Much of the joy of writing lies in the chance to keep trying something new. Like many other crime novelists, I love writing series, but even with a new novel in a series, I find that part of the pleasure comes from varying my approach from book to book. For me, it’s really important to avoid sticking to a formula. As a crime fan, I prefer books that have a freshness about them. And keeping my writing fresh ensures that I stay motivated.
So I decided a while back to take a risk, and write a very different kind of crime novel in a very different way. I’ve always enjoyed writing whodunits, figuring out an intriguing solution to a mystery, and then working backwards from there. This time I started with just a single character, and when I typed “Chapter One”, I had no idea what her fate would be.
The character was Rachel Savernake. She was a young woman newly arrived in London, very rich and very ruthless. Not a bit like any of my previous protagonists. And she wasn’t a woman of today (although I like to think that women readers of today will be intrigued to read about her), but a woman who became embroiled in a sequence of bizarre murder cases way back in 1930. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Just as an experiment, I wrote a short story about her, simply to see whether I found her believable enough to sustain a full-length novel. The short story pleased me, and I decided it was time to take the plunge by putting her into a book.
Soon I discovered that I was writing a historical thriller, and before long I had a title – Gallows Court. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the story; for once I lacked the safety net of a carefully constructed plot. But the more I wrote about Rachel, the more I found myself fascinated by her. A good augury for any novel. As I worked on the story, it began to come together, along with plot twists that took even me by surprise.
Much as I’ve loved writing my previous books, this one feels rather special. Telling the story of a young journalist’s efforts to find out what Rachel is up to was the most thrilling experience of my career as a novelist. I’m delighted, too, to have found a wonderful and highly supportive publisher in Head of Zeus. Yes, Gallows Court is completely different from my other books. But I’m hoping it marks an exciting new beginning…
Gallows Court is published in September by Head of Zeus