Gerard is the great grandson of Viola Hatherley, a ghost writer from the 1870s. As a child, he found an aged manuscript in his mother’s drawer, but she swiped it away before he saw what it was. Now a grown man, tragedy has struck his family—tragedy that sets Gerard’s search for answers in motion. The mystery takes him to an abandoned house in rural London, where stories are quite literally written on the walls and dark corridors lead to mysterious rooms where a terrifying ghost story is about to come to life.
Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer is an atmospheric and haunting literary gothic novel filled with unsettling family secrets, intricately woven stories, and a mysterious penpal. As Gerard uncovers more about his twisted family, readers will be pulled into the depths of a sinister mystery.
Read on for an excerpt from John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer, and then download the book.
I was standing at the entrance to a tunnel about eight feet high, formed by hooped metal frames over which branches of some kind had been trained. Dim twilight filtered through an arched roof of dense greenery; a few spots of sunlight glowed on the flagged stone floor. At the far end, some thirty feet away, I could just make out two steps leading up to another door. Vines and creepers and climbing roses had grown up amongst the gnarled branches; the metal hoops were heavily corroded. But the inside of the tunnel had been recently pruned. The clipped ends of vines and shoots were still sharply defined, the dark, lichen-stained flagstones bare except for a scattering of leaves.
I withdrew the key and let go of the street door. It closed behind me with a faint hiss. The spring lock clicked shut; suddenly fearful, I snatched at the knob to make sure I wouldn’t be trapped.
It had been quiet in the lane outside, but you could still hear the faint hum of traffic from East Heath Road, the occasional howl of an accelerating motorbike, the distant whine of a jumbo from the endless queue descending towards Heathrow. With the closing of the gate, all of those sounds had ceased. The tick-ticking of my pulse was suddenly louder. I set off along the path, accompanied by faint rustlings and stirrings. Birds, I hoped, though I couldn’t see any. The surrounding vegetation was impenetrably dense.
At the far end, the sides thinned out enough to allow glimpses of red brick and stonework, and the light was a little better. Through the tunnel—what was the word?—espanniered?—no, pleached— extended all the way to the porch, you could see where the original structure had ended and another section had been added, also many years ago, by the look of the gnarled vines overhead. I went up the two steps into a porch, only a few feet deep, with solid brick walls on both sides. It looked as if there had once been vertical windows on either side of the door, but the apertures had been bricked up. No glass in the door, either. Its dark green paint was cracked and peeling.
Three locks this time. After the snap of the second Banham, I had to wait until my heartbeat had slowed enough to distinguish it from approaching footsteps. I glanced back along the green, twilit alley and turned the key in the spring lock.
The door opened quietly, on to a dimly lit entrance hall. Dark panelled walls, an elaborate hall-stand immediately to my left, then a recessed wooden bench. Carpeted stairs at the far end ran up to a half-landing. Light filtered through a doorway to the left of the staircase. I stepped across the threshold, keeping hold of the front door, which like the street door appeared to be self-closing. I took another step forward, letting the door close behind me with the same faint, unnerving hiss.
The hall-stand was draped with hats and coats and scarves; there were several umbrellas and at least three pairs of Wellingtons. The sense of trespass was suddenly overwhelming.
‘Is anyone here?’ A muffled echo—I couldn’t tell from where—sounded disturbingly like a reply. Then I noticed that the hats and coats—all of them women’s—looked very old-fashioned indeed. Tentatively, I drew out one of the umbrellas. A small cloud of dust followed, and I saw that there were holes in the fabric.
I tried to move noiselessly, but the floorboards creaked at every step. At the far end of the hall, I found a closed wooden door to the right of the staircase. An opening to my left led into a passage running towards the rear of the house. Multi-coloured light shimmered through a doorway opposite.
At first I thought I had stumbled into a chapel. Two tall, narrow stained-glass windows shone in the upper half of the wall to my left, an elaborate design of leaves and vines and flowers climbing over a plain, lead-lighted background. The moving shadows of actual leaves and branches outside made it look as if the pattern had come alive, greens and golds and brilliant crimsons rippling upwards into darkness.
