Beyond the Yew Tree was inspired in part by a spell of jury service. It wasn’t the trial itself but location: an old courthouse with a semi-circular courtroom which has scaffolding propping up one wall, wooden panelling and a painted ceiling. If anywhere needed haunting, this place did. The next challenge was the nature of the spirit, who and how does it attract the attention of a juror who is focused on the trial? From there, the idea spiralled out and I picked Lincoln Castle for the location as it has everything I needed for the story: prison, graveyard and an old courthouse.
What drew you to this particular genre and what are the challenges when writing?
I seem to write cross-genre – mystery, magical realism and women’s fiction. Appealing to all those readers in one book is the biggest challenge. Some like the magical supernatural aspects, others don’t, which is fine. I also inject a little romance into the story as ultimately the themes are about people and love is the best theme of all.
Do you think character or plot is more important?
It’s the chicken and egg scenario. An interesting character will create a good plot, and likewise the other way around. Which comes first? My first book it was the plot, the second the characters. This time, it’s a bit of both.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I don’t think I have one! Most writers spend a lot of time avoiding repetitions, weak words, poor adverbs etc. It leaves you focused on the negative when you’re editing, especially when your editor points out you’ve used the same word multiple times on the same page. Then that word shouts at you to be changed. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be ‘love’. Writers tend to use the word sparingly so that it has the biggest impact when put to use.
What’s your writing process like – from idea, to first draft, to final edit? How long does the process take overall?
My first book took four years from draft to published. Most of that was spent editing then putting it to one side for a duration. The process becomes cyclic and hard to break. At some point, you have to be brave and finish the book. Beyond the Yew Tree was two years in the making. I can write quite quickly, but I edit slowly as I find it harder to stick at it. I don’t think I’m alone with finding editing challenging.
How has the process changed since you first started writing?
Yes, because you learn as you go. Each new book addresses the mistakes of the previous ones. Your writing style evolves, and I hope that my latest book has greater appeal. Initially I wrote entirely for myself as I didn’t expect to publish.
At the age of eleven, I read crime books voraciously, in particular procedural crime series, such as Ed McBain. He enlightened me to pace, keeping the pages turning, good dialogue. At the other end of the spectrum there was Thomas Hardy for sedately appreciation of words. In between, there was a lot of books, including historical fiction which remains my staple. I was a big reader as we lived in a rural village and there wasn’t much else to do.
What’s the most common mistake do you believe new writers make?
Trying to make the first draft perfect then being afraid to make changes. Every word feels like it matters, so changing anything is tough. The idea of deleting chunks or rewriting is almost painful. Now I would say just get the first draft down, and then the real work starts.
Francis Crawford of Lymond. The charismatic Scottish hero of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. If you’re a fan of Outlander, these books are a real treat. No time travelling, though!
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of writing a book?
Don’t judge yourself and don’t let others either. Enjoy the writing however you do it.
Whispers in the courtroom.
Only one juror hears them.
Can Laura unravel the truth by the end of the trial?
In an old courtroom, a hissing voice distracts shy juror, Laura, and at night recurring nightmares transport her to a Victorian gaol and the company of a wretched woman.
Although burdened by her own secret guilt, and struggling to form meaningful relationships, Laura isn’t one to give up easily when faced with an extraordinary situation.
The child-like whispers lead Laura to an old prison graveyard, where she teams up with enthusiastic museum curator, Sean. He believes a missing manuscript is the key to understanding her haunting dreams. But nobody knows if it actually exists.
Laura is confronted with the fate of two people – the man in the dock accused of defrauding a charity for the blind, and the restless spirit of a woman hanged over a century ago for murder. If Sean is the companion she needs in her life, will he believe her when she realises that the two mysteries are converging around a long-forgotten child who only Laura can hear?
Aspiring writer who pens Women’s Fiction and magical tales about family secrets.
An East Anglian turned Northerner – almost. Information professional, always. Biologist, in my memories. Archivist, when required.
Amateur pianist and flautist. Reluctant gardener. Scribbler of pictures. And forever…. a mother and wife.
Oh, not forgetting, cat lover! (NK: Us too, Rachel.)
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