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Sabine Baring-Gould

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Onward Christian soldiers,

Marching as to war

With the cross of Jesus,

Going on Before

This Anglican hymn, one of the most famous ever sung, is probably what most people know Sabine Baring-Gould best for. Yet it took him just fifteen minutes to rustle up and he didn't think much of it himself. It was just a ditty. Something for the children of Horbury Bridge in West Yorkshire to sing as they walked to church on Whitsuntide.

In his own words, "It was written in great haste, and I am afraid that some of the lines are faulty."

I took the idea of Onward Christian soldiers (marching as to war) for the title of the novel. It's not a religious book, of course, far from it, but it plays on the words of the song my protagonist is most closely associated with. Also, I enjoy the Victorian gothic themes of Christian prayer and symbols holding power over supernatural agents of evil, as can be witnessed with vampyres being afraid of crosses and holy water.

Anyway, back to Sabine Baring-Gould, and he's a chap worth knowing. I used to live near his home, Lew Trenchard Manor, and have indeed stayed, ate and drank wine there, in what is now a lovely hotel.

One day, I was researching the chap online (for my own vague interest) and saw that he'd written a book about werewolves. This struck me as a singularly bizarre thing for a landowning clergyman of the enlightened Victorian Age to have done. From there, the genesis of this novel arrived.

I read his book online. The first chapter detailed an encounter he had with superstitious Frenchmen in Vienne and that seemed the perfect starting point for my novel too. Only, in my imagination, his experience proves their fears are valid, for he ends up running into a 'loup garou' on the road back to his inn!

The rest of the book then started to write itself while I holidayed at Wastor Farm on Dartmoor. Nearby Brentor Church was the obvious place to stage one or two chapters, while my knowledge of Brai (Widgery) Tor and Gibbet Hill inclined me to write also about those places. I had intended to include Launceston, which I now call home, in the novel but that somehow never happened.

Never mind! Undoubtedly, it will feature prominently in subsequent books, which may well take in its historic square, fabled castle ruins, and the strange tale of its Elizabethan martyr, Cuthbert Mayne.

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