Category Archives: Hopeless inhabitants

Witherspoon’s Mother

This is Mrs Witherspoon. She cooks at the orphanage, and teaches cooking. By ‘cooks’ I mean that she is incredibly adept at chopping up things and boiling them, and has an absolute confidence about what can be eaten, even if it does fight back when being dished up. In fairness to her, no one has ever died as a result of Mrs Witherspoon’s cooking, although a fair few people have chosen to go hungry instead. Learning not to be too fussy is a good life skill on Hopeless, Maine.

Like many women in history, her personal identity is obscured. Her surname is not the one she was born with. The late Mr Witherspoon – who we never really see, but whose existence can be inferred from her presence, was Reverend and orphanage manager before Reverend Davies took up the job.

In the portrait, we see her at her best, armed with the tools of her trade and the medium of her art – tentacles. However, as with Whistler’s Mother (a painting we clearly haven’t stolen from even a little bit) the woman in the image is defined by her relationship to the artist. Even as she’s represented, she’s being erased as a person in her own right. Do we succumb to the temptation to ask who the younger Witherspoon is? Are we interested in the artist? Or are we interested in the woman who has been made a subject of the art?

Mrs Witherspoon herself doesn’t say much. Like so many women whose lives have made them invisible, she’s never said much to anyone about her own experiences. She’s seen a great deal that she will never speak of. She knows secrets – most especially the secrets of the Reverends of Hopeless Maine. Her silence supports and enables. It facilitates. It does not challenge or question or offer a counter narrative. Hers is the silent complicity of women through history who have been willing to believe that the men know best and should lead and not be questioned… Women who have done this not in ignorance, but in full knowledge of what they were going along with.

Mrs Witherspoon believes in feeding orphans. She does not believe in questioning why there are so many orphans to begin with. She is not the sort of person to cause trouble by suggesting any of the things that might reduce the number of orphans in the first place. She is certainly not the sort of woman to create a scandal by letting any breath of a whisper escape into the world about how many of the orphans she has tended were actually her husband’s children.

Perhaps that’s why, if you look at the picture in the background, Witherspoon the Younger has suggested a rather unsavoury fate for Mrs Witherspoon.

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Breaking the moon

As far as I know, this is the first picture Tom ever did of Salamandra breaking the moon. It’s about ten years old. I don’t think at this point we knew why she was breaking the moon, either.

Those of you who have read either Inheritance as a standalone book, or as the second half of The Gathering, will know that Sal breaks the moon at the end of that book. Or appears to. Whether it is illusion, she never says. Is she really strong enough to split the moon in half and then put it back together later when no longer in a fit of pique? If she is strong enough, why is she hanging about on a small, grim island? Why hasn’t she taken over the world?

As the story unfolds, the questions of who and what Salamandra really is, what she can do, and what her limits are, remains pertinent. Obviously I’m not going to give you any spoilers for future books at this point!

In the meantime though, here are some things to ponder. What are the limits of your powers? How do you know? Why are you living the life you are living and not rushing off to do something far more dramatic and important? What are the limiting factors on your ability to change the world?

Why Donald does not love his dead dog

For the first eight or so years of his life, Donald was just your regular Hopeless Maine orphan with a dead dog as sidekick. He remembered very little about his family, and had no idea where the dead dog – Drury – had come from. But hey, the dead dog was neat, and funny, and adored him and it was all fine.

Then, as so many children who live for long enough do, Donald became curious. He took up exploring in his spare time, going out with other young orphans to poke about in old ruins, dodgy cellars, uneasy corners. There’s an element of natural selection here that young humans on Hopeless seem to relish, even though mostly what it does is punish the curious with death, leaving an adult population of survivors who have learned not to ask, not to look too closely, not to leave the path and never to wonder what the funny noise was. For some, childhood on Hopeless is truly a magical, if brief experience. Not all children want to grow up, and the island is all too ready to assist them in this.

Donald’s downfall did not come out of the darkness with far too many teeth. It did not lure him into a deep pool, or latch on to steal his blood. It came in the form of a book. A book hidden in a dusty attic, that called out to him when he first glimpsed its pale spine. He took the book back to his bed in the orphanage, and hid it under a loose floorboard.

Everyone in the orphanage has at least one loose floorboard or moveable bit of wainscoting to hide stuff behind. No one touches anyone else’s hidden stuff – it is one of the unspoken rules of the orphanage. Everyone pretends not to know where other people have hidden their things. So long as floors or ceilings are not compromised by the stash, and nothing comes out and kills someone, the adults also undertake to have no idea who has hidden what.

