British writer Martyn Waites was born in Newcastle and studied drama in Birmingham to become a professional actor. Live theatre was his passion, but he also appeared in The Bill, Inspector Morse and The New Adventures of Robin Hood – ‘wigs, leathers and overseas filming’. Inspired by 1990s American crime (Walter Mosley, James Ellroy and James Lee Burke), he started writing his own brand of gritty, urban Newcastle noir. Having been nominated for every major British crime fiction award, his latest book, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (Hammer, £9.99), is his first foray into the horror genre. Eithne Farry
Well, it had to be her, didn’t it? As the writer of the sequel (Angel of Death) to Susan Hill’s original novella, I had to choose the Woman in Black. She’s been a big part of my life for quite a few months now, and well before that too. She’s also now a bona fide mainstay of popular British Gothic culture, thanks to Nigel Kneale’s 1989 TV drama (directed by Herbert Wise), the long-running West End play and, of course, Hammer’s record-breaking 2012 movie (the sequel, by a strange coincidence also called Angel of Death, follows in 2014).
So a woman as an alter ego, you say? When I’m clearly a man? I’ve got previous here. As well as writing under my own name, I’m also responsible for five (so far) internationally bestselling thrillers under the name Tania Carver. The distaff side holds no fears for me.
What’s more, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is one of the greatest ghost stories in the English language. In the creation of Jennet Humfrye she gave us one of the most fully rounded, motivated supernatural apparitions of our time. Her actions, in haunting the solicitor Arthur Kipps as he ventures to Eel Marsh House, are entirely believable, driven as they are by the twin engines of rage and grief. Her family all but disowned her after she became an unmarried mother, giving her son Nathaniel to her sister and husband to be brought up as their own.
The subsequent death of Nathaniel in the marsh drove Jennet to despair and her own death. She then returned to haunt the house, taking vengeance on anyone unfortunate enough to cross her path. Jennet follows a literary lineage that includes not only Miss Jessel, Henry James’s malevolent spirit of a children’s governess, but also a supernatural (un)living embodiment of Charlotte Brontë’s much-copied Gothic trope of the mad woman in the attic. The form and style in which Hill tells the story of her novella – that of the first person narrative of an innocent who stumbles upon evil forces which he can’t comprehend but must nonetheless battle – also strongly references another James, that of Montague Rhodes, the Godfather of the English ghost story and, for my money, still the best practitioner of the form. Reading James by the fire at Christmas is a little tradition, and I still find myself practising. This year I may also add Susan Hill.
And return to Eel Marsh House once again…