by Melusine Draco
Every book has a story behind the story of how it came to be written. It may be about a life-long passion, a personal journey, the need to share an experience or knowledge. It may have been fermenting in the brain for years, or sprung fully formed from a blinding epiphany. Whether it be fact or fiction, sometimes the story behind the story is almost as interesting as the published book itself …
Many of us cut our magical eye-teeth on magical fiction and the purpose of the Temple House Archive was to follow in the footsteps of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley in creating a series of titles that were entertaining as well as instructional.
I was always a great fan of The Legacy, that Canadian television series from the 1980s, and although the rather bigoted ‘light is right and anything that comes from the shadows is highly suspect’ attitude was irritating it provided great entertainment. What if …The idea festered for many years and there came along New Tricks and again the ‘what if …’ element reared its head for combining the esoteric with modern investigative procedures, together with the multi-casting story-lines of the CSI series, the idea for the Temple House series was born. What if …
If I’m completely honest the Temple House is pure indulgence – giving the opportunity to bring together all sorts of demons, degenerates and dire doings all under one roof and covering the realms of esoteric, suspense, horror and thriller. Where were these super-heroes coming from? They had to have an authentic and credible historical background. What if …
… the Temple House had been founded in 1586 in Elizabethan England as an off-shoot of Sir Francis Walsingham’s recently created intelligence service, inaugurated to investigate the growing popularity of esoteric learning that was occupying the interests of the intelligentsia of the time. For my purpose he recruited the descendants of the Knights Templar. The Order had remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since its demise – but drawing on this veritable mine of esoteric knowledge and experience of international intrigue, the Temple House was established to combat ‘evil forces’ of a human or supernatural agency, and those who would use occult power for destructive purposes.
The current members of the Temple House, or ‘the Nine’ as they are referred to in memory of the original nine founder members of the Order, had all to be specialists and magical practitioners in the diverse fields of occultism and its relevant histories. And it wasn’t easy to build up a team that were creatures of the modern world and not throwbacks to a bygone age, although they all had a highly developed sense of honour and obligation to tradition. The first thing that went was the location. No gloomy Gothic exteriors, crumbling castles or dank caverns – the Temple House would be located somewhere light and airy – in a smaller version of my own dream home: Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous ‘Falling Water’ perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean!
Yes, of course, the story-lines descend into darkness but the characters themselves are modern, forward thinking people who exist as a well-oiled machine. House of Strange Gods conjured up a traditional demon from the Abyss with various different sub-plots including a homicidal link to the past but it also weeded out one of the characters who wasn’t up to scratch and had to be replaced. Realm of Shadow weeded out a couple more as the story-lines acted out the process of natural selection; while Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf stretched credibility beyond reason – as often happens. This wasn’t my original intention but as any novelist knows, these things have a habit of developing a life-force of their own and whereas certain characters can’t cope with certain situations in real life, so the flaws are also exposed in a fictional world. They just don’t work! The Thirteenth Sign deals with a primitive African-cult manifesting in Central London; a haunted house in the West Country and an on-line business for curses by mail-order, while the latest title – PACT! – speaks for itself.
To assemble the cast I used my tried and trusted trick of ‘casting’ – who would I get to play those characters if it were a television series (regardless of age) – and to help with the creative process I gave the Temple House its own Facebook page. The page keeps readers up to date on the progress of the team’s latest adventures and arranges special offers on Kindle e-books and discounted prices on all paperback versions ordered direct from the printer. It also gives readers the opportunity to interact with the characters, suggest story-lines for future titles, and enjoy reading the additional information on the background research involved for the next title which, hopefully, will appeal to writers as well as readers.
I like to think that the series has an instructional element to the stories because there’s such a diversity to the phenomena that some magical explanation is required to trigger the reader’s imagination. Throughout the books the Knights Templar background is emphasised and so we get history, too, as well as magic. They’ve been fun to write and, I hope, fun to read, too …
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), or more commonly known as the Knights Templar, were formed in 1118 and ‘destroyed’ in 1307 by royal decree when King Phillipe of France moved to have all Templars arrested and their assets seized. The Order has remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since – from searching and reputedly finding the Holy Grail; the Ark of the Covenant; sacred Gnostic texts even more dangerous than those found by the Dead Sea, or at Nag Hammadi in Egypt; to the timely disappearance of their naval fleet from La Rochelle and their treasure from the Paris Temple.
