I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of history as a living subject. I think it’s very easy for us to look back at the events and attitudes of the past as things long gone, things that happened to other people; to consider, with hindsight, how much we’ve learned and moved on. Yet, to me, history is a continuum, a vast river that continues to flow all around us, moulding our culture and behaviour. Our society has been irrevocably shaped by the decisions of the past, and the aftershocks and repercussions of those decisions are still being felt, whether we choose to recognise them or not.
So it was that the theme for my most recent novel, Hallowdene, came about. The book is a crime novel with a supernatural twist, a story about ancestry and the cyclical nature of human behaviour, how the terrible deeds of the past have long and far-reaching echoes. Oh, and witches, madness and revenge. It’s the second in my Wychwood series, and features the return of the investigative duo, journalist Elspeth Reeves and Detective Sergeant Peter Shaw.
For me, the hardest part of the job of crafting a new novel – and in particular a crime novel – comes in the planning work, before any words are ever typed onto a screen or scrawled in a notebook. Once I have a theme, the job is to develop characters. It always starts with characters – the people who are going to populate and experience the story, to embody the theme. Then, in looking at the relationships between those characters, the story begins to emerge. Of course, with a crime novel the plot is also paramount, and it’s key to consider the mechanics of the clues, reveals, motives and twists, too. That usually involves a big map or flowchart, and heaps and heaps of index cards. Additionally, introducing a supernatural element was another challenge. Finding the balance there is really difficult – too much and the readers who showed up for the mystery story get frustrated, too little and those wanting the fantasy elements feel short changed. Hopefully I got the balance right!
I was aided this time by the two returning lead characters who felt comfortable and familiar to write for again, although it’s important not to allow your characters to tread water, particularly in a series, where the development of those lead characters is at least as important as the main plot. This time around I decided to focus in on Peter and Ellie’s burgeoning relationship, which seemed like a natural step following the conclusion of the previous novel. Peter is feeling a lot more circumspect about allowing Elspeth to get involved in his investigations this time, partly because he now has bigger stakes in her wellbeing, and partly because he got into a great deal of trouble for allowing her to get quite so involved in his previous case. I also wanted to put them through the wringer, to really test the strength of their relationship, and so we see them both battling with personal choices that could see them pulled in different directions.
Readers will have to read on to the end to see what choices Ellie and Peter both make!
Hallowdene by George Mann is published by Titan Books.