Today I have the pleasure to have Karen Maitland here, with a piece giving us some insight into how she creates her books, including her newest book, THE RAVEN’S HEAD, out now on paperback and ebook. Please give her a warm welcome.
‘A Novel Place’ by Karen Maitland
Like every writer I have dozens of half-formed ideas for novels and shadowy characters floating around in my head and scribbled down in the stacks of notebooks I take everywhere. But recently I wondered what makes one of these ideas suddenly bob up to the surface and solidify into a plot. I realised that what made it happen for me was stumbling on a particular place. Places almost become characters my novels, each with their own personalities and moods.
I rarely go looking for locations to set novels, they leap out at me. I was driving through Norfolk one winter’s evening, when I saw the chilling white ruins of Langley Abbey looming out of the mist, and one of those half-submerged ideas suddenly shot to the surface. An alchemist, yes, this is exactly where he’d come to work in secret. No one would know what went on inside those thick walls, or in the dark cellars beneath. That was how THE RAVEN’S HEAD started to take shape.
Once I’ve found my novel place, I research its history and return to visit it several times in all weathers and seasons. Places can take on very different atmospheres in daylight or dark, sunshine or storm, so it’s important to experience them all.
In Lincoln there are long set of medieval stone steps called the Greestone Stairs, reputed to be the most haunted street in Lincoln. On a sunny day, it is lovely walk passed medieval buildings, but at night, it takes on a really sinister character and, whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s a creepy place to be. One of my narrators for THE VANISHING WITCH came to me as I walking down those steps at night – maybe he was one of the ghosts after all.
There are certain places I do go hunting for though. After I’ve begun a new novel, I often go looking for specific type of building, like a thatched medieval church or a manor house, because the one that would have been in village I’m writing about, no longer exists. When I find a building of the type I want, I spend time alone in it looking, listening, even lying down to help me imagine what my characters might have experienced. In THE RAVEN’S HEAD one character is shut in a windowless chapel at the top of a tower. So I needed to know if he’d be able to hear anything outside the building that would let him know if it was day or night. These chambers usually had a squint hole, to allow someone outside the room to spy in. Would my character be able to see that hole from the inside and know he was being watched?
For me, a place is not just a background setting, it’s the alchemist stone that brings characters alive and makes tiny ideas blossom into stories.
THE RAVEN’S HEAD
Release Date: 12th March 2015
Published by: Headline Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Vincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.
Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.
Karen Maitland has recently moved to the wonderful county of Devon and has a doctorate in psycholinguists. She is fascinated by the myth and magic of the Middle Ages, which she draws on for her novels. She experienced the medieval lifestyle for real, when she worked for eighteen months in a rural village in Nigeria, living without electricity, plumbing or sanitation.
Her first medieval thriller was ‘Company of Liars’, was set at the time of the Black Death in 1348. This was followed by ‘The Owl Killers’, about the beguinages, the medieval cities of women. ‘The Gallows Curse’ is set in the reign of bad King John and ‘Falcons of Fire and Ice’, which is a dark thriller, set in Portugal during the Inquisition and Iceland at the time of the Reformation. She is published by Michael Joseph/Penguin.
Karen is also one of six historical crime writers known as the Medieval Murderers – Philip Gooden, Susannah Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight and Ian Morson – who together write an annual joint murder-mystery novel, including ‘The Sacred Stone’, ‘Hill of Bones’ and ‘The First Murder’ published by Simon & Schuster.