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Judas Tree (1999)


Hodder cover 1999

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1999, ISBN 9780340739136 hardback

New English Library, UK, 2000, ISBN 9780340739143 paperback

Amelia Thomas heads for the sun-soaked Greek island of Voros not only to escape her cold, dreary home town, but also to piece her life back together after a failed romance and a mysterious accident which has left her feeling an outsider to the rest of the world.

Voros should be an idyllic, peaceful place. Here there are no roads, no towns, only the Judas tree which grows in astonishing profusion, blossoming each spring into a vivid pink that lends the island an otherworldly air.

But the island is not what it appears. Nor are the people who live there. Something unexpected haunts Voros. A something that Amelia cannot see, but a something which has the power to shape events, to invade lives and to make people do strange, sometimes frightening things.

That dark power is about to reach out to Amelia and take her on a strange and ghostly journey of self-discovery. A journey where danger lurks…

In the classic tradition of The Haunting of Hill House, Rebecca and The Shining, Simon Clark has written a truly thrilling modern ghost story which will continue to haunt the reader long after the final page.


Simon writes:

In Stephen King’s Carrie (1974) stones fall, without any rational explanation, onto the house of the exceedingly strange Mrs White and her young daughter Carrie. In Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) more stones fall inexplicably on the house occupied by the neurotic Mrs Vance and her two daughters, Eleanor and – coincidentally enough – Carrie.

Without a shadow of a doubt King knows and loves The Haunting Of Hill House. His novel Firestarter is dedicated to Jackson with the words ‘In memory of Shirley Jackson, who never needed to raise her voice’. So it doesn’t take much stretch of the imagination to see that he honours her with a passing nod at the start of Carrie. And it’s clear from King’s work that he has worked hard unlocking the techniques used by earlier authors, which he himself then used to great effect. The same goes for all writers. All look very closely at the work of past masters. King has read Jackson to see how she pulled all the strings and rang all the bells. No doubt Jackson studied earlier writers to uncover those same techniques. In Algernon Blackwood’s The Damned (1914) we see a near prototype of The Haunting Of Hill House, with a story of a brother and sister (both in adulthood) going to stay in an old house called The Towers, that ‘stood solemnly upon a Sussex hill’. The house appears to be haunted. By what or by whom no one could say, and like Hill House which is described as ‘not sane’ The Towers is deeply neurotic. Both stories are animated by a great dark power, both show their writers to be consummate exponents of their technique, and although both are genuinely frightening we never see any ghosts, there are no monsters, no-one gets an axe in the skull from ‘the thing in the attic’.

Largely, it is what goes on in the characters’ own heads that drive them into a panic. Indeed in The Damned the sister realises The Towers isn’t an ordinary haunted house she goes on to ask: ‘and why does nothing ever happen? If only something would happen – break this awful tension – bring relief…’ But that is the malign power of the house. It turns the screw, it raises tension in its occupants, but it never allows anything to happen. The spirit of the house is like that of a repressed Victorian clergyman. It won’t allow any display of fear, anger or love. All emotion is so forcibly suppressed that occupants of the house feel like cylinders of compressed gas that have been filled to near bursting point. But the real torture for them is this: they are never allowed to burst. The house will never allow anything to happen.

Blackwood also wrote other masterpieces that rely on mood for their effect rather than monsters, such as The Willows and the The Wendigo. In turn he must have built his own haunted places on the foundations prepared by earlier writers – Sheridan Le Fanu is a name that springs immediately to mind. Le Fanu could expertly describe the outward appearance of a house in such a way that sends shivers to the very marrow of your bones.

This is the point were I push myself into the text – not a very polite thing to do, I know, in the company of these wonderful writers – but there I’ve done it. Here I am. Now, with The Fall, I’d written six novels. And as I walked down to the post office to mail the manuscript I realised it was time to take a bigger risk. I’d been reading the likes of Blackwood, Jackson and Le Fanu and I thought to myself: I want to do that. I want to try and write a story using those classic techniques. I wanted to attempt to write a page that might on one level be nothing more than a description of a room, but I wanted to be able to pull the strings, press the buttons and ring all the bells that would induce into the reader a real frission of fear. For the reader to think: This page scared me, but I don’t know why it scared me. And I told myself if I could pull that off just once or twice in the book I could give myself a pat on the back.

So, Judas Tree was born. I’ve used different techniques in attempting to induce feelings of disquiet, even downright fear. In some ways it is a different book to my earlier ones, and yet I hope it’s going to be one that readers do find satisfying. And, oh, before I go, if the spirit world has gone on-line I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude and admiration to a few of those writers (in no particular order) from whom I’ve learnt so much (and enjoyed one hell of a lot):

Edgar Allan Poe
Arthur Machen
William Hope Hodgson
Algernon Blackwood
HP Lovecraft
Sheridan La Fanu
Shirley Jackson