When creating characters for a novel, I use the ‘casting couch’ method by thinking to myself: which actor/celebrity (past or present) would I choose to play my character, and the choice is more likely to be reliant on a particular past role rather than the actor’s own personality. Very often this choice can also have a direct influence on the way the character speaks and acts within the parameters of the Temple House novels. This technique has proved highly successful for the Temple House series especially with such a large cast of major players and to make sure they all get equal ‘billing’. So … in ‘Meet the Characters’ is how I see them in my mind’s eye … or the people I would chose to play the parts.
As one reader commented in a review of the first books: “What interested me the most was the group dynamic of the ‘Nine’. Their skills and knowledge are vast but they’re united by a deep sense of trust in and commitment to each other. This focus and dedication is also applied to combating forces of evil, both human and non-human. They watch each other’s backs. The characters come across as being quite believable and likeable. I took a shine to many of them … Two have Templar lineage, the others consist of specialists in the fields of forensics, archaeology, anthropology, theology, medieval history, classics, and communications. The group comprises of people ‘blessed’ with natural psychic abilities and those with such gifts thrust upon them by accident. They are a tight knit band, which is always necessary for any group work, more so in the pursuit of paranormal anomalies.”
Aliona de Foresta: Professor of Archeo-astrology is Hereditary Head of the Temple House, author and television personality descended from Guy de Foresta, Master of the Templars in England on three separate occasions between 1275 and1288. Initiate of the Egyptian Mystery Tradition and an authority on ancient stellar-associated religious belief and cosmogony. Widow of Phillipe Middleburne; mother of Luc, heir to the Middleburne Estate and twin sister to Guy de Foresta, who preferred to build boats than take over the Temple House when their father Laurent de Foresta died. Both Aliona and her brother are highly intelligent – highly volatile – and devoted to each other; while Luc is constantly driven round the bend by her ‘fussing’.
Perhaps not surprisingly, she is still my favourite character as she is the lynchpin for the whole Temple House Archive series. She is not always a likeable or sympathetic personality but she has the necessary steely character required to be the hereditary Head of an ancient esoteric Order. She was the first of ‘the Nine’ to come alive having seen Janette Suzman in a similar role in an old Morse episode where she played a dynamic 50-ish professional woman with elegance and conviction. Neither can anyone do ‘exasperation’ quite like Suzman and the younger members of the team often get the opportunity to produce this reaction in their leader. She is fiercely loyal to her ‘troops’ and would defend them to the hilt, regardless of the cost.
As one reader observed: “She’s a strong female character who knows her own mind; as a trusted and respected leader whose team trusts her implicitly. I thought this was an excellent portrayal of a female character in a position that many authors would have assigned to a male. I would trust her and have faith in her decisions, which I can’t say of many people who profess to be leaders! I think Janette Suzman would have been spot on as regards ‘casting’.”
Robert Sands ‘Monsignor’: Emeritus Professor of Theology, Cambridge
Robert specialises in Norse and Anglo-Saxon languages and culture. He is a widely published authority on alternative religion, new religious movements, cults and heretical sects. Also of Templar lineage – Robert de Sable, Master 1191-1193 – he is Aliona’s greatest friend and Luc’s godfather, and originally brought into the Temple House by Laurent de Foresta following the collapse of his marriage. He is the lover of Christine Kemble, many years his junior, who has managed to inject some brightness into his formerly austere existence and whom he marries after his near-fatal shooting [Realm of Shadow].
One reader commented: “He’s rather an enigmatic character and as an academic hasn’t got a lot of time for airy-fairy theories and conjecture. I like the spirited debates he has with JJ Dee and his wife but he’s obviously a good natured soul underneath. What a brain! And what a pedigree!”
Robert is one of the Temple Elders and don’t ask me why – but rock star Bryan Ferry just kept popping up as ‘Monsignor’! Well, he had to have something of the illustrious past etched into his face and I couldn’t get rid of the mental image of the craggy Mr Elegance himself. Neither the reality nor the fictional character appear to suffer fools gladly and while Professor Sands wouldn’t be wearing the glam attire the singer used to favour, he nevertheless is the epitome of his own brand of the immaculate turnout. He’d also got to have something about him to attract a young and attractive wife.
