Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Robswall Castle
A little while ago a friend, Andrea Baker asked me to be a guest on her blog. She was running a weekly guest spot with castles being the theme. This is what I came up with.
 I love castles, I have done since a very young age. I grew up on old swash-bucklers, Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, Knights, King Arthur, Crusaders, you get the idea. There was always a castle siege, a huge battle with enormous amounts of extras, no computer graphics back then. A fight scene at the end, inside the castle. They’d vault the throne, swing from the tapestries, fight backwards up the steps. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Now I write fantasy books, epic adventures, battles and larger than life heroes.
But I’ve always loved real castles too. I spent hours, as a boy, exploring old ruins imagining what it would be like to be a knight manning the battlements, hero and conqueror all in one. I also grew up beside one of the best preserved castles in the country. Malahide Castle attracts thousands of tourists every year, indeed I spent a large portion of my youth in the grounds of Malahide Castle, getting up to things perhaps not envisaged by the park wardens. But enough of that.
You see, it’s not Malahide Castle, or one of the many other ancient ruins, that sprang to mind. Nor is it a huge Norman castle from one of my childhood favourite movies. It is a much smaller, much less grand castle that I immediately thought of. A two storey (once three storey) tower castle, on the coast road between Malahide and Portmarnock in North County Dublin. In fact these days it’s someone’s house. Robswall Castle.
There’s a story to it, well a made-up story, made-up by me. You see one winter’s night two boys were walking past Robswall Castle… okay it was me and my mate. Me and my friend Stevo were walking along the coast road one night, it was raining, cold sleety rain, and a wind was howling in from the Irish Sea. I pointed to the big bay window hanging over the road and said to Stevo, ‘Imagine an old woman sitting on a rocking-chair, endlessly knitting, just sitting there staring out at everybody who walked past, the only sound the clicking of her knitting needles. Well this one throw-away remarked freaked both of us out so much we legged it all the way home, giggling like schoolgirls. We still laugh about it today.
Anyway the image stuck with me, and I decided to write a book about it… at least I started a book about it, it’s not finished yet. Below is an extract, in fact it’s the opening of the book.
I have this recurring dream, I’m twelve years old and walking the Coast Road between Malahide and Portmarnock in north County Dublin. It’s late, over head is a clear, dark sky, pinpricked by countless shining stars. A round yellow moon hangs low in the inky blackness illuminating the sea. I can hear the waves lap at the rocks below the seawall. It is winter, I can taste frost on my tongue, feel the chill in the air stinging my nose and ears.
I’m frightened, I don’t like the dark. I don’t like being out at night when there is nobody else around. I don’t like the feeling of being watched from the darkness. My heart beats faster, I can feel myself close to tears as I quicken the pace, constantly looking over my shoulder. I imagine being pursued by wild, rabid dogs, a pack working in unison, stalking me. A crisp packet is blown along the footpath by the breeze, making me look sharply in that direction. I jump at every sound.
I can see Robswall Castle now, its great bay-window hanging over the road. More of a tower than a castle, converted into somebody’s house, it sits on a bend on the road, overlooking the Irish Sea. That’s when I hear the clicking sound. Click- click, click-click. It sounds familiar but I can never place it straight away. I’m running by the time I reach the castle, the cold winter air freezing in my throat as I gulp down as much oxygen as a terrified, twelve year old boy can.  I sense, more than see the curtains move. Then another sound joins the clicking, creak – creak. This freaks me out more than the thought of the feral dogs chasing me, or of any other terror my young mind can conjure from often heard tales. Banshees, ghouls and vampires. Stories to feed the imagination and night terrors of a young boy.
I can see clearly now, how I don’t know. I’m still outside on the road, but I can see beyond the huge window, right into the room. I see an old woman, rocking back and forth in a rocking chair.
Creak – creak.
In her lap is a ball of wool, her hands work furiously with a pair of knitting needles.
Click – click.
This is no kindly grandmother knitting a pair of socks for a baby grandchild. One look from her and I know my blood will freeze, one glance from the black eyes in her head and I will lose my soul forever.
On and on the needles click, as she rocks back and forth. Forever in that bay window, waiting for unsuspecting travellers to wander by, on dark cold nights.
“Is this why you killed those women?” The shrink’s monotone voice interrupts my retelling of the dream, breaking my concentration.
“No, the Devil made me do that,” I answer, keeping a straight face as he scratches into his clipboard with a plastic biro.
The Devil never made me do anything in my life, at least I don’t think he did, but it amuses me to give these morons what they want.
© Paul Freeman 2012
You can check out Andrea Baker’s blog here.
Buy her book, World's Apart: Leah here

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