In a recent Q&A over at the Jo Fletcher Books blog, I was asked why I’d decided to call the omnibus of my first three horror novels THIN PLACES. I mention in my answer that, upon googling the title, I found that the expression is an old one, relating to places in which the veil between worlds is lifted, or closer to being lifted. The worlds being the worlds of the visible and invisible, or the earthly and the heavenly, or the physical and the spiritual. Despite not knowing this, this is almost exactly how I meant it the title of my omnibus; the thin places in question are the settings of the three novels – THE LEAPING, THE THING ON THE SHORE and THE RAVENGLASS EYE – all of which become the scenes of various reality breakdowns. Each of these books follows a character or group of characters through one or more particular manifestations of the aforementioned breakdown. This is how the books are connected; they’re not a trilogy in the strict sense of the word, because each makes sense on its own, and they don’t have to be read in order. But the concept of thin places – of one world breaking through into another at these certain locations – unites them. (There will be a fourth in the series, by the way – tentatively titled THE DEAD FOOL – and hopefully more).
The books are connected in another crucial way. They’re all set in West Cumbria, which – for those of you who don’t know – is the far north-western edge of England. Bound by the Irish Sea to the west, and by the country’s highest fells to the east. The Lake District National Park doesn’t quite cover West Cumbria; there’s some overlap, but the Cumbrian coast is more wild, more bleak, and bears more industrial scars than the verdant green valleys of the inland county side. There are drystone-wall-webbed fellsides, WWII-bunkered beaches with MoD weapons testing facilities, ancient Roman ruins, deep still lakes, closed down mines, dark and intoxicating forests, scree slopes, foundations of long-gone factories, tunnelled-out mountains, call-centres, perfect country pubs, and lots and lots of empty space. The Irish Sea is grey and cold and the mountains are grey and cold. It feels like a meeting place – or collision – between land and sea, past and future, real and unreal. I say that last because it’s easy to find yourself on your own, in a place – a lake shore, a ruin, the twisted skeleton of a submarine half-buried in the sand – where magic feels possible. Where any remnant of magic left in this world might be hiding itself, or might choose to reveal itself. Where you feel like you’re on the edge of something. There’s a quality to the light – as indicated by the title of Chris Kenworthy’s novel, THE QUALITY OF LIGHT, set in Barrow – that means that you sometimes feel as if you’re looking into another world.
In short, West Cumbria is full of thin places. THE LEAPING is about this in quite a straightforward sense – Wastwater, the deepest lake in the country, becomes a place that exists in two worlds at once, where the Lord of the Forest and his acolytes can hold their titular gathering. This is a book about identity, and what’s left as the layers of identity that people construct around themselves are gradually stripped away, and it’s about objectification. The two male narrators objectify their friend, Jennifer, viewing her as an adjunct to their own lives; they’re looking to fill an absence inside themselves. The book is about what creeps into these hollows – spiritual and internal, and physical and external. THE THING ON THE SHORE is about a particular place that is thinned by its function – a call-centre. I still believe that call-centres are blurry, brittle places, perceived weakly by the people who work there, whose senses are occupied entirely by portals to other places (computers and telephones), and perceived not at all by those dialling in. If to be is to be perceived, as per Bishop Berkeley (which is a theory that I drew on for the book, without fully subscribing to myself), then call-centres exist in a very hazy way indeed. (Of course, there are entities that try to take advantage of this soft reality). THE THING ON THE SHORE is also about objectification – the way that post-industrial, service economy capitalism drains people of their time, spirit, and energy. And it’s about post-humanism; the thing on the shore of the title is not the weird, Lovecraftian object that appears on the sand – it’s western humanity, beached on the present moment, stuck between an agricultural past and a technological future, not knowing what to do with our bodies. Finally, THE RAVENGLASS EYE is about an interdimensional rift – that old trope – accidentally-on-purpose opened by Edie, the protagonist, haunted by visions, happy with her life choices but driven to despair by those who would judge her for them. It’s about the history of the tiny patch of land ringed by a stone circle, and what the ownership of land might mean. It’s about how the cruel are rewarded in a society built on cruelty. It’s about a little village at the end of the world that becomes so thin it’s barely even there.
Thematically, these books have a lot in common. I think there are some stylistic similarities too. But the stories in each are very different. People have likened them to the work of Nigel Kneale, Ben Wheatley, David Lynch, and D.H. Lawrence – any fans of those, they’re for you. And if you don’t like those guys, my books are still for you. Anybody who’s trapped in a job they hate, they’re for you. Anybody who feels as if things are slipping out of control, they’re for you. Anybody who’s constantly reassuring themselves that every generation thinks the world is ending, they’re for you. Anybody who sees reality and reported reality diverging into two completely different directions, they’re for you. Anybody who likes horror, they’re for you. Anybody who likes realism or surrealism or hyperrealism, they’re for you too! Anybody who wants to escape, they’re for you. They’re basically for anybody and everybody. Human, quasi-human, sub-human, anti-human, or post-human…they’re for you. They’re pretty strange, I’m very proud of them, and I really hope that you’ll give them a go.