The origins of the story – The Gallows Tree, a story set in the most haunted village in England
(Originally written for Iyanna Jenna’s blog)
Way back in my fan fiction days I wrote a story about a ghost (and no I can’t remember what made me choose to write it then, that is lost in the mists of time!). The main premise in it is one I was very proud of, and it stayed with me – that two men from today’s time were somehow related to people who had died centuries before. When it came to selecting a new story to write I reworked the main idea and so the germ of an idea for Gallow’s Tree was born.
I live in town about 40 miles NW of London, in the Chiltern hills… and in England we have tiny villages, sometimes with maybe five houses and a farm, that exist literally in the middle of nowhere. About twenty miles from me is the new city of Milton Keynes… between me and the city there are so many of these little villages that you could spend all day looking for them.
I knew I wanted to set this book in a village that had a old water mill and so I researched… (by research I mean I asked hubby who is an expert in the area!). We found a village that could not have been more perfect. Passenham.
An old mill, with the mill race still there, running to the river, a large manor house and farms with maybe ten or so houses. Perfect. I visited my village on a cool autumn day and was soon lost in the magic of research and story. The view across the fields to the fence, the mill chase with it’s churning water, the houses converted, the cottage with the red door… everything made it’s way into an authentic place for me to set the made up village of Lower Ferrers.
It also helped that, per capita, this is the most haunted village in England – *shivers* – not only that but there was an original ghost story there about a woman dying in the river… perfect! Well, not perfect for the woman, but for me the writer, perfect.
Of course I needed to add in a village pub, but I based this on the Falkland Arms in Great Tew. A stunning pub, again in the middle of nowhere, so old it’s a warren of dark rooms. I went to Great Tew with Chris Quinton and we had lunch there. It’s a stunning place.
So I was setting my book in the perfect village, I just needed characters. I had my typical land rich family. We have a lot of those in the UK. Where a family may own a huge manor house and land, but struggle with money. Hence why all three brothers in the house work. Sebastian Toulson-Brown is as far from a privileged aristocrat as you can get. I now had to find my other man.
I needed someone who was part of a family scattered to the winds, and what better place than the US. Cody Garret has ties to the village and after being in an abusive relationship needs somewhere to hide, and to lick his wounds.
The church plays a big part in the book and when we visited it on that autumn day, the ground was crisp beneath our feet and the fall colours dominated the small graveyard. The church was surrounded by trees then beyond to open fields. An absolutely gorgeous spot. This was Tristan Toulson-Brown’s church.
And this is where inspiration hit for the title and the story.
And so Gallows Tree was born.
All photos – RJ Scott
Read more at www.rjscott.co.uk
The village was stunning. Beautiful. Old houses with crooked roof lines staggered drunkenly up the road all built in a soft weathered brown and gray stone. Each had a chimney and seemingly randomly placed windows. Cody counted six of these cottage-style houses and above them the top of twisted chimneys on a far grander building. Great oaks and sycamore trees, now with leaves of fall gold and red, towered over the cottages and the twisting road that followed their path upwards. Cody listed adjectives in his head. This was much better than green. This was an idyllic, picture-postcard place, and it was everything he had ever been told about this English village. On the opposite side of the road was a larger dwelling, and he saw the sign outside that proclaimed it as the Ferrers’ Arms.
The inn with the slate roof was where he was staying with an open-ended booking. He didn’t know how long his stay would be. It could be a month or it could be the full six months. When he moved on depended on so many factors, not least of which was having somewhere to move to. He had a strange feeling inside, and he realized it was a sudden and renewed sense of enthusiasm.
Panic and fear still clung tight in his chest, but his breathing was steady, and the sounds of the village—sheep in the field, horses, birds—and the perfect stillness of the fall sky was utter peace. He closed his eyes and breathed deep. One minute he had been on the highway to hell, and within an hour, he was in the quiet and calm of a village that had been here for centuries. What was it people said? Stepping back in time or something like that. Standing here it certainly felt like he was entering another world.
Was it possible that by his arrival here in the village where his family had roots he was taking a controlled step away from his past rather than running blindly?
Hell, where had that thought come from? A controlled step? Shaking his head at the flight of fancy, he imagined he was losing it big time. Back in the car, he drove the short distance to the Ferrers’ Arms and parked up on a gravel lot to the side. The building itself was small and looked older than the cottages, and the sign was of a shield split into two pieces. He could identify the two symbols—a white horse and a cross. He loved history, but the history he’d learned in school was a whole world away from what was here. He pulled his two bags out of the back seat, only two because travelling light was how he had lived for going on two years, and it was how he would remain for a long time.
Pausing to look back at the cottages, he took time to contemplate exactly where the mill was from here. He could see the ribbon of water passing at the base of the hill and remembered driving over a small bridge just before the speed sign. As far as he knew, water equaled mill. If his great-gran had been right, there was one hell of a lot of water as the River Ouse ran through this rural community. What he needed to get his hands on were old maps of the area so he could pinpoint where he was and what he was going to do. A visit to a library in a town would probably answer most of his questions. That could wait though. Right now a beer and some uninterrupted sleep were calling him. After nine hours on the plane and eight on the road, he was running on empty.
“You standin’ out here all day, son?” The voice was gruff and threaded with impatience, and it was enough to pull Cody out of introspection and into embarrassment. He was literally standing in front of the main door of the pub.
“Sorry, I was daydreaming,” he responded instinctively. He looked up at the other man. A tall wide-built giant with gray hair and deeply carved laughter lines, he looked as old as the village itself.
“You’re the Yank?” the other man asked curiously. Cody swallowed and shrank back a little. One well-aimed hit from this guy, and old man or not, the force would knock Cody to the floor.
“American,” Cody offered cautiously.
“Here for the mill then.”
Wait. This stranger knew about Cody being in the village and his connection to the mill? Okay. At first that didn’t make any sense, but just as suddenly, it all became clear to Cody’s paranoid mind. Foreboding spread over him with a cloak of attached panic. How did this man know who he was? Did he know Vincent? Did Vincent know Cody had jumped on a flight to England? Had Cody been followed? Irrational and implausible reasons climbed and tumbled onto each other, and the familiar tightness pulled in the center of his chest. He took a step back and felt the solid presence of the doorframe against his back. The scents of alcohol filled his senses, and when he got to look back at what happened rationally, it was probably the first trigger to everything that happened next. The other man narrowed his eyes and then reached out his hands.
“Son, you don’t look so good.” He grasped Cody around the upper arms and held him firmly.
“L-leave…” Don’t touch me. Don’t hold me like that.
RJ Scott lives just outside London. She has been writing since age six, when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She loves reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. Her goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.
She is published with Total E-Bound, eXtasy Books, and self publishes through her own publishing company, Love Lane Books.
Love Lane Books: https://www.lovelanebooks.co.uk/