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13 July 2016 @ 06:55 pm
On my website - Jean at the Witching Hour  
For the [community profile] myoldfandom gift exchange, I wrote my sister "Jean at the Witching Hour", my third story based on Janet Sandison's series about a Scottish girl at the beginning of the twentieth century. It's a great favourite of Flo's, one that she requested more than once at Yuletide before she concluded that no one else would ever offer it.

This time, I thought I'd write about Doris, a tart with a heart of gold who appears prominently in the first book but recurs in later ones as well. However, when I reread the books (yet again!) in preparation, I found that the dates did not add up. Oh, the main portion of what I had planned still held up: i.e. her seduction when she was a fifteen-year-old scullery-maid at the Castle, leading to her father disowning her. However, in the fourth book it is strongly implied that her seducer is "Old Pillans", the villain of the series. As I scribbled down dates and did sums to work out people's ages, I realized that can't be true. I suppose it may be that readers are inferring something that the author didn't intend; but I suspect that it's more likely that Sandison was hit with belated inspiration, added the hint, and never really did her own sums.

So, in the end, I wrote Old Pillans' story.

This presents its own problems. Old Pillans is a pretty one-dimensional villain in the series—a boogey-man to young Jean in the first book, and an off-scene diabolus ex machina in the rest of the series. What little we are told of his past comes from brief snatches of Lochfoot history told to Jean by the elderly; and not only does the reader have to assemble the puzzle but also fill in a lot of missing pieces.

So I worked out how the history of the town seems to have gone during the last half of the nineteenth century, from its evolution as a farming community overlooked by the Duke's Castle to its growth as a commuter suburb of Glasgow with grungy tenements housing underpaid railway workers. In the latter era, Pillans is primarily known as the mysterious, loathsome owner of a secondhand/pawn shop, though he is actually the secret landlord of much of Lochfoot, with additional property in Glasgow. On the other hand, the scraps we know of his early days indicate that he was originally an incomer who worked as ploughman on a local farm, was the local milkman, and had a reputation as a seducer. "Jean at the Witching Hour" is, then, the story of how events turned Pillans-the-ploughman into The Loathsome Villain.

This is a long story: slightly longer than any I've written, in fact, barring the novel that I wrote for my first [community profile] fkficfest. I had Part One written by the upload deadline; and it could have ended there. However, rather than complete the story in sequels, I wrote two more chapters over the next week. Each chapter now has its own webpage, linked off a title page. However, as Flo was staying with me for a fortnight, I didn't manage to finish them until this week.

As with the previous two Jean stories, I selected a background to represent the setting: in this case, a stone wall suggestive of an old farmhouse. On the title page, I also inset a small panel with a grassy background and a picture of dairy cattle. This represents the most important business of Castleside Farm, where Pillans canonically worked when he came to Lochfoot and which he inherited in mysterious circumstances after the suicide of the owner's daughter.

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