Victoria Holt was a prolific and popular author who was a pioneer of the genre known variously as the modern Gothic novel, Gothic romance or romantic suspense. Her novel The Shivering Sands (1969), is set near the Goodwin Sands. Holt stayed in Deal in the late 1960s and purchased and restored a house in Sandwich, known as The King’s Lodging, in the 1970s.
'the sand moves as you watch and forms itself into strange shapes, like monsters some of them . . . with claws . . . waiting to catch anyone who wandered there and pull them down. There were gulls circling overhead. Their cries were so mournful, Mrs Verlaine. Oh, it was frightening, so lonely, so desolate. They say the sands are haunted. I’ve talked to one of the men from the North Goodwins Lightship and he says that when he’s on watch he sometimes hears wild heart-rending cries from the sands. They used to say it was the gulls, but he wasn’t so sure. Terrible things have happened there.'
Set in the Victorian era, the shivering sands of the title are the Goodwin Sands in Kent. Gregory Holyoake, writing in the East Kent Mercury, notes that Holt stayed with friends in north Deal in the late 1960s, where she became intrigued by the history of the Goodwin Sands. She went on to use them as an atmospheric backdrop, and essential element, of her novel.
Caroline Verlaine, the first-person narrator, is widowed at an early age and she goes to stay with her sister in Kent, in an effort to overcome her grief. Together they visit some of the places of interest around Folkestone including Caesar’s Camp, Sugar Loaf Hill, St Thomas’s Well and Richborough Castle. Much cheered by these excursions, Caroline departs, but she returns to Kent when her sister goes missing. The beauty of the countryside is revealed on her journey through Kent, which she calls the “Garden of England”. She delights in the “blossoming cherry, plum and apple” trees as well as the “hopfields and cowled oast houses” along her route. She stays in the fictional village of Lovat Mill, somewhere between Dover and Folkestone, which Holyoake suggests is based on Martin Mill. He further suggests that the fictional house where Caroline gives music lessons, Lovat Stacy, is modelled on Oxney Court.
During her time at Lovat Stacy, Caroline learns something of the history of Sandown, Deal and Walmer castles and she hears the local legend of the ghostly Grey Lady. But it is the Goodwin Sands which return again and again. They create an ominous sense of foreboding, with their submerged wrecks and their “desolate” atmosphere. They form an increasingly sinister background to the shocking tale of crime, mystery and romance that unfolds as Caroline finally learns the fate of her sister.
Treanor, T.S. Heroes of the Goodwin Sands. 1904.
Holyoake, Gregory. “Romantic novelist set bestseller here”. East Kent Mercury. 08 Oct. 2015.
Heroes of the Goodwin Sands by Thomas Stanley Treanor, 1904.