On Monsters: being one, writing one…

witch, not quite a monster
Arriving at a Halloween party in the past…

I don’t need a Halloween costume this year. I already look like a monster. The medication I’m on to stop my body killing me (condition lamented here) has made my face swell up. Like a moon. It is a well documented side effect actually referred to as ‘moonface’. The same drug is also causing insomnia so I have massive eye bags that extend to what feels like halfway down my face. There’s quite a lot of bandage action across my body too, which adds an air of mummification fun to the whole ensemble.

I’m also pale. Pale like a ghost.

Ghost, a monster?

However, being a monster on the outside, in appearance, is nothing to being truly monstrous. While researching witch-hunting in preparation for writing THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, I wanted to find a real monster, a person so enthused for the brutal activity that they could become a focal point for that dark energy in the story. History did not give him up easily. There was no obvious individual in the court documents or confessions. But I hunted him down and finally cornered the rogue in the financial accounts of Aberdeen.

In September 1597 William Dunn, Dean of Guild, was awarded, £47 3s 4d (the equivalent of £6000 in today’s money) for taking ‘extraordinary pains in the burning of a great number of witches’. It was really unusual for someone to be given a large lump sum like this. With the exception of some witch prickers and those who sought to escheat their rich relatives, money was not commonly a motivating factor in the witch trials. William Dunn’s job was being in charge of the public money of the town, so he basically gave the cash to himself. I found you Sir, and I made you smell of rotten fish! If you read the historical notes section of the book, you’ll see that I’ve also cast him as the devil.

mummification fun
Bandage action!

So now I’m editing Fireflies and Chocolate and, 150 years later, there is brief mention of the Dean of Guild again. It does seem to be a role associated with making money from the suffering of others, at least historically in Aberdeen.

Moving on from monsters, there are a couple of nice bookish things to mention. The book blogger Rosie Amber is running a Review-A-Book Challenge. It’s open to those who have never written a review and experienced reviewers alike, and is a great chance to get some free books for writing short reviews. THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR is one of the books on offer!

CelebsForSmallBiz over on Twitter are organising a charity auction in aid of Crisis to help homeless people this Christmas. A signed copy of MERMAID is up for bidding there on the 14th and 15th of November.

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

There’s a review I forgot to mention earlier, being rather distracted by the task of becoming a monster, here from Undiscovered Scotland: “The Mermaid and the Bear is a delight from end to end. There is a superb level of description in the book, that transports the reader back to the sights, sounds and smells of 16th Century life in a Scottish castle.” See the whole review here.

And finally, a spooky wee quote for this spooky old week:

dungeon quote from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR

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78 thoughts on “On Monsters: being one, writing one…

  1. Fingers crossed that the health stuff goes well.
    Money played a large role in a lot of witchcraft trials. One book on the subject said English towns that didn’t want to hire a witchfinder usually didn’t have any trials.

  2. Hi Alisha. Sorry to hear of your health condition. If you believe that God heals, I hope you do, then I shall pray with and for you for His healing touch to come upon you. God bless.

  3. So sorry to hear of your ongoing physical problems, Ailish. But I enjoyed the interesting facts you uncovered during your monster search. Your commitment to finding and including the historical facts in your fiction is inspiringly exemplary. Although I don’t write fiction (at least I haven’t yet, but who knows?), I appreciate good historical research. Praying that you recover fully and speedily!

  4. The idea of a monster is fascinating to me because under the right circumstances many of us are capable of monstrous acts. As you said though, it’s rare to find someone who truly takes pleasure from such things (I imagine; although I suppose we could also be made to feel that what we’re doing is *good* and thus enjoy it).

    Sorry to hear about the autoimmune condition; I hope it’s one that at best completely clears up and at worst is easily manageable! I have a chronic disease myself and although it sounds not nearly as bad as what you’re going through, I understand how depressing the prospect of living with pain for the rest of ones life is.

    • I suppose I am living in hope that it won’t be for the rest of my life. Some people do go into permanent remission. I hope your condition improves too.

  5. Pale moon face in a month with a blue moon on Halloween . . . there’s something eerie about your situation. I certainly hope your treatment makes things easier in the long run. Speaking of eerie, I love your character’s quote!

  6. Reminds me of history’s examples and a quote I ran across recently….””Sometimes, in the effort to amass wealth, there is little concern for where it comes from, whether it was produced legitimately or whether others were exploited in the process,” — Pope Francis – recently… but ages old observation – 🙂

  7. Reading you weren’t dressing up this year I got upset for you, thinking you were just too busy to enjoy the holidays but the reason was worse, I’m sorry to hear about your condition and I hope it gets better for you!
    This post was great, the witchtrails and monsters you talk about are really interesting!!!

  8. Hi Ailish,
    I really enjoyed your post. Sorry to hear about your health issues and hope your feeling better soon. I love the sound of your book and intend to buy it once I have read a couple I am busy with.
    Take care
    Sue

  9. Thinking of you, lovely. I knew a bit of this but…I’m so sorry to hear this. Sending love and light your way. Fabulous post with lots of great news. Cheers to that!

  10. Thanks for writing such painful truth, thanks for your wonderful writing, and also, thanks to Priscilla, for the maybe-blue moon alert, if, by any faint chance, the rain stops.
    Today, I must contact a uni friend, also on medication that’s changed her appearance, but helps her to live with a serious auto-immune problem.
    Only four when my bed was moved around a children’s hospital, for weeks, so no photos of the views, but most of all, I remember the scents of spring arriving, including balsam poplars in a park across the road.

    • It’s those glimpses of nature that are so important, I think, when stuck in an institutional setting. I remember enjoying the feel of the rain when passing between school buildings in my youth too.

  11. I am touched by your own personal story dealing with your difficult condition, and impressed with your imagination turning into literature. Wishing you well with both!

  12. Sorry to hear that your medication is giving you unpleasant side effects. I hope your condition improves soon.

    Yikes, witch hunts and hunters were never pleasant, but it’s sickening to think of someone collecting so much money for the suffering of others. A sound choice for a monster.

  13. I’m sorry to hear about your health problem I hope you recover soon, I mention your book(Mermaid and the Bear) to my wife and she duly purchased it! I’m certainly looking forward to reading it.

  14. I always enjoy your posts and your historical notes. So glad you keep on keeping on despite the health challenges. Autoimmune stuff can be really rough, as well as the side effects of the medicine to treat it. Here’s hoping for the best possible outcomes!
    As a writer, I’m sure you are mining the experience for the treasures it hides, and the empathy you discover for perceived “monsters”. (I still have residual facial paralysis from getting Bell’s Palsy 35 years ago. As a result of the contortions my face has gone through, I no longer assume that people with scowls are necessarily expressing their feelings. And I know what it is to miss being able to smile “normally”…) Hang in there.

    • Thank you so much. All these experiences shape us and give us more understanding of the world and the people in it. Learning not to assume anything about anyone and what they’re going through is a biggie. I hope you don’t have pain with your facial issues.

  15. I’m so sorry that you’re having to go through this with your body. I cannot imagine something so awful as your own body attaching you. I’ve been going through my own adventures with my health but it is nothing like what you’re going through. Do they know what causes this attack?

  16. Oh, Ailish! I am so sorry you are having such troubles. I do hope you feel better soon and the drugs work. I loved reading your ‘monster’ research and congratulations on the excellent review!

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