My new book is set in the area where I am lucky enough to live, on the wild northwest coast of Cumbria.
Walking along the dunes one day a couple of years ago, my husband and I came across this strange structure. The picture doesn’t really do it justice. It is a large structure made of flotsam and jetsam from the beach. I’d say it has been there many years, grass grows up through its spars. It is built in a horseshoe shape, with its opening on the landward side.
It inspired and intrigued me. Who built it and why? What was its purpose?
This edifice was the inspiration for my new book. I’m delighted to share an excerpt with you today. The book is a dual timeline novel with a literary twist.
Dee, my heroine, goes out walking on the dune at night.
Night had fully fallen, but the disc of the moon threw a pearly light over the scene, turning everything to shades of cloud and spectre, and as my eyes adjusted it did not seem I was walking in the night, but in an eerie, half-real world of dusk and dreams. The wind was benign, a soft caress of angel-wings, the noise of air amongst the grasses a sort of ghostly music.
I must have walked for about ten or fifteen minutes, keeping to a straight path that skirted the edge of the dune, but that gradually fell to the level of the beach where time and tide had eroded the sandy bluff that separated the two. A little way ahead, and about twenty or so yards into the grass and scrub of the dune, a dark outcrop of some kind caught my eye. It stood at about chest height, proud of the surrounding vegetation, much darker and more substantial than the silvered grass fronds and coal-black skeletons of gorse and wild rose. I altered my course so I could look at it more closely, leaving the beach and following a faint and much less frequented by-way, half-overgrown and difficult to follow.
What I found was a structure that defied comprehension at first. It baffled me. It was clearly man-made, but for what purpose I could not fathom. I groped my way around it, fighting through the tangle of marram and the clutch of some thorny bush, running my hands over its odd joints and protuberances, willing my eyes to differentiate solid material from shadow, fact from fiction. It measured about five feet high and ten or twelve feet in diameter and was roughly circular in shape, but with a narrow opening on the landward side that made it more into the shape of a C. From what I could gather in the uncertain gloaming of moonlight, it was made of flotsam and jetsam, mainly sun-bleached branches and skeletal sticks that I presumed had been scavenged from the beach, but also ragged skeins of netting, old oil drums, planks and pallets. These had been woven together in the way that a bird might construct a nest, forming substantial walls varying between eighteen inches and two feet in thickness. It was clear to me this was not a new construction. Grasses grew up through the spars, knitting them together, amalgamating the disparate parts into a whole that was solid and curious, a relic of the past. If it had not been made from wood, I would have likened it most closely to an ancient round house; it lacked only the thatched roof to make it complete.
I walked around it again, coming to the curious, narrow entrance on its leeward side. Within the curtilage of cleverly wattled bone-like sticks all was dim and dark. I couldn’t tell what—if anything—might be there. I hesitated to step inside, not just because, whatever this was, it belonged to someone, had been painstakingly constructed over years at no small expenditure of effort and ingenuity, but also for fear of what might lurk inside. Stupidly, in my hurry to come out, I had forgotten my torch, but I was not sure even if I had had it to hand, I would have been so brazenly intrusive as to have turned its beam on the interior of that odd little igloo.
I felt a shift in the wind and gave an involuntary shiver. Somehow, the half-light that had seemed so magical now felt more like half-dark, sinister and bleak. I looked up and found the moon veiled by cloud. More towering galleons of cloud bore down across the tent of the sky, masking the stars. When I looked back down it was to see, not two feet away, the dark silhouette of a figure.