When the young members of a British acid-folk band are compelled by their manager to record their unique music, they hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with dark secrets. There they create the album that will make their reputation, but at a terrifying cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen or heard from again.
Now, years later, the surviving musicians, along with their friends and lovers—including a psychic, a photographer, and the band’s manager—meet with a young documentary filmmaker to tell their own versions of what happened that summer. But whose story is true? And what really happened to Julian Blake?
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About the Author
Elizabeth Hand (b. 1957) is an award-winning author whose science fiction and fantasy novels include the Winterlong series, Waking the Moon, Black Light, Last Summer at Mars Hill, and Glimmering. Her novels and short stories have won the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Shirley Jackson awards, among others. Hand was born in California and raised in Yonkers and Pound Ridge, New York; she now divides her time between London and the coast of Maine. Over the years she has been a regular contributor to the Washington Post, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, among many others.
Read an Excerpt
By Elizabeth Hand
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Elizabeth Hand
All rights reserved.
Tom Haring, Manager/Producer
I was the one who found the house. A friend of my sister-in-law knew the owners; they were living in Barcelona that summer and the place was to let. Not cheaply, either. But I knew how badly everyone needed to get away after the whole horrible situation with Arianna, and this seemed as good a bolt-hole as any. These days the new owners have had to put up a fence to keep away the curious. Everyone knows what the place looks like because of the album cover, and now you can just google the name and get directions down to the last millimeter.
But back then, Wylding Hall was a mere dot on the ordnance survey map. You couldn't have found it with a compass. Most people go there now because of what happened while the band was living there and recording that first album. We have some ideas about what actually went on, of course, but the fans, they can only speculate. Which is always good for business.
Mostly, it's the music, of course. Twenty years ago, there was that millennium survey where Wylding Hall topped out at Number Seven, ahead of Definitely Maybe, which shocked everybody except for me. Then "Oaken Ashes" got used in that advert for, what was it? Some mobile company. So now there's the great Windhollow Faire backlash.
And inexplicable — even better, inexplicable and terrible — things are always good for the music business, right? Cynical but true.
Apart from when I drove out in the mobile unit and we laid down those rough tracks, I was only there a few times. You know, check in and see how the rehearsal process was going, make sure everyone's instruments were in one piece, and they were getting their vitamins. And there's no point now in keeping anything off the record, right? We all knew what was going on down there, which in those days was mostly hash and acid.
And of course, everyone was so young. Julian was eighteen. So was Will. Ashton and Jon were, what? Nineteen, maybe twenty. Lesley had just turned seventeen. I was the elder statesman at all of twenty-three.
Ah, those were golden days. You're going to say I'm tearing up here in front of the camera, aren't you? I don't give a fuck. They were golden boys and girls, that was a golden summer, and we had the Summer King.
And we all know what happens to the Summer King. That girl from the album cover, she'd be the only one knows what really went on. But we can't ask her, can we?
Will Fogerty, rhythm guitar, fiddle, mandolin
I knew Julian from school. We both grew up in Hampstead and attended Hampstead School for the local comprehensive school: Posh boys compared to Ashton and Jon, which put us at a distinct disadvantage, I can tell you that! Ashton was part of the Muswell Hill music mafia; all those blokes knew each other — stand in the middle of Archway and throw a rock in any direction, and you'd hit a folk musician.
Whereas if you threw a rock in Hampstead and hit anyone, you'd end up in prison. There were days when I could have done with that happening to Ashton. He could be a right bastard.
Still, that was our hardship, mine and Julian's — not belonging to the working class. Me and Julian weren't at public school — what you Americans call private school — and Hampstead's North London, not posh Kensington. But Muswell Hill was where the best musicians came from. Something in the air. Or the drink, more likely.
I started on violin and Julian played the piano — not sure when he took up the guitar. Once he did, it was like he'd been born to it — he was an extraordinary guitar player. These crazy tunings that would make it sound like he was playing a flute or a sitar, or a human voice. We used to play at the Hampstead Folk Club, which was a glorified name for an upper room above a pub. All the folk clubs were like that: up a stairway to a dark paneled room with chairs lined up and everyone smoking cigarettes and nursing their pint. If you were lucky, someone might have a joint and would pass it to you. Nothing heavier than that. No one paid to hear us sing. And none of us musicians got paid, unless you were someone like John Martyn.
But it was a good way to meet girls, I thought, so I dragged Julian along with me to take our turn at the front of the room. Girls loved it. Girls loved him; he could've played the kazoo and they'd be banging on his door. He was just too good-looking, but shy around the girls in those days. Even then, people wondered, Was he gay? If he was, I never saw any of it.
