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10 September 2016

UKYACX YA Blog Tour: Lindsey Barraclough talks Inspiration and Writing Long Lankin

Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse:

‘Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss’.

Said my lord to my lady as he rode away:

‘Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay’.

As a teenager, I came across an old book of English folk songs, and found myself musing over such ditties as Six Dukes Went a-Fishing, Jack the Jolly Tar and The Basket of Eggs. The subject matter of these old ballads tended towards walks on Mayday mornings, courtship frolics and disappointments in love, mostly involving ploughmen, village maidens, an inordinate number of sailors, and surprisingly, cooked herrings. So imagine my shock, and indeed horror, when I turned a page and found a centuries-old seriously nasty song, bristling with menace, about someone, or something, called Long Lankin.

The doors were all bolted and the windows all pinned,

Except one little window where Long Lankin crept in.

You are never quite sure of the true nature of this individual (there are suggestions that he was a leper seeking a cure by witchcraft), but once inside the house, with the assistance of a ‘false nurse’ he kills a baby and drinks its blood, collected in a basin. For good measure the two of them also murder the child’s mother.

Here’s blood in the kitchen. Here’s blood in the hall.

Here’s blood in the parlour where my lady did fall.

For these ghastly crimes the creature is hung in a gibbet and the nurse burned in a fire close by…

Even more curiously, the ballad was recorded as being sung by a nun, Sister Emma, in Berkshire, in the early years of the last century, though it was in existence long, long before that and is known in varying forms in different parts of the British Isles.

Even the tune of this song has a sinuous, sinister shape.

Decades later, when my life was crazily busy with five boisterous children and the only time I had to myself was ridiculously late at night, this ballad literally came back to haunt me.

I was brought up in a wild and marshy place, of reeds and creeks and mud and pools, in the days when children were allowed to roam outside, playing unsupervised. That landscape has suffered much from development over the years, although pockets of it remain if you know where to look for them, but somehow the lost marshland of my childhood and that lost folksong came feverishly together over three months, mostly in the wee small hours of the morning, and became my first book Long Lankin.

It is set in 1958, and is inhabited by many of the odd and eccentric people I knew as a child, particularly the central character, my old aunt. Her ancient house, now sadly demolished, became Guerdon Hall in Long Lankin. I stayed in the house often as a child, and I think my poor aunt would have been mortified to know how many nightmares I suffered while sleeping in its crumbling walls.

I spent a couple of years working on the story, rewriting, and pruning, and eventually the tale found its way to Random House. Things then became quite exciting. I found myself in a new world altogether, travelling up and down the country attending festivals and book fairs and going into schools for talks and workshops on creative writing – all a far cry from scribbling away in the tiny little room at the top of our house, so small you can’t even stand up straight in it.

A couple of years later my next book The Mark of Cain was published, which can be read independently of the first, although it is a companion. It is set four years later, in 1962, and this time it is the ‘false nurse’ who takes centre stage, hell-bent on revenge, as with her dying breath she cursed the Guerdon family until the end of their line. Now there are only two young sisters left…

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss...

When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London.

But what they don't know is that their aunt's life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries -- before it's too late for little Mimi. 

Riveting and intensely atmospheric, this stunning debut will hold readers in its spell long after the last page is turned. 

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