I knew when I started writing The Woman in the Dark that I wanted it to be a psychological thriller about a family in crisis. I wanted to get into their minds as their world unravelled, to sneak behind their closed front door to see how everything unfolded. The Walker family came first, Patrick, Sarah, Joe and Mia, moving into my head, scenes and chapters and scenarios unfolding – snippets of dialogue that I muttered aloud as I walked the dog or dropped the children off at school. But they wouldn’t come fully alive – there was no plot, no real story, just a soap opera acted out in my head by this poor family.
I realised after a while what was missing – my family were homeless. I didn’t have a setting and for me, setting is as important as character. Sometimes the setting almost becomes a character, as it has done in The Woman in the Dark.
The characters gave me the setting I needed – as I plunged the depths of Patrick’s troubled past, he gave me the Murder House – both the idyllic vision of a perfect family home he presents to Sarah, and the reality of it; abandoned, decaying, notorious as the site of a horrific triple murder. Full of cold spots, creaks and locked rooms, the Murder House became one of the antagonists and was the catalyst for bringing the book alive. Until I put the key in the front door of the Murder House, there was no story.
From the Murder House, the world of my story grew – it needed to be in a small town, so everyone knew what had happened and everyone would be there to witness the day the Walkers moved in. I borrowed beaches and promenades and fairgrounds from all the local seaside towns around me to create my fictional town, setting the book out of season so the spotlight is firmly on the family moving into the Murder House. Plus – isn’t there something deliciously creepy about a seaside town out of season?
The Walkers move in fifteen years after Patrick’s childhood home became the Murder House, but the memories are still there – constant reminders in the faces of the neighbours who cross the street to avoid it, in the faded height chart scribbled on the wall in the wobbly writing of a murdered child, in the things Sarah finds as she attempts to make the house into a home. Is the house haunted by the murdered family? Or are the cold spots purely in my characters’ imaginations?
I leave that for the reader to decide as they join the mysterious stranger watching the house; watching and wondering – how long before more blood is spilled in the Murder House?
The Woman in the Dark is published by Little, Brown