Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Guest Author, Catherine Cavendish

Thank you so much for being here today, Cat.  We are thrilled to have you!  Here is a brief Author's Bio and then, please take center stage and tell us what you have been up to with your latest creation, Miss Abigail's Room.  We can't wait to hear all about it!


Catherine Cavendish lives in North Wales with her husband and a slightly eccentric tortoiseshell cat. She has had a lifelong fascination with the paranormal which intensified when she herself saw a ghost. When not creating paranormal stories, Cat loves to visit haunted locations and surround herself with books (not necessarily at the same time). Having recently completed a novel about the Lancashire witches, she is hard at work in her next project. Warning: It will be scary and there may well be ghosts…

When Everyone Knew Their Place

My latest paranormal horror novella, Miss Abigail’s Room, is set in a grand country house in rural Wiltshire, England in 1896.

The main characters are servants, living out their lives below stairs, separated in every conceivable manner from their privileged employers whose upstairs world would normally have revolved around social occasions, status and wealth.

It was a world where everyone “knew their place” – a phrase often quoted by my late maternal grandmother. She was born in 1886 and was taken on by the local squire and his family at a young and tender age, to be a nursery nurse. This was a fairly junior, though responsible, role assisting Nanny in all routine nursery duties. In this house, as in most of its kind, the hierarchy was strict.

The butler presided over the male servants and was the highest paid and most senior of all. His nearest female equivalent was the housekeeper. In my grandmother’s case, their housekeeper was strict, old fashioned and set in her ways. Her responsibilities were quite onerous as she maintained the household accounts, paid the tradesmen, and took responsibility for the female servants – not just in their work but also in keeping a tight rein on them, looking out for their moral and spiritual welfare. The squire had a valet to cater for his needs and a footman ensured all the boots and shoes were polished until they gleamed, as well as taking on a range of other duties.

In this particular house, a coachman was employed and he would drive members of the family wherever they wished to go, tend to the horses and, latterly, learn to drive the new car.

Female servants, apart from Nanny and her nursery nurse, included the cook, lady’s maid (who attended to the squire’s wife), head house parlourmaid, under house parlourmaids, kitchen maids and scullery maid. The kitchen maids and scullery maid never ventured above stairs, as the parlourmaids were responsible for all the dusting, polishing and cleaning of the rooms, and the poor little scullery maid – lowest of the low – spent most of her life elbow deep in hot water, scrubbing dishes in a gloomy basement.

The squire’s butler and housekeeper ensured everyone knew their place. In the servants’ hall, seating at the dining table was strictly according to rank and there was no talking at mealtimes. Also, the housekeeper maintained a bizarre rule that when she finished eating, the other servants must also lay down their knives and forks. As she ate like a little bird, my grandmother soon learned how to eat quickly!

‘Below stairs’ hierarchy was in many ways more rigid than that observed ‘above stairs’. Everyone took orders from anyone one rung or more above them. Maids shared bedrooms, and these were along a separate corridor from the male servants. Any servant caught in the wrong corridor could be instantly dismissed, without a ‘character’ (reference). The chances of them then securing alternative employment were slim.

With the squire’s blessing, my grandmother married the coachman in 1909 but, of course, they could no longer remain in service. Married servants? It simply wasn't done! However, Grandma took with her the lessons she’d learned – along with the discipline of knowing her place - and held it true all her life.

She did her best to instill it in my mother, who still maintains that such a philosophy made life much simpler. Knowing your place meant you didn't expect so much from life as we do today. Of course, it didn't do much to encourage ambition. Any young woman who dared to marry ‘out of her class’, and improve her lot by doing so, earned the disparaging comment, “She’s married above her station,” from Grandma, who would purse her lips and shake her head in a way that implied, “no good ever came of that.”

Grandma died in 1970 – some 42 years ago now. What would she have made of life today? Not much, I should imagine. No doubt she would have buttoned up her ankle length coat, set her hat on her head, rammed her favourite hatpin into it and carried on as always.

After all, she knew her place!

Miss Abigail’s Room – Catherine Cavendish


It wasn't so much the blood on the floor that Becky minded. It was the way it kept coming back…

As the lowest ranking parlour maid at Stonefleet Hall, Becky gets all the dirtiest jobs. But the one she hates the most is cleaning Miss Abigail’s room. There’s a strange, empty smell to the place, and a feeling that nothing right or Christian resides there in the mistress’s absence. And then there’s the blood, the spot that comes back no matter often Becky scrubs it clean. Becky wishes she had somewhere else to go, but without means or a good recommendation from her household, there is nothing for her outside the only home she’s known for eighteen years. So when a sickening doll made of wax and feathers turns up, Becky’s dreams of freedom and green grass become even more distant. Until the staff members start to die.

A darning needle though the heart of the gruesome doll puts everyone at Stonefleet Hall at odds. The head parlour maid seems like someone else, the butler pretends nothing’s amiss, and everyone thinks Becky’s losing her mind. But when the shambling old lord of the manor looks at her, why does he scream as though he’s seen the hounds of hell?

Once again, thank you so much for being with us today, Cat.  That was fascinating and I can't wait to read Miss Abigail's Room!

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