James Follett

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Temple of The Winds

 

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Temple of the Winds James Follett © 2008

Foreword to Temple of the Winds


Writing thrillers is a strange and sometimes hazardous business. Over the last 20 years my search for background material has taken me into some dangerous places because dangerous places are interesting places.

For Savant I got caught up in the 1991 Kurdish uprising in Northern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. A minibus I was travelling in with the company of some heavily-armed pershmarga guerillas (they climbed aboard at a bus stop) was shot-up by an Iraqi helicopter gunship and I ended up in a Kirkut hospital. Today the approaching heavy wap-wap-wap beat of Southern Electric's big Sikorski helicopter doing its regular low-flying powerline inspection patrols in my very rural part of Surrey/West Sussex has me crawling under my desk.

For Mirage I managed to stray into a buffer zone between Israel and the Lebanon, and suffered the ignominy of being rescued by a United Nations UNIFIL patrol when some Syrians started shooting across a valley at me. Look at the map and you find a point where Syria, the Lebanon, and Israel meet. That's exactly where I was -- a singularly stupid place to be at anytime but particularly so during a UN-monitored peace. In South Africa in the late 1970s, my eagerness to find out about gold movements during the Second World War for Churchill's Gold did not endear me to the authorities. Their hostility puzzled me because it was all so long ago until Gerard de Koch, the then deputy director of the South Africa Reserve Bank, explained to me that little had changed over the years regarding the movement of bullion.

In an overcrowded Hong Kong refugee camp, I listened with horror to first hand accounts of the terrible atrocities perpetrated by pirates against Boat People escaping across the South China Sea -- material that I used in Torus.

All this chasing after human conflict fire engines blinded me to the thriller potential of the area in which I live. I craved major battlegrounds as backgrounds to my stories and felt that my sleepy part of Surrey/West Sussex simply did not measure up in the action stakes. It took several significant events to open my eyes.

The first was when my local parish council bought the field that adjoins my house. Field? It was more of a hillock. There was a furore when the council announced their plan to use bulldozers to level the field to provide a large enough area for a football pitch.

`You can't do that!' complained some villagers. `It's a plague field! You'll be digging up hundreds of corpses.' Old records indicated that the field had been used as a mass burial ground for victims of the 17th Century plague outbreak. The bodies had been shipped from London to Godalming by barge and thence by wagon to my village. Some of the seemingly bottomless swallow holes in the area had also been used for the disposal of bodies.

The uproar delayed the football pitch. Test bores were made and the samples sent for analysis. No macabre evidence was found. It wasn't that the records were wrong but because the heavy Weald clay around here is so acid that buried organic matter disappears completely within a 100 years or so (When I had a swimming pool excavated in my garden, I fully expected a pet cat that had been buried ten years previously to come to light. Thankfully, there was no sign of it. You should thank me for sharing that).

What was interesting about the whole affair was not so much the chemical properties of the soil, but the revival of strange and ancient superstitions. Some older villagers firmly believe that the bodies of hanged witches are buried in the plague field because their bodies could not be destroyed by quicklime. There is a belief that disturbing their bones would bring about some form of hellish retribution. It was then that I realised that the old superstitions had not been revived -- that they had always been there. There's a dazzlingly lovely white witch who lives near me who seems to make a comfortable living out of such beliefs. Disappointingly, her mode of transport is a stressed Volvo rather than a broomstick.

I am indebted to her for much background material in this book, and particularly to Ivor Bunn for providing me with information on that strange, shadowy 17th Century figure, Matthew Hopkins -- the Witchfinder General.

The next incident was much more prosaic. It happened when I was driving south on the A285 from Petworth. Three miles south of the town, the almost dead straight A285 ends in a sharp 90 degree left hand turn. I had foolishly let my attention wander so that instead of taking the bend I continued in a straight line, and braked to a standstill on the approach road to Seaford College, not believing that I could have made such a monumentally stupid mistake. Luckily for me, it's such a regular occurrence that the college authorities leave their huge wrought iron gates open, but had a vehicle been coming in the opposite direction the chances are that I wouldn't be writing about it today. I survived, but a character in this book doesn't.

The third event started on a truly terrifying night in October 1987 when hurricane force winds raged with demented fury across southern England. We stood outside, anxiously watching a large ash tree thrashing to destruction, expecting it to fall on the house.

