We’re not quite escaping lockdown yet here in Ireland where I live, we can’t travel outside of the country until 19th July and our hotels and restaurants have only opened to outdoor dining this week (2nd June), but I can’t WAIT to travel again. Escape is the perfect way to feed my creative mind, and I find travel is essential to help develop new ideas and come up with new plots – even if it’s only travelling up to the Wicklow Mountains (where I live) for a walk. I’ve written three police procedurals Little Bones, In Deep Water and No Turning Back based in Ireland, and two standalones Keep Your Eyes on Me and The Dark Room. We’ve just had to cancel our annual visit to Cornwall due to the travel restrictions, but the last time I was there in June 2019, the idea for The Dark Room arrived. When I wrote it, I transported the story idea to West Cork and a mysterious country house hotel called Hare’s Landing, but in reality, its heart is just a couple of hundred yards from Frenchman’s Creek.
I write a lot when I’m on holiday, and I was just finishing a book that I thought would follow Keep Your Eyes on Me – another standalone, but set in London rather than Ireland – when an image popped into my head that wouldn’t go away.
It was the height of summer, and I was in Helford Passage, Cornwall, where we’ve been going for every summer for three weeks for about fifteen years. I was sitting beside the river (only a few hundred yards from Frenchman’s Creek) when a picture arrived in my head of a dark-haired woman in green shorts, jogging down the beach, a German Shepherd lolloping along beside her. I could see her so clearly – her hair pulled up into a loose pony tail, her feet pounding the wet sand.
Directly across the river from where I was sitting is an old cottage and the ruin of what I discovered (with help from author Liz Fenwick who lives on that side of the river) was the original customs officer’s gaol. I felt sure the ruined building and the woman were somehow connected, but I had yet to find out how…
I didn’t know who the running woman was or what her story could be, but a few days later I visited Mel Chambers‘ ceramics studio in the nearby village, and I was struck by the hares on the tiles she makes. A print of running hares had recently lit a creative lightbulb in my head, and suddenly the story of a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing, with a ruin in the grounds, began to unfold – but it wasn’t in Cornwall, it was in Ireland, in West Cork.
In The Dark Room, Rachel Lambert is a film location scout based in London, who, trying to discover the story behind the death of a homeless man, Alfie Bows, is led to Hare’s Landing. In New York, crime journalist Caroline Kelly has been suspended – furious and needing a break, she books a holiday in West Cork. When the two meet, they discover that Hare’s Landing has a story of its own, one which someone doesn’t want them to uncover.
As I worked on the idea, getting closer and closer to what had actually happened at Hare’s Landing, I could hear violins and smell perfume – doors slammed mysteriously and it became clear that Alfie Bows, a violinist, and Honoria Smyth, the original owner of the house, were making their presence felt. I was almost at the end of the first draft when I discovered that in Irish mythology, hares are the messengers between worlds – and everything began to make sense.
While travel is limited at the moment, I hope The Dark Room will give you a glimpse of January in West Cork – and Hare’s Landing, a house full of secrets…it was an Eason No 1 for three weeks and in the Irish top ten for a month – read an extract here: https://www.samblakebooks.com/the-dark-room-extract-irelandreads/
You can read more about Sam Blake and her books here.