The book tells the story of two sisters, Caroline and Joanna, who, recovering from their mother’s attempted suicide spend the summer of 1990 at their great-aunt’s holiday cottage near the Forest of Dean. What should have been an idyllic break from the harsh reality of home ends in horror in a rural village tainted by disturbing secrets and shocking passions.
Told alternately in the present day in which Joanna is trying to unravel the cause of her sister’s sudden death and in the long hot summer of 1990 where the dark mystery of their past gradually unfolds, the summer of 1990 teeters between picturesque and sinister and secrets simmer just beneath the surface of the outwardly ordinary lives.
As with my first novel, The Primrose Path, the tension between the picturesque beauty of the setting and horror reflects a very specific starting point for the story and allowed me to dip into the darker side of the human psyche and explore sibling relationships and the reasons that can lie behind harmful actions.
In harking back to the girls’ childhoods, the book explores how our early experiences and choices can impact our adult lives. Caroline — a lonely, troubled woman, haunted by a cruel mistake she made as a thirteen-year-old girl — may well echo something in our own experiences. There is much to dislike about Caroline and her behaviour, but also plenty to pity and empathise. She is a complex character whose bad behaviour is framed, and in a large part justified, by the troubles in her childhood.
All of us are complex beings and all of us are a product of our childhoods, and what I hope readers of this book will feel — as well as thrilled by the numerous twists and turns — is the complexity of emotions that exist between friends and siblings and to lay bare what is to many of us the unbridgeable barrier between the adult world and that of childhood.
My primary inspiration for this book came from John Everett Millais’ iconic painting of Ophelia — one of the most popular Pre-Raphaelite works in the Tate Gallery, London. Millais’ image of the tragic death of Ophelia is one of the best-known illustrations from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and the surrounding story, namely the themes of madness and grief evoked by the symbolism Millais uses in his painting, gave me the starting point on which to base this book.
In general, I’ll read anything as long as it’s written well with believable characters and a story that takes you on some kind of journey. But for me, nothing beats a good thriller with twists and turns and outcomes I don’t see coming!
I have a small tattoo of a black cat.
A Place to Lie is out now in paperback, ebook and audio.