Today we welcome Samantha Priestley to talk about her fifth novel, "A Bad Winter". She'll tell us a bit about it, and has awesomely given us a nice, juicy excerpt (which most definitely made ME want to buy the book!) So, with no further ado, here is Samantha! (Bow, flourish, dramatically exit stage left...)
A Bad Winter is my fifth book and my first ghost story, and it all started with a snippet of a local story from the Peak District, Derbyshire, England. When I read about the murder of a young woman in 1760 in Hill Head House in Bradwell, which is no longer standing, and the strange events that followed, the idea for the book began. The book runs between 1760 and modern day, telling the story of what happened to Sarah Vernon and the people of the village, and what happens to Lorraine when the events of 1760 meet with her own life today. It’s about love and what it drives us to do, the power of belief, and of course, ghosts!
Here’s the opening of the book, hope you like it, leave a comment or ask a question below and I’ll get back to you x
Sometime in the 1760s this happened in Derbyshire
The snow had fallen the day before and tonight, a slow wind curling in the valley, all about was frozen. Sarah approached the house, pulling at her skirts as a cold branch snagged her from behind. The branch held on for the briefest moment, brittle claws tugging, but lost its fight as Sarah pulled herself free. Only the light from a shaded moon helped her forward.
Her feet slid on humps of frozen snow. She could feel the places his feet had walked earlier in the day, the warmth from the roots of his body melting curves in the frozen ground, and hers, making ice bump like the clods of earth in the top field. Sarah tried to figure the path in front of her, but her feet lost their way a couple of times and the soles of her shoes failed and slipped on the blackness of the ice.
She saw the front door of the house open, yellow light behind his bulky form as he stepped out. She heard him speak to the dog and a whistle fly from his lips as the dog jumped and ran in the cold night.
Sarah stopped dead and waited, her arms slightly apart from her body to steady herself. The door closed and Joseph walked quickly away from the house.
It was the dog who found her first. Bess’s warm nose snorting breath forward in the dark, her brown eyes shining as she caught the scent of Sarah waiting down by the bush. The dog leapt at the girl, her hind legs skitting on the frozen ground, her front paws up and muddying Sarah’s clothes. Sarah put her fingers to the place behind Bess’s ears and rubbed them like lumps of butter in flour.
“Bess,” she whispered. “My girl, yer know me, alright, don’t yer?”
Joseph was only three strides behind the dog and he came upon them like he was the deceived and they were the lovers.
“Bess!” he said, and he yanked the dog away from Sarah. Then he stood himself tall and looked down on the girl. “Sarah,” he said. “Tis a cold night.”
“Aye, that it is,” she replied, a smile beginning, “But I’m the one to warm yer on this cold night, Joseph.”
She saw something enter his eyes then, like she often did. Sarah encouraged herself to mistake it for emotion, a shift under his skin, a heat in his body, which he could never turn away from. But it was more animal than anything Sarah had ever seen in Bess’s eyes.
Joseph turned Sarah away from him, the top of her head resting beneath his breastbone, and urged her into the wooded area behind his house. It meant them turning back towards the solid stone house, smoke like a wisp of hair from the chimney, the light from the fire inside golden on the windows. Then away to the right they moved, away to the trees. Sarah giggled. Joseph’s arm fitted around her waist, his other hand up under her skirts. He had her by a tree, neither the house below them nor the path above them visible from where they stood. Her skirts high around her waist, Joseph’s breath hot by her face. A quick fumbling with his clothes and she felt herself lifted a little more.
Bess began to bark, frosted leaves brittle beneath her set paws. Bits of bark from the tree fell to the ground around Sarah’s back.
When she felt Joseph’s body relax against her and his shoulders slump, Sarah opened her eyes. Through the pattern of the trees she could see, up on the top of the hill, the shape of cattle slow in the cold evening, black against the winter sky. They hardly moved at all, their bulky forms meandering like streams. She lifted her head slightly and above she saw the moon, shimmering beneath the clouds like its own reflection on water. The cattle shifted in the corner of her eye, the moon bright on her face, and she thought she saw a different form flit behind the animals up on the hill. But it was gone, if it was there at all. Joseph removed his body and Sarah fell to a standing position by the tree, her clothes ruffling against her legs as they dropped back into place.
Joseph stood back, fastening his clothes again. He bent, his face taut, and he grabbed at a lump of frozen snow on the ground, holding it in his fist, so cold it burned. He threw it with such force it made Sarah flinch, though it wasn’t aimed in her direction. She could feel all his frustration and aggression exiting his body with that one angry action. He threw it at a space between the trees to his right and watched for just a second as it scattered and hit the ground in lumps. Then he looked at her. “There’s trouble.” he said. “Standing right there and looking like Sarah Vernon. There’s trouble alright.”
“I’ll be no trouble to you Joseph.” she said.
“This shunt go on.” he said. “We ‘ave the devil in us when we do this.”
“And yet it does go on.” she said.
He looked to the side, away from her face, and watched the dog sniffing
amongst the icy leaves. He moved suddenly, like he always did, without a moment for Sarah to complain. “’Ere Bess!” he said, and he walked back down towards the house.
