Setting is such a vital component of any horror story, to the extent that the place in which the narrative is framed can become a central character.
Take, for example, the eponymous building in Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, which she describes so chillingly as being “not sane.” Susan Hill’s 1983 ghost story The Woman in Black finds protagonist Arthur Kipps shacked up and shivering in Eel Marsh House, a haunted pile that is accessible only via the ominously named Nine Lives Causeway. In these narratives, the setting becomes an omnipresent, living (or un-dead) force to be reckoned with. The Queen of all horror storytellers, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, describes a body of water in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as, “a vast sheet of fire…beautiful yet terrific.” This mirrors the spark of life that gives Victor’s creature his agency, but also foreshadows the elemental fury and revenge that takes hold of him as he searches for the meaning of his existence.
When the time came for me to write my fifth novel, the folk horror Hearthstone Cottage, I knew I had to go back to the rural west coast of Scotland featured in my third book The Jack in the Green. I used moodboards of photos from my travels, and watercolours of old crofters cottages to paint a picture of the building and its surrounding landscape in my mind. Story discussions with my friend, director of photography Alan Stewart, decided that the region should be the Kintail Mountains with its dramatic lochs and peaks.
But I also needed a stone circle in the story and drew on my many pilgrimages to the Rollright Stones and Avebury in England in order to create my fictional ‘Spindle Stones’. As any academic folk horror book will remind you, isolation is a key element to this sub genre, and I needed a title that would help to convey that feeling of being alone in the landscape. I sent a shortlist of cottage names to my editor, the wonderful Don D’Auria, and he picked my favourite — Hearthstone Cottage.
Fast forward to summer of this year when i took a well earned break after editing the book. The road led me to the Wales/Shropshire border, where I’ve traveled many times.
There’s a white-knuckle inducing road, with a lovely old cottage on the corner. So every time I’ve driven past it, I’ve felt that jolt of fear from the road, along with the aesthetic beauty of the cottage. This time around there was a tractor in the road, causing all the traffic to slow down.
And for the very first time, I saw the name of the cottage I’ve driven past so many times over the years…
“2 Hearths Cottage!”
Beauty and terror rolled into one place. I wonder if the name had subliminally become etched into my subconscious, until it was ready to emerge in the waking nightmares of my new novel.
So, when you stay the night at Hearthstone Cottage, be warned — it really does have a history of terror.
“Lee creates an atmosphere of unease and foreboding that culminates in explosive violence and terror. Rife with frightening imagery, ghosts, and visceral horror, this tale will please the most ardent of horror fans.” – Booklist
Mike Carter and his girlfriend Helen, along with their friends Alex and Kay, travel to a remote loch side cottage for a post-graduation holiday. But their celebrations are short-lived when they hit and kill a stag on the road. Alex s sister Meggie awaits them in the cottage, adding to the tension when her dog, Oscar, goes missing. Mike becomes haunted by a disturbing presence in the cottage, and is hunted by threatening figures in the highland fog. Reeling from a shock revelation, Mike begins to lose his grip on his sanity. As the dark secrets of the past conspire to destroy the bonds of friendship, Mike must uncover the terrifying truth dwelling within the walls of Hearthstone Cottage.
Hearthstone Cottage is out now from Flame Tree Press:
Amazon ** Flame Tree Publishing ** and all good stockists of haunted cottage novels
Frazer Lee is a novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker. His screenplay credits include the acclaimed horror/thriller feature Panic Button, and multi-award winning short films On Edge, Red Lines, Simone, and The Stay. Frazer’s screenwriting and story consultant engagements have included commissions for Movie Mogul, The Asylum, Mediente, eMotion, and Vanquish Alliance Entertainment.
His film and television directing credits include the multi award-winning shorts On Edge and Red Lines, and the promo campaign for the Discovery Channel series True Horror With Anthony Head. He was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Gothic Filmmaker of the Year Award for his film The Stay. Frazer was named one of the Top 12 UK directors in MySpace.com s Movie Mash-up contest by a panel including representatives from 20th Century Fox, Vertigo Films, and Film Four.
Frazer’s novel The Lamplighters was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. His other published works include the Amazon number 1 horror/thriller Panic Button: The Official Movie Novelisation, novels The Jack in the Green, and The Skintaker, and the Daniel Gates Adventures series of novellas.
Frazer is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Brunel University London and is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. His guest speaking engagements have included The London Screenwriters Festival and The Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass. Frazer Lee lives with his family in Buckinghamshire, England just across the cemetery from the actual Hammer House of Horror.
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