Merrily Watkins is a favourite fictional character of mine. She lives in rural Herefordshire, the county where I was born and grew up. She is a parish priest and deliverance minister or ghost-buster, in the vernacular. Merrily is in her late thirties, a widow and has a teenage daughter, Jane. Jane believes in all things pagan, probably just to spite her mum who is the vicar of fictional village, Ledwardine. When Merrily has time, she seeks out ghosts and ghoulies in the county as well. She’s a charmingly flawed character; she smokes, skips meals and has a ‘secret,’ younger lover. If you have ever lived in the country of course you know, nothing is ever truly secret…
Whenever I’m yearning for cider in a country pub, the sight of a magnificent oak, the smell of a country church, or more simply, just the exhilaration of going up a hill, I pick up a Merrily Watkins mystery and travel to Hereford for the price of a book! Author, Phil Rickman is from ‘Off,’ meaning he wasn’t born in Herefordshire. He understands and can recreate a Herefordshire dialect perfectly though. Brilliant little touches like the way archetypal local, Gomer Parry always refers to machinery as ‘im or ‘er reminds me of my stepfather when he was trying to start his British Leyland Princess on a cold morning: ‘er’s a moody ole cow,’ he’d always cuss. In the hands of a less skilful author this might be clunky but Rickman’s ear is so well attuned, and Gomer is such a likeable character that you can only feel warmth and respect for his earthy wisdom.
There’s something numinous about border country, the line dividing England and Wales. The Black Mountains lowering to the West and ley lines threaded throughout the county hint at something darker beneath bucolic rural life. And it’s these darker aspects that Merrily, in her role as deliverance minister, seeks out and makes peace with. The one I’m reading right now, ‘The Secrets of Pain’ involves the SAS. Herefordshire has been the base for the Special Air Service for many years and Rickman has woven their presence and influence in the county into his newest spooky tale. I dearly hope that some TV producer somewhere is going to pick up on the Merrily Watkins’ mysteries. In my opinion they would make a highly watchable TV mini-series.
Someone must have read this because casting and filming is already underway and ‘Midwinter of the Spirit’ will be broadcast on ITV Encore in the autumn of 2015! See which actors have been cast here.
So that’s my reading sorted for Halloween, once I’ve finished Rickman, Susan Hill’s, The Dolly is next in the queue on my Kindle. What’s your favourite spooky read for this time of year?
I like Herefordshire, although I don’t know it well. It seems to me one of the last unspoilt bastions of the British countryside, in my imagination anyway. Thank you for introducing me to this series – I must try it. Having a Kindle makes it so much easier. As for spooky reads, well, you can’t get much spookier than Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.
You’re right, Vanessa, Herefordshire does still feel like an unspoilt bastion. Just a shame that it’s now often dubbed the new Cotswolds as celebrities and 2nd home-owners from London move in. Hope you enjoy the series if you give the books a go!