The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with C.S. Alleyne
Ruschelle: Hello, hello C.S. Alleyne. It’s wonderful to have you here with us in our little literary corner of hell and mayhem we call the Horror Tree. We are excited by your soon to be released novel Belle Vue. It’s based on a creepy asylum that is right in your own backyard. So awesome. Could you give us a bit of the asylums back story?
C.S.: Thank you Ruschelle, I’m also excited by Belle Vue being released as it’s my debut novel and my feet haven’t touched the ground yet lol!
To answer your first question, the Metropolitan Asylums Board opened the, ahem, ‘Leavesden Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles’ (not a name to be reckoned with these days!) in 1870 in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire which is local to me. Set in 93 acres (although this figure varies considerably according to your source), the original designs for the asylum allowed for the accommodation of 1,560 inmates. Soon that figure was far exceeded and in 1948 the number was over 3,000 patients. Eventually the hospital (as it had become) closed and after a few years was developed into the luxury apartments.
Although the regime there was strict it was nothing like the Belle Vue Asylum in my novel – that is my imagination and fictionalising from the wider sources of my research. It is quite ironic that these many asylums – both in the UK and US – which in Victorian times only housed the poor and insane (often passed on from the workhouses) should become highly desirable residences with – in some cases – million pound price tags!
That change in usage and perception of desirability fascinated me and when I found a book called ‘Murders in Hertfordshire’ which told the story of a murder taking place there at the end of the nineteenth century, I was hooked and started jotting down plot ideas and researching more about its history. Not sure where the satanic orgies came in though lol!
Ruschelle: Your novel is a beautiful tapestry. Weaving rich beautiful colors of fiction into the solid strands of facts. How difficult or seamless was it to get the perfect balance of each?
C.S. Thank you. I did make a big effort at this since I strongly dislike those parts in often excellent novels which have research dumps! Those chunks or even pages of text which rattle off everything you wanted – or more likely didn’t want – to know about usually a highly technical or obscure subject. Often it’s safe to skip over these sections if not of interest but I think that is a wasted opportunity. I tried to focus on the actions of the characters and reveal small aspects each time. I accept I may fall flat on my face here and every review will now identify Belle Vue is full of the very thing I didn’t want to do. But if so my heartfelt apologies and I will not make same mistake twice lol!
Ruschelle: Are your main characters, Alex and Claire based on people you may know? Are they fragments of you or are they plucked from your imagination?
C.S.: When I first started writing Belle Vue and created Alex and Claire (who also went through a few name changes) I thought I would use bits of myself, friends, film and tv examples but in the main it didn’t turn out that way (or not consciously anyway beyond one character from Oz where I grew up) . Rather it was their role in the story and how they would react to the unfolding circumstances. I also wanted Alex and Claire to be an everyman (and woman) to enable a connection to the reader (if they had these paranormal experiences lol!) whereas the other main characters are very distinct and, as with the ‘baddies’ not necessarily likeable but hopefully compelling.
Ruschelle: Let’s get to the juicy part in your research of the asylum, the satanic orgies. Did you include that ‘dirty little secret’ in Belle Vue? Have you wiped your browsing history clean since then? LOL
C.S.: I did most of the research just before ‘incognito mode’ existed but luckily the search sites also weren’t as sharp with bombarding you with associated adverts back then. Whereas I did visit a number of converted asylums as part of my research, the closest I got to a satanic orgy was a day trip to the Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe. Very interesting for me but just as I didn’t murder anyone or hadn’t been tried in court, I had to read around the subjects and use my imagination.
Ruschelle: You discovered a cemetery on the grounds of the asylum. What did your research come up with on the ground’s residents?
C.S.: When I first found the cemetery which is a surprisingly long way from the main old asylum buildings, it was over grown. There was a lychgate at the entrance but although you could see some graves, others were hidden in the undergrowth. What you could see in some places were where the graves had sunk. This I found in my reading was because they buried the pauper lunatics in hessian sacks and so as the body decomposed the ground above caved in.
Aaron Kosminski, who was one of the people suspected to be Jack the Ripper and was an inmate of the asylum (from 19 April 1894 until his death in May of 1919), is supposedly buried there. Recently the cemetery has been thoroughly cleared and more gravestones discovered.
Ruschelle: Since the asylum has been converted into apartments, do you believe there are spirits haunting the halls?
C.S.: As a prime candidate for possible hauntings, stories appear every so often in the local press about legends and ghosts associated with the asylum. A recent one identified a past goalkeeper of Arsenal, who lives in one of those luxury apartments, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a monk holding a candle. Since I have a great imagination and, bizarrely given what I write, am a bit of a coward when it comes to the supernatural (always clutching a magazine to hide behind when watching a horror movie), I probably would not live in a place with such a history.
Ruschelle: How long from conception to research to writing and editing did it take you write Belle Vue?
C.S.: When I started writing Belle Vue at first I focused on the research side as I knew very little about Victorian lunatic asylums or the murder case so that took quite a bit of time as I loved doing that and my research parameters got wider and wider! I also didn’t really think I’d be able to write much and wondered if it might be a short story as it was unlikely I could find enough to write for a novel. But once I got into creating the story and characters it was no problem at all! This process took a couple of years off and on. By the time I’d finished my first complete draft it was twice the length of the soon-to-be-publsihed Belle Vue!
