There’s a pleasant village in rural Lancashire that you might find yourself in. It’s hard to say why, but there is a feeling of light and calm in this village, and you find yourself wanting to spend time there. This feeling only grows as you encounter some of the people who live there: they are friendly and kind, and you walk away from each of them thinking what a decent person that was. They each shine with goodness and a kind of purity that leaves you feeling humbled.
Walk down a back lane and through a kissing gate and then down the muddy path to the riverside, and you will see a very old woman from the village on the bank, plunging her hands into the water over and over.
You have happened to arrive on washing day, and the woman is washing out the sins of the village. You have met the villagers when they are as clean as the day they were born.
Do not drink the water. It is black and thick and bitter and tastes of murder and lust and betrayal and spite and revenge.
Notes from the Cartographer
Happy New Year to you all. I hope you all had as good a time over the midwinter nights of Christmas and New Year as is possible, given the state of things. The world has turned, and slowly the day creeps forward, and the night creeps back, but it is still winter, there’s a hard frost outside as I write, and the nights are still long and dark and still, and it’s a time for warmth and flames and reading stories of the strange and eerie while telling yourself that it’s just the wind that makes that sound, just the wind.
As mentioned in the last newsletter, I read The Dark Is Rising on each day that the story was set. A great wintry read, but you can’t beat that opening chapter for its sense of menace, stillness, and impending doom. I then read the remaining the books in the sequence: Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver On The Tree. I’m a sucker for anything set in craggy coastal villages (recommendations welcome please!), and although Greenwitch at times felt a little lighter, a step back to Over Sea, Under Stone, the section in which the Greenwitch possesses the town, and what it brings, was beautifully done and genuinely eerie.
The Grey King was maybe my favourite of the series, perhaps, with its shift to the Welsh mountains and its descriptions of a landscape soaked in ancient myth. The most melancholy and sad of all the books, I think. Silver On The Tree wrapped things up well, but was the weakest of the five (Maybe excluding Over Sea, as it’s different). While Cooper’s a great describer of landscape, the endless endless descriptions of the Lost City (which, tbh, came across a bit like a tacky and kitsch influencers’ McMansion) got in the way of the story. Still, a great sequence of books, and a vein of darkness and sadness (no pun intended) running through the books about what serving the Light means, and the human cost it brings.
So now, what next, what next…
In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to see more of, or less of, in future newsletters, just drop me a line by replying to this.
In the north Pennines, there is a small hill, just off to one side of the main path. A solitary ash stands on the top of it, and over the years no one has paid much attention to it.
A Viking chieftain lies buried under it, with his armour and his sword and the treasures that he plundered.
Do not spend time there, especially when the sun has set. You do not have to worry about the Viking, but you do have to worry about the thing which he robbed his treasure from, the thing which has hunted him over centuries and thousands of miles, and which is close now, very, very close.
this is the way, step inside
There’s a disused and locked-up building on a street corner in Sunderland, that used to have a hat shop on the ground floor.
The door to the back of the shop is locked, and most of the time, if you find yourself in the disused shop, which you shouldn’t, because it is disused and locked up and dangerous, that door will be locked, and even if you have a key to get in the shop, you will not have one on the bunch that fits this lock. You cannot pass through.
Almost all of the time.
Once a year though, if you try the handle, the door will open. When you step through, you find yourself in a short hallway, vaguely lit by light filtering down from the roof three stories above. In the middle, a chair. At the far end, a door that is open on the steps down into the darkness of the basement.
Please take a seat on the chair. He will come up the stairs from the basement and see you soon. Be patient, he may take some time to awake, because he gets very tired. He is eight thousand four hundred and thirty-two years old.
Do not go down the stairs yourself. For one thing, he does not like that. For another, they never reach bottom no matter how far you walk.
Maps Traced By Other Hands
Thanks very much to all of you who recommended your own recent reading pleasures that other Maps readers might enjoy. Check them out and I hope you find something that you like.
Fen by Daisy Johnston (short stories)
Lanny by Max Porter
Thursbitch by Alan Garner
(a massive yes of support from Maps here for these three. Thursbitch is one of the most haunting novels I’ve read, and I still feel unsettled and strange when I think about it, years on)
“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk
“Wolferland” by Martin Shaw (not fiction, but weird, eldritch, and ... well, just read it)
“Small Spaces” by Katherine Arden, and the two sequels, "Dead Voices" and "Dark Waters." (MG folk horror) I also love her Winternights Trilogy, which has fey beings like the Domovoi and a rusalka, although the scariest characters are all human.
