Jenna Burtenshaw: debut author of Wintercraft
Between the Living and the Dead
Graveyards have always had a special kind of atmosphere about them: a still, peaceful silence that makes you feel as if the living do not belong within their walls. They are places of whispers and memories, secrets and forgotten stories. Few people can walk through them when the moon is out without a chill of primal alertness rippling along their spine.
The old chapel in this photograph sits in a cemetery very close to my home. Generations of my family are buried there and every time I walk through its archway I feel as if hidden eyes are watching me from inside. In spring the air is filled with cherry blossom and flocks of birds gather on the rooftop to stare down at people passing underneath. There is a special kind of magic in a place like this. The rows of gravestones act as windows into the past, offering glimpses into the lives of people we have lost as well as those we have never known, each one serving as a chilling reminder that one day our own stories will also come to an end.
The chapel must have been beautiful once. Now the windows are barred and broken, the doors are boarded up and parts of the roof have fallen in, leaving spaces for tiny saplings to thrive within the cracks. Standing in that archway, you can almost feel the building holding its breath, waiting for something. Moss and ivy creep steadily around the walls and a circle of trees have begun to link their twisting branches around it like leafy sentinels as nature wraps the building gently in her arms, accepting it into her world whilst people who once loved it allow it to crumble and decay.
The chapel has been empty for years, but it still has a presence about it and the cemetery surrounding it is a calm and welcoming place. I like to take my notebook and walk its paths when I need to think. Most of the time there is no one else there and I can be alone in a place that feels slightly separate from the rest of the world. The sounds of the surrounding streets fade away the moment I pass through its iron gates, until all that’s left is the quiet whispering of the gnarled, blossom-dusted trees.
A few years ago I walked through this cemetery in the depths of winter. Snow clung to every gravestone, the old chapel was shrouded in glistening white, and as I stood beneath its arch I could imagine it as it had once been, proud and new. I didn’t know it at the time, but that one building would eventually breathe life into what would become Wintercraft’s ancient spirit-filled city of Fume: a vast gothic-touched graveyard with tall black towers and gargoyle-guarded streets. In Wintercraft, Fume has been overtaken by the living, but it has never forgotten its true purpose. It too is waiting for something and - like every other graveyard - Fume is a patient place.
This cemetery is now one of my favourite spots. Graveyards may not truly belong to the living, but I think the spirits of the dead still share them with us and are happy to make us feel welcome when we visit them. Without this quiet and unearthly space Fume and Wintercraft may never have existed. I was lucky to find a gateway to another world hidden in a quiet corner of my own town.