In 1842, two drunken sisters debate their future. Business at the family chocolate shop has ground to a halt. Change is needed. For once, domineering elder sister Maggie doesn't get her way, and a month later Judy, Maggie and Netta Walters - a medium with big hair and a bigger secret - open their seance parlour.
The locals are shocked, but soon the shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortunes, a rift builds between the two sisters, as Judy gets her novel published, finds a man and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie, who can only read tea leaves.
Something needs to be done, so Maggie decides to try harder ..........
So, here we are in October already. Grey, wet and foggy, the memories of our wonderful summer fading, the prospect of winter on the horizon. It's not my favourite time of year. October is the month of Halloween - ghosts and spooks, witches and black cats and horrible hauntings - well, that's what it should be. I think you'd be forgiven for thinking that Halloween these days is all about orange plastic and bags of gaudily coloured sweets being handed out to random children and teenagers knocking on your door.
The Blackheath Seance Parlour by Alan Williams is a 'proper' story for Halloween, starting from the eerie cover design and continuing in the pages of what is probably going to be one of the strangest, head-whirling reads of the year for me. It was published by Cutting Edge Press on 1 August 2013.
Prepare for a story that feels like a mash up of the best of Dickens' gothic magic and an episode of the (fantastically funny) The League of Gentlemen - it's an incredible tale that takes the reader on a wild ride through the streets of 1840s Blackheath accompanied by a couple of sisters who are completely mad!
Basically, it's the story of how Maggie and Judy - two totally crazy, alcoholic sisters, have to save their shop. The locals are not buying chocolate and they need to do something about it, otherwise they are going to starve, and more importantly, they are not going to be able to buy booze. Judy wants to set up a seance parlour, Maggie is not so sure, but eventually Judy wins and they do it.
One of the many clever things about this book is that it's actually two stories running together. Maggie is writing a novel, and this is revealed throughout the book too - adding an extra dimension and another insight into just what goes on inside her head - it's strange stuff and almost as compelling as the main plot.
I've never physically been to Blackheath, but I feel as though I know every pub and every street intimately. Alan Williams lives there and he has made the place into a character on it's own. There is evidence of meticulous research and I believe that many of the characters involved in this story are based on real people.
Here's a book that is perfect for the time of year - sibling love and rivalry, dark and broody gothic setting, ghosts and murders. A splash of humour, a lot of pubs and some cracking dialogue.
Huge applause for Alan Williams and to Cutting Edge Press who, once again have found a gem of a book to publish. My thanks to the Cutting Edge Team who consistently feed my book addiction.
Alan Williams has worked as a script editor for the BBC on shows from Absolutely Fabulous to One Foot in the Grave. He lives in Blackheath, London, and works in the film and television industry. When not procrastinating, Alan is writing a second novel and consuming large quantity of chocolate eclairs.
There is a pretty amazing website for the book www.blackheathseanceparlour.com