John James (‘JJ’) Dee: Medieval History
JJ holds the rank of ‘Adeptus’ in a Western Ritual Magic Order and a Temple Elder, is an acknowledged expert in the interpretation of the Western Qabalah, esoteric acronyms, sigils and symbols – and demonology. Specialises in icon identification and symbology; contemporary usage and examples – medieval Inquisition and related church affairs. Frequently liaises with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico, Virginia. An excellent chef and connoisseur of good food and wine, with a dry sense of humour to match, he is the only person to win both Mastermind and MasterChef – and usually finds himself acting as ‘exorcist’ to some of the more unsavoury manifestations from the Abyss.
As unlikely as it sounds, the person that fitted this role to perfection in my mind’s eye was the television cookery writer Nigel Slater with his characteristic all-black outfits, specs and floppy hair; his relaxed, laid-back attitude translated perfectly as an excellent foil for his more seriously minded contemporaries.
The comment’s been made that: “I think JJ, apart from being a very smart guy and an accomplished magician, is a mighty fine cook. The best traits in a guy any woman could want. Although Andy and Will are ex-military, it is JJ who can stand and look real danger right in the face and hold his ground. And I love his sense of humour. He doesn’t take himself too seriously unlike the other characters.”
Dr Gabrielle Fox – Temple House Medic
Dr Fox is an authority on folk and alternative medicine, traditional wort-lore, altered states of consciousness and historical witchcraft. She also acts as the team’s medic, forensics specialist and connoisseur of Gothic literature and cinema – an interest that she shares with Jack Daws. Close friend of Aliona de Foresta, Gabrielle, along with JJ and Robert, is another of the Temple Elders.
This was a difficult character to ‘see’ for a very long time as she kept coming out too much like her good friend Aliona de Foresta – then I discovered the beautiful Melina Kanakaredes, the Greek actress in CSI: New York and everything fell into place. It was almost like transporting her from one character to another and the join was seamless especially the Anglo-Greek side to her personality. This is a technique I always use when creating characters because it makes it so much easier to see them in the mind’s eye and lessens the risk of them not acting true to form. It’s no wonder the THA macho-man, Will Burl, falls for her – and I didn’t even see that one coming!
One reader singled her out: “She’s quietly competent but still manages to exude an aura of strength when required out in the field. She strong, dependable, highly intelligent, adaptable and has a good sense of humour – teamed up with Jack Daws they make a formidable duo.”
James ‘Jack’ Daws: Archaeology/Anthropology
A self-opinionated graduate of University College, specialising in prehistory and archaeo-acoustics – the acoustic qualities of prehistoric and medieval construction, and auditory sensibilities – experiencing the sensation of hearing sounds where there is no identifiable external cause. Aficionado of classic cinema, vintage horror films and literature; and a highly experienced climber – a passion he shares with Chrissie Kemble, Andy Ambler and Will Burl.
I’m also a great fan of young Johnny Depp who is greatly underrated as a comic actor and I needed someone in the team to be a bit of a clown when the need arises. He’d drive me barmy but as a character he’s credible when it comes to getting folk out of a tight corner – and can always be relied upon to say the wrong thing!
Our proof-editor likes Jack Daws who specialises in archaeo-acoustics: “What a way to hear blasts from the past! He’s cheeky, helps the team to bond and I imagine somewhat of a hunk! He loves old horror movies, too, so a great character to cuddle up with!”
Andrew ‘Andy’ Ambler: Former SAS, intelligence operative, communications and crypt-analysist. Shot in the head during active service and developed extremely accurate psychic abilities as a result. Originally seconded to the Temple House from MI6 [House of Strange Gods] but now a fully-integrated member of the Nine who shares a climbing interest with Jack Daws and Christine Kemble and his old comrade in arms, Will Burl. Often out of his depth with the occult nature of their work. He has a dry and soldier’s ‘black’ sense of humour, and is fiercely loyal to Aliona de Foresta.
The character was originally based on a real ex-special forces soldier whom I met many years ago minding a couple of Russians at a conference in London but like the rest of us he would be a lot older now! So … who would fit the role today and it had to be Daniel Craig: not particularly good looking but soooo much animal magnetism, and appears to be a bit of a sour puss at times despite the odd flashes of humour. Forget the tux … he’s best when casual, dishevelled and a bit grubby! A fellow author commented: “Oh, the ex-SAS man [Andy Ambler]. Definitely sexy and cool and loads of common sense.”
