When Alice Farrell is drawn to a Grantchester churchyard and reads a strange inscription on Rosemary Virginia Ashley’s gravestone, she feels oddly disturbed.
And when her former boyfriend Joe returns to Cambridge with his new girlfriend Ginny, Alice is repelled by the ethereal, lavender-eyed beauty – and certain of her evil.
Then Alice finds an old diary in Ginny’s room and reads the story of Daniel Holmes, who lived in Cambridge forty years earlier, and fell under the fatal spell of Rosemary Ashley. As the two stories intertwine, Alice’s suspicions about Ginny increase – until past meets present in a terrifying climax…
This was my first novel, and as such I have the same vague affection for it that I have for my very first (and most unsuitable) boyfriend, but I don’t necessarily expect other people to share my feelings. In fact, I haven’t dared look at a copy for about ten years, although it is still in print. However, people persist in asking me about it, and rather than letting them read it unprepared, I really feel that I ought to offer some kind of explanation.
First of all, a confession: it’s a vampire novel. Second, a hopeful guess: it’s probably not as bad as my mother thinks it is. Thirdly, be warned; I did say “probably”.
To explain further; I was brought up in a house filled with books. We had books long before we even had furniture, which was long before we had our first television. I read omnivorously, in French and English, from the moment I could turn the pages – with only two exceptions. I still don’t know why my mother mistrusted these genres so much, but anything approaching horror or sci-fi was completely banned from the house. Even classic writers like Lovecraft or Wilkie Collins or Edgar Allan Poe – if they failed the “genre test” they would be reassigned to the top of the bookcase, far out of reach. Obviously I saw this as a challenge. Who wouldn’t? As soon as I could, I read as much horror and sci-fi as possible, and it was inevitable that my first novel should be That Terrible Book, a kind of pastiche of all the writers I had ever been forbidden to read rolled into a big spiky ball.
However, the term “horror” is a very unfair and misleading one. There are some wonderful authors who have been marginalized and overlooked because of their chosen subject matter – look at Christopher Fowler and Ray Bradbury and Christopher Priest – but who write prose as literary and evocative as any mainstream author. I’m not pretending I was among these, but I wanted to write a modern Gothic novel which would be literary enough to be classed as mainstream (and would scare the socks off my mother). The moral of that story is; if you’re going to be a failure, be a heroic failure.
I think the basic problem was that no-one really knew what the book was supposed to be. Readers who would have enjoyed it never bought it because they would never have admitted to reading that kind of fiction. Horror enthusiasts must have found it rather strange, slow going. I got the idea from an inscription on a gravestone in Grantchester churchyard, where I often used to cycle when I was studying at Cambridge. The book is written in a deliberately baroque style, over two time-sequences; it’s extremely self-indulgent (if I were an editor I would have cut at least 200 pages); it’s sexy, violent, messy and confusing, and although I had great fun writing it, I do wonder what (if anything) the readers saw in it at the time.
Having said that, writing The Evil Seed taught me some important things. First, how to type; it taught me a lot about the process of getting published (including how not to get your hopes up), how to be ruthless with my own material, and the experience of writing gave me a better idea of how to structure a story. More importantly it paved the way for my second book, Sleep, Pale Sister, which although now out of print, was far better in many ways, and doesn’t embarrass me half as much. I didn’t get any money for either of them, of course ( I worked out that if I added together all the hours I had spent, plus editing and proof-reading, it averaged out at about two pence an hour), but nothing beats the feeling of seeing your first book in print (except perhaps watching the premiere of your first movie).
- Review by Emma Thorne
From This is Nottingham