters,
I realised I had to supply a straightforward villain with no redeeming qualities
whatsoever: John Franklin, the Head Porter of All Souls. Indeed, an early scene has
him assaulting Rob Benson’s dog, Jasper. It’s interesting that people will be more
upset over the ill-treatment of a fictional animal than a fictional human being,
so it’s a device I used shamelessly to kindle a hatred of John Franklin right from
the start. He is the one who forces David Searles to overcome his internal anguish,
to focus on his duty as Master of All Souls.
None of these characters are the Duke de Richlieu’s “Children of Light”. Indeed,
most of the bad guys are intelligent men who’ve been lied to, but still continue
their actions out of a misguided belief they are doing it for the greater good of
mankind; whereas the hero has a history of violence and a potential for evil that
itself is manipulated by greater forces – and even then, what passes for the force
of Light is little different from the Darkness which controls The Caretakers. Even
the conflict between superhuman forces does not lend itself to human-defined concepts
such as Good or Evil.
I wanted to show in my novel that everyone is at risk of being controlled by darkness,
everyone can be a puppet controlled by evil, and no-one can control – or even predict
– the outcome. The fight between Good and Evil is ultimately a fight within the human
heart, and that’s what the supernatural events serve to illuminate.