Although Loch of the Dead is the 4th book in my Frey & McGray series, the main premise came to me more than ten years ago, well before I came up with my “Victorian X-Files” sleuths.
It was my first ever winter in the UK, and I remember it was a really, really bleak one, without a single sunny day between November and April (I am Mexican, so maybe my concept of a “sunny day” was very different back then).
I developed Seasonal Affectionate Disorder, only back then I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I was irascible, overeating, lethargic, didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all – things I tend to feel every Monday morning, only 100 times worse, so I didn’t even consider asking for help. It was only months later that a friend lent me a paper describing an array of symptoms that sounded alarmingly familiar.
It was in that little pit of misery that the idea for Loch of the Dead came to me (evident after you’ve read the book!). I wrote it down as a novella set in colonial Mexico, and at the time it was the perfect therapy for me. I re-read it a few years later and deemed it good enough for Mexico’s Gran Angular Prize for young adult fiction, where it got shortlisted.
After that, the book sat in my files for a good while, until my agent and I were preparing the pitch to sell the Frey and McGray series. Maggie asked me to include several story treatments for at least three potential sequels. The plotlines for A Fever of the Blood and A Mask of Shadows (as well as the series conclusion, yet to be written) were already in my head, but for book 4 I simply jotted down the plot of my almost forgotten novella, and off we went on the hunt for a publisher.
When the time came to write book 4, I very nearly dropped this plotline. There was something missing; something that didn’t feel Frey-and-McGray-ish enough. Maybe I just knew I’d been cheating! Whatever the reason, I went back and re-read the original book (written in Spanish) and found quite a few passages I really, really liked. I decided I’d give it a week, do some research and plotting, and see how things turned out.
I found mind-blowing science! And I really mean mind-blowing. Things I didn’t have access to before my PhD, and which made the plot all the creepier. It’s quite frustrating I can’t tell you more about this, as that would be a major spoiler.
Something I can tell you: The story was always going to need a very remote location, so I simply went to Google Maps and pointed blindly at the most cut-off region in the Highlands. Thus I discovered Loch Maree, and the plethora of legends and little corners that simply made everything click: a well of miraculous waters that allegedly cure madness (something McGray has been looking for since book one!), an ancient graveyard in a tiny island (awesome!) and some of the most spectacular landscapes an author can dream of.
It was as if this little box of amazing facts, legends, science and locations had been there, all tied in ribbons, waiting for someone to use them in a book. I am more proud of the novel than I can tell, and I still shudder when I think I nearly didn’t write it! This coming winter I’ll embrace my blues, turn on my full-spectrum lamp and see if I can come up with something half as good.
Loch of the Dead by Oscar de Muriel is published by Penguin