Why Do I Write..?
My novel The Waiting Room (2010) is set in the present day but is concerned with the contemporary repercussions of something done at the end of the First World War. Imagine It is early in 1919. A wealthy industrialist has lost his only son to combat in the closing weeks of the conflict and his wife is going quietly mad with grief. He studied chemistry at university and made his fortune, ironically, out of patents for explosives used by artillery weapons.
He is approached by an old chemistry course student colleague with an interest in alchemy. This man has discovered a formula created by 16th-century German alchemist Gunter Keller. The formula is designed to return the dead to life. The essence of the subject is distilled from those personal possessions they left behind. You do this, recite Keller’s ritual, and wait…
A reversal of nature is never going to work out happily. Patrick Ross, who died a hero’s death, returns to mortal life without a soul. He is corrupt, tortured, amoral and stubbornly ageless, stranded for eternity at 23 and very lonely for his own kind – the dead comrades from the Western Front he knows how to return to life. Gunter Keller wax a busy man. Back in 16th century Hanover, he didn’t use his formula only the once, he inflicted a plague of the dead and subsequently burned at the stake for the crime of heresy.
Of course, there was no Gunter Keller. I made him up because my story needed a character (and a ritual) from the period before science and magic were separated; an experimenter from the era before chemistry became dry, rational and safe. Stories don’t need to be true, but they do require internal logic, the sort of plausibility that stops a reader throwing the book at a wall before they’re halfway through reading it. I was thorough and painstaking in my creation of Gunter Keller and equally painstaking in my creation of Bruno Absalom, the heavy-drinking, well-meaning dabbler whose disastrous intervention brings Patrick Ross back to a perverse kind of reanimation.
Patrick is a monster. So why isn’t The Waiting Room a horror novel? Amazon and Audible classify it as such, so maybe it is. But I prefer to think of it as a paranormal thriller, which is how I would classify each of the 13 novels and two novellas, I’ve had published as F.G. Cottam.
There’s very little gore in my books (with the exception of The Lazarus Prophecy). They rely for their chills much more on pacing, atmosphere, and a steadily growing sense of foreboding. There’s also quite a lot of ambiguity. Characters often succumb to the temptation to rationalise retrospectively the irrational experiences the story has them endure. I think this is human nature, a tendency to which all of us are prone in life.
Why was that room so cold? Probably just a draught from somewhere. From where came that snatch of evocative song? Well, the wind is sometimes fitful, and the radio waves can stray, can’t they? Just what was that substantial shape, gliding below the surface of the lake? Probably only a waterlogged tree trunk caught in the current.
Except lakes tend not to have currents…
This approach doesn’t work for every reader. Some of you are only happy when every page is blood-soaked, every sentence dripping with gore. And that’s fair enough, there are writers who do that kind of thing extremely well.
But it’s a question for me personally of quality control in the sense that if I don’t write a story I’d be entertained reading, I haven’t done my job properly. So it’s paranormal thrillers rather than outright horror and the failure comes only when and if they fail to thrill.
I’ve explored paganism in three of my novels. It’s a rich source. It’s a central theme in Brodmaw Bay, set in a fictitious Cornish Coastal village, where sacrifices are made to what the villagers term the Singers Under the Sea. At the insistence of the harbingers (you really wouldn’t want to encounter one of those). I’ve used Satanism as a central theme and written three novels in which the Biblical End Times threaten to overwhelm the world. When I needed a cult – in my novel Dark Echo – I invented one called The Jericho Society. The Irish soldier/statesman Michael Collins appears in the part of that novel set in the 1920s. I’ll sometimes use real historical figures to give the story a sort of weight and legitimacy it wouldn’t otherwise possess.
I like recurring characters. I must do, or I wouldn’t have written a trilogy of books set largely on the fictitious Hebridean Island of New Hope, a place where events tend to belie its name spectacularly.
I do think plausibility is the most important element in scaring readers. The paranormal aspect has to be subtle and insidious at the outset, though it can of course grow into something monstrous and terrifying as the story gathers pace. It can careen and helter-skelter, but only after a deliberate, if ominous beginning.
I can’t imagine writing a story without the shifting and uncertain presence of the paranormal gate-crashing the lives of my protagonists. In an analogy I’ve used before, introducing the paranormal into fiction is swapping four concrete walls for a vast hall of mirrors. And if you look very closely, that might actually be someone else they’re reflecting. You weren’t expecting company, were you? But then, not all surprises are nice.
The Colony Novels
The completed Colony collection is here, inspired by the present-day repercussions of an occult curse inflicted in revenge by a dying sorcerer…
For over a century, the mystery of the New Hope Island vanishing has intrigued and tantalized. How did a community of 150 souls disappear and leave no trace behind?
As abruptly as the crew of the Mary Celeste, they went missing from their lonely Island in the Hebrides without a single clue as to the nature of their departure; doomed to remain an enigma forever.
…Until media magnate Alexander McIntyre decides to harness his prodigious energy and bottomless wealth in solving the New Hope mystery once and for all. He gathers a crack team of experts, sparing no expense in his pursuit of answers.
What they discover is as terrifying as it is inexplicable… Are some mysteries safer left unsolved?
Five years after a tragic expedition put New Hope Island back in the headlines, past-his-prime crime author Dennis Thorpe leads a writers retreat to that secluded corner of the Hebrides… The group is never seen again.
Ruthie Gillespie, the beautiful, heavily-tattooed, hard-drinking author of dark tales for children, was supposed to be among their number but something stopped her at the eleventh hour, and it isn’t long before the police come knocking. Ruthie falls deeper and deeper into a web of dark magic and darker secrets as it becomes clear that the writers’ pasts are not what they seem.
How far can you take an investigation when your own life is threatened? Do you continue, knowing that you must find the answers before the Island claims another victim? Or do you run and hope that it never catches up with you?
Harvest of Scorn
Felix Baxter, entrepreneur extraordinaire, is going to rehabilitate New Hope Island. Rich and manipulative, he wants to convert it into a glamorous getaway destination, ‘The New Hope Experience’. But will the restless ghosts of Seamus Ballantyne’s 1825 colony allow the project to go to plan?
Helena Davenport has an opportunity that could be pivotal in her career as an architect – Felix Baxter has commissioned her to oversee his New Hope vision. But nothing is as it seems in this mysterious part of the Scottish Hebrides. Helena’s site manager is the first to go missing with one single, eerie scream.
Accompanied by the survivors of the last group to visit New Hope, Ruthie Gillespie must travel back to the island one final time to end this ordeal not only for those on the island, but for themselves too…
But is New Hope Island ever worth returning to? And will this concluding trip end a curse that has afflicted all who have had the misfortune to visit it for nearly two centuries?
F.G. Cottam was born and brought up in Southport in Lancashire, attending the University of Kent at Canterbury where he took a degree in history before embarking on a career in journalism in London. He lived for 20 years in North Lambeth and during the 1990s was prominent in the lad-mag revolution, launch editing FHM, inventing Total Sport magazine and then launching the UK edition of Men’s Health. He now lives in Kingston upon Thames and his fiction is thought up over daily runs along the towpath between Kingston and Hampton Court Bridges.
You can find out more about F.G. Cottam by visiting his official website www.fgcottam.com
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