A new letter to my web site visitors:
My fifteenth novel
I’m delighted to announce that my fifteenth novel, Grief Cottage, will be published in June 2017, to coincide with my eightieth birthday. Bloomsbury’s Katya Mezhibovskaya created the cover design, a detail of John Constable storm clouds over a beach. Take a close look: it perfectly captures the novel’s mood and story. The detail is from “Weymouth Sands,” if you want to see the whole painting,
My working desk
My first novel about a boy
Grief Cottage is my first novel written entirely from the male point of view. After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina with his great-aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after moving to the island thirty years before, “because it matched the ruin of my own life.” It was the cottage that inspired Aunt Charlotte to take up painting.
The islanders call it “Grief Cottage” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage to come ever closer as the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny, Marcus courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly of follows some sinister agenda.
Winter from the terrace
Grief and Ghosts
Grief Cottage is meant to be an investigation of grief, remorse, and the kind of memories that haunt us (not only Marcus, but his great-aunt Charlotte) but it also qualifies as a ghost story.
For many years now, starting with the story “Dream Children,” (1976) and most recently in my novel Flora (2013), I have been welcoming ghosts into my fiction. But in Grief Cottage I wanted to explore fuller possibilities and nuances of an individual’s relationship with his ghost.
In the ghost stories I love best (such as Chekhov’s The Black Monk, A.M. Burrage’s “Playmates,” Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and “The Jolly Corner”) there is a hair-thin junction between the ordinary and the uncanny, between “sanity” as we presently understand it and “the other side.” Another aspect of these masterful tales is that the arrival of the ghost coincides with a mental crisis in the protagonist’s life. Marcus, with his enquiring mind and his difficult past, is bound to be receptive to the spirit in the abandoned cottage. And perhaps “the ghost-boy,” as Marcus refers to him, is equally drawn to Marcus.
Sunrise at Isle of Palms
At Home in Woodstock
I still miss Robert sixteen years after his death. I used to tell him, “I can’t imagine living in this house without you,” but now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Seven months after his death, I wrote a novella, Evenings at Five, (published 2003), hoping to capture “Christina’s ” solo life with the absent “Rudy,” while the details were still fresh.
Now it’s 2017 and I’m still living in this mountain house filled with light and memories and the constant surprises of life going on outside the kitchen window (deer, red foxes, the black bears in summer, the wretched woodchucks who plunder my porch plants at night); even when I’m in a bad mood, I find myself laughing when the coyotes begin warming up for their evening concert below my bedroom window. My Siamese cats, Waldo and Zeb, are eleven now, but they are still feisty and keep me alert—and sane—with their silent but powerful personalities. I continue to appreciate your letters, many on arresting stationary, some originally hand-drawn. The bronze leopard letter opener, a gift from Robert, still slashes them open. But please don’t hesitate to communicate by e-mail.
Summer on the terrace
My first blog—I welcome your help
Since John Burke has created this new web site for me — my previous one was set up in 1999) I’ve decided to try my hand with blogging. There are things I want to tell, things that make me furious, things that might surprise or amuse you. I’ll begin with a once a month blog and see how it goes.
Zeb and Waldo sparring
Your suggestions are encouraged. Please, how can I serve you? What interests you? What do you wish you knew?