Lesley said she wondered sometimes, but I think — and this is off the record; Les and I are still close, and I wouldn't want any hurt feelings. Also, she has a temper. But I think Julian just wasn't attracted to her. Not that Les wasn't pretty. She was a lovely girl; we all fancied her. That's why we took her on!
But you know what I mean. She was a different type, physically, from Arianna. Lesley wasn't a waif, and even in school Jules always went for the wee girls with the big, sad eyes. No stamina, girls like that. I would know. And Les was scary smart, which can be intimidating for a bloke, even someone as brilliant as Julian. Maybe more intimidating. I don't think he was accustomed to being with someone who was his equal. Musically, yes, but not someone who could match him intellectually. Especially a girl.
And Lesley was American to boot, which in those days was a novelty, and also an affront to a lot of people. I mean, an American teenager singing traditional English folk songs in a London pub? Some people came just to see her fail. Well, that didn't happen.
Lesley Stansall, singer/songwriter
He never talked about what happened with Arianna. The police report said she fell from a third floor window to the pavement. There were no bars across the window in Julian's flat; I do know that. She was depressive — that's what they'd say now — her and Julian both.
Suicide? How could it possibly matter all these years later, whether I think she killed herself?
She was a teenager; we were all teenagers. Today Arianna would be some gothy little girl hunched over her mobile. She was a beautiful child with a pretty voice. She didn't have it for the long haul.
Julian took Arianna's death very hard. He felt responsible: "I should have never let her into the flat that night, it was my fault we'd had an argument," etcetera etcetera. They'd done a gig together at Middle Earth, just the two of them. Afterward, he told her the rest of the band wanted to head off in a different direction, musically. She'd thought that her and Julian singing together would be the start of something, a Simon & Garfunkel sort of duo. Instead, it was the end. He was trying to give her a gentle kiss-off, but I think it had the opposite effect.
Jon Redheim, drums and percussion
I saw it coming with Arianna. She was drop-dead gorgeous, but she was, you know, high maintenance. A cross between Nico and what's-her-name, that French singer. Juliette Greco. Always wearing black, back before everyone and his grandmother was wearing black. She was a big mope, Arianna, and we were well rid of her. There, I said it.
Ashton Moorehouse, bass
We slept together once after a gig. She cried afterward, said she'd betrayed Julian. I told her Julian wouldn't give a fuck. Which was true, but probably I shouldn't have said it. She was beautiful, but too skinny for my taste. I like a girl with meat on her bones. Julian, he always went for the ones a good wind would blow away.
I can still remember when Tom told us he'd booked Wylding Hall for the summer. Ashton and Jon weren't happy about it. Ashton especially; he was royally pissed off. They were afraid of what they'd miss here in London. Girls, mostly, for Ashton. Boys for Jon, though no one was supposed to know that. And there's Tom with his high-minded idea that all anyone needed was a month in the country to recover from Arianna's death.
Yeah, I know: I'm being a snark, 'cause I wasn't with Windhollow Faire from the very beginning and didn't really know her. So sue me. And it's true: with or without Arianna, they were getting a lot of gigs. Windhollow Faire had just come out that Christmas — their first album — and sales were good. There was no music press like there is now; you didn't have Pitchfork or YouTube and all that stuff. Rolling Stone had only been around for a few years, and you had Melody Maker and NME. There was no way to really publicize your band except by playing, like, constantly. Which they did.
But to be brutally honest, even before Arianna died, they were getting tapped out. I'd heard Windhollow play a few times, and while they were good — I believe that "promising" is the overused adjective — they were never going to be much more than that if they didn't do something drastic.
And I know Tom could see that they were starting to flag, inspiration-wise. Which is why he suggested that Julian and Will come hear me at the Troubadour one night. I was doing a couple of Dylan covers, some Velvet Underground — hardly anyone here had heard of them — along with the usual stuff from the Child Ballads songbook. I saved my own songs for last. I knew I had them as soon I did "Fallen Sky."
My god, that girl could sing! Les opened her mouth, and Julian and me looked at each other and just started laughing. By the time she got to "Fallen Sky," we were practically climbing over the tables to ask her to join Windhollow.
In retrospect, we should have told Arianna immediately that we'd found a new female singer. I should have told her. It was my responsibility as manager. The fact that Lesley was American must have been a real slap in the face for Arianna. I've taken the blame from the outset. Still, Julian never forgave himself.
That was the real reason I signed that summer's lease on Wylding Hall: to get Julian away from his bedsit in Gospel Oak. Which, let me tell you, was the most god-awful, depressing flat that you can imagine. I would have flung myself out the window, too, if I'd spent more than a week there.
