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Travel to the Palace of Shadows with Ray Celestin

  • Submitted: 15th October 2023

Travel to the Palace of Shadows with Ray Celestin

I am beyond myself with excitement today as I have enticed the wonderful Ray Celestin to BookTrail Towers to speak of The Palace of Shadows.

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Ray Celestin (c) Pan Macmillan

Ray Celestin (c) Pan Macmillan

I have prepared cake with almonds, wine served in goblets and will serve them to him on a tray made from the wood of a tree in the grounds of The Palace of Shadows. I will place a candlestick on said tray and serve to him, bowing as I do so.

Whilst I serve up this feast of cake and wine, allow me to introduce you to Mr Celestin himself. The fire is crackling, the shadows on the wall dancing and the wind outside is howling…

 

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Are you ready to enter the Palace of Shadows?

Are you sure?

Ghostly novel set in The Palace of Shadows - Ray Celestin

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Palace of Shadows is a gothic Victorian novel centred on a sprawling mansion on the North York Moors. . Built by an arms company heiress, rumours circulate that the maze-like house has been constructed as a way of protecting the heiress from the vengeful ghosts of dead soldiers killed by her family’s arms. As strange as it might seem, this was all inspired by an actual house, and an actual heiress.

The Winchester House – California

Doorway to nowhere - Winchester House - Wikipedia

Doorway to nowhere – Winchester House – Wikipedia

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

On the death of her husband in 1881, Sarah Winchester (1839 – 1922) inherited a fortune linked to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, making her one of the richest women in the world. She used much of this fortune to build a vast mansion located in San Jose, California. Construction on the Winchester House continued uninterrupted for over two decades, with much of the work planned by Mrs Winchester herself.

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Organ, fireplace, and windows with Shakespeare quotes (C) Wikipedia

Organ, fireplace, and windows with Shakespeare quotes (C) Wikipedia

The Winchester House – California

This process lead to an incredibly idiosyncratic building. Staircases lead to ceilings, rooms encase in rooms, corridors double back on themselves before returning to their starting point.

tiny stairs at the Winchester House (c) Wikipedia

tiny stairs at the Winchester House (c) Wikipedia

This is perhaps what led to rumours that the house was constructed as a labyrinth to confuse vengeful ghosts. The subsequent owners of the house, who turned it into a tourist attraction, further promoted these rumours in what must have been an attempt to drum up business for their ‘mystery house’. Despite a damaging fire, the house is still standing today, and is open to visitors.

Winchester House (c) Wikipedia

Winchester House (c) Wikipedia

Something about the fanciful, haunted version of the Winchester house fascinated me when I first heard about it. Could someone’s madness really take form in the shape of a house? What would a house designed as a supernatural trap look like? Might it be something like one of Escher’s architectural drawings?

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Winchester windows (c) Wikipedia

Winchester windows (c) Wikipedia

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

One thing that didn’t work for me in the real story, however, was the location of the house; sun-drenched, pacific California seemed a bad fit for a premise so gothic and macabre. Plus I was in the midst of writing a quartet of novels about jazz and the American mob, and didn’t want to write another book set in the US. To quote Dickens I wanted ‘moors and bleak places’ so I decided to relocate the house to the UK for my version of the story.

North York Moors (c) Wikipedia

North York Moors (c) Wikipedia

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Britain’s moors are the setting for two of my favourite novels (Hound of the Baskervilles and Wuthering Heights) and Whitby (a town perched on the coastal edge of the North York Moors) features prominently in another personal favourite – Dracula. It was perhaps this last connection that inclined me to Yorkshire, as well as some books of stunning Yorkshire landscape photography by Mark Denton. So it was I decided on the North York Moors as the setting for Palace of Shadows before ever actually visiting them. It was only after I had made my choice that I made the journey up, and realised I’d picked the right spot.

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

'The Ironbound Shore' (Lake District) (c) Wikipedia

‘The Ironbound Shore’ (Lake District) (c) Wikipedia

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Since then I’ve made subsequent trips, taking my family with me. It was on one of these trips that I learnt my favourite English artist of the late Victorian period – John Atkinson Grimshaw – lived nearby, renting a house in Scarborough from 1876 to 1879. Grimshaw is best known for his eerie, nocturnal street scenes, but he also painted and sketched natural landscapes as well, in both the Lake District and the Yorkshire Moors. Though these are much less well-known, they still contain the same hard-to-place uncanniness of his more celebrated subjects.

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

BookTrail locations in The Palace of Shadows

Standing outside Grimshaw’s ‘Castle By The Sea’, staring at the plaque which commemorates his stay there, it seemed I really had made the right choice of location, as the uncanniness of Grimshaw’s paintings was exactly what I wanted to capture in the book – the uncanniness of an Escher house, placed starkly in the midst of a Grimshaw moor-scape.

Plaque

Blue Plaque (c) Wikipedia

It also made the ‘Castle By The Sea’ another potential stop on the Palace of Shadows book trail, from Whitby to Scarborough to the North York Moors, to perhaps even, the original mystery house at 525 Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, California which inspired it all.

And with that, we take some more tea. a hansom cab pulls up outside and, in a puff of smoke, Mr Celestin swishes out of BookTrail towers and disappears in a cloud of smoke, fog and hooves in the misty night.

 

 

Ray Celestin Books and their locations

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:  The Palace of Shadows

Pinterest:/yesyespress/   Web: raycelestin.com/

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