Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Golden Key by Marian Womack! My thanks to Lydia at Titan Books for the invitation to join! I have an extract to share with you today but first, let’s see what The Golden Key is all about.
Author : Marian Womack
Title : The Golden Key
Pages : 320
Publisher : Titan Books UK
Publication date : February 18, 2020
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.
| EXTRACT |
‘Sam, I have been meaning to talk to you.’
‘I am most impressed at your recovery. Health and occupation are the main purveyors of a happy mind! Have you had any inkling of what you might want to do next?’
Sam had feared this conversation, but he was prepared for it.
‘Mind you, you are welcome to stay as long as you want!’
‘I had the notion of preparing myself to climb some mountain,’ Sam cut in, in the face of Charles’s embarrassed look.
‘Very good! Train the body and the spirit will look after itself. The most important thing is to be able to control the dark impulses—’
Sam had a private, interior laugh. Was his uncle serious? Was he preaching against dark and fanciful notions, while taking him to a séance, of all things?
‘Let the work of the day tire you so that you fall into a black well when you go to sleep,’ continued the older man. A cloud passed over Sam’s mind; what did his uncle know about his nightmares? Perhaps he shouted in his dreams. Did he shout about the ruined house, about Viola, about the ghostly seamstress?
Charles imparted some more of this kind of vague, Spiritualist-magazine advice during their drive to Gower Street, while Sam nodded and uttered agreements in all the right places. They reached their destination shortly after half past seven. A maid opened the door for them, and they were shown into a parlour. The room was in half-darkness, and what light there was twisted the aspidistras at the other end into fantastical shapes. Sam weighed up his surroundings, an old habit from a time when he used to pick fights in taverns. Entrances and exits.
Two members of the Gower Street Circle were greeting the guests: serious Miss Clare Collins, a poised young black woman with a shocking streak of white in her hair, and a Scot, Thomas Bunthorne, whom Sam had met previously. Charles greeted both of them, and introduced Miss Collins to Sam:
‘My dear boy, here you have the most faithful group of devotees in the whole of London!’ he announced, and Miss Collins laughed heartily, as though Charles had said something truly amusing. Sam felt as if he had missed a trick.
‘How do you do, Miss Collins?’ he offered.
‘Sam, Miss Collins here will direct the séance,’ Charles explained.
‘But I thought—’
Charles and Miss Collins smiled at Sam’s confusion.
‘Don’t worry, Mr Moncrieff. Madame Florence is the one you have come to see tonight, and you will see her. She will lock herself in that cabinet,’ Miss Collins explained, signalling an imposing piece of black mahogany furniture at the other end of the room. Sam was unpleasantly reminded of an oversized coffin. ‘From there she will summon the spirits, but I will direct the questions from the table.’
The rest of the small gathering was completed by a little plump woman in a worn-out gown who kept wringing her hands, and a distinguished-looking lady dressed in heavy mourning regalia, sitting on a chair with the aloof air of not needing to talk to anyone. Sam noted that Charles greeted her coldly, in a manner suggesting that he must have known her in passing, but he did not offer an introduction. Mr Woodbury, an elderly bookseller whom Sam had seen sometimes in Charles’s house, arrived shortly before the proceedings began.
He had not expected to see the medium before the séance, but Madame Florence appeared in the dimly lit room. She moved like a graceful hostess, talking to everyone, quite as if she were about to announce dinner instead of a meeting with the dead. She was not at all as Sam had expected: he had pictured a plump spinster, an earthly matron surrounded by a group of admiring fools.
‘Madame Florence,’ said Charles, ‘may I introduce Mr Samuel Moncrieff?’
She extended a heavily bejewelled hand in his direction, and Sam bent down to kiss it. He had the impression that she was sizing him up, and that she was happy with what she saw. Madame Florence seemed to be a woman who made sure her partialities were understood. She had deep, intense green eyes, which seemed to pierce through his skull and communicate hidden meanings.
‘Are you a believer, Mr Moncrieff? Or will I have a problem with you?’
Her directness disarmed him for a second. She must have noticed the slight bewilderment in his eyes, for she added:
‘I’m only joking! Please excuse me. It’s just that I can smell a non-believer from miles away.’
‘Madame Florence, if I may—’ he started. ‘I am new to Spiritualism, and there are still certain things that perplex me. One question, for example. If mediumship is a service, as the members of your religion proclaim, pray inform me on one point. I do not quite understand why these people have to pay to be here.’
‘Sam!’ Charles looked horrified.
‘Don’t worry, Mr Bale. Nothing gives me more pleasure than dispelling these little malicious and unfounded myths about my profession. Let’s put your assertion to the test, Mr Moncrieff. Do you see that lady?’ She pointed at the woman in the worn-out dress. ‘She came to see me days ago. She needed help, solace. I could not turn her down. Of course, she could not afford to pay for my services, but she needed them nonetheless. People have their pride, Mr Moncrieff, even the less fortunate among us.’ She fixed him with an icy stare, as if daring him to take up the issue with her. ‘She is a very talented milliner, and has promised to make me a new summer hat in lieu of payment. I have accepted. It is more than fair, and I only fear that I shall be benefiting much more than her in the exchange.’
Her honesty was refreshing, he thought. Sam noticed that his uncle had moved away, with a wounded look.
‘That is very generous of you,’ he said.
‘And that man over there…’ To Sam’s surprise she pointed to Mr Woodbury, who was conducting what looked like an agitated exchange with Thomas Bunthorne. ‘As well as being a celebrated vegetarian, and a significant figure in the temperance movement, he happens to want to study my psychic powers. Perhaps even to shame me as a fraud!’ She suppressed a little laugh. ‘Anyway, I cannot charge him for attending this gathering in his pursuit of scientific knowledge! You are in safe hands, Mr Moncrieff. I assure you he will scrutinise everything that happens here this evening.’
To her amusement, he didn’t know what else to say.
‘Pray, excuse me, I had better prepare myself,’ Madame Florence cut off. ‘A psychic expert and a non-believer!’ she laughed. ‘I have to offer an excellent performance tonight, don’t you think?’ and she walked away from him.
If this excerpt has piqued your interest, then why not grab yourself a copy of The Golden Key right now!
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |
Marian Womack is a bilingual writer (English and Spanish), and co-founder of Calque Press. She is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and her debut English-language eco-storytelling collection, Lost Objects, was published in 2018 by Luna Press . Her fiction has been part of an installation in Somerset House about activism and ecology, translated into Italian, and nominated for both BSFA and British Fantasy Awards. She teaches creative writing at Oxford University, and works for Cambridge University Libraries in a teaching and engagement role. Her doctoral research looks at the communication of climate change through fiction.