Years ago, working as assistant editor in Scotland, the whole editing team would cram into a car at the end of the day, with the reels of 35mm film between our feet, and drive for a three hour round trip to show the dailies on the set. The production office was in a stunningly beautiful and utterly inaccessible village – just three houses and a pub at the end of a narrow lane on the side of a loch.
During those long drives through the Highlands at dusk I started to think about a story that would take place in the wilderness – a story about vengeance, friendship and redemption. It was the beginning of The Gift Of Darkness. The central idea was to explore the dynamics between a detective and a criminal who are investigating the murder of a family of four.
The Gift Of Darkness is my first novel and I approached writing it with reckless and hopeful ignorance: I was interested in a tightly constructed story that showed the characters in action but I didn’t want to go from one shoot-out to the next with a couple of explosions in the middle. I tried to build tri-dimensional characters and, in order to do so, the story flips between the present time and twenty-five years ago, when the kidnap of three children changed the lives of all involved. In short, I was writing something that I knew I would like but I had absolutely no idea whether anyone in the wider world would be interested.
Once I had the beginning, and I had met the main characters for the first time, the story developed in an organic way: a combination of plotting and finding out what happened once I actually got there.
My way into the story was through the main character, Homicide Detective Alice Madison. If we are travelling with a very experienced police officer – maybe a little jaded, maybe someone who has already seen everything there is to see – our perspective would be coming from that particular angle but Madison has just joined Homicide: she’s young and optimistic and, in the middle of a conflict of morality and ethics, she follows her instincts and places what is right above what is legal.
When I started writing, the urban part of the story was set in London and the wilderness part in Scotland, however I realized immediately that the chemistry of characters and locations was not working. Some years earlier I had fallen in love with Seattle, in the state of Washington: something about the glorious colours, the proximity of sea and mountains and deep ancestral forests. There was no question about it: I would have to do masses of research to make it work but, if it did, my story would have the most amazing surroundings.
In the end, Seattle and the wilderness around it became one of the characters in the novel and shaped the events in a way that I would have never thought possible. Somehow, when I think of the story now, it is inextricably linked to the waters of Elliott Bay and the woods of the Hoh River, as if the soul of the novel was already there from the start and was just waiting for me to find out.
‘The Gift of Darkness’ by Valentina Giambanco is published by Quercus at £14.99