Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Hourglass - making a prop for The Shadow Fabric

A 17th-century piece of apparatus used to harness a witch's evil.

My novel, The Shadow Fabric, is set in modern-day England but features several artefacts from the 1600s. Some were used against the darkness, while others created it. For promo purposes, I've had to make them because they don't exist [anymore].

Believe me, if they did then the human race would be screwed.

Give me any DIY project and I am happy. And so the construction of the Hourglass began. First, I had to buy stuff.

Then it was time to break everything apart and play, all the while constructing the Hourglass in my mind's eyethe canvas in my head where I use imaginary crayons. I spent a great deal of time cradling a cup of tea and staring at the pieces. Much the same way in which I build my stories.

This artefact is 350 years old, so I had to make it look its age. Not only did I scratch up the glass bulbs and hack up the wood, but I had to rough up a leather belt to make a harness. Yes, this isn't your typical hourglass, but you know that.

Back in the days where superstition proved fatal to some, the harness would secure a witch's hand onto the lower bulb. Up-end it and wait... This extracted the evil, and alchemical properties in the sand would then create a shadowleaf. This is essentially evil given substance; not much larger than a thumbnail, yet pretty damn potent.

Ask yourself this: why would anyone want to extract the evils of a witch? Also, how many shadowleaves were made back in those days of witch hunts and hangings?

And what the hell could the Hourglass be used for in modern day?

More can be learned in my novel.

Back to my DIY project. Once built, it was time to enlist the superb photography skills of Chris Shoebridge. He's already taken numerous other shots for The Shadow Fabric and they'll feature in later blog posts. You can find them floating around Facebook and Twitter.

A few weekends back, Chris and I went camping down in Rye, East Sussex. I needed to do some research for a demon story I'm writing and thought we'd tie in a photoshoot as well as my notebook scribbles. I knew he filmed a few things while we were there, but once home he made a mini-movie. Yeah, starring little ol' me. Incidentally, we'll shortly be storyboarding an official promo-film for The Shadow Fabric. More on that, later.

Here's that movie he "quickly" put together:

A Novel Extract

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric

Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.

Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook:


  1. Amazing! And here I thought it was all photoshop. You have gone great lenghts to make the best work. And I am counting the days. I know the final result will be superb.