The book obsessed Donald. It haunted him. When he tried to sleep at night, his head was full of images that tormented his young soul. He could find no peace. He became silent, ghostly, unable to speak. For two years, he said nothing to anyone, and because weird afflictions are the daily business of the orphanage, no one bothered about it too much. He was later saved from this condition, but that, as they say, is another story.

Sometimes, late at night, he would sneak the book out and take it to a window in the hopes of illuminating a few words or images with moonlight. The book showed him other worlds, and while it filled him with misery, he could not let it go. He learned many of the words by heart. D is for Dog left a hollow pain in his chest, but he could not look away.

The Mystery of Erik

If you’ve read Hopeless Maine, Sinners, you may have noticed the two page spreads. Being the clever sort of people you are, you will have noticed that the two page spreads tell a story that has nothing to do with the main story. The super-attentive will have recognised Melisandra – mother of Salamandra, and will have figured out that she’s collecting a young man and drawing him into her underground, night time lifestyle.

A note about vampires on Hopeless, Maine. Some of them really are vampires in all the traditional senses of the word. Some are energy vampires. Some are lifestylers. The lifestylers take up living underground – for the glamour, the excitement, to get away from the voices, because they cannot bear the attention of the eyes in the sky, and so forth. They are not vampires, even though they act like vampires. The consequence of this is a slow death from malnutrition – which is quite likely what would have happened to them over a Hopeless winter anyway, only with less romance.

Back to Erik. As there’s no text in the two page spreads, you had no way of knowing that his name is Erik, but it is. The reason his name is Erik, is that we borrowed the face for this character from actor Erik Moody, who we met through the awesome Ragged Isle project.

A bit of back history on that score – some years ago, director of Ragged Isle Barry Dodd made contact with us online. He suggested that as we are both spooky islands off the coast of Maine, that perhaps we could be friends. We love Ragged Isle, and have huge love and respect for the many brilliant people involved with it. You can find out more about Ragged Isle here – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870996/

And you can find Erik Moody on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/theemptycinema/featured

As for Erik the would-be vampire? What happened to him? If you know, drop us a line…

Miss Calder

If you’ve read The Gathering, you will have encountered Miss Calder- it is she who opens the door when Annamarie Nightshade brings Salamandra to Pallid Rock Orphanage. Things do not go well for Miss Calder (spoiler alert) as a direct consequence of young Sal’s night wanderings.

If you haven’t read The Gathering and don’t want to know about the details yet, step away from this blog post now!

During The Gathering, Miss Calder dies. In that book, she comes back as a ghost, and from then on simply continues to work in the orphanage, comforting traumatised children with stories about vampire feasts, the martyrdom of saints and what happens when you die. Her memory is patchy on this score, but she’s not squeamish.

As a ghost, Miss Calder does not age. As Owen Davies has grown closer to her in age, she’s developed something of a crush on him. She’s a little embarrassed about this because she’s known him ever since he was a snotty, dribbling toddler. Also, her skull shows sometimes when she isn’t concentrating, and Owen isn’t good for her concentration, which is awkward.

Miss Calder’s mother was a member of the Penobscot tribe, local to the area. She assumes her father was a man called Calder, but knows nothing about him. She came to the island voluntarily in her late teens, fascinated by the name, and the stories. Her mother called it ‘that place we go to when we are young and stupid and have something to prove.’ Miss Calder’s mother had clearly made the journey and survived to tell all manner of tales. However, by the time Miss Calder made her own attempt on the island, getting out had become impossible. Even in death, it is notoriously difficult to leave.

Miss Calder has taken to death very well. She feels deeply motivated to prepare her young charges for the harsh realities of life, and death and to set them a good example. Having set out to learn about the mysteries of Hopeless, Maine she is quite at ease with having become one of them.

She does have a first name, but it is a private matter and she has never felt moved to share it with anyone else on the island.

What even is going on with Doc Willoughby?

If you’ve read The Gathering, you will know to be wary of Hopeless Maine’s Doc Willoughby. If you haven’t, I shall skip over some details about his medical practice. As the books progress, you’ll all find out more about his ideas. For now, suffice to say he’s the sort of man to pronounce: ‘sacrifices must be made’ and mean that people other than himself should be making sacrifices. Or being sacrificed.

He is the island’s only practicing Doctor. Now, many island residents have washed in from shipwrecks, bringing up to date knowledge of the world with them. Doc Willoughby is not one of those. He has no formal medical qualifications. He did know the island’s previous resident medic, but ‘training’ would be a strong word to describe what they did together. ‘Drinking’ might be more representative.

