“a couple, at the seaside and there’s a witch”
But as they begin their weekend, a JCB driver accidentally damages a centuries-old memorial at the beach. He hopes no one will notice, but something has… a presence that was buried beneath the memorial, sealed in a stone tomb. Now that presence wants its revenge on the people of Heyton.
"A powerful and convincing piece of horror fiction.”
- Gary McMahon, author of the Concrete Grove trilogy.
“Mark West is a talent to watch.”
- Peter Tennant, Black Static
“Mark West’s writing has a heart and soul that many writers would kill for.”
- Jim McLeod, Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Mark West’s stories have a well-crafted, slowly increasing tension and dread, sometimes with a hint of creepy paranoia.”
- Gene O’Neill, Bram Stoker Award winning author of The Burden of Indigo
"Conjure flaunts some genuinely spooky moments [and] the supernatural element works so well because the author merges it with fears we understand, such as abduction and infanticide."
- Matthew Fryer, The Hellforge
"Mark West has created a marvelously enjoyable short novel which captures some of that faded glory of the seaside resort. It’s a strangely British tale and reminded me of something that may have been produced in the seventies by Hammer or part of Tales of the Unexpected but very much updated with modern quotas of brutality and gore."
- Colin Leslie, Highlander's Book Reviews
My short novel “Conjure” has just been re-published, in print and digital editions, by those good people at Greyhart Press and I thought it might be an idea to write this, an article about how the book came together.
Written under the working title “The Mystery Of The Witch’s Curse” (in honour of The Three Investigators), “Conjure” was started on December 20th 2003 with the fourth and final draft being completed on April 11th 2005. The first draft was 82,773 words long, the final published version was 54,318 words long.
It started with an email conversation I had with John B. Ford, whose Rainfall Books was just about to publish my debut collection “Strange Tales”. In one missive, John wrote “If you have anything around 30,000 -- 40,000 (or if in future you write anything around that word count) I'll be eager to see it.” To this day, I don’t know if he was serious or not but I took it as a sign and started to think about a story, having never written a novella before. No big deal, thought this fool. I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out what would have enough sweep to justify the length and what I could use as the driving force of the book, whilst two factors (a family event and the fact that the novel I’d just written was very gory) led me to aim for something quieter and more supernatural.
(original interior illustration)
For the location, since I’d used my main fictional town of Gaffney in the novel, I utilised another of my creations, the east coast resort of Heyton, that featured in my short story “Empty Souls, Drowning” (which appeared in the collection). I love the British seaside and Heyton is essentially Great Yarmouth, a place I knew well - plus it had a funfair and a cinema called The Empire that I could use as key locations.
So what would be the supernatural menace? I’d written plenty of ghost stories, I was then in the middle of co-writing a massive vampire novel (before they got all sparkly), but I’d never written about a witch before. Not knowing much about them, I did some research and realised - with a wonderful sense of pieces falling into place - that the folklore around Norfolk is ripe with such tales and that county would be where Heyton existed.
In the summer of 2003, Alison and I went to Yarmouth with my sister-in-law Laura (‘Flo’s Diner’, in the book, comes from my nickname for her) and a child had disappeared a few days before. Whilst I didn’t want to go into that in any great detail, I thought it could be used as an element, that people’s worry and stress is feeding a negative energy into the town, perking up some of the town ghosts.
At the same time, I read an article about Albert of Monaco, which mentioned a curse put on the principality by someone who was raped. What if, my over-active imagination cried, my witch put a curse on Heyton - all this time, she’s been waiting for the opportunity to come back and wreak havoc on the township that killed her? A priest condemns her body to the ground, her tomb is sealed and it’s not disturbed for several centuries, until that pesky coastal defence system is constructed.
At the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, London, I told John my ideas at the ‘official launch’ of “Strange Tales”, selling him the concept based on the Monica Bellucci picture (mocked up into a cover) and the synopsis “a couple, at the seaside and there’s a witch”. He liked it so I kept moving and whilst we were Christmas shopping, a week or so later, it suddenly occurred to me that Beth was pregnant - that linked her to the witch (by this time I had her name - Isabel Mundy), who was pregnant by the farmer and what if she told him, just before his wife gave birth to their still-born child?
(original interior illustration)
I decided I had enough at this stage, made a set of bullet points for the plot and a week later started writing. 169 days later (I’m an expert at procrastination plus I was doing three nights a week studying at college for my professional exams), the first draft was completed. I wrote the second through July 2004, copies of which I gave to my pre-reading band and John and he wrote to me in late September, saying that he’d love to publish it - and also agreeing to me creating the cover art and interior illustrations.
I wrote two further drafts and finished the copy-edit and artwork glitches two days before my son was born, in late May 2005. Since my sister Tracy passed away before I started writing it, I asked my parents if they would mind my dedicating the book to her and they were happy for me to do that. My Dad built me a miniature of the memorial (see post here) for the artwork and Gary McMahon gave me a brilliant cover blurb.
As it was, it took another four years before the book was published, due to personal circumstances at Rainfall Books. That edition sold well and the book got some nice reviews, which I was really pleased about.
In 2011, I was approached by Generation-Next with a view to them publishing an ebook version. I agreed, it appeared, it was badly formatted and didn’t include the bonus short story my revised cover art said it would and I retracted it from them (several of my stable-mates withdrew their books too).
In 2012, my friend Tim C. Taylor (who runs Greyhart Press and is a colleague from the Northampton SF Writers Group) asked if he could publish it, having read the ebook. I agreed - I like Tim and Greyhart books are wonderfully designed and produced - and designed a new cover for it (which, I happen to think, is the best one it’s had). I pondered, for a while, over revising the text (it was completed before digital cameras were widespread) but decided, in the end, that those little touches (which, essentially, age it) were quite nice.