Christine Kemble is a Doctor of Geology and leading researcher into electromagnetic phenomena – the strange effects associated with the earth’s magnetic field, with a keen interest in the magical lore of gemstones and ‘earth mysteries’; aka author Crystal Kemble. An experienced climbing companion of Jack Daws and lover (and later wife) of the eminent ‘Monsignor’, Robert Sands. Chrissie has a bright, bubbly personality and an infectious laugh that manages to defuse even the grimmest of situations.
I was looking for a complete contrast to Aliona de Foresta and Gabrielle Fox but it had to be someone who was as academically sound and who provided the statutory (but not ditzy) blonde. She’s happier being one of the boys but her female friendships are equally as important; and she’s fearless when it comes to field-work. She’s the fourth member of the Temple House ‘climbing club’ with Jack Daws, Andy Ambler and Will Burl and absolutely dependable in a crisis … jump to Amanda Redman who plays the indomitable Sandra in New Tricks and the cast was complete – especially as the original idea for THA came from a blend of New Tricks, CSI and the old 1970s series The Legacy. One reader has gone for Christine Kemble: “She’s my kinda girl – clever, attractive, witty and a tom-boy to boot!”
Wilbur Burl: Another former Special Forces soldier and former comrade in arms of Andy Ambler [House of Strange Gods], originally appointed as security officer for the Temple House and elevated within the Order because of his courage and adaptability. Romantically involved with Gabrielle Fox and a member of the TH climbing club. There’s a good-natured, on-going competitiveness between the two soldiers except in dress – Will wouldn’t be seen dead in Andy’s cut-offs and faded military t-shirts.
This role had to go to good-looking American actor (and former fashion model) of Criminal Minds fame – Shemar Moore. In real life the actor is of mixed race and in the books Will has a Caribbean-Greek ancestry. There’s also a lot of good-natured sexist leg-pulling that can only work successfully between a group of highly confident and warm-hearted people who genuinely care about each other.
Timothy Brown: An emotionally underdeveloped teenage psychic who lost his parents in a boating incident and was washed up on the Temple House beach. His remarkable abilities are wide reaching but completely untrained; a probationary member of the Temple House team. Although possessed of an extremely high IQ, he nevertheless has the social and emotional outlook of a schoolboy on account of his parents keeping him isolated on account of his ‘strangeness’ [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf].
I needed a sort of River Pheonix-pretty boy look for this new character to provide a complete contrast to the older males … so had a flick through ‘young blond models’ on the internet and this was the closest I could find.
Barbara Ford-Harrington: Retired librarian from the Bodleian Library at Oxford and a traditional Old Craft witch. She joins the Temple House team following a case involving some of her strange neighbours. An excellent researcher and a highly suitable replacement for former team member Maurice Morgan and a valuable colleague of JJ Dee and Robert Sands.
I had a sort of mature Angela Rippon-type for this character who wears her long blonde hair caught up in a knot; she wears country tweeds and sensible shoes but is in no way plain or dowdy. She brings with her an amiable beagle called Wilf. [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf]
PACT! is the fifth title in the series and due for publication in September 2021 by Ignotus Press UK. For more details see http://www.facebook.com/TempleHouseArchive
“A brilliant read. Love the writing. A real chiller-thriller. The author has all the skills needed to write a cracking good novel. She also has a vast occult knowledge that really shows and writes on the subject with ease. As usual with Melusine there is a subtle humorous element running through that works really well. Best of all there is a volume two underway. I think this would make a great TV series.” Maria Moloney, Axis Mundi Books
“A cracking read. An excellent story, the characters are three dimensional, the dialogue reads naturally and the pacing is fine. There is tension and plenty of conflict as well as some nice touches of humour. There is also a sense of truth that only someone who is familiar with the occult can provide in this genre.” Krystina Kellingley, Cosmic Egg Books
“A brilliant read and a walk into the world of the occult that is both fascinating and thrilling. Loved the historical undertones and the work of the ‘Nine’. Kept me gripped throughout. Can’t wait for number two!” Sarah-Beth Watkins : Bookworms