It is of course entirely possible that Doc Willoughby has read some medical books. He’s seen the insides of enough dead people to form a few relevant opinions about human bodies. He is, in all fairness, pretty handy with a needle, and people who need sewing back together have a slightly improved chance of survival if the Doc sews them back together than if he doesn’t. This may be because he is never afraid to pour alcohol over a wound.

He prescribes alcohol for most other complaints. Sometimes he adds a few herbs or berries, to change the colour and smell, because he thinks this makes his potions seem more scientific and credible. Usually he sticks to plant material he knows it is safe to eat.

Otherwise, Doc Willoughby takes a philosophical approach to illness, encouraging his patients to square up to their mortality and the likelihood of death. He considers statements like ‘you should die fairly quickly’ to be reassuring and uplifting.

In this scene, he is pictured with night potatoes. Liquor made from night potatoes is especially potent and dangerous – more on that here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/moonshine/

What does Reverend Davies believe?

Readers of Hopeless Maine will be familiar with the gloomy figure of the island’s Reverend – Emmanuel Davies. He’s father of Owen (one of the main characters, for those of you new to this). He raises orphans, holds funerals, owns clothing clearly designed for ritual purpose. Sometimes he talks about God, but which God isn’t always clear.

That he is a Reverend certainly suggests Christianity. But it’s not that simple. He existed as a character, created by Tom, when I took the story on. At that point, we didn’t know much about the Reverend. All I had to go on were the New England Reverends I’d encountered in the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorn, so I started from there. Frankly, that was a gothic and sinister sort of place to start.

If you’ve read The Gathering, you’ll be aware of a short story at the back, about Reverend Davies’ first hours in the job. It suggests a rather different kind of religious background. I admit there have also been times when I’ve wondered if he might be an unwitting Cthulhu worshipper, or otherwise accidentally involved with elder gods. I know there have been plenty of long, sleepless night when the Reverend himself has stared into the darkness and wondered what exactly it is that he serves, or whether it is all in his mind. I know that he hears voices, and some of those voices tell him what to do, and that while he is compelled, he is also uneasy.

In practice, what Reverened Davies believes has a somewhat Zoroastrian flavour. In an island full of lost things, it makes plenty of sense to have someone with a bit of Albigensian heresy to their name. Davies believes that the physical realm is mostly fallen, sinful, probably evil and when you look at Hopeless, Maine, it’s easy to see why he might think this. God is somewhere else, clearly. If there is a good God, they are distant, unavailable, perhaps entirely in a realm of spirit you can only get to by totally renouncing all things of the flesh. Most of the time this means the Reverend is of limited use to anyone else.

Reverend Davies is a man in spiritual crisis, wrangling with the demons of his own uncertainty. It hasn’t yet occurred to him to get out there and wrangle actual demons instead, but the seed of this thought is growing in his mind…

Here’s Reverend Davies with Anamarie Nightshade having a Pre Raphaelite  moment. If this makes you wonder about the history of their relationship, keeping wondering…

We’ve got the original for this on sale at etsy – etsy.com/uk/listing/572025191/the-bemusing-of-reverend-davies-original

It’s also available as a poster –  etsy.com/uk/listing/552719732/the-bemusing-of-reverend-davies-print

 

Ms Lovelace and Ctholin.

Poor Ms Lovelace used to be a  travel writer until the shipwreck. Now she finds  herself in a strange world  known as Hopeless, Maine,  with strange powers bestowed  upon her by her new “patron”,  Ctholin…

Ctholin would very much like Ms Lovelace to write stories about him so he can be as famous as his cousin. Problem is, Ctholin is three inches high, has a lisp, and puts about as much unspeakable horror into the hearts of men as a soggy biscuit. Ms Lovelace is not quite sure if Ctholin is really as powerful as he claims. She wonders if perhaps she hit her head during the wreck and is now just talking to a clam. The new powers are nice, but she hasn’t really found a use for them beyond heating her tea.
Ms Lovelace wishes she had taken that cruise to Crescent Isle instead.

Words and art here by Francesca Dare! All of this happened at Asylum 2018. Francesca was with us in the author’s area and we got to spend time with her at long last! Ctholin is a small creature from our table who found a new home  (and a name and a personality) with Francesca. Many of us are now desperate for the further adventures of Cthollin.  For those of you who are not yet aware. Francesca is the artist/author of Penny Blackfeather which (Like Hopeless, Maine and other cool things) is published by Sloth Comics (which is sort of how we all met, except I’m pretty sure we were already fans of hers before that)

New Sea life discovered!