A bright, sunny morning revealed the extent of the appalling devastation: trees uprooted, houses without roofs, the roads lethal with tangles of fizzing, sparking power lines. An overhead power distribution system built up over half a century destroyed in less than three hours. Like many other villages in the area, we were without electricity for nearly two weeks. During that brief but memorable period our lives underwent a most profound change. We had to rise at dawn, get all our chores done during the hours of daylight, and go to bed when it got dark. We had no heating and no means of cooking. To keep warm meant sawing fallen trees into logs. There were no newspapers or telephones and, without electricity, no television. Our link with the outside world was the local radio station, County Sound, until the shops ran out of batteries. Southern Electric adopted the slogan `We're coming and we care' and set up a communal canteen in the local school -- our only source of hot meals other than smokey, greenwood barbecues in the garden. To this day I can never work up any enthusiasm for barbecues.

There were two remarkable aspects of that period: the community spirit that prevailed with everyone helping everyone, and the unsuspected ingenuity that people drew on when it came to solving problems. A near neighbour fitted an aircraft propeller to an electric motor and mounted it on a pole to provide wind-generated electricity. I was writing Mirage at the time. My typewriter, unused since 1981, had seized up, so I rigged a small generator to run a Radio Shack Model 100 laptop. When the electricity was eventually restored, getting power back was almost as much of a shock as losing it.

I believe it was about this time that the germ of an idea for this book -- the notion of a modern community pitched back into the 18th Century and how they rose to meet the challenge -- began to form. The trouble was that the idea lacked focus. It was nothing more than an interesting concept.

The catalyst came with the realisation that Petworth, a few miles south of me, was a town with some very unusual features. Just how unusual, you can find out by reading on. I might as well come clean and admit here and now that my Pentworth in this story is based on Petworth and that every place I've mentioned does exist although I've taken a few liberties. I've enlarged Market Square, and dignified the town with a town council rather than a parish council. It goes without saying that any resemblance between the inhabitants of my Pentworth and the real Petworth is purely coincidental.

The biggest change concerns the actual Temple of Winds. Yes -- it really does exist. Just as well because the strange myths surrounding it, which I've described in this book, are far more bizarre than anything I could invent. I'm actually writing this foreword on its high, legend-shrouded scarp, and I can almost hear the demon-like gargoyle, carved in sandstone by the gales of a million years, sniffing the winds that invade his temple. The spooky atmosphere here is getting to me; the irritation of the ghost of Alfred Lord Tennyson at my moving of his favourite spot a few miles south to a more dramatically convenient location just has to be a product of my imagination.

A correction: Ellen's cave, with its palaeolithic wall paintings of hunting scenes of 40,000 years ago doesn't exist. But, as I look out from the Temple of the Winds across the folds and humps of the sun-dappled downs of West Sussex where vast herds of bison once roamed, preyed on by cave lions and sabre- tooth tigers, it's easy to believe that the cave is somewhere out there beneath the ancient landscape -- waiting to be discovered.

James Follett

Temple of the Winds, West Sussex. 1999.

© James Follett 2008

Temple of The Winds

Part 1: Arrival

1

Vikki Taylor saw the long shadow cast across the lane by the late afternoon sun and froze in terror. Her knuckles, gripping the handlebars of her new 12-speed bicycle that she was pushing along the rutted track, went bonewhite. Such was her fear that an involuntary trickle of urine escaped and soaked into her panties. Her pounding heart felt as though it were trying to smash through her rib cage.

She kept perfectly still and so did the shadow.

What must have been a small creature close behind her made a scrabbling noise with its claws on the loose stones but she was too hypnotised by the terror that lay ahead to notice it.

Run! Run! This was where Debbie French was raped a year ago! For God's sake run!

But she was unable to move. Her legs were jelly, and if she let go of the bicycle, she would surely collapse. The cosy, familiar surroundings of the West Sussex countryside that she had known all her life underwent a profound and frightening change. The sunlight dappling through the trees and reflected from the puddles left by the storm of two nights ago became a harsh, unnatural glare, and the chatter of birds in the hedgerows celebrating the arrival of spring died away to an eerie silence.

The cause of the shadow was a man, hidden by the girth of an old oak some 20-metres ahead. He remained motionless, like a sentinel. Despite her stomach-churning fear, this puzzled Vikki. If he were waiting in ambush, surely he could see his own shadow and realise that it gave him away? From the bold silhouette thrown on the ground she could see that he wasn't even crouching close to the tree, but was standing erect, legs apart, holding what could be a shotgun. Perhaps he was one of Major Prescott's cottagers? A gamekeeper awaiting a fox? But surely he would be holding the shotgun at the ready? And what sort of hat was he wearing? It was more like a headdress -- tall fronds that caught the breeze and were the only thing about the shadow that moved. Yet there was something oddly familiar about the headdress -- she knew that she had seen it before.

Gradually Vikki brought her terror sufficiently under control to will her legs to move. Slowly, one trembling step at a time, she backed away without taking her eyes off the strange shadow for an instant ...

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