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A gothic novel in the romantic suspense tradition of Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.
When ghost-writer Jenny Ryan is summoned to the Scottish Highlands by Sholto MacNab - retired adventurer and Laird of Cauldstane Castle - she's prepared for travellers' tales, but not the MacNabs' violent and tragic history.
Lust, betrayal and murder have blighted family fortunes for generations, together with an ancient curse. As the MacNabs confide their sins and their secrets, Jenny learns why Cauldstane's uncertain future divides father and sons.
But someone resents Jenny's presence. Someone thinks she's getting too close to Alec MacNab - swordsmith, widower and heir to Cauldstane. Someone will stop at nothing until Jenny has been driven away. Or driven mad.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Especially a dead woman.
CAULDSTANE: a book born of life-threatening illness
CAULDSTANE is an odd book. It's a rattling yarn, but it's also my artistic response to my experience of breast cancer in 2012.
I went from diagnosis to mastectomy in less than three weeks. I had a very bad time with chemotherapy which has left me semi-disabled. For ten years now I've suffered from peripheral neuropathy (pain in my feet and hands caused by damaged nerves) and I can't walk or stand for very long. It's rare for this kind of damage to be permanent, but it looks as if, in my case, it is.
I didn't find effective pain relief for the PN, so unlike most people who are treated for cancer and survive, I never "got my life back". I haven't really moved on. I've found it difficult to put the nightmare experience behind me, particularly the fear of cancer returning.
Cancer was the biggest thing in my life for almost a year, then fear - of more chemo, worse disability and death - became the biggest thing in my life. Until I started writing CAULDSTANE. Working on a new novel gave me a sense of my old self and the nature of the story gave me a channel for examining and expressing my fears.
I went public about my cancer on my Facebook author page and many people suggested I should write about my experience. But my attitude was, it was bad enough living it - why would I want to write about it? Nevertheless my experience was so physically and emotionally traumatic, I felt I had to find a way to assimilate it and conquer it. So I decided to write an allegorical novel about my experience, but not describing it. I thought that would be helpful for me, yet still entertaining for readers. But you don't need to know any of this to enjoy CAULDSTANE, which is a cross between a supernatural thriller and a modern fairy tale.
Cauldstane is a decaying 16th century castle in the Highlands where the MacNab family live. It's a money pit. It's been the home of the asset-rich, cash-poor MacNabs for generations, but in the 21st century they're finding it hard to hold on. The family is divided as to whether they should sell up or try to use the castle and estate as the basis of a business. Cauldstane is blessed with quirky architecture, red kites and a riverside location, but there's also an ancient MacNab curse and a malevolent ghost who poisons lives and relationships and wants to drive the family out.
But the real damage is caused by fear - fear of what might happen - and, as one of the characters says, "If you live in fear, you fear to live". I've taken that as my tagline for promoting the novel. Fear is a kind of wasting disease that affects each of the MacNabs in different ways.
(No prizes for guessing that my ghost is how I personified cancer.)
[SPOILER ALERT - Skip the next few lines if you like surprises!]
I make no apologies for the resoundingly happy end of CAULDSTANE. When you've been treated for breast cancer, there is no happy end, just a fervent hope that it will never recur. Cancer survivors put on a positive face for their families, friends and the media, but we live with fear as our constant companion. So it was important to me that good should triumph over evil in CAULDSTANE, that fear should be vanquished, that the characters should go forward and live life to the full - just in case I don't.
Cancer didn't change my agnostic views, but when I was researching ghosts and the paranormal, I discovered that the Church of England keeps very quiet about what's known as "deliverance ministry" - a form of assistance offered to people (they don't have to be believers) who think they're troubled by anything from a harmless but irritating poltergeist to the demonically possessed. I was very interested to read how simple and transformative such ministry is. (It was used at the so-called "lost" garden of Heligan). Deliverance ministry uses prayer, blessing, holy water and particularly light to bring peace to a troubled person or household.
I have no idea how or why it works, but apparently it does. Its healing effects have been discerned without people knowing the ministry took place (as was the case at Heligan), so we aren't talking about the simple power of suggestion.
One of the minor characters in CAULDSTANE is an Anglican priest who used to be a physicist. You might think this an odd combination, something like a vegetarian butcher, but many scientists have had their religious faith strengthened by their science and conversely, some have come to believe as a consequence of their scientific studies. Some people believe there's a connection between quantum physics and paranormal activity and that the "afterlife" might exist in the quantum sphere. So it seemed appropriate to bring in a scientist-theologian to "deliver Cauldstane from evil".
When I was young, I was a devout Anglican. Later, in my thirties, I was a practising Buddhist for some years. I'm an agnostic now, but I have an open mind and a keen interest in science, religion and the paranormal. (I dealt with some religious and moral issues in my controversial second novel, A LIFETIME BURNING in which an Anglican minister gradually loses his faith, but finds himself.)
My cancer journey has been frightening and painful and it isn't over, but I've learned a lot about myself and I realise nothing - not even life-threatening cancer - is going to stop me telling stories.