Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review of 'The Lady in Yellow' and an interview with Alyne de Winter

Published:  2014
Setting:  Historical (Victorian)

Outside, a high, thin wail rose up, making her shiver.  A wash of moonlight illuminated the filmy curtains that wafted in from the floor length windows.  Veronica put her hand on her chest to calm her heart.

A howl rose up.

Veronica wondered if she had the nerves for mysterious old houses in the untamed wilderness of the Yorkshire moors.  She stroked her face with her hands before covering her eyes.  Foxes didn't howl like that.

It was best to go to bed and forget.  Sleep had a way of sorting things out, arising with the sun.

Eyes riveted to the moonlight curtains, Veronica walked slowly to her bed.  She sat on the edge looking out through the balcony doors.  That was beautiful, soothing as a lullaby, but also haunting as if to instill uneasy dreams.  She got under the covers and pulled the bed hangings tight.

Veronica had just fallen asleep when, just below, a high-pitched wail climbed the air, then faded.  

Wide awake, she got up and went out to her balcony.  The moon cast long shadows over the grass.  Though the night sky had cleared, remnants of mist still clung to the roots of the birch trees, gathering in the wishing well among the lilies like a cloud.  She couldn't see the animal that had whined anywhere.  The only sounds, accompanied by the chirupping of frogs around the well, were that of the children singing...

Veronica Everly was orphaned when her parents died prematurely.  And although her aunt did take her in, she was a cold, domineering alcoholic who didn't offer Veronica much in the way of mothering.  When her aunt dies, Veronica is turned over as the ward of a Catholic orphanage.

Now, as she nears the legal age of nineteen, Veronica is left penniless and with no where (and no one) to turn to.  She's excited, and a little shocked, when she learns she's been offered a position with the job agency for which she's applied.  

Soon, she is whisked off on a new journey, one for which she won't easily return.  For her life at the huge Belden House, a rambling Victorian mansion that borders the wilderness of Yorkshire, will leave little room for boredom and idleness.  She finds her job as governess to identical twins, Jacques and Jacqueline, challenging to say the least.  The twins seem to be from a different realm, they are given to fancy whims and are much more intelligent than the common child.

The grounds are beautiful, and her living quarters are more than she could have ever dreamed of.  Yet, there's an eerie sense of doom and macabre hiding within the walls of the atmospheric mansion.  First there is the horseman who terrifies her in the broad of day, warning her to leave immediately.  Then there's the creepy, resonating ringing of an unseen bell somewhere towards the horizon.  As if that were not enough, in the dead of night,  Veronica begins to hear the howling of wolves...enmeshed with that of the children's playful laughter.  Then the most frightening of all, the lady in yellow, with the bloody eyes, whom frightens Veronca beyond her wits.

Soon, Belden house becomes more of a nightmare than a refuge.  And what of the enigmatic attraction and affection she feels for the man of the house, Rafe de Grimston?  What secret does he hide behind his rough exterior?  And what is the horrifying mystery to the lady in yellow?

As Veronica struggles to find answers to these mysteries, will she survive the evil that lurks, menacingly, waiting, willing it's victims to succumb it's ancient curse?

Alyne de Winter is a pleasure to read.  The visuals and rich descriptions of the Victorian mansion are esoteric enough to touch.  In fact, fans of the book have hailed it a book that rivals The Others and Rose Red.  As I flipped the pages of this book (and it most definitely is a page-turner) I felt as if I'd been transported by a time machine, a mere spectator peeking a glance at this story from behind a dark corner.  I am enamored by the Victorian era, and if you enjoy historical novels at all, you are in for a treat!  The main character, Veronica Everly, is such an admirable and lovable spirit.  You will find yourself rooting for her happiness, dreading the dark right alongside her, and cheering her on in her victories.  Let us not forget the twins, for which I found highly entertaining (and endearing) of themselves.  This may not be your typical 'romance,' but it's one of the best contemporary gothic horror novels I have read in a very long time!  Miss Everly's story gives Jane Eyre a run for her money in this engaging novel of suspense.   I am excited to read more spine-tingling stories from Alyne, and am proud to call myself a fan of her work.

