I found a woodcock in my garden recently, stunned from a collision with a window. Still as it was, as I approached it, it fluffed its tail up, let rip a spurt of faeces, and trotted firmly off into the distance. Trying to pin down the exact inspiration behind It Ends at Midnight is rather like that. I move towards it, hand outstretched, softly, softly, but every time it sees me coming and charges off before I can lay a finger on it.
Most likely it’s because it’s not one single moment, one single thought, but a myriad of different thoughts and experiences that meshed together in my subconscious, emerging eventually into this form.
Here are some of the pieces: a body impaled on a railing, foxes sniffing blood. A party on a beach in Scotland in 1990 where something happens; something bad. Two best friends, one with ambition, one with cancer. Fireworks, the sky overhead alight with them. Jealousy, rivalry, hatred. Love. Teenage drinking.
The core to the book is Edinburgh. My hometown. I don’t mean to, but I think I can only write what I know, what’s at the heart of me. I took all those disparate pieces and put them together across two timelines, one in the run up to the fatal party that marks the climax of the story, one back in the late eighties when the seeds of the tragedy were sown. And I put them over the topography of my own teenage years, the pubs where I was first served underage and the streets that I loved along which I staggered home.
Really it should be a love story. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. But I couldn’t help making it dark. I always want it darker. It’s a bit like Blake’s priests: ‘As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.’ I take the best memories and put the darkest twist on them that I can.
To be fair, I wrote this book during lockdown. It was a dark time. Good as it was to escape to brighter times, it was impossible to escape the feelings of fear and claustrophobia that time held. And worst of all, I was watching as my best friend failed, day by day, as cancer took hold of her. Our friendship was happy, too, but it didn’t escape my toxic repurposing.
It’s not all doom and gloom and visceral rumination, though. I do actually follow a process, chaotic as it can be. I first introduced my editor to the core idea of what would become It Ends at Midnight by way of a two paragraph document which I originally saved on my laptop as The Terrible Thing. I knew something had happened on the beach in 1990, but I didn’t know exactly what. I knew all the different parts as I listed above, and I introduced two characters, women who became friends as girls. Originally, one of them was going to sleep with the other’s husband, but that got lost along the way, as their rivalry became less tiresome, more intrinsic. More likely to pass the Bechdel Test, too.
My editor liked the look of the paragraphs. The setting was good, the basic premise too. But what was the terrible thing that had happened? I hoped no one was going to ask me, and it took me months to find the right answer. I got there in the end though.
I don’t know where I stand in the continual debate between planning and winging it. I’d love to plan solidly and stick to it – I watch authors map their stories out in post-it notes with huge envy. But for me it’s an evolutionary process. Whatever I may say is going to happen is subject to change as soon as the characters step foot onto the page. I knew how this book ended, the image of the body draped across the railings, impaled and bleeding out, but how we got there was something I could only discover through the writing.
My first novel, Blood Orange was easy to write. The words flowed, and I loved the process. I edited as I went and I knew that it was working. It was a very different story for my second novel. The Lies You Told was like getting blood out of a stone. Not only that, but a book I wrote in between the two was so bad that I had to scrap it (my husband has promised that in the event of my untimely death The Rose Garden will not be published posthumously). I was actually beginning to worry that under the pressure of contractual obligation, I was unable to write.
I needn’t have worried. It Ends at Midnight may be bleak, a tragedy, a warning as to the perils of ambition and rivalry. But it was a complete joy to write. I hope that some of that joy is conveyed to the reader!
(c) Harriet Tyce
Author photograph (c) Rory Lewis Photography
About It Ends At Midnight:
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‘A blisteringly brilliant read. Harriet Tyce is at the very top of the thriller game.’ Sarah Pinborough
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It’s New Year’s Eve and the stage is set for a lavish party in one of Edinburgh’s best postcodes. It’s a moment for old friends to set the past to rights – and move on.
The night sky is alive with fireworks and the champagne is flowing. But the celebration fails to materialise.
Because someone at this party is going to die tonight.
Midnight approaches and the countdown begins – but it seems one of the guests doesn’t want a resolution.
They want revenge.
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It Ends at Midnight by Harriet Tyce (Wildfire)