When I read Fir by Sharon Gosling I was completely blown away by the setting, so when I was approached for the blog tour I jumped straight on it and asked for a guestpost all about creepy settings.
We are the trees. We are the snow. We are the winter. We are the peace. We are the rage.
Cut off from civilization by the harsh winter of northern Sweden, the Stromberg family shelter in their old plantation house. There are figures lurking in the ancient pine forests and they’re closing in. With nothing but four walls between the Strombergs and the evil that’s outside, they watch and wait for the snows to melt.
But in the face of signs that there’s an even greater danger waiting to strike, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from illusion. All they’ve got to do is stay sane and survive the winter…
Isolated Houses and Creepy HousekeepersI’ve got a thing about isolated and abandoned houses. When I was a kid I would make up stories about ones that I came across. They weren’t stories of who might once have lived in them or why they had become abandoned, but about what I would do if I had the chance to live in them myself. Actually, it wasn’t just houses that I did that with, but anything that looked as if it might have the potential to be habitable. I remember a long fantasy in which I worked out how I would turn the abandoned WW2 pillbox in the fields behind my grandparents’ house into a habitable dwelling with a zero budget (I think this involved using cheap yellow dusters from the pound shop for curtains. Practical!).
This habit of looking at isolated, abandoned places and imagining what it would be like to live there has persisted into adulthood. When my husband and I were looking for our new home in rural northern England, I’d point to half-derelict grain stores or broken-down barns or the skeletons of long-obsolete limekilns and suggest they could make interesting shelters. “I could live in that” became a catchphrase that he’d jump to fill in before I had a chance to point at some crumbling wreck of a shed tucked in the corner of a field.
One of my favourite stories about the tiny village in which we now live is that there used to be a hermit dwelling way out on the fells behind us. He lived in a shack and would venture into the village only rarely. These visits would invariably include one of the local pubs. He’d end up so inebriated that someone would have to tie him onto his donkey, which would slowly plod back up and over the windswept fell. My love of this story comes, I think, from a little touch of envy for his hidden home, which I have searched for but failed to find.
I turned 30 in a tiny house in the back of beyond in the Scottish Cairngorms, but not even that was isolated enough for me. I’d spotted an even more distant abandoned house across the valley through my binoculars and had asked my then-boyfriend if we could hike to it for a birthday outing. It took us six hours to reach. There was no road or even a path in, but the roof was good and there was a stream with fresh water. “I could live here,” I said, and then he got down on one knee and proposed, so obviously I have very fond memories of that particular abandoned house. It’s still at the centre of my zombie apocalypse survival plan.
I like being on my own – that’s probably the writer in me. I’ve never found empty houses to be scary in themselves. Even in FIR, it’s not the house that is malevolent. In fact, the house is, if not a benevolent, at least an indifferent shelter from the forest outside, a (mostly) safe place for the narrator away from the forces that lurk beneath the trees. What makes it scary is what else might be inside, already, or what might get inside with help. Houses are just houses, but people are scary. They do things for reasons we can’t understand and have motives we can never really know. The housekeeper of Storaskogen might just be a bitter old lady, but she knows the house like the back of her hand, all those hidden, dusty places that everyone else has forgotten. She knows its history and its secrets. The question is, are those secrets as harmless as an old lady is supposed to be?
As the narrator says, “I don’t think it’s nature we really have to be afraid of, but other humans.”