My Rating:  
5 Stars

Alyne has been wonderful enough to provide us with an awesome interview, written in her epic format,  I simply asked of her some questions, and she enlightened me!  I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did:

Author Interview: Alyne de Winter

It sounds like a cliché but I've been writing since I could. My father was a reader of the Classics, plus Science Fiction and Fantasy and he always passed his books on to me. I also loved fairy tales and wrote one about the spirits on the woods behind our house when I was eight years old. In my teens I wrote two novels---both mysteries, very bad, and won prizes for my short stories in school. They were all weird and macabre in the tradition of Poe and Blackwood. I always loved the dark, mysterious tales.
I wanted to be a visual artist---in those days that meant drawing and painting, and I was always taking art classes. My goal was to be an illustrator of fairy tales and children's books, maintaining my link with storytelling. Because I have strong psychic ability, I have tended to use my artistic and storytelling skills as a means to express the visions, sensations and intuitions I pick up in the ethers. I grew up in nature, highly attuned to the spiritual realms close to the earth. Nature is always prominent in my books, as are graveyards and churches----quiet, peaceful places where spirits make themselves felt. I love religions and superstitions, secret societies, antiquarian books, folk beliefs and the occult. My ancestors came from France in 1604, carrying with them a particularly Medieval brand of Catholicism. Because of this I feel I was born with a Gothic consciousness.
In college I wrote poetry and illustrated my poems with pen and ink drawings---always in dark-fantastical and mythic themes, designing my own little books. I suppose I was already an Indie author! I later published poetry and won prizes for that, but never followed it through as a career.
I wanted to write fiction, but somehow never felt worthy. I figured, being so right brained, and thus a total "space-case", that my ideas would not be taken seriously. I felt that a writer needed to have something to say, and that writing revealed, more than any other art form, the quality of one's thinking. I got involved in theater and dance, acting in Shakespeare productions, dancing in an esoteric dance company, and singing faery ballads in a Celtic band. In the mid 1990s, I was designing a tarot deck, went to the UK for research and, long story short, ended up living there for 9 years. Part of my time was spent in a haunted house---not a good place for a psychic---and found my stories.
Realizing that all of my artistic endeavors revolved around storytelling, I figured I might as well buckle down and write novels.
Since I began writing fiction in London, a great Gothic city with a strong Goth community, my stories take place in the UK or Europe. As a lover of castles and cathedrals, ancient tombs, history and old traditions, I feel Europe is my creative home. The first story I wrote with an American setting was Lenore: A Southern Gothic Re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. The setting is Louisiana and the inspiration Jean Cocteau's great film, La Belle et la Bete----a European source. Portrait of a Vampire is the only contemporary American story I've written so far, and was inspired by real events.
The Lady in Yellow is close to my heart because it was a breakthrough for me on many levels. It was inspired by The Turn of the Screw by M.R. James, Jane Eyre and the werewolf tales of Tanith Lee. The Haunted Garden is one of my oldest novels and went through many revisions before it achieved its final form. I would say my favorite of all my books is The Vampire's Mirror. I love it so much, I have sequels in the works, a series of novellas following the cursed mirror into modern times.
My character, Veronica Everly, in The Lady in Yellow just grew out of me. I suppose they all do. The artist Jasper Johns had a saying about painting: "Do something, do something to it, do something else to it." In fiction, the goal is to put as many obstacles into your protagonist's path as possible. Since my own life has been a series of hurdles, (stories) some pretty darn scary, like that haunted house (exploring that theme in another book) it's not difficult to come up with nightmarish obstacles to plague the characters with, or to find creative ways to overcome them. Since I'm lucky to be alive, so should they be.
As far as my imagery goes, my first love was visual art. Many works of art have inspired my stories. Both painting and writing are time consuming and pay little at first, so I had to make a choice. The art world is much more narrow, I feel, much more difficult to navigate for a working class person like me who has no connections. Writing fiction seemed to be a career path that would be more open to me, plus I could use my love of art and art history, nature and architecture, to build entire worlds. When you read a descriptive passage in one of my books, you are reading the words of a frustrated artist. If I had my life to live over, I'd go into film. I love movies and want my stories to be as visually stunning as my favorite films, with the added power to reveal the inner lives of the characters.
A day in the life of me... I have had a varied and adventurous life. Probably about five lives rolled into one. Maybe I get nine, like a cat. Since I've been in this Indie Author world, things have become more focused. I write in the morning, at least four hours a day. (I'm a slow writer) I keep a tidy house and work out because I need a long life to finish all my projects. I have a part time job to keep things afloat until I can replace that income with book sales. There isn't much time left in the day!
As far as hobbies, I write stories that involve things that interest me, so I get to do all sorts of research into things I love. Travel is huge for me. When I have the money I want to take a research trip to Spain and the Pyrenees for two doorstopper novels that have international locations. These books will be along the lines of Dan Brown meets Anne Rice meets Elizabeth Kostova. I can't wait to get started on both of them.
Thank you for being a fan!
My biggest struggle is speed. I am a slow writer. I can't even type properly.
I have a new release up for pre-order at 0.99 on Amazon now! The Shadows: A Paranormal Thriller. In this one, the Gothic stream veers toward Horror as 14-year-old Poppy Farrell begins a life at a new boarding school, Blight's Academy, a turreted neo-Gothic mansion in the remote English countryside. I love it because it practically wrote itself and was so much fun. The plot for a sequel came on its heels. If it sells, I'll work on that.
I have a Dark Fantasy/ Horror series that was planned back in 2004. The first book in the series, Roses of the Moon, was the first book I published to the Kindle. It was inspired by the life of Countess Bathory, an icon of the Goth culture and prototypical vampire. It has a unique, multi-layered mythical world that could spawn more books than I can write. I was convinced by the marketing people on the web to write a prequel---a short novella to give away free to get people into the series. Well, the first draft of this prequel is over 50,000 words and needs about 50,000 more to be done right. It's called Dark Reliquary: Prelude to Roses of the Moon. I am very proud of how cohesive and intriguing this Vampire Gothic book is, but like Roses, it is not a walk in the park to write. I planned it for 2014, but it looks like I will need to take into 2015.
Look for Song of the Sea and Starlight: A Celtic tale of the Selkies at the end of 2014. This was meant to be a short story but became epic and will be a substantial novella with a sequel called Morna. I've been to Scotland a few times, but the history and culture of Scotland requires more research than I thought. This international Kindle market means that you can no longer fudge on even the tiniest cultural details since people from those countries will read your books. Luckily, you can find people from those places to sort you out with a beta read.
I'm also getting The Lady in Yellow into print. It's almost there!
So those three are coming. There are so many more stories clamoring for attention that, like the old woman who lived in a shoe, I'm on my last nerve sometimes.
Here's the current blurb for The Shadows:
"From the moment she enters the world of her new boarding school, Blight's Academy, teenage sleuth, Poppy Farrell, finds danger. From a strange encounter on a train platform, to the evidence of a murdered student in the woods that surround the school, life at Blight's Academy grows more menacing by the day.
Poppy and her friends, Clair and Georgie, must outwit their Shadows, older girls assigned to mentor them, but who coldly follow them wherever they go. There is a dark secret at the heart of Blight's Academy: disappearances, deaths, and conspiracies pervade the wooded grounds, flicker in the stained glass windows, tinkle like a music box lullaby through the turreted halls.
Enter the world of The Shadows where witchcraft is afoot. Young Adult or Old Adult, this story is guaranteed to send a shiver up your spine and keep you turning the pages far into the night."

