I currently have two work-in-progress novels on the go at the same time. Apart from LITTLE BASTARD (the eponymous inspiration for this site and the topic of several previous posts) I am also working on a modern day police procedural with supernatural overtones called BLACK DOG.
I figured the time was right to share the inspiration behind BLACK DOG – and to explore the legend(s) behind it too. Over the next few posts I’ll detail the legend of Black Shuck – the famous ghostly Hell Hound of Norfolk – as well as the mythology of ghostly black dogs in general (one of the oldest spectral phenomena in history – and a phenomena reported across all countries and cultures). I’ll also detail the legend of another Norfolk myth – that of the witch’s heart of King’s Lynn (which, along with Black Shuck, has been given centre stage prominence in my forthcoming novel).
First the explanation as to why I’m writing BLACK DOG (apart from the themes capturing my imagination). As some of you may know, I completed my teacher training almost ten years ago in North Norfolk. I rented a flat in King’s Lynn and worked predominantly in Hunstanton (‘Sunny Hunny’!) on the North Norfolk coast. During this time I actually saw Black Shuck! (Of which more later!) Having fully researched this myth/legend, I’m now ready to write the novel that will eventually become BLACK DOG.
And now, a brief taster of the history of Black Shuck (which was the same legend that inspired Conan Doyle – a devoted spiritualist and a firm believer in the occult – to write The Hound Of The Baskervilles…transposing the original Norfolk setting of the Black Shuck legend to Devon for The Baskervilles). Black Shuck is also a name you may also know via the song by Lowestoft band The Darkness.
Black Shuck or Old Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog said to roam the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coastline. Black Shuck is sometimes referred to as the Doom Dog. For centuries the English have told tales of a large black dog with malevolent flaming eyes (or in some variants a single eye) that are red or green. They are described as being like saucers According to reports, the beast varies in size from that of a large dog to a horse. There are legends of Black Shuck roaming the East Anglia countryside since before the Vikings. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning ‘demon’ or possibly from the local dialect word shucky meaning ‘shaggy’. It is said his appearance bodes ill to the beholder, although not always. More often than not, stories tell of Black Shuck terrifying his victims, but leaving them alone to continue living normal lives; in some cases it has supposedly happened before close relatives to the observer die or become ill. In other tales he’s seen to be relatively benign and is even said to accompany women on their way home in the role of protector rather than a portent of ill omen. Sometimes Black Shuck has appeared headless, and at other times he appears to float on a carpet of mist. According to folklore the spectre often haunts graveyards, sideroads, crossroads and forests. (wikipedia)
Black Shuck is said to be one of the oldest phantoms of Great Britain. Local legend tells of a huge hound, the size of a small calf with blazing eyes, who regularly prowls the coastal path between Sheringham and Overstrand. Unsuspecting night walkers will first become aware of the pad pad sound of heavy paws. Out of the corner of their eye they may see a gathering darkness, which slowly forms into the outline of a huge hound. Lurking in the night shadows the beast is said to track the steps of its victim, drawing ever closer. Anyone unfortunate enough to turn around and meet its fiery gaze is said to die within a twelve-month period. (http://norfolkcoast.co.uk/myths/ml_blackshuck.htm)
The Hell Hound of Norfolk has had many documented sightings – and in my next blog I will list some of the many! However, for now, I imagine you would like to hear about my own sighting of Black Shuck. Ok, here goes:
For a year I lived in King’s Lynn and taught at a school in Hunstanton. Each working day I would drive from Lynn to Sunny Hunny and back again. One afternoon I was heading out of Hunstanton on the A149 – a main road with two carriageways. At one point I happened to glance casually in my rear view mirror (as you do). It was a bright, sunny day with no visibility problems. Suddenly, running from left to right in my rear view mirror (and some distance behind me), was a giant black shape – clearly a dog – running across the carriageway. My first thought (as I am a dog lover) was “I hope the poor thing is going to be OK, running across the road like that.” My second thought was “That thing is way too big to be a dog – even a Great Dane!”…yet dog-shaped it most definitely was! I looked again to be sure of what I had seen – and it had completely vanished into thin air! (The land is flat around there!) There was nowhere it could have ‘vanished’ to! Only later, when I learned more about the legend of Shuck, did I realise the significance of what I had seen.
I’ve waited a long time to make use of this experience in my writing – but I am doing it now! It will take me a while to complete BLACK DOG as I’ve only just started writing it but – watch this space amigos! Next blog: More about Shuck!