Adrian Chamberlin welcomes you to Cambridge

No stranger to supernatural horror, Cambridge is home to the ghost stories of MR James (famously read to his students at King’s College on Christmas Eve) and Jonathan Aycliffe (most notably Naomi’s Room). The medieval, Gothic architecture of the older colleges combines with centuries of scholarly traditions to produce an atmosphere brimming with ancient, supernatural menace. It’s mostly of the quiet horror/ghostly tradition (sometimes with a smattering of Lovecraft), though; it doesn’t lend itself to other subgenres like zombies or splatterpunk.

I wanted to change that with The Caretakers, a supernatural thriller about a conspiracy at the heart of a fictional Cambridge college. I lived and worked in the city for over ten years, and spent a lot of time delivering to the colleges and university departments; I saw and heard things the locals and tourists don’t get to know of…

Oxford and Cambridge are completely different cities, as indeed are their universities, but many of the colleges of both institutions share identical (with the exception of some spelling) names: Jesus, St John’s, Trinity, Queens’/Queen’s, Magdalen/Magdalene (pronounced in both cities as ‘Maudlin’).

Oxford has an All Souls College, but Cambridge doesn’t.

It does now.

Historically and architecturally, All Souls is a mixture of the oldest colleges, such as Peterhouse and Corpus Christi, with crumbling cloisters and scrupulously maintained lawns, and keen-eyed readers familiar with Cambridge will note the Great Hall is based on that of Queens’ College – right down to the boar headpiece on the screen. While Cambridge is a world leader in education and scientific research, the older colleges exude an atmosphere of a distant past, ancient even, and it’s this that The Caretakers taps into – quite literally, with a prologue that takes place on the eve of Boudicca’s rising against the Roman occupation and creates a new reason for the establishment of what would become Cambridge University.

Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse Blue (and its 1980s TV adaptation with David Jason as Head Porter Skullion) brought to a wider audience the strange rituals and traditions of these old seats of learning; exaggerated for the purpose of satire, naturally, such as the opening scene with the Founders’ Feast. This inspired me to create the midwinter Founders’ Feast for All Souls College, and add my own exaggeration, for more gruesome effects. Not simply cannibalism; this Feast has its roots in the horror of what Boudicca unleashed upon the Romans, a malignant cosmic entity masquerading as the ancient Celtic goddess Andraste.

Cambridge has a wealth of myths and legends, many not directly connected to the university. A remarkable event in February 1799 became a part of Cambridgeshire lore: a burning meteorite startled the horse of farmer’s wife Elizabeth Woodcock, who was on her way home to Impington village after a boozy session in Cambridge. Thrown by her horse and buried alive for eight days in the freezing snowdrifts, her eventual recovery from her ice tomb is the stuff of local legend. To this day a plaque in Impington Church commemorates her ordeal, and a fanciful portrait shows her as a beautiful maiden resting peacefully in an ice cavern – reminiscent of Snow White waking in her glass coffin.

I played with this by making her the mistress of the (then) Master of All Souls, Charles Harvey, and the meteorite struck the college rather than Impington Common – creating a link between the ancient past and the modern-day events in the novel. The 1799 meteorite strike on All Souls was seen by contemporaries as a Divine Judgement, an attempt by God to purge the evil festering at the heart of the college, and modern day events in the novel conspire to repeat this – but there is nothing divine in the final strike against All Souls.

That wintry scene at the end of the 18th century is representative of the modern day story: the events of The Caretakers take place during a harsh winter, and Cambridge never looks more beautiful than when blanketed with snow and ice – and never more sinister than when gripped by winter sunset. The icebound courts and cloisters and gardens exude shadows that writhe like tormented souls in the flickering candle lights cast from the colleges’ High Tables, when the assembled Fellows and students look up from their meat and drink and consider what it costs to keep those shadows at bay.

Because as The Caretakers shows, this is a city where the past doesn’t so much walk hand in hand with the present but stalks it, slowly closing the distance until the twenty-first century visitor smells the tomb-breath too late to fight against the daggers – or talons – that rend winter clothing and flesh, opening the very soul to the primal fury and cosmic horror that is the true heart of Cambridge…

HEAR THE SCREAMS. FEEL THE PAIN. FACE THE EVIL. 

As a Cambridge College celebrates a midwinter feast, four uninvited strangers uncover a devastating secret. A secret that must never be revealed…for the love of humanity. 


Andy Hughes – a man with a dark past and an even darker future. His search for a missing student will lead him to a confrontation with an evil beyond human imagining… 


Rob Benson – a van driver who discovers a dead wild boar in the back of his Transit. A boar that just won’t stay dead… 


Jennifer Callaby – Andy’s estranged girlfriend, who discovers the shocking truth of The Caretakers – and the sacred task that they perform…

 
Jason Franklin – a prisoner who holds the key to the fates of them all, and may well be their only salvation – if he doesn’t destroy them first… 


A disturbing thriller that questions the nature of evil and the price to be paid for the continued survival of the human race – a price that for some is too great to pay…

 
THE CARETAKERS – a Master’s Degree in terror

Sample Reviews of The Caretakers:

https://www.thehorrorzine.com/ReviewFolder/Caretakers/Caretakers.html

http://www.charnelhousereviews.com/?p=1965

Another perspective:

Biography:

Adrian Chamberlin is a British writer of dark fiction and lives in the small south Oxfordshire town of Wallingford that serves as a backdrop to the UK television series Midsomer Murders, not far from where Agatha Christie lies buried, dreaming in darkness. He is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller novel The Caretakers as well as numerous short stories in a variety of anthologies, mostly historical or futuristic based supernatural horror. He edited the 2016 supernatural warfare novella collection Darker Battlefields, from the Exaggerated Press, and his novella The Silent Towers was shortlisted for Independent Legions Publishing’s 2018 Inferno Award.

Further information can be found on his website: www.archivesofpain.com

Biography:

Adrian Chamberlin is a British writer of dark fiction and lives in the small south Oxfordshire town of Wallingford that serves as a backdrop to the UK television series Midsomer Murders, not far from where Agatha Christie lies buried, dreaming in darkness. He is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller novel The Caretakers as well as numerous short stories in a variety of anthologies, mostly historical or futuristic based supernatural horror. He edited the 2016 supernatural warfare novella collection Darker Battlefields, from the Exaggerated Press, and his novella The Silent Towers was shortlisted for Independent Legions Publishing’s 2018 Inferno Award.

Further information can be found on his website: www.archivesofpain.com

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