I joined a writers’ circle and many there who had had books published said they had written lots of novels before getting published (now in bottom drawers) so each was a form of practice and developing their writing skills. I did it the other way round and used the same book to do this! I pruned it and rewrote it numerous times instead (using advice from a lot of rejection letters!) I put it aside for a few years before someone who had read it before said I ought to try again. So I did and my wonderful agent, Italia Gandolfo saw its potential (or I caught her at a weak moment lol) and took me on as a client. After more pruning and editing, it was accepted by Crystal Lake Publishing.
Ruschelle: You have vacationed in many exotic locales; the Catacombs in Paris, the Pope’s crypts in Italy, the tombs of Egypt. These are definitely, The Horror Tree vacations. So where would you love to visit next? And on a side note, did any of them serve drinks with little umbrellas?
C.S.: One of the places, I would love to visit next is the Palermo Catacombs in Sicily which is creepier and more shocking than most horror movies. But I somehow think, just like the rest, no drinks with little umbrellas lol!
Ruschelle: Have you had any supernatural experiences in any of the places you’ve visited?
C.S.: Nothing I could class as supernatural and don’t ever expect to see me on Ghost Hunters or any such show due to my cowardice even when I know it’s fake lol. My first visit to the old Leavesden Asylum Cemetery was quite unnerving – I was alone in the silence, the cemetery is surrounded by fields and trees. To walk around and discover each gravestone in the high grass and knowing that person’s previous abode and likely history was unsettling.
In all the places I’ve been there was – probably due to my fascination with all things death-related (not to mention my over-active imagination) – an underlying atmosphere of what might happen next. What if the lights went out in the catacombs? What if the blocks of stone in this narrow pyramid tunnel suddenly drop down and block any exit? I’m scaring myself now lol as perception can be as frightening as the reality (if there is any for supernatural occurrences).
Ruschelle: Your book Power is spelled with a mirror image letter R. Color me intrigued.
C.S.: It reflects the way the story develops. At the beginning Maude Caulkin – poor and female in Victorian London – is completely powerless. By the end, in a very gory way that surprised even me lol, that power has completely turned – hence the reversed letter.
Ruschelle: What was the process you used for penning your novelette, Power comparatively to your novel Belle Vue?
C.S.: Power was written at lightning speed compared to Belle Vue. One very small part of it is actually deleted from the much longer version of Belle Vue when I was pruning like Edwards Scissorhands. As I hadn’t had anything published before and didn’t really know how everything worked such as getting an Amazon or Goodreads author page, this was a way of sorting these things out and me learning a bit more as to how the publishing process works. But the reality of getting a proper novel to market has shocked me with the amount of work required not just by myself but by Crystal Lake Publishing and my agent, Italia Ganfolfo. I am profoundly grateful for their unstinting support.
Ruschelle: In December of 2019, Power was NUMBER ONE on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Historical Fiction short stories! WHOO HOO!! How did that effect you as an author and how did that boost your book?
C.S.: I was on cloud nine for days, nay, weeks lol. Just as with very good reviews, it inspires you and the memories keep you going when you’re having a difficult day – writing or marketing-wise.
Ruschelle: With the upcoming release of Belle Vue in August, 2020, barring a rabid Sasquatch uprising or mole people collapsing the entire infrastructure of the planet, what exciting plans do you have for marketing your book?
C.S.: Given the current circumstances (and bizarrely, a rabid Sasquatch uprising or mole people collapsing the entire infrastructure of the planet doesn’t sound that outlandish lol) I am currently organising for a virtual launch. This includes interviews such as we’re doing, podcasts and radio appearances, guest posts and a blog tour. I shall put these up on my website as well as my social media pages once I have finalised dates (and to be safe, I shall invite any Sasquatches or mole people who might be interested since sales for debut authors are hard to come by!)
Ruschelle: What was the best and worst piece of writing advice you ever received?
C.S.: For the ‘worst’, this was not told to me personally but generally writers are advised to ‘write what you know’ which I find incredibly limiting and given Belle Vue is about murder, satanic orgies and mistreatment in Victorian lunatic asylums I am not putting my hand up to any of these! Just imagine all the classics which would never have been written if the authors had stuck to this ‘rule’ – especially in the horror, sci fi and fantasy arenas such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Fiction is about letting your imagination soar!
Then to the ‘best’, if you love to write or have a story you want to tell, then – as long as you are enjoying yourself – keep at it. Passion for the process as well as the subject is very important – especially if you want a long writing career.
Ruschelle: As well as a writer, you’re also a reader. How do you prefer to sink into a good book? Traditional print, e-books or audio?
C.S.: It used to be traditional print and I still love the feel of a book in my hands. Increasingly I am moving over to e-books and find reading fiction on my phone, most preferable. I have a lot of friends who love audio books often to the exception of all else but I haven’t really got into these in the same way. I think it has to do with the way I read – if I am not keen on how the book is written or where the storyline is going then I’ll skip forward and see if it’s worth staying – or not. But I can’t really do that with audio.
Ruschelle: What new works do you have simmering in your cooking pot next? Can you give us a little taste?
C.S.: Belle Vue is now planned to be the first of a trilogy. I am in the middle of writing the sequel – Secret Nemesis is the working title – and in it, the main characters from both the Victorian and present day move to the United States and face a cross-fire of evil and danger. So more research on murder and general skulduggery, asylums in the US and satanic societies that side of the pond.
Ruschelle: How can your newfound fans find you on the www.
C.S.: My website address is – www.csalleyne.com – all the links are there too to my social media pages.
And for those who would like a taster – here is the link to the Prologue and the first 2 chapters –