Amy Rae Durreson came by to talk about ghosts and storytelling, so give her a big unicorn welcome!
Ghosts and Secrets
The more ghost stories I write, the more fascinated I become with the nature of the genre. The footsteps that echo in an empty hall or the ghastly face pressed to an upstairs window are part of the thrill, but if you put those trappings aside, the heart of the genre is the past, in the form of the restless dead, pressing against the present so hard that the ordinary, everyday world splits under the pressure. Some ghosts want vengeance, others have a truth they desperately need revealed, and yet more are the embodiment of a suppressed emotion so powerful it continues to echo through time.
I’m not going to linger on how that aspect of the supernatural intersects with queer histories, because it’s obvious. I am going to talk about secrets, though, as that was the thread that bound the modern-day couple in my new book, Spindrift, to the ghosts who haunt the little seaside village of Rosewick Bay. Both Sion and Mattie are keeping secrets from each other—Siôn, the protagonist is terrified that Mattie will reject him if he tells the truth about his mental health, and Mattie has some shameful secrets of his own.
Although their secrets are painful, neither Sion nor Mattie face physical danger if the truth comes out. The same isn’t true for the two men who haunt them. Over a century before the book is set, Mattie’s great-great grandfather lived in the village. A fisherman, and volunteer on the local lifeboat, he was both working full-time and married by his late teens, as many young men of his era would have been. When the village becomes the centre of an artists’ colony, he begins a very secret affair with one of the artists, one which leads to a tragedy which still echoes through intervening decades. Before they can find their happy ending, Siôn and Mattie have to deal not only with their own secrets but those of the ghosts.
Secrets corrode. The damage they can do is long-lasting and can be very subtle. With Siôn, I wanted to explore a character who is so accustomed to keeping quiet about his own life that he can’t work out how to break that habit. Single, cut off by his parents, and reluctant to share his personal life with his colleagues, Siôn has drifted into a more and more solitary life. His only solace is his hobby of watercolour painting, which no one knows about. When depression hits, he has no safety net, and it nearly proves fatal. By the start of the book, he’s recovering and is coping, although not much more. Trusting Mattie is a huge risk for him, and one he flinches from. Sadly, this is all too real. Mental health issues are a hard thing to explain to a potential lover and for many people they’re a deal breaker. To make things worse, Siôn and Mattie are both caught up in the same fallacy—they’re trying to look perfect for each other.
As for Mattie’s secrets—well, you’ll have to read the book for those. In the meantime, please enjoy Siôn’s first encounter with a ghost in the extract below.
When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.
But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.
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As he turned, he heard a soft noise from his bedroom door. Then he saw the man standing there.
He was an ordinary-looking young man, of average height and squarely built, not much more than twenty. His dark hair was cropped close to his skull, and his face was ruddy and weathered. He had a slightly pointed face, not unhandsome, but not remarkable either, his expression solemn, although there was something around his eyes that suggested he could laugh. He wore a heavy navy blue jersey, cable-knit in complex patterns that drew Siôn’s eye, and faintly oily looking.
He had a thin little mustache and a gray leather flat cap, both of the sort Siôn associated with period films and a particular subset of urban hipster, and they seemed out of place in this little coastal retreat.
The initial surprise was giving way to indignation. Siôn had let the cottage for the next three months, and the agency had promised him that he would be left alone to enjoy it. They had also mentioned that the owner’s grandson would be staying in the basement flat once his university term was over, and “if you need owt and can’t get us on t’ phone, young Mattie will take a gander for thee.”
Siôn had managed to hide his instinctive grimace at both the idea and the exaggerated-cod Yorkshireism being thrown in his tourist face, but at least he now had a clue who this intruder was and how he had managed to get in. Bloody students.
Irritated, he snapped out, “What the devil do you think you’re doing?”
The man turned his head toward Siôn. His eyes were very wide and a little unfocused, as if they were seeing things Siôn could not, and suddenly the room felt icy, all the soft heat of early June seeping away like a retreating tide. The hairs on his arms stood on end, and his back cramped.
“Sarah,” the man said, and his voice was as cracked and distant as an old record, fading more with every syllable. “…Sorry… d—ned… shua….”
And he came forward across the room, bringing with him a stink of salt and rotten seaweed and something worse, something old and deep and dead.
Siôn couldn’t move.
Frozen in place, naked under the duvet, he watched this man—this dead thing—come gliding closer and closer to him, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even flinch.
The ghost passed across the room, his blank eyes unblinking, brushed past the bed, and walked toward the wide, low window where the dawn light was blazing in, thin and white and dazzling. He stepped into it and was gone, leaving behind only a lingering smell of death.
And then Siôn could breathe again, though part of him didn’t want to. The thing he had feared since he woke up in hospital had finally come to pass.
He had lost his mind again.
Amy has a terrible weakness for sarcastic dragons, shy boys with sweet smiles, and good pots of tea. She is yet to write a shy, tea-loving dragon, but she's determined to get there one day (so far, all of her dragons are arrogant gits who prefer red wine). Amy is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon.