Chapter One … In Pictures

My Own Wardrobe

It had been several years since I’d visited nearby landmark Thornton Abbey by the time I sat down to write ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. And what is the significance of that? Well, one door in its commanding medieval gatehouse had provided inspiration for the tale. There’s more about that in my blog-post ‘Fifty Years in the Making’. The door, after all, was my equivalent to C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe.

Flights of Fantasy

I made the most of the winter sunshine yesterday to revisit the abbey, now in the stewardship of English Heritage. I was curious to discover whether the mental imagery I had transferred into the opening scenes of my book were accurate or whether they were (like the tale) simply flights of fantasy. I took some photographs while I was there. I’m adding these here, together with those relevant passages from my story. Judge for yourself the accuracy of my recall.

For anyone who hasn’t followed my previous posts and know nothing of the children’s fantasy story I’ve been working on for a number of years, chapter one opens with my protagonist, Levi, being led to the abbey (Thornley Abbey in my book) by his uncle who wishes to show him the fantastic and mysterious door that – unbeknown to Levi – leads to Caellfyon … a land far, far away.

Levi’s Steps to Caellfyon

1

As they walked, the road bent sharply once again, this time to the left, skirting the edge of a large open field. Beyond this stood a line of trees, oak and beech mostly, their ancient limbs twisted like the gnarled fingers of old men. Behind them stood a tall and imposing limestone building.

‘There she is,’ said Seymour, pointing. ‘The abbey itself is nothing more than a crumbling ruin yon side. What you see there is the gatehouse. Splendid isn’t it.’

2

They had skirted the field edge and the stark and brooding façade of Thornley Abbey’s gatehouse now reared before them. He immediately sought the door Seymour had spoken of. Sure enough, high in the wall and right of centre was the timber door. Even at this distance Levi could clearly see a large stone lintel above the door, engraved with ornate carvings. A thrill of excitement ran through him and he gave a slight, involuntary gasp.

3

Just as he was beginning to believe his blood had frozen in his veins he saw Seymour stoop to enter a low opening in the ancient monument’s fence. Several foot-squelching seconds later he, too, entered the abbey grounds and dashed for the archway ahead.

3c

Here a large ornately carved arch loomed above him. The remains of two colossal gates hung on massive hinges, their timbers held open by thick rusting chains bolted to the walls. To the right of one of the gates was a narrow doorway and it was to here that Seymour was heading.

4

Once Levi reached the door he saw that the ancient steps, cold and narrow, coiled upwards out of sight. Already, Seymour had disappeared round the first tight bend. Levi paused a second, considering the uneven treads. Each step was smooth, dished at its leading edge like a pillow after a long night’s sleep.

5

Levi did not need to look down to see how steeply the curving staircase dropped away behind him – did not have to see the hard, unforgiving edges of the stone steps to realise a fall from here would be appalling. He snatched at the railing with his free hand and held on tight.

6

Levi followed his uncle upwards and, several steps later, was relieved to see a side stair branch off from the main spiral, leading to a small landing.

77a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Levi’s left was a huge, leaded glass window. Muted daylight filtered through its grimy pains casting pail bands of light into the room, painting the floor with a dull mosaic. To the right, several yards away at the other end of the hall, was the largest fireplace he’d ever seen.

7b

87c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together they crossed the hall and entered the slender passage, branching left. The air here was close and musty, reminding Levi of the small under-stairs cupboard back home. He hurried to keep close to his uncle, who was stooping along the low passage, his shoulders brushing both walls.

9

The opening Levi had seen was nothing more than a small, square chamber set into the passage. In one of its three walls was a large, black door studded with formidable square-headed bolts. Half way up the door, on one side, was a thick, iron hasp. Sure enough, the brass padlock hanging from it was open. Seymour turned and grinned at him.

‘Here, have a look through this,’ he said, pointing to a knot-hole half way up the door. Levi squatted and peered through the hole.

