The outline of a book can arrive all at once or by stages. I store up things I’ve seen, events read of and scraps of conversation overheard, in case, one day I’ll use them in a book. Once, driving along a country road, I spotted a figure, (impossible to tell whether male or female.) dressed top to toe in yellow waterproofs, and walking a small dog. He or she had to go into a book one day, although I had at the time no fixed plot.
On another occasion, driving through the Cotswolds, I noticed a pair of large houses built in the traditional stone, the outer walls in a good structural state, but apparently abandoned. Had anyone ever tried to live in them? Had some problem arisen, causing the builder to abandon the project, leaving the houses empty shells?
I had long considered writing about the burden of guilt, in particular that borne by a very young person at the wheel, perhaps returning late from a party, who crashes the car and causes serious injury to a passenger, a fellow partygoer. I had to think myself into the mind of that young driver, as the years go by, the horror and the responsibility never lessening.
It was growing late in the year when I began to write; the reds and oranges of autumn gone, landscape desolate. The setting seemed right for the two houses, which become, in my story, one house. I call it Key House.
Key House was once lived in but has long stood empty but for various drifters temporarily camping out in it. Then one night Key House goes up in flames. In the smoking ruins, a charred body is discovered.
Jessica Campbell is called to the scene and an investigation begins, under the eye of two passers-by. One is an elderly man, long obsessed with the empty house, and the other Muriel Pritchard, in her yellow waterproofs, walking her dog, Hamlet. The scene is set for old secrets to creep out of the shadows and for personal demons to be confronted.
Bricks and Mortar is published by Headline