Your publisher may be cool, I grant you. Your publisher may be very cool indeed, *but* you will have to go a long way to find a publisher as cool as ours (Sloth Comics) Example- Our publisher-editor Nic Rossert has created and drawn a new form of Hopeless, Maine sea life. Here it is…

Now, Nic is a busy sort of chap. He’s got the publishing editing stuff to do, plus he is a comics creator (Steam Hammer, for instance) So… let’s take a job off his hands, shall we? WHAT IS THIS THING? Also- can we eat it? Additionally, what are its habits and nature??

 

Suggestions/ideas in the comments, please!

 

Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Journal of Doctor Hedley Case

First Entry

I have found myself somewhat delayed in my jaunt to the colonies. Our ship ran aground in the middle of the night and gave us all a terrible fright! Fortunately I was able to get to the life boats in plenty of time, so much so in fact, that I was able to bring quite a few of my books along. I really must thank Mother dearest for splashing out on the top notch rooms so close to the lifeboats. I’m not sure how many of the crew made it out, but there does seem to be decidedly less of us, oh well!

Fortune smiles upon me a second time, the Island is inhabited! However, the locals seem very odd. They were eyeing us from a distance. But being the “man of the world” I am, I marched up to the crowd and introduced myself with all the gusto I could muster. “I am Doctor Hedley Case, pleased to meet you all!”

I won them over in an instant! I’ve never seen such a miraculous change in demeanour. “Doctor!?” they said “We’ve needed a man like you on the island” and helped to carry both my scientific journals and the more maimed of the survivors to the town proper.

Almost everyone seemed to want to buy me a drink, which would have been marvellous, but for the exotic beverages they drink here. What do you do to beer to turn it green? I could not identify a single flavour. Never mind, “when in Rome” and all that. Fortunately, my public school background means I have excellent gag reflex control and could act perfectly natural.

I have a feeling I’m going to really enjoy my time on this jolly little Island.

Second Entry

Tragedy and woe. All that was looking up is now obscured by the bleak sphincter of despair.

One of the townsfolk insisted on escorting me to where he said I would be “working,” as if a man of my breeding did such things. But try as I might to explain to the little chap that I would not be staying on the island for long, he seemed impervious to the very notion I would ever leave.

He took me to the residence of one Doctor Willoughby. What an inscrutable fellow. Before he had even laid eyes upon me I’m sure he had made his mind up to dislike me.

He was curious to know all about my Doctorial experience. So I regaled him on all my academic achievements. Studies into the darkest regions of the mind! Modern science attempting to dissect the human soul and understand its inner workings. Truly I stand as a man at the threshold of a bold new frontier.

His reply wounded me as if he had cut me with one of his wretched knives. “So you’re not a real Doctor”. What backwards terrible dark age have I been marooned upon?! It was worse than talking to Father. Psychoanalysis maybe in its infancy, but to dismiss it so callously as poppycock?! The silly old fool! This man has clearly never read the works of Cidney Fraud.

Well, that was it. The whole town changed before my eyes. Where everyone had been so generous in offering me food and bed to sleep upon, now they are asking me to kindly remove my belongings and shove off!

It’s a bloody good thing my pursuit of knowledge has given me such a robust and enduring mind. A normal man would have been rocked by such harsh rejection. Yes, he’d be rather upset I’d say.

Third entry.

*This page is indecipherably water damaged. As if someone has spent a great deal of time crying over it.*

Forth entry.

I have found a mostly unoccupied and mostly upright abandoned house in the less trendy part of town. I think this will suit me just fine as temporary accommodation. By my reckoning it will be two weeks before our ship is reported missing. A Further four weeks before news could reach Mother, and then a further three weeks till rescue. I just have to hold on until then.

Fifth entry.

Catching something to eat isn’t working out as well as I envisaged. If I am going to eat again in the next few months, I am going to need a job. It can’t be that hard. I’m sure I have a cousin who had a job for a few weeks; it practically runs in the family. I shall play to my strengths. I’m going into town to find someone mentally disturbed that needs analysing.

Sixth entry.

Off to a good start! This town has a wealth of disturbed and unhappy people. My first patient, Mr Derrick Jones is a veritable encyclopaedia of problems. He is plagued with vivid nightmares that his mother is trying to feed him to a sea monster with big wavy tentacles.

Well, it couldn’t get any more rudimentary than that for dream interpretation! So I confronted him head-on. To rip the bandage off, as it were!

“I say, good fellow, do you worry about the size of your Johnson?”

