It has been a strange night here at Casa Bale. Following recommended Federal guidelines for self-isolation due to the Covid-19 Crisis (willingly and without complaint, mind), my special someone and I have found ourselves inside and without the kiddies for the night. Without the kiddies and with no options for a fancy meal out means a home-cooked Sous Vide steak dinner and a bottle of Shiraz. Now, with tummy lusciously full and Rage Against the Machine playing in the background … dinner music, according to the Special Someone … I’ve taken to my computer to fill in the hour or two while we procrastinate over whether to stream Tiger King on Netflix or Westworld on Crave. I had intentions of working on my next novel (The Haunting of Tess), but somehow … I have no idea how … I navigated over to the completed manuscript for my 2018 release, Shadow.
I promise, this is no shameless plug. In procrastinating on writing while I was procrastinating on picking something to stream, I revisited the note I wrote to my readers at the end of Shadow, which outlined where inspiration for this story came from. Admittedly I am more than half a bottle into my red wine, so I beg forgiveness for being slightly more nostalgic than I might otherwise be under more typical circumstances. Nevertheless, nostalgic is what I am at the moment, and so being, I very much want to share on my blog what I wrote at the end of Shadow.
So without further ado, I will post my A Note from Veronica, and venture off to the living room sofa to stream… ah, what the hell, Call the Midwife it is!
A Note from Veronica…
Hello, my very dear readers. I would like to thank you for coming on this journey with me. It is a journey that has been ten years in the making. I started writing what has become Shadow a decade ago but put it aside for other storylines and other characters. Two years ago, shortly after the release of The Ghosts of Tullybrae House, I decided it was time to pick Tilly and Ciaran’s story back up and see what I could make of it.
This is a special story to me. While the plot is fiction, the house is very real. Or it was at one point. When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to drive the farm roads on the outskirts of my hometown of Scarborough, Ontario. They are as I described in the novel: isolated, overgrown, poorly paved and vandalized by graffiti. But there is something achingly beautiful about them. They are the fading memory of times past. If you’re from Scarborough, or know of the area, then you’ll know the landmarks I’ve included in the story (the Old Finch Bridge, the Rouge River, etc.).
One evening a friend and I were out driving when we decided to park my mom’s van, get out, and walk. Just to see what we could see. We came across a driveway with two concrete pillars and a chain strung between them. Curious, we followed the overgrown dirt path through a canopy of green trees, not expecting to find anything but empty fields on the other side.
What we hadn’t seen from the street was an abandoned, red-brick Victorian farmhouse. The fields behind it were lush with corn, so obviously the property was still in use for farming purposes. But the house had been forgotten. Left. Just like Halloran farm, there was a sagging porch, a doghouse, a well-kept barn, broken windows and other evidence of vandalism. Off the porch there was a broken window, and we had to climb gingerly through to avoid being cut by a jagged piece of glass.
Inside there were more features which I’ve reconstructed for Halloran farm. There really was a hole in the floor, though it wasn’t in the kitchen. It was in a back hallway that led to a bathroom. The living room really was laid with pink shag carpet and there really was a rusted baby gate leaning up against a wall. There was even a wasp’s nest. Unfortunately, in my head I am having trouble reliably piecing together the fragmented memories, the images of what I saw with how, in actuality, they were laid out. There were, for example, two staircases. One was off the living room and went up to a single bedroom. The other was behind the kitchen, and I don’t know what was at the top because I didn’t dare try to climb them (my overactive imagination had, quite quickly, kicked in). There was a laundry room off a side entrance just before the kitchen, and there was a back extension that had been added on at some point in the house’s history. I’ve managed to create something that brings, in my mind, the house back to a close approximation of itself, but I am sad to say there are many gaps I had to fabricate.
Now, I obviously don’t condone trespassing as a general rule. I was only a teenager at the time and did (I’m chagrined to admit it) have a touch of that entitlement I wrote of the teenagers in the book. But we left without damaging a thing and were in quiet awe of what we’d seen the whole way home.
That abandoned Victorian farmhouse has haunted me for almost twenty years. It will continue to haunt me, but unfortunately, I can never visit it again. A few years ago, I drove past on a whim and discovered that it had been torn down. A century of lives, a century of memories, a century of happy times and sad times and whatever other times might have been had there… gone.
But, in my own small way, I’ve given that quiet, beautiful home a bit of immortality. At least I like to think I have. After all, isn’t that what we as writers are meant to do?