Never mind, strike that. I don't need any more crazed fans blaming me for what happened. All I can say is that, at the time, spending three months at a beautiful old wreck of a stately home in the English countryside seemed like a good idea.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Isn't that what you say in America? But I didn't have hindsight. When it came to Windhollow Faire, I was utterly blind.CHAPTER 2
I rode down there with Julian. He had a rickety Morris Minor: there was barely room for me once he'd got his guitar and other gear into it. Everyone else went down in the van.
I'd heard Julian sing before, and of course I had the first Windhollow album. But we'd never properly met. Word on the street was, Julian Blake was the most beautiful guy anyone had ever set eyes on. Typically, I was going to be contrarian: I was determined to be unimpressed.
The truth is, I was very, very shy. I was only seventeen, remember. My mum and stepdad were American. They both died when I was fifteen, in a car accident. My biological father was from Yorkshire; he'd been married before he met my mother and already had a family. I was born here in London when he and my mum were still together, so I had dual citizenship. We used to come over for summer vacations. I got to be close with my older sister, so after the accident I came here to live with her in Rotherhithe.
I was a bad student, but I was a good singer. My dad was brilliant — he used to sing along with whatever was on the radio, but he also knew all these old English folk songs. I learned by listening to him, harmonizing. I just memorized whatever I could.
It was tough, coming to live here with my sister. People thought I was stuck-up because I was American. It was hard to make friends — I got pushed around a few times, but when I'd take a swing at them, I'd be the one got into trouble.
Eventually, I just stopped going to school, and I guess because of the whole American thing, no one followed up on me. Plus, it was the early nineteen seventies — there were kids squatting everywhere in London. I went out to Eel Pie Island and joined the commune there for a while. That's when I started performing.
Julian was only a year older than me — fourteen months, to be exact — and he was cripplingly, almost pathologically shy. Much worse than I was.
Which of course I didn't realize when I drove down with him to Wylding Hall. I thought he was stuck-up! He was from Hampstead. I was this blond hippie from Connecticut, even though I'd been in London for a year. I looked older than seventeen, so at first he thought I was putting him off for being younger than me.
I didn't know that till Will told me. The two of them had grown up together. Will was almost like Julian's interpreter — sometimes Julian was so shy, he'd just stand there right next to you and stare straight up into the sky for a quarter of an hour without saying a word. "Cloud Prince": I wrote that about Julian. The boy with the sky in his eyes.
It's true. When he was young, Julian was almost unearthly; he was so handsome, it was difficult for me at first to keep my eyes from him. Spooky beautiful. People thought he was gay, but he wasn't. Iwas the one who was gay, though I only came out after that summer at Wylding Hall.
Believe me, I would have known if I'd had a snowflake's chance in hell with Julian, and there was just no way. I know, darling — you're looking at me now thinking, No shit, Sherlock! But you wouldn't have said that back then. I was a bit of a looker myself in those days.
Oh, right, you've seen the documentaries and all that on YouTube. Yes, I was wasted back there behind the drum kit. But kinda cute, right?
Julian was beautiful: those high cheekbones and all that dark hair flopping around his face. His skin was so pale you wanted to write on it like paper. And he had those amazing hands, big, big hands with long, long fingers. I used to watch him play guitar and just be hypnotized. He'd open his mouth and sing "Lost Tuesdays" or "Windhover Morn," and I'd just be a puddle — really! Me! The drummer! I used to watch him and just dream — pray — not that he'd kiss me, but that he'd write a song about me.
But you know, it was like he could barely stand to be touched — he'd almost flinch if you came too close to him. Not just me — I was used to guys not wanting to be too close to other blokes — but everyone. I'm sure that's what happened with Arianna; she thought they were in a relationship, and here he could barely stand to touch her. That's why it was so strange about the girl.
If she had a name, I never knew it. She was the only girl — the only person — I ever saw Julian with, physically. Not that I was perving on them, that's not what I mean; just that she was the only human creature I ever saw him willingly touch, or kiss. If in fact that's what she was.
It was me, Will, and Jonno in the van. We arrived around noon. I was driving — I was the only one had a license, besides Julian. What a bunch of fucking slackers. You take the A-31 to Farnham, then it's pretty much nothing but winding lanes and little villages. Used to be, anyway. Heart of Hampshire, Wind of the Willows landscapes. One of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Probably all developed and paved over now; I've never had the heart to go back.
No? Well, that's a mercy. But I still won't be back.
I can still remember the first glimpse I had of Wylding Hall. There was no signpost, only a great boulder with the name carved on it — must have been five hundred years old. Absolutely ancient. The road between the hedgerows was so narrow that the branches poked in the windows on both sides, like they wanted to grab us. One scratched my cheek so badly it left a scar — see there? Fucking oak tree did that! I was bleeding all over the windscreen. It got infected, too.
