The Curse of the Speckled Monster

This is a hair-raising new story to celebrate the 70th birthday of the National Health Service, Oliver Twist’s 180th birthday, James Phipps’s* 230th birthday, and the great Edward Jenner’s* 270th birthday next year. Ah yes, and the imminent 40th birthday of slaying the Speckled Monster (smallpox) once and for all (we hope).

The Monster has always been with us. Although science has finally locked it behind bars, science could well let it loose once more. Apparently, heaven forbid, it’s possible.

If you visit the peaceful village of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, you will see the splendid house where the Monster’s demise first began. Dr Jenner’s House, Museum and Garden saw one of the pivotal events in world history over 220 years ago. Visiting this special place prompted me to write a story, as well as meeting a survivor of the Monster itself.

On an author visit to a school in the Welsh Valleys, I trod where the Monster had rampaged just decades before. A senior teacher told me how, when she was young, she saw the Monster call and do its worst. A sick man was being rushed through town by ambulance to hospital. The unsuspecting driver needed directions to the main road, so he asked at the school. In doing so, he released the Monster. The virus swept through the classrooms, killing children and teachers in its wake. Yes, this was in living memory. We forget the curse of the Speckled Monster at our peril. It still hopes we’ll think it irrelevant today and dismiss stories of the past. So, may this book not only amuse, engage and entertain, but also keep us aware.

Of course, the gothic romp that is The Curse of the Speckled Monster is purely fiction. But in both Graverobbers and Gallows (volume one) and The Twist of the Hangman (volume two) the menace of the Monster is never far away. What a relief it’s only historical drama – the real world of today is rid of all that. The Monster has finally been slain for good. Or has it?

A chilling article recently appeared in a science journal:

Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000.

That’s a conclusion from Canadian researchers. A group says it has synthesized the horsepox virus, a relative of smallpox. Horsepox is not known to harm humans—and like smallpox, researchers believe it no longer exists in nature. But the technique used could recreate smallpox, a horrific disease that was declared eradicated in 1980.

"If it’s possible with horsepox, it’s possible with smallpox,” says virologist Gerd Sutter of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

Truth, it seems, can be more monstrous than fiction. But, even in our most hair-raising nightmares, the Monster must never be allowed to stir again as it does in the darkest pages of this story.

May The Curse of the Speckled Monster be a timely warning to us all.

John Townsend

* If those names don’t mean anything, take a look at the timelines at the back of the books!

The Curse of the Speckled Monster Volume One: Graverobbers and Gallows is published in June 2018. Volume Two: The Twist of the Hangman follows in September 2018. Both titles will be available from Amazon, Wordery, our website and all good bookshops.