 

10

He peered sidelong towards the mystery door. Seymour was no longer there. Wherever the strange opening led to, his uncle was already there. He warily shuffled along as he’d seen his uncle do, and was soon at the doorway. He glanced up to the engraved lintel he’d first viewed from the road. Carved images of several animals spanned the huge stone beam. These were animals unlike any he’d seen before. Ratty looking, armour-clad creatures, standing upright and brandishing fearsome weapons, paraded across the stone’s surface. The effect was sinister and ominous – far more than the procession of diabolic gargoyles that stared down accusingly from the wall above.

A Mystery No Longer

After working on ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ for many years, with these and other scenes swirling around my head as I batted the keys, it was a delight to revisit this fine Lincolnshire monument once again. More than that, however, it was a surreal experience as, once I reached the door that I knew led onto the moss-covered ledge, I wanted to open it and step out. And the reason for that? The strange opening that has puzzled me for many years is no longer a mystery as I now know what awaits on the other side.

Find out for yourself: The Door to Caellfyon, paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon

8 thoughts on “Chapter One … In Pictures

  1. Thanks for this taster, Steve, in words and pictures. I love doors as portals to another room or, in imagination, reality — and this sounds right up my street.

    Can I ask: is Caellfyon to be pronounced as if Welsh or English? How many syllables, or is the ‘ae’ a diphthong? And where should I put the stress? All important points to this pedant, I’m afraid!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by. Portal tales have been a ‘thing’ with me for many years – but curiously I’ve never read ‘Narnia’. One day, perhaps. Yes, give the tale a go. I wrote it for 9-11s but I’ve had excellent comments from all ages. Only one Amazon review so far, sadly.

      A good and (to another pedant like me) perfectly reasonable question re the name. The ‘ae’ is a diphthong, with the word having three syllables, emphasis on the ‘ee’ (CaellfEEon).

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      1. Ah, thanks, I thought it might be Caell-fee’on. (Welsh might be K-eye-hl-vee’on.) I had a similar difficulty with the Fillory of Lev Grossman’s Magicians series: rhyming with ‘pillory’ or with the penultimate stress as in Jackanory? I decided on the former!

        I like physical books, so I shall probably use up some Amazon vouchers to get yours in the near future. And I promise to review it!

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  2. Steve,

    From one who is not likely to be up that way again in the foreseeable future, thanks for the guided tour down memory lane. It’s questions to the Author time. I wonder, did you ever get to spend an evening/night in those historic surroundings? I’m also curious – I remember you having an interest in Mr.E.Bloodaxe et al – why you transported Thornton Abbey from Danish surroundings to Celtic lore. No criticism implied. Simple curiousity. And possibly some bad spelling on my part.

    Roy

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    1. Hi Roy and thanks for visiting. No I never spent a night there – nor would I want to. I once wrote a piece for Lincolnshire Life magazine (accepted but never published, damn ’em all) entitled ‘The Silent Stones of Thornton Abbey’. In it I explored the identity of the poor chap discovered by workers in the late 1800s, bricked up behind a wall. The legend behind his I.D. is too involved and complex for here, but included a demon, a witch and a dwarf. My research also unearthed the level to which the place is said to be haunted. So no, there’s not been (nor will be) any visits after dark. As for the Danish/Celtic question, it was a mish-mash of influences that came together in the creation of my book. Have a look at my previous postings. You’ll see exactly how random they’ve been. But you’ll also see similarities between the politics of my own fictional land and Anglo-Saxon England, vague though they may be.

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  3. I love how we writers can be inspired by Doors-windows-alleyways different ports of entry. And your photographs are marvelous with your story. I take pictures of things that I’m going to use in my stories and tape them by my writing table. Great post!

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  4. Hi, thanks for the kind comment. You’re so right – just the sight of an entry-way sets the mind-cogs free-wheeling. My favourite song in Lord of the Rings has to be Bilbo’s: ‘The Road Goes Ever On And On’. You can write your own tale prompted by that alone. I was pleased with the photographs, too (taken on a modest Casio digital number purchased while on holiday in Florida). I was also surprised I’d been able to dredge up the images so accurately from a dismal memory. I can’t take full credit for the pics, though, as abbeys are such photogenic places. With the sun on it that day I could have filled an album. Thanks again for dropping by.

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