Oooo---favorite authors! I adore short stories and some of my favorite all time stories are short. I can read them over and over again. I love Tanith Lee's short works, Angela Carter--both authors of rich imagery and hypnotic phrases. E.A. Poe, the British Gothic writers from the Brontes to Bram Stoker to Algernon Blackwood, Wilkie Collins and Dickins---especially Great Expectations. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is a huge influence. I'm loving Victoria Holt's Gothic Romances at the moment.
For a small niche, Gothic covers a lot of ground. I love Romance that involves intense moral struggle, and spiritual battles. Gothic Romance gives space for that, as well as elements of suspense, mystery and horror. You don't even need a happy ending---look at Wuthering Heights! I think atmosphere is the main quality that sets Gothic Romance apart, a pervading psychic dread, dark secrets, nostalgia for the glorious past and its ghosts.
The hardest thing about writing is my slowness and the pressure to get all these stories out of my system. I feel like if I die before they're all written, I'll have to come back to finish up. Some of these books are destined to be doorstoppers. (I suppose you can wedge your kindle under the door...) I'm almost good enough to write them.
My advice to aspiring writers is coming from one who had often wondered: Am I sane? Isn't spending all this time in your head and not having a life a form of madness? If I had known back in 2001, would I have embarked on this path? The option to publish independently has alleviated most of these concerns because I feel I can produce instead of spinning my wheels for the traditional deal. So I am sold on Indie Authoring and always suggest it to my writer friends. The other thing I would say is that is that you have to love it. This work requires enormous dedication and a thick skin. If you don't love it more than just about anything, it will be hard to keep going. And read a lot.

Alyne De Winter is an author of Gothic Mysteries and Occult Thrillers featuring tormented beauties, eerie settings, night religions, secret histories…

Pictured above is the lovely Alyne de Winter in the flesh!  She is  author of Gothic Mysteries and Occult Thrillers featuring tormented beauties, eerie settings, night religions, secret histories…

I have a special Alyne de Winters post pending very soon, so you'll want to make sure to stop by again for some great info, book blurbs, and info pertaining to her marvelous works.