I’ve now written seventeen books and one of my favourite parts of the process is thinking of new ideas. Sometimes ideas surprise me. They flash up when I’m doing something unrelated, like cleaning the dishes or walking the dogs. I’ll grab my iPhone recorder and mumble my dark thoughts before they disappear. This has often been much to the consternation of my fellow dog walkers. As I furtively whisper about bodies being buried and disappearing, or plot lines featuring serial killers, people tend to give me a wide berth. But not all ideas come easily. Some have to be worked on and teased out. Some of my best books were compiled from lots of little ideas, such as true crime cases which have fascinated me along with notes I’ve made about everyday things. Many of my crime series are pieced together by my personal experiences of being a detective in CID. I also love writing stand-alone psychological thrillers which feel like a palate cleanser between series. My advice when it comes to book ideas is to compile either a physical scrapbook or online journal and save snippets of anything that interests you. Sometimes small ideas can become subplots and one great character can be made up from the personalities of lots of people you’ve come to know over the years. Just treat your ideas respectfully. If you’re writing about someone with a food disorder for example, research the subject thoroughly and write with compassion when you can. Settings can be another great place to start. Who doesn’t love a creepy woodland? While visiting the new forest, I took lots of pictures and wondered what it would be like to live in a cottage surrounded by trees.
The idea for The Village came from so many different sources, the woodland setting, a true crime case of a family who disappeared, and my own experiences with village life.
Growing up in a small village in Ireland, I had a strong sense of community which has stayed with me ever since. I learned how living in a place where everyone knew each other could be a great source of strength. When my mother passed away suddenly a few years ago, I returned to Ireland from my home in the UK to her funeral and I was hit by that solid sense of community and fellowship once more. People travelled from far and wide to say goodbye at her wake and by the end of the day, my fingers ached from shaking hands. I drew comfort from knowing she touched so many lives and I truly appreciated the hugs. Now, in Covid times, when socialising and hugging is in short supply, people need a sense of community even more.
When I was working on the idea for my seventeenth book, I thought about that a lot. I was fortunate to grow up in a village where people were friendly, caring, and admittedly, enjoyed a gossip or two! But what if I turned things around? What if the villagers weren’t as nice as it seemed, and they closed ranks against outsiders? The seed of an idea grew and I ended up writing The Village. The working title was actually ‘Gone’ as this fictional story was about Mr and Mrs Harper and their wheelchair bound daughter who mysteriously disappeared into thin air from their cottage in Nighbrook ten years before. Their woodland home was found deserted by a neighbour as they called. The tap was still running, the television playing cartoons. The doors were locked from the inside. There was no sign of forced entry. It was a mystery that baffled many, including London based crime journalist Naomi Seager, who ended up buying their home. But as Naomi, her husband and stepdaughter move to Ivy Cottage it seemed history may be about to repeat itself.
While writing this book, I enjoyed exploring what it was like for an outsider and her family to embed themselves in a village which is far from friendly. When Naomi starts asking questions, she soon gets the cold shoulder. Not only that, but it’s clear the villagers have something to hide. Naomi faces a dilemma. Should she pursue the truth and risk the safety of her family or leave well alone? I wrote alternating chapters from the perspective of the villagers as they held regular meetings and decided what to do with the outsiders who were growing dangerously inquisitive. The village has some very strong characters, no more so than the local law enforcement, and newcomer Naomi and her family may end up taking on much more than they bargained for. I was pleased that my publishers saw the potential of this book and changed the title to The Village as it suits the storyline perfectly.
I’m moving home next year and am drawn to a small village in Lincolnshire. It’s pretty and quaint, like Nighbrook. I just hope I get a warmer welcome!
(c) Caroline Mitchell
About The Village :
Ten years ago, the Harper family disappeared. Their deserted cottage was left with the water running, cartoons on the TV, the oven ready for baking. The doors were locked from the inside.
Overnight, the sleepy village of Nighbrook became notorious as the scene of the unsolved mystery of the decade, an epicentre for ghoulish media speculation.
For crime journalist Naomi, solving the case has turned into an obsession. So now, with Ivy Cottage listed for sale, it’s her chance to mount an investigation like no other. And her husband and stepdaughter don’t really need to know what happened in their new home … do they?
But Nighbrook isn’t quite the village she expected. No-one wants to talk to her. No-one will answer her questions. And as she becomes increasingly uneasy, it’s clear that the villagers are hiding something—that there is something very dark at the heart of this rural idyll. The deeper she digs, the more it seems her investigation could be more dangerous than she ever imagined. In raking up the secrets of the past, has Naomi made her own family the next target?
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