“ And they lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, neither knowing what to say to the other. Neither knowing what they should do. Until the cawing began. It didn’t last long, only a few seconds. But the sound tore through them like slashing blades. Terrified, they looked across at the ravens, in time to see them rise from their perches and, in the effortless way that birds do, soar above the trees, then wheel away and disappear from view.
For a few moments, they watched the treetops, waiting for the birds to come back into sight. When they didn’t, the two men felt the tension begin to ebb away, started to hope that it had all been a matter of their imaginations running wild.
The hope was short-lived.
“Hello Dad.” ”
Ravens Gathering is set in the 1980s, and before I start my review, I’m going to make some brazen ’80s references to help readers decide if they should embark on this tale, or not. So, if you are channelling your inner Mary Whitehouse, Mavis Wilton or Adrian Mole, (i.e. if you are easily offended, have delicate sensibilities, or are a touch on the young side), you’ll probably want to read something else, if you wish to preserve and nurture your innocence!
Fortunately (or, possibly, disturbingly), I am none of those things, and I was excited to read ‘Ravens Gathering’, based on a great review by, and personal recommendation from my friend Julie, who is an excellent, and most vigorous book blogger (ALittleBookProblem). It sounded like a dark and macabre read, right up my street, and perfect for my seasonal spooky reading list.
The first chapter sets the scene effectively; it’s a horrifying dream, experienced by a child. There is a sense of coercion and ritual; an unusual and dark rhythm with which to begin. I was already sitting in the camp of those who compare this to ‘The Wicker Man’.
The story then shifts to a rural Nottinghamshire village called Ravens Gathering, in the 1980s. I am from South Yorkshire, and so already, the location spoke to me. I felt like I could already know this village; friendly enough, but under the surface, insular and suspicious of strangers.
Martin Gates, whose family live in the village, makes a sudden, and apparently unwelcome, appearance in Ravens Gathering, after having spent a long time abroad. He soon attracts the attention of Tanya McLean, and afterwards, her husband Ian. They have lived in Ravens Gathering for some time, but are still considered outsiders. Martin moves into their farmhouse, as he has nowhere else to stay, and it is an arrangement which seems to suit them all. To begin with…
It is easy to make assumptions about the characters, and to suspect who is behind the gruesome occurrences which have recently started happening. The characters are well described and I could visualise them, and everything going on around them, but I can’t say that I particularly liked any of them, apart from Claire. I am sure this is intentional on the part of the author, as he holds a lot back for the final third of the book. It’s full of energy and is fast paced; indeed positive and negative energies are explored at some length; the destructive and divisive effects of the negative, and the reconstructive and redemptive powers of the positive.
The writing style seems to be straightforward. You could easily be lulled into thinking that you are being shown and told everything, but you would be mistaken. The plot takes so many twists and turns, that you almost meet yourself coming back.
(Here is my gripe about my e-reader and my inability to use it! I needed to flick back and forwards often, to check what I had missed or to reread parts, and I just couldn’t! So frustrating, bah!)
There are so many mysteries to be solved here, and there are subtle clues placed strategically. I actually finished the book a couple of days ago, and it has been occupying my thoughts, so I have had to spend time haphazardly negotiating my Kindle to find what I needed to know, before I wrote the review! It was no trial to revisit it though; essentially, what I took from it in the end, was the importance of family and community. A feeling of belonging. And this I wasn’t expecting; the mysteries, the ominous build up, the horror, the unsettling experiences, and yet, somehow, I ended up with a warm feeling. I enjoyed this very much; a good read for Blogtober18.
About the Author
Graeme Cumming has spent most of his life immersed in fiction – books, TV and movies – turning to writing his own stories during his early teens.
He first realised he genuinely had some talent when he submitted a story to his English teacher, Christine Tubb, who raved about it. The same story was published in the school magazine and spawned a series that was met with enthusiasm by readers. Christine was subsequently overheard saying that if Graeme wasn’t a published author by the time he was 25, she’d eat her hat. Sadly, she probably spent the next 25 years buying her groceries exclusively from milliners. (Even more sadly, having left school with no clear direction in life, Graeme made no effort to keep in touch with any teachers, so has lost track of this source of great support and encouragement.)
Having allowed himself to be distracted (in no particular order) by girls, alcohol and rock concerts, Graeme spent little of his late teens and twenties writing. A year-long burst of activity produced a first draft of a futuristic thriller, Beyond Salvage, which has since lain dormant, waiting for a significant edit.
With the onset of family life, opportunities to write became more limited (though it could be argued that he got his priorities wrong), until he reached his early forties, when he realised he hadn’t written anything for several years. Deciding to become more focused, since then he has written regularly.
With his interests in story-telling sparked by an excessive amount of time sitting in front of a black and white television, his tastes are varied. Influences ranged from the Irwin Allen shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, etc.) to ITC series (The Saint, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) and so many more), so the common theme was action and adventure, but crossed into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as crime and espionage.
This diverse interest in fiction continued with reading books and his discovery of the magical world of cinema. As a result, his stories don’t always fall into a specific genre, but are always written as thrillers.
Graeme’s first novel, Ravens Gathering, was published in 2012, and has been warmly received.
When not writing, Graeme is an enthusiastic sailor (and, by default, swimmer), and enjoys off-road cycling and walking. He is currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club, although he lives in Robin Hood country. Oh yes, and he reads (a lot) and still loves the cinema.