If you have never read Manley Wade Wellman's Silver John series, about an Appalachian musician, I would highly recommend it (and I second this). Alex Bledsoe's Tufa novels have much the same feel, and if you would like a soundtrack whilst reading, the Appalachian folk/rock/pagan group Tuatha Dea has some songs based on the books. Also, anything by Charles de Lint is going to give a magical, otherworldly feel. Magical realism, some qualifying as weird, but all excellent.
“The Wood Wife “by Terri Windling
“Ghostland” Edward Parnell
(With much thanks to Jenn Dodson, Christy Johnson, Anna Gillespie, Sarah Peters)
The Ooser Speaks
(taken from the wonderful Readers Digest 'Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain')
Under where Thirlmere Reservoir now lies, dark and still, there is the shell of Armboth House, which had a reputation for being haunted. On All Hallows Eve, which was also the evening before her wedding, the daughter of the house was pushed into Thirlmere Lake and drowned.
Every year, on the anniversary of her death, it is said that you could hear bells ring, a ghostly dog would swim in the lake, and unseen hands would set out dishes for the wedding feast.
(Elsewhere, it is written that after the murder, Armboth House became a magnet which drew in an unnatural host every year on All Hallows Eve.
‘ …on a certain night all the fugitive spirits whose bodies were destroyed in unavenged crimes assembled at Armboth House – bodies without heads, the skulls of Culgarth with no bodies, a phantom army and many weird shapes, the windows were alight with corpse candles, chains clank in corridors and there are eternal shriekings.’
Armboth House and Thirlmere Lake were drowned by the construction of the reservoir. The only thing that remains of the House, up in the trees, is the old summerhouse of Armboth Hall. Perhaps a night spent there, on All Hallows Eve, would just be cold and drafty. Or perhaps…)
open all hours
Down the back alley of a street in Norwich, there’s a narrow pub with windows you can’t see through. It’s a welcome kind of place, and although their heads will turn when they first come in, the regulars are friendly and welcoming. but not on the last Thursday of any month. If you go in then, not only do heads turn when you walk in, but they keep turning, and turning, round and round and round and they all laugh and laugh and laugh, and then the doors close behind you and the regulars’ mouths open and open and open.
Secrets the Wind Whispers
BBC Radio is going big on strange and eerie audio drama at the moment. I’m partway through a really interesting series called Murmurs. It’s designed for podcast listening rather than radio, so much better through headlines, and the BBC set out to draw in talent from the wider podcast drama world as well as BBC-discovered writers.
The premise is that each episode is a separate story (three are linked) on the theme that there’s a crack in reality and something’s breaking through - but although each episode can stand alone, parts of the stories start bleeding into each other, and echoing each other.
Ambitious and interesting, and some great sound design.
I’m also enjoying the first drama from a new production company. The Petrol Station from Far Island Productions is narrated by Nina, who works the graveyard shift in a lonely petrol station in a remote village. Strange things begin to happen, and we begin to wonder if they’re all linked. I really like the lonely late-night feel of this, and while it’s not the same as either, I think it would appeal to people who’ve enjoyed The Magnus Archive and Alice Isn’t Dead.
how beautiful the world is
If you’re taking a stroll across a certain set of fields in Somerset as the sun dips below the horizon and everything is golden, you may see a hare, running across the field you’re in.
You’ll smile and think how beautiful the world is, and listen to the sound of the birds bickering as the light fades, the white of rabbits’ tails on grassy bank, the shush of the wind in the grass. Keep an eye out for a second hare though, racing through the grass around you.
If you see it, don’t stop to wonder if they are chasing one another, don’t stop to listen to the birds or to watch the gold of the dying sun slide down the hillside, run, run out of this field.
When a third hare joins the first two, they will race through the field, one after the other, and you will realise that they are running a circle around you, and they will run faster and faster, closer and closer, and you will feel dizzy, tired, and you will drop to your knees, and then lie down because the air is warm and the birds sing so sweet, and all you want to do is close your eyes.
You’ll never wake up, and never be found, but next year the grass will grow tall and strong and the trees will bear many berries and the birds will sing, so so loud.
Beyond This Point There May Be Dragons
You’ve been reading Maps of the Lost. Or have you? It’s hard to tell. Maybe this is all just a dream. Or a prophecy, or a forewarning. I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback is always welcome, as I’d really like to shape this newsletter to be what you’d like to read and hear. So, ideas, suggestions and comments welcome. You can just reply to this email if you like.
Photo of Caer Idris, the home of the Grey King, courtesy of Adrian Farwell.
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