It’s not very often that a publisher hosts a day on a Blog Tour, but when the book is this special, we could not refuse! Orenda loves debut authors, and this one is a stunner. We are delighted to welcome Sarah Ward to the Orenda Community Blog, and to celebrate her fabulous debut In Bitter Chill. Oh yes, we’ve read it and we love it! An atmospheric, twisty-turny crime thriller set in Derbyshire, In Bitter Chill starts with the abduction of two girls. One disappears. The other is haunted forever. Introducing not just a memorable set of police officers, and a fascinating protagonist who makes her living searching out family trees, this book is subtle, beautifully written, and a genuinely difficult-to-work-out Whodunnit! Characters are sharply drawn and identifiable, the pages turn with a dynamic plot, and the setting is exquisitely painted. Amazing. Welcome to Derbyshire, a new home for NOIR, and welcome, too, to Sarah Ward. A fabulous debut!
Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.
Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago.
This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how often the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you.
Q&A with Sarah Ward:
1. What inspired the story behind the book – the abduction of two schoolgirls, one of whom disappears forever?
It’s partly based on an experience that happened to me as a child. I was walking to school one day when a woman stopped her car and asked me to post a letter for her. She then (fairly insistently) tried to get me into the car so she could give me a lift to school. Although I made my escape, the experience stayed with me for a long time afterwards and I wanted to explore the impact of an abduction on a small community.
2. You deftly paint the Derbyshire landscape and the ‘bitter chill’ of winter in a way that is almost Scandinavian – in other words, it becomes an integral part of the story, a plot device and even a character. Was this intentional?
Although I’m influenced by the amount of Scandinavian crime fiction that I read, I didn’t want the Derbyshire cold landscape to be a ‘bolt-on’ to the narrative. I like to think of the chill of the winter to be an essential part of the story and that the plot couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. Where I live in the Peak District, the elements play an important factor in shaping the day ahead. I’m constantly looking at the weather forecast
3. A major theme in the book is memory; in particular, the lost memories of a child, which resurface as events, settings, sensory experiences and even items of clothing trigger them. How much research did you have to do into this phenomenon?
I spoke to a psychologist about buried memories and how they resurface later in life. Then, once the first draft of In Bitter Chill was completed, I e-mailed her with specific questions. Mainly about how my protagonist, Rachel, might act in certain circumstances.
4. Another theme is family, the ties that bind us, and the extremes we go to protect those we love … no matter what harm it causes. Is this something that particularly resonates with you?
I find families endlessly fascinating and could write about them again and again. I was less interested in the ties that bind family members than the long term resonance of secrets. When you keep something hidden, people often think that it only affects them. I wanted to show that this is rarely case. Secrets, especially within families, can have an impact beyond the immediate people involved.
5. Your main protagonist, Rachel, remains damaged by the events that defined her childhood and haunted her as adult; however, the uncovering of the truth allows her to blossom and develop relationships that were never before possible. What is your message here?
Good question! I didn’t deliberately put in a link between Rachel uncovering her past and starting a new relationship. However, I liked the idea of her beginning a new phase of her life in her forties. A sense of starting again as her past becomes her resolved.
6. Rachel has a fascinating job as a historian and genealogical investigator, drawing up her own family tree and those of her clients. Have you ever done this yourself? Did it require much research?
I looked briefly as my matrilineal line as that’s the focus of In Bitter Chill. I wanted to see the process that you go about getting hold of birth certificates and so on and what records are available to the public.
7. You have created some compelling and multi-layered characters, with roles in the police force. You have, however, avoided the trap of making them overtly ‘damaged’ or indeed stereotypical in any way. Was this intentional?
Most detectives and police officers I’ve met seem reassuringly normal and I wanted to reflect this in my writing. I think that many people have experienced traumas and pasts that damage them in some way. But they don’t necessarily take these problems to work with them.
8. Is there any one character in which you see yourself?
There’s definitely something of myself in my main protagonist Rachel. Mainly the sense of seeing yourself through your past. Of the detectives, I think I’m most like Francis Sadler. He is reflective rather than impulsive like Connie Childs. She is how I’d like to be.
9. There are countless twists, turns and even shocks as the story unfolds, making the ending almost impossible to predict. In order to do this, you have to marry together several very complicated plotlines. How difficult was this to do?
The plot kept constantly changing through different edits until all the ends were tied up and the narrative made sense. It was difficult and I’m currently at this stage with my second book.
10. Tell us about the editing process. Did your American and British publishers request many changes? Is this the same book it was when you first submitted it?
The editing was very light. My UK and US editors sent me their edits together and they were largely in agreement. I had no problem with them at all and I think In Bitter Chill is definitely better for their edits.
11. You thank the supportive crime community in your acknowledgements, a sentiment echoed by many authors. Was this support a catalyst for writing your own books after years of being a high-profile reviewer of crime fiction?
I don’t think it was a catalyst for me actually writing the book but it did make me feel more confident about talking to other authors about my work. Everyone has been very supportive and have been great in helping publicise In Bitter Chill.
12. Were you worried about opening yourself up to critical attention after so many years of reviewing the work of your contemporaries?
I like to think I appreciate honest reviews but obviously it is quite scary seeing what people whose opinions you trust think of your writing.
13. How difficult was the road to publication?
In Bitter Chill took me about two years to write as I took my time and moved countries in the middle of edits. I found my agent very quickly and she gave me some helpful comments on the narrative. And she got my deal with Faber and Faber whom I’m delighted to be published by.
14. What’s next?
I’m finishing the sequel to In Bitter Chill which will have the same police characters but a new protagonist and story. It’s set in the Spring this time so readers will see a slightly warmer Derbyshire. But only slightly!
About Sarah Ward:
Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces (www.crimepieces.com), reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. She lives in Derbyshire where her debut novel, In Bitter Chill, is set.
In Bitter Chill
Published 2 July 2015
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