So, we drove and drove, and drove and drove and drove, and finally the hedgerows dropped back so we could see where the woods had been cleared a bit, and you could see into the distance. Pastures, ancient field systems marked by stone walls — a thousand years old some of them, maybe older. There was a prehistoric barrow there as well, though we didn't know that yet. I'm not superstitious, but Will is. He's the one spends all his time at Cecil Sharp House, digging through the archives for old murder ballads — "The Hangman's Kiss Upon My Cold Eyes": he found that one. If he'd known there was a barrow a stone's pitch from where we'd be sleeping, he would have stayed in Crouch End. What a fucking nutter. He's the one started all those rumors.
Look, I love Will — I'll kill anyone raises an eyebrow at him. But he's taken every pill and smoked every spliff and drunk every pint ever laid in front of him. He's done none of us any favors with his crazy theories. Same with Jonno. You can print that just as I spoke it.
Then what do I think happened? I don't have a fucking clue, but I'm not afraid to say I don't understand everything there is to know in this world.
She was the most beautiful young girl I've ever seen. I'll say that, too. I've been married five times, and every one of them was a beautiful woman. But there was no one you ever saw looked like her. Looking at her made you want to claw your heart out, it ached so much. We all thought so, except for Les. I think she wanted to tear out the girl's heart instead.
Excerpted from Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand. Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Hand. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this story. It had a lot of familiar elements of a supernatural tale, but presented in an original fashion. It was an evenly paced, somewhat slow read, there was no big climax, but I think that added to making it feel more believable. There was something about this story that reminded me of "The Secret History" by Donna Tart and "In The Woods" by Tana French. Although, I liked this book better than either of those. A perfect summer read.
There are multiple points of view in this book if you don't like that sort of book you might want to pass. I felt the characters needed needed a better history but I was intrigued enough to stay with it. Does anyone really know what happened to Julian Blake? ***I received this book in return for an honest review***
As one can infer from the publisher's description of Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall, this book jumps back and forth in time, as well as among multiple points of view, so those who prefer more linear narratives may want to steer clear. For those willing to follow Hand down the rabbit hole, however, Wylding Hall provides a well-written and intriguing supernatural mystery with an ambiguous, but nonetheless satisfying, ending. The description ends with two questions: "But whose story is true? And what really happened to Julian Blake?" Despite the implication of the first question, this story does not have an unreliable narrator as such. Instead, it is composed of each character's recollection of, and speculation about, 40-year-old events as they each try to answer the second question about Julian's ultimate fate. As in real life, each character perceives those events through a different prism now tarnished with age, so the book produces a kaleidoscopic effect; each new piece of evidence causes the kaleidoscope to turn, offering the reader a constantly shifting series of plausible solutions to the mystery of Julian's disappearance. The reader must decide, not so much "whose story is true," but which vantage point provides the most coherent narrative. Publishers Weekly complained about the "disappointingly undifferentiated voices" of Hand's characters, a criticism which has merit and explains why I gave Wylding Hall 4 stars instead of 5. Wylding Hall is not Waking the Moon, nor is it intended to be; nevertheless, this novella is great fun and a good introduction to Hand's sensibilities. I received a free copy of Wylding Hall through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wylding Hall is an interesting mix of ingredients. You have the story of a band that has become a cult favorite since the disappearance of Julian, its lead guitarist ("Eddie and the Cruisers" anyone?). You also have the multiple viewpoints of the various characters as they are interviewed to try and piece together what happened. Each of them is so different in their perspective - the manager, the female lead singer who loved and was jilted by the guitarist, the girlfriend of a band member who has always been into the mystical and otherworldly, etc. There is the setting itself, the old manor house with its bewildering marriage of additions from different periods and the odd things the band members find - hallways that seem to go nowhere, piles of dead birds, the grave barrow out back, the strange photos at the local pub. And then, there is the mysterious girl in white. No one knows where she came from, but Julian seems to recognize her. She just appeared one day as the band was playing some songs down at the pub and she goes missing along with Julian. Was it foul play? Did they run off together? Is there some sort of curse on the house, or on Julian, because he went out to the barrow after they were warned not to walk in the woods? If you enjoy stories that toy with the possibility of other dimensions being accessible from our own, and of the chance that someone might be able to cause such an alignment and attempt to cross over to the other side, then you should read Wylding Hall. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
Well, not really unique. Many horror stories are set in spooky old houses, with young people spending time in them. Actually almost cliche. But not this story. Not this house, under a spell cast from magic, sex, and/or drugs. The truth is i almost didnt finnish this book, but it haunted me until i picked it up agian, my hand drawn back to it though i had no conscience desire to continue. Once it was back lit barely a few inches from my face, inky darkness framing my Nook, i could not stop reading until i was at the last pages which promote the authors other works. Please believe me that this old ancient story is new, and dangerous.