Sorcery and mystery with a dose of horror and history.
Eleven-year old Jem Green works as a kitchen boy in the London household of a powerful Duke. He doesn't know who his father is and his life consists of never ending drudgery. But when the sinister Count Cazalon pays a visit to the Duke, Jem's world is turned upside down. The count is planning something terrible and Jem appears to be central to his wicked scheme. With the help of newfound friends - apprentice sorceress Ann, mind-speaking mute Ptolemy and his pet monkey Cleo, all prisoners of the Count in his macabre mansion - Jem must find out why he is so important to Cazalon and stop the devastation the count is about to unleash.
An absorbing adventure set in the reign of Charles II, just before the Great Fire of London.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 1st 2013 by Templar Publishing
Jem pushed his way along the river’s edge towards the entrance to London Bridge where a mass of laden carts and people jostled to cross over to the south side of the river. The air was thick with smoke here from all the fires in the crooked houses and shops that straddled the bridge.
It was already past noon.
‘I’m down here.’
A familiar voice sounded in Jem’s head. He turned to scan the surging crowd around him.
‘Not there – I’m down here. Look to your left. I’m on the river.’
Jem pushed his way to the edge of the Thames and saw Tolly standing on the ice just below.
The dark-skinned boy grinned and waved. Today he was wearing a thick chequered cloak and he was alone. Cleo was nowhere to be seen. Jem felt a pang of disappointment.
‘Monkey’s don’t like snow!’ came Tolly’s disembodied voice. It sounded slightly scornful. ‘Don’t waste your pennies when you can walk on water. It’s perfectly safe. The Thames has been frozen for weeks now. Look…’
Tolly stamped hard on the ice and then gestured behind him. Jem saw that hundreds of people were actually standing on the now-solid river. More than that, he saw that the ice was covered with stalls, tents, huts and even small fires.
He scrambled across a low stone parapet and down the slippery slope to join the other boy.
‘How much have you got there?’ asked Tolly.
Jem was about to answer out loud but thought better of it. He opened the palm of his gloved hand to reveal the coins given to him by the Duchess.
‘Excellent,’ came the reply. ‘There’s something over here I want to see. Come on.’
Tolly led the way as the boys skittered across the ice to a ring of people gathered midway across the river. The crowd was standing behind a rope barrier and staring into the depths.
A giant of a man wearing a long fur coat was calling out to passers by. His single golden earring, a hoop the size of a sovereign, jiggled against the folds of his fat neck as he boomed out.
‘She is the very miracle of our age! See the mermaid of the Thames, trapped beneath the waters with no hope of release. Not even her scaly sisters can reach her now.’
Fascinated, the boys moved closer.
‘If you two ain’t got a penny to see my mermaid, you can clear off now,’ said the man, blocking their view.
Tolly gave Jem a nudge and, reluctantly, Jem offered the man a shiny coin.
The man grabbed it eagerly, gave a toothless smile and crunched aside on the ice, allowing them to join the crowd.
The river ice at the centre of the ring had been polished and cleared of snow. It was so smooth and round that it looked like a vast mirror. About 20 people were kneeling or standing around the edge and peering intently into the water.
‘I can see ’er tail,’ said one woman, while another crossed herself and said loudly that such a sight ‘wasn’t fit for God-fearin’ folk’ before bending down for a better look.
At first Jem couldn’t make anything out in the still greyness. Then, as his eyes adjusted to the murky view, he saw her.
About three feet below the surface a young woman appeared to be suspended in the water. Her arms were outstretched above the billowing brown folds of her skirts and apron. Jem realised that what he originally took to be strands of weed was hair streaming out from her head.
A basket was attached to her shoulder and around it Jem now saw a variety of floating objects, including a mirror, ivory hair combs and skeins of unravelling ribbon. Everything was motionless, trapped in the ice.
The woman’s face was turned upwards and her blank eyes were open. Her mouth appeared to be caught in a black ‘o’ of perpetual surprise.
Jem shuddered. This was no mermaid, it was a frozen pedlar woman fallen through the ice.
At his side, Tolly was absolutely still. He appeared to be spellbound. His eyes were locked on the dead woman’s face.
Suddenly, Tolly sprang up and bolted from the horrible scene. He slipped and slid as he did so, pushing into the other people around the ice window. Two of them fell over.
The crowd shouted angrily after him and one of the women rounded on Jem. ‘You should keep your savage on a lead,’ she spat. ‘Animals like that should be locked in a cage.’
Jem backed away from the furious crowd and then he too broke into a run. Ahead of him he caught glimpses of the red and black squares on Tolly’s cloak as the boy fled to the furthest bank of the river.
When he finally caught up with him, Jem was breathless. Tolly was leaning against the ice-locked base of one of the stone arches of the bridge; his breathing was fast and shallow. Jem saw that he was trembling. He tapped the dark boy’s shoulder and was shocked to see tears streaking down his face.
