This story was inspired from two totally different sources. The loan of a cottage to allow fledgling writers tranquility is true, and the ghost story for Halloween was a prompt for a short story competition. As for the rest I’ll leave you to decide how much is fiction.
Thud! There it was again, the same noise I’d heard earlier in the day which I’d assumed was the workmen renovating the derelict cottage next door. The chiming of the clock made me jump. Midnight, the witching hour.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have worked so late but the story was flowing, and after suffering the infamous writer’s block for the past week the words had finally started pouring out of me. You know the feeling; you blame anything and everything when your publisher is pushing but your brain just won’t function.
‘Christine, maybe you should get away for a while. Stay somewhere peaceful. How about Scotland? It’s beautiful at this time of the year, and if the weather turns it would be a good excuse to stay indoors and do some writing.’
Although it sounded friendly I could sense the underlying threat that if I didn’t meet my deadline, well…. I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
The cottage was quaint but fully equipped, one of a pair, and when the taxi driver dropped me off it didn’t seem that far from civilisation. It was only as night fell that I realised the darkness of the highlands was not the same as the darkness of suburban London.
At least there was internet and a surprisingly good signal for my mobile when I phoned to update my publisher.
‘Hi Chris. Everything OK?’
‘Brilliant. I can’t believe this air. I walked for miles today. The problem is I’m eating like a horse, everything tastes so much better.’
‘What about the book?’
‘As usual you were right; I needed to escape to get my Mojo back. But you might have to consider revising the marketing. I know I made my name through romantic novels but this is different. Believe me; it’s going to be a blockbuster.
You’ll have the first draft in a week or two but it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever written. Now leave me in peace, the words are calling me. Catch up when you’ve read it. Bye for now, and thanks. This was exactly what I needed.’
I had been in storms before, but nothing like the one that hit that night. The power went off, the thunder showed its anger, and the lightening displayed its contempt for electricity by illuminating the landscape to the village and beyond.
Waking from a restless sleep the following morning I braved the rain to investigate the adjoining cottage. Maybe I just needed the comfort of human contact. The door was opened by a guy in a checked shirt, bibbed baggy overalls and a high, odd shaped peaked cap. He seemed friendly enough but his accent was so broad I could only understand one word in four.
I gathered that the cottage had once been owned by a novelist who wrote ghost stories, and the workman didn’t seem at all surprised when I explained the reason for my being there.
‘Och Aye. Alice always did love her literary folk. Just don’t take her way out lassie. We’ll be gone soon and it can get lonely up on these moors.’
The rain had stopped when I went back to my temporary home, but I headed straight for my computer with the words demanding to be set down. Although there was still no internet connection, power had been restored and my hands flew over the keyboard.
It was the thud and striking of the clock that made me realise I had been sitting at the computer for fifteen hours without a break. That day set the tone for the following weeks. The voice in my ear demanded I carry on until my eyes were blurred and my fingers bleeding but she would not let me rest.
Occasionally I rebelled and shouted at the empty air ‘I write romance. This is not my story.’
As I typed the final words ‘The End’ I heard Alice’s voice for the last time.
‘You have done well as my ghost writer. Finally my story is told. Now we can rest.’
The author Christine Fairfax was well known as a successful romantic novelist.
Her final work ‘The author’s tale,’ was written under the pen name of Alice McSheeley. Despite being a change of genre it remains the year’s number one best seller.
The launch date for the publication of her book on the 31st October 2015 coincided with her untimely death, alone in a remote cottage. In accordance with instructions found near her completed manuscript, royalties from the sale of her books were used for the development of an annual writer’s competition ‘The McSheely opportunity.’
The prize is slightly unusual in that it includes a compulsory month’s stay in a Scottish cottage owned by her estate. The solitary confinement is to allow fledgling authors the opportunity to finalise their own book without the distraction of outside influences.
The 2016 winner told us ‘I’ve already packed and can’t wait to spend a month in the cottage. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have the solitude to finish my own novel which I know will be a best-seller. I’m eternally grateful to the late Christine Fairfax for the chance to follow in her footsteps.’
© Voinks September 2016