In 1626 a Dutch engineer called Cornelius Vermuyden was appointed by Charles I to drain one of his favourite hunting grounds at Hatfied Chase.
This was no mean feat, and involved the rerouting of three rivers, including the Don, from their original courses.
This controversial project divided public opinion at the time, and the premise of Tiddy Mun is that the eponymous local river spirits have never rest easy since that time.
The old house where much of the book’s action is set lies on the original route of the river,
and is haunted, amongst other things, by this malevolent pixie with the power to change the weather who resents the changed course of its watery home.
Mark Rippin is a reclusive academic looking for peace, quiet and maybe a bit of inspiration in the rural landscape he usually just writes about. He rents the house and settles down to what he hopes will be some nice, relaxing book-writing. Only it doesn’t end up that way.
The sinister events start immediately as his friend dies in a mysterious car accident after helping him move in. And they keep on coming.
This is fertile ground for a ghost story, but the Tiddy Mun is not the only malignant presence.
Rippin is determined to piece together the strange history of the house and get to the bottom of the evil it contains. At various times he is helped and hindered by a colourful cast of local villagers, each of whom seems to have their own agenda.
The story of Rippin’s search for the truth in the present day is interspersed with entries from Vermuyden’s diary back in 1627.
As well as the considerable tribulations of engineering involved in redirecting the river, he also describes the local superstitions and a witch trial that it turns out may have bearing on the situation Rippin finds himself in centuries in the future.
This blending of the ancient and the modern is a real strength of the book. Sheffield-based Hutchinson used to live next to the Don at Wharncliffe Side, and was inspired by tales of a water spirit haunting the river at Neepsend.
Tiddy Mun is a fascinating book that uses this
story of the supernatural to explore the real consequences for the landscape around us of actions taken nearly four hundred years ago.