One of the stories which inspired part of The Devil’s Missal, I found in an old book of Rhine legends. It tells of a young woman, Wilgefortis, who is pursued by a group of men, determined to catch and rape her. She comes to a place where there is a huge wayside cross. Wilgefortis stands under the cross and holds her arms outstretched. As the pursuers arrive the virgin Mary causes a beard to sprout on Wilgefortis’ face. The rapists run on past, thinking she is a statue of Christ crucified and she is spared.
Er…no. I do like to research the historical background to my writing thoroughly. These are the kind of source books I was using for The Devil’s Missal.
And of course the answer to the question about whether witches actually ate babies…. well, not raw, of course.
One of the questions readers frequently ask is where do I write. Physically that is. Which seat is my backside attached to? What can I see from if I look up from the screen?
The answer is usually wherever I happen to be at the time. But if the weather allows it, outdoors. Here are three images of some of my favourite writing locations. The first is at Schloß Pesch in Meerbusch Ossum. The other two are in Meerbusch Büderich.
Earlier today I visited the archaeological museum at Burg Linn. The archaeological items are housed in a converted WW2 bunker next to the castle. On the third floor, hidden away behind an iron grille is a tiny, beautiful and very evocative library.
Technically it isn’t actually a library. It is a collection of old books, mostly dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, brought together in the 1930s. Two books in the collection were of particular interest because of their connection with Meerbusch-Ossum and Schloß Pesch.
The first (No. 354) contains a handwritten note inside the cover: ‘Following the ransacking of the library at Schloß Pesch on 7th October 1794, which was ordered by the Prince and carried out by the inhabitants of Linn and Ürdingen, a total of 9860 rare volumes were stolen, to which the poor state of this book bears testimony.’ Indeed, this statement is underlined by the very obvious rodent damage to the book in question.
The second book (No. 348) (printed in 1583 in Frankfurt) has two bullet holes in it. Again there are inscriptions on the inside cover explaining the origins of this damage. The first, in French, declares a revolutionary (citroyen Republiquain) to be the new owner – presumably plundered during the Franco-Prussian war. The second, in Latin, by a pastor of Lank, in whose parish Schloß Pesch is situated, stating that the book had been given to him, with the bullet holes already in it, by a citizen of Latum following fighting in late October 1794 on the Rhine. Apparently the book had been found about the person of a dead soldier.
One of the characters in The Devil’s Missal is a collector of stories. He travels around the various villages of Meerbusch talking to residents, gathering their tales of times past and present, trawling through old photographs, letters and diaries.
As a rural community, many of the anecdotes will have been about life on the land, which has seen great changes in the past century. It seems strange to think that only eighty years ago there were still farmers ploughing with oxen or horses in the area.
This afternoon the first sample proof of The Devil’s Missal arrived. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the layout, print and the cover art is just wonderful. The cover photo was styled and shot by Angela Serena Gilmour, a very talented photographer who lives in Berlin. The layout was by Tamsin and Grosvenor House. Many thanks also to Becky at Grosvenor House for dealing with all my queries and neurotic fiddling with font sizes and other things that shouldn’t technically concern me. I am deeply indebted to the wonderful Claire Jennison over at Penning and Planning who is the best editor any writer could wish for and a suitably nit-picky proofreader to boot.
Now to give it one last read through and then if there are no more changes, it will be ready to go to press!
I chose Schloss Pesch in Meerbusch and the woods surrounding it as the setting for The Devil’s Missal. The atmosphere is perfect for an eerie tale of occult happenings and mystery. These are three photographs I took from an upper window of the Schloss very early one morning before the Rheinland mist had fully cleared.
Views from Schloss Pesch looking east towards Schürkesfeld.
The Devil’s Missal is Cathy Dobson’s latest novel, an intelligently constructed psychological thriller set in the Rhineland, combining classic horror themes with the terrifying history of witchcraft and sexual deviance through the ages, all under the oppressive shadow of a corrupted church.