‘I heard her,’ Tolly choked the words out loud. ‘…she spoke to me.’
Furiously smudging away the tears with the backs of his hands, Tolly straightened up and inhaled deeply.
‘She didn’t know,’ he continued as if to himself. ‘Why didn’t she know?’
Jem felt embarrassed. He shuffled his feet and patted his friend’s shoulder again. ‘What that woman said about putting you on a lead was rude and ignorant. But you shouldn’t pay attention to people like that, Tolly - London is full of them. People call me Gypsy Boy - and worse - all the time.’
Tolly looked at Jem oddly. ‘No, you don’t understand, not…’ But then he stopped himself, shook his head and pointed at the low, weak sun.
‘I have been foolish,’ he said. ‘And now we are late and my master will be angry. Come.’
The Jade Boy is her first book for children and Cate is now working on a sequel The Moon Child.
It's been a busy year. In July 2013 Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, her debut novel for adults (writing as Kate Griffin), was published by Faber and Faber. Set in the sleazy, fog-bound backstreets of London's docklands during the Victorian era, 'Kitty' is also the first of a series.
Cate Cain, author of a newly published book for children aged 10 – 13 writes about the places that inspired her ghoulish story:
My first book for children The Jade Boy was published by Templar early in September. It asks the question; What if the Great Fire of London wasn’t really an accident? And in a spooky coincidence, the book actually came out on the day the fire actually began in London’s Pudding Lane 347 years ago.
I am fascinated by London and by its history. I count myself very lucky that my day job - when I’m not holed up in the dining room and tapping away at my laptop - allows me to visit some wonderful old buildings and places that members of the public wouldn’t normally see. I work as press officer for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Britain’s oldest heritage charity, and my office is situated in Spitalfields – a fantastically atmospheric and historic part of east London.
I live in St Albans, another lovely old city, and usually after work each day I walk to the station to catch my train home. My journey takes me through the heart of the City of London, through narrow streets that still, in the 21st century, follow the old medieval layout of the capital. I walk past the Royal Exchange, past Mansion House, past the Guildhall and past St Paul’s Cathedral.
I don’t always follow the same route. Sometimes I veer off to explore a narrow street I haven’t noticed before or to follow a sign to an old church or building of interest. Quite often I get lost, but I never mind because every turning brings a new discovery, helping me to imagine what old London must have been like before it was burned to the ground in September 1666.
Inspiration for The Jade Boy came from two buildings – one of them destroyed by the fire and one of them not even built when sparks from Mr Farriner’s bakery oven in Pudding Lane set the wooden timbers of old London alight.
I’ve always loved St Paul’s Cathedral - it means London to me. Despite the high-rise development that has engulfed the city over recent years, the dome of St Pauls is always reassuringly visible – elegant and beautiful. Three years ago I passed the cathedral on a snowy evening on the way to the station. As usual, I looked up to admire the view and I suddenly found myself wondering about the old medieval building that had stood on that site before being destroyed by the fire. Something clicked.
I started to mull over a story involving children who discovered a dastardly scheme to destroy the city and by the time I got home to St Albans much later that evening (there were a lot of delays because of the snow so I had quite a bit of thinking time!) I had an outline plot in my mind. I began writing it the following weekend, but I needed more!
The second architectural inspiration, this time for my villain Count Cazalon, came from Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields where, at the time, I worked part time as press officer.
If you haven’t been to this amazing and inspiring building I strongly recommend a visit. I can safely say that in all the time I worked there I was never entirely sure where rooms were or how to get to them! It’s an Alice in Wonderland kind of place, full of mirrors and clever architectural conceits that play with your expectations and with your mind. Today it is preserved exactly as he left it when he died in 1837.
When I wrote information for children about the Soane, I often found myself comparing the museum to the Tardis and Sir John himself to Doctor Who. It is, is quite simply, magical – an extraordinary space that experiments with space, light and time.
Soane was a Regency era architect and an inveterate collector. His house not only reflects his skill as a designer but also serves as a giant showcase for his collections. There’s everything here from a First Folio Shakespeare to beautifully displayed classical antiquities (including an alabaster Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement) to a mummified cat, Roman reliquary boxes and Hogarth’s Rakes Progress series of painting – cunningly displayed in a panelled room that opens to reveal its treasures like a piece of architectural origami.
I stole the idea of Soane’s incredible, confounding house – filled with odd, peculiar and precious things – for my Jade Boy villain, the hideous Count Cazalon. In the book, I named the villain’s lair Malfurneaux Place, but it was really the elegant Sir John’s Soane’ Museum that inspired it... right down to the Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement!
I’m going to stop right there, just in case I give too much away!