He was so overcome with both conscious and subconscious emotional realisations that he accidentally lashed out punching me square in the face. After committing such a social faux pas he stormed off, no doubt overwhelmed by the revelation I bestowed upon him.

Fortunately, I have decided that all consultations must be paid for in advance to mitigate the effects of such extreme reactions. Thus tonight I dine upon something very turnip like but with more eyes.

Seventh Entry

Hugo survived the shipwreck! He was found later than the rest of us on account of there being no room in any of the lifeboats. The poor Devil had to swim to shore. The careless chap has lost an arm somewhere along the way. He never did seem to have any luck the poor old bean.

He was ranting about a malicious rumour among the survivors. Apparently, someone took up a large proportion of a boat with books, leaving less room for people.

I have moved my books to the attic for safe measure. Unbalanced people can sometimes overreact in preposterous ways when they are emotional. I suspect Hugo may have been breastfed for too long the poor fellow.

Still, the public school boys are reunited! What a force we shall become. I have already encouraged him to start to repairing and maintaining the house if I am to peddle my skills to earn us coin.

Eighth entry.

Hugo really is being impossible. He is taking forever to fix the hole in the kitchen wall. His excuse? “It’s very difficult to hammer in nails with only one arm”. With such an attitude he will never overcome adversity. I am refusing to help him in anyway so that he can grow as a person. He really is very lucky to have such a supportive friend in me.

Ninth Entry.

I’m having a surprisingly difficult time in helping the residents of Hopeless Maine. None of them seem to be responding to my therapy sessions in the way that’s laid out in Fraud’s case studies. Indeed, I felt so exasperated listening to Mrs Cheesewright’s problems I exclaimed “Well I think I would be pretty traumatised if I had been through all that! That’s ridiculous!” She said it was the most helpful session yet, even though I didn’t in anyway manage to connect the trauma to her parents. I am at a loss.

Tenth Entry.

The residents of Hopeless Maine are clearly too demented for just a “talking cure”, I’m going to have to find helpful medicines on the island through trial and error.

Hugo isn’t talking to me at the moment. He lost an eye trying to hold a nail in place with his teeth. The trauma is causing his anger to misdirect at me of all people. Sometimes, being the only person to truly understand the human mind can be a lonely existence.

Eleventh Entry.

I have selected an interesting assortment of plants, fungi and …other to experiment with their possible medicinal effects. I shall begin trials today. I’ll show that so called Doctor Willoughby who’s qualified!

Twelfth Entry

The Ocean has been explaining to me why everyone is so unhappy. It’s the miasma in the air. I have created an air tight fortress by putting the duvet over my head and asking it to hold its breath.

Hugo has outdone himself being passive aggressive this time. He inflated his head to three times its normal size, melded into an armchair and then refused to do the washing up.

Thirteenth Entry.

I now see a massive flaw in my drug trials. I’m already a picture of perfect mental health. There can be no point in studying the effects of those drugs on me. I need to study the effects on someone who requires mental correction.

Fourteenth Entry.

I spotted Derrick Jones leaving something outside my front door this morning. He had left a human skull! How wonderful! I have longed for one of these for my office. I have begun drawing the diagrams on its delightful dome so I can be the proud owner of a Phrenology head. The sweet man must have felt dreadful after bashing me. Gosh, it feels really wonderful to be appreciated.

Fifteenth Entry.

The blue mushrooms with indigo fins are deadly poisonous. Another secret of this unforgiving landscape uncovered by yours truly.

Hugo’s funeral was a touching event. That Reverend Davis seems pretty glum though. I left a few of my cards at the orphanage in case he wants to make an appointment to talk about it.

The house seems much bigger and more solemn now. Still just as drafty! I shall have to get a man in to accomplish what poor Hugo could not.

Sixteenth Entry

That Damn Mrs Beaten! I go through the sufferance of attempting to explain psychoanalysis to a Woman, (which is of course completely futile) and she spurns my polite gesture and starts a damn crusade against me.

The front page headline of the Vendetta today reads “All feelings are obscene”, Mrs Beaten goes on to clarify that it’s okay to express feelings of moral outrage and at certain times disapproval and disappointment, especially where children are concerned.

She has smeared my practice as “nonsense at best” and at worst “corrosive to the moral fabric of society”. She asks, “If we start asking people how they feel, soon we might start asking them what they want! Where will it end?”

Well, this is me well and truly dashed. I always knew it would be a woman that would be the death of me, but this is even more depressing than even I dared imagine.

 

Here, we welcome the utterly brilliant poet, Rebecca Willson to the island. As this proves, she also has a penchant for comic prose! The art may have been done by Tom Bown (possibly)