Last month I went to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a dear friend of mine, and had the most amazing time. There’s so much to tell, so many amazing things happened, so many adventures and misadventures! There was the chocolate factory in Grenada, the monkeys on islands in Lake Nicaragua, the stalker-ish bellboy (that’s a tale for another day…actually, I’m pretty sure there’s a novel coming out of that one!) But the beginning of the story is probably the funniest part, so that’s what I’ll tell here.
Firstly, a month before we were due to go, my horse stepped on my foot and broke it. it was somewhat healed, but I still had the dreaded boot, Ace bandages, and a cane. Not the ideal situation for a trip that was going to involve a great deal of walking and hiking and yoga on the beach.
The good thing about lurching around an airport with a broken foot is that you get to pre-board (on Southwest Airlines that means you get the best seat). I got to the airport early, sailed through the lines, and plop myself down into the very front seat of the plane. The only problem is that I don’t see my friend anywhere.
So, here I am, with a broken foot, sitting on the plane, which is about to take off…and I’m by myself (well, excepting for all of the other people who are also on the plane, of course. But they are all going to Costa Rica with each other, not with me, which is an important distinction).
This was not the plan; not at all. I was not supposed to go to Costa Rica by myself. I was supposed to go with my friend, my travel buddy, my adventuresome kindred spirit who doesn’t care where in the world I suggest we go…she just says, “ok, when are we leaving?” She is awesome.
And she has missed the plane. The next plane isn’t for another two days. Which means that I am going to Costa Rica…alone.
Now, I am resourceful. Really, I’m pretty ballsy, if you ask me. I’ve traveled alone before (on purpose though, usually…it’s a different sort of trip when you’re by yourself versus with someone else). I tend to view the world as a place full of friends I haven’t met yet. So the plane pushes off, and we start to taxi towards the runway, and I’m a little nervous but mostly I’m just excited. I’ve got this. I can roll with it.
We land. I chose a cab at the airport that looks the least likely to contain a molestering cabbie, and I’m off on the hour-and-a-half drive to the hotel. This is where things start to break down. He insists, “No anglais! Solo espagnol!” Now, I’ve been learning Dutch (my fiancé is Dutch and I want to be able to speak Dutch with his family and it seems that all the new Dutch words have pushed whatever Spanish words I used to know right out of my head. The Dutch and the Spanish and the English got all jumbled up, and I ended up speaking a very bizarre combination of the three. Even I didn’t understand myself. Dommage. Which is French for “too bad”.)
Weirdly, the words I do remember all seem to have something to do with farm animals, so we spent the next 90 minutes marveling over the cows and horses and chickens that we saw. Scintillating stuff.
Eventually we get to the hotel, where I meet the truly intrusively “friendly” bellhop (really, there WILL BE a book involving this pester-some kid). Once I’m settled I also try to reschedule the excursion to the rainforest we had planned for the next day. No luck. It’s too late to cancel. Either go alone or lose the money.
Anyone who knows me will know my answer to that: Ima go to the rainforest.
And this is where everything started to bite me. Literally. Like, for real.
First there was a dog in a little town where we stopped for a snack. I pet the dog, the dog jumped up, and we had a nice moment. Then he bit me. (It wasn’t a nasty bite, it was a playful sort of thing, but still.)
Then we get to the rainforest itself, and start hiking (or, in my case, hobbling with my foot all wrapped up and two walking sticks to help me get along). I see a trail of very large red ants, doing something that seems, to them, Very Important. I get excited. I step right up to the trail and bend over to observe them more closely.
“These are fire ants,” says the guide. “They are carnivores.”
“Oh,” I say. “And what are they doing now? Are they moving their nest?” Really, there are thousands of them, and they’re all running along in the same direction. They’ve even formed a little groove in the dirt where they’re passing, like the ant version of a one-way road.
Except it’s not a one-way road. It’s a two-way, which I’m about to find out.
“They’re hunting,” replies the guide. “They’re bringing food back to the nest.”
“So they must come back, then?” I ask. “Ow.” Feeling a pinch, I brush at my toe, which is exposed because of the ace bandages on the broken foot.
“Yes, they go out and hunt things like spiders and caterpillars and bring it back…” says the guide.
“Ow,” I say. “Ow. Ow. Owwwww!”
You see, the whole time I’ve been standing right smack in the middle of the line of ants heading in the other direction. I’m blocking one whole lane of their road, really. And let me just say that fire ants don’t like it when you block their road. Indeed, they get rather nasty about it.
So now I’m hopping about, with fire ants all over my broken foot, biting me in a million places at once (those little suckers have some sharp whatever-they-use-to-bite-people-with!). The ants are in my bandages, and they’re mad about that, too, but I can’t get them out of there so it’s not really my fault.
What was my fault, though, was that I stood right on top of their little lane, which was terribly rude of me, so I’m trying to brush the little buggers off my foot, yelping all the while, and apologizing to the ants who are furiously trying to rebuild the road I so carelessly trampled.
“Lo siento, little ants,” I say. “Ow.” The guide is nearly falling over, he’s laughing so hard.
Luckily for me, that was the last day that anything (other than a few giant mosquitos, that is!) bit me in Costa Rica. It was enough biting for one vacation, I think. And it is enough for one gruelingly long blog post.
Next post: Nicaragua and the Miraculous Foot Scrub!
Writer of ghosts and devils and all things of mythological genesis. And sometimes, those things have a sense of humor...