Tall wooden shutters, latched on the inside, concealed the windows in the lower section. Humped shapes of furniture stood around a massive fireplace opposite the door. To my right, the lower half of the rear wall opened on to what looked like a dining-room. A gallery was built out above the opening, running the full width of the room.
Crossing to the shutters, I got the first one open and came face to face with a chaotic mass of nettles, buddleia and leaf litter, shot through with ivy and rising above head height. Sunlight filtered through the foliage overhead. The windows were protected by vertical metal bars almost eaten through with rust.
Apart from some archaic electric light fittings mounted on wall brackets, I could have stepped back into the 1850s. The brocaded chairs and sofas, mostly faded lemons and pale greens, the chests and screens and occasional tables, were all marked and worn by use. The polish on the woodwork had faded long ago; you could see the outlines of ancient stains on the huge, threadbare Persian carpet. And yet someone must be coming in from time to time to dust and air the place, and turn on some sort of heating in the winters, or everything would be rotten with damp and mould.
I moved on towards the dining-room, whose dark panelled ceiling, though still ten or twelve feet high, was only half the height of the drawing-room’s. The opening between the two, I saw, could be closed off by a set of sliding panels which stood folded, concertina-fashion, against the right-hand wall. The gallery loomed overhead: it had a gilt rail at about waist height, with vertical rods below the railing, and doors at both ends.
Troubled by a vague sense of something missing or wrong, I moved on through the dining-room, between a long oak table with chairs for a dozen people, and a massive sideboard laden with tarnished serving dishes and candlesticks. With the drawing room closed off, it would be pitch dark in here. But when I got the shutters in the end wall open, daylight filled the room. I found myself looking down on to a flagged courtyard, surrounded once again by an impenetrable tangle of greenery.
The land on which the house was set evidently sloped downwards, for the window was at least ten feet above the ground, but the view beyond the courtyard was obscured on every side by rampant, towering foliage. Weeds sprouted between the flagstones. Below and to my right, a long, narrow conservatory had been built out along the rear wall of the house. From the far side of the courtyard, a path continued a few yards further, towards what looked like the remains of an ancient gazebo or summerhouse, half buried beneath a canopy of nettles.
I pressed my face against the glass, but could see nothing more. There were no bars on these windows, and no visible locks or bolts, but neither side would budge. I went on through a door to the right of the windows, on to a landing from which a wide staircase descended. A narrower flight ran steeply up to another half-landing on its way to the floor above. There were several other doors to choose from, but I went on down, hoping to find a way out onto the courtyard so that I could see the house from the outside.
I found a small parlour or breakfast room, immediately below the dining room, with shuttered French windows opening—or rather refusing to open—on to the courtyard. Behind the parlour was a small kitchen—1920s or 30s, I thought—three-burner gas cooker, chipped porcelain sink, wooden cupboards and benches. Mixed crockery, also chipped and cracked, that looked like the remnants of expensive services. A few tins rusting in the food cupboard, labels long gone.
The main house door next to the parlour was painted a drab black. It appeared to be locked and bolted. To the right of that was another set of French windows, also locked, into the conservatory. Peering through the glass, I saw a long trestle table crammed with pots and seed trays from which a few desiccated sticks protruded. Garden tools leaned against walls and benches. An old wooden barrow stood blocking one of the aisles.
No other doors. The stairs continued on down, back in under the house. Daylight slanted down the stairwell on to a patch of stone floor. From where I stood in the entrance, the original kitchen extended out to my left. An ancient black range with a corroded flue; brick walls; a scarred worktable; canisters rusting along a wall shelf in descending order of size. The air down here was colder, and distinctly damp; the ceiling was only a foot above my head. I took a few uneasy steps into the gloom. There was a doorway in the opposite wall, opening onto darkness.
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