I feel super lucky to have been selected as a host for a guest post about one of the most intriguing books I’ve read this year, The Golden Key. If you’re all about some old-school Gothic literature, this is for you! Author Marian Womack’s post is below the cut!
The Golden Key – Norfolk
by Marian Womack
My novel, The Golden Key, follows the exploits of female detective Helena Walton-Cisneros in fin de siècle London. The case she is investigating proves to be closely connected to Norfolk, a region not entirely unknown to her, and it is there that she travels to solve various mysteries. I remember the first time I was driven into Norfolk. It is difficult to describe; I experienced curiosity, fear, and a growing sense of unfixedness, of not knowing any more where things were, what direction we should take. It was a misty day, and we stopped for lunch in a country pub. When we came out, we were completely surrounded by mist. The land was so flat that nothing could be discerned ahead, only this mist, going on for what looked an eternity. I have never been so scared in my life.
This must have been nearly eighteen years ago, and I have not yet been able to shake this feeling of indeterminacy, the sense of a place that was held together by the mist itself. Up until then, I had always connected mystery and gothic sensibilities with dark woods, craggy moorland landscapes run by wild winds, desolate ruins. A child built on a diet of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Ann Radcliffe, my gothic imagination wandered between these landscapes – which I connected with northern locales – and the dungeons imagined by these northern authors in obscure European fortresses. This was different. Marshes, the unnervingly flat Fens, and the sense of a land without end, where to lose your way might be more usual than not. I had never before felt so unmoored, never before felt that the possibility of being pixie-led was … real. I had never felt so unsure of anything, any place, more than that afternoon in the middle of the Fens, unsure which direction to take, unable of seeing any markers in the land above the mist.
On another memorable occasion we drove to Holkham beach. I was born by the sea, in a city made of light, dominated by the longest urban beach in Europe, bathed by the Atlantic. We grew up understanding the movements of the tides, which changed the shape of the coast, the size of the beach itself. But there was never any doubt in our mind of where one thing ended and the other started, of where land and ocean met.
The Norfolk coast wasn’t exactly like this.
Holkham seemed to follow its own rules; and they made no sense to me. All I could see was a marshy, pulpy stretch of land that stretched ahead, endlessly. What I could not see was where the land ended, where the North Sea started. It seemed to go on into infinity. What if I had wanted to bathe in those waters? It was explained to me that I would have to walk for a long time before I reached a point where the water even reached up to my waist. How was this possible? How impossibly flat did this part of the world have to be for that to happen?
What was this place? What magic operated here? I was scared, of not understanding the rules, of the rules not making sense; of certainties about place, about solid land, disappearing. I looked out into the sea. The prospects of walking into it, towards the unknown, advancing into something I did not recognize, could never recognize, gave me a feeling of danger like I have never experienced before, in a place that to all accounts appeared calm and tranquil.
From where I was, I could not see where the land ended and the sea started; I could not see a horizon, I could not distinguish anything, anything that might help me ground myself. Since then, I had not been able to shake this feeling of not knowing. This was enough to conjure up other feelings: was the Sea real? Was I real? My husband’s family had left its mark on the land, came from a place called “Womack Water”. Would this also prove to be a place that was neither here nor there? Holkham beach conjured up more terror than any ruins, craggy moors, or dark woods ever had.