The story behind the story of The Gift Of Darkness
The Gift Of Darkness is my first novel; it’s a tale of murder, obsession, friendship and revenge.
It is unusual to remember exactly when and where you were when you had a specific idea because our mind is constantly churning out all sorts of considerations from the very important to the utterly useless. And yet that evening when I first thought about The Gift Of Darkness I was far away from home – working as an assistant editor on a film on location in Scotland – and everything around me was fresh and vivid in a way that made each day unforgettable.
I had been thinking about writing a novel – my first piece of any significant length – and given my reading choices it was naturally going to gravitate towards crime fiction. So it was that in an extremely flowery hotel room in Inverness I thought about a murder so hideous that it would shock a whole city and both a detective and a criminal would be investigating it, forging a relationship that was potentially lethal for both.
At the time I was reading a lot of Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley and Patricia Cornwell and the grey area between justice and law was a very appealing playground. I needed a police officer – a detective – who would have a few years on the force but would be new to homicide cases because I wanted to steer clear of cynicism and the world-weary attitude that others had written about so much and so very well in the past. The main characters all came up fully formed in fact except for one, who started merely as a legal consequence of the situation and turned out to be maybe the most important character in the story.
Before The Gift Of Darkness I had written some short stories and a couple of screenplays for college shorts but that was the extent of my writing so I thought, well, I’m going to need an outline as detailed as possible otherwise I’ll get quite lost inside this. In the end I did have an outline and it was useful but only up to a point because I was constantly finding out things that I didn’t know existed until I got to that particular chapter and I had to be careful not to tie myself down to the outline or feel that I could not proceed on a path until I had fully mapped it out.
Being in Scotland for five weeks and driving up and down the highlands on a daily basis had a huge impact because by the time I was back in London I had decided that the story needed that wilderness, that it was the very core of the characters, and the action would be split between London and Scotland. It took me three chapters to come to terms with the fact that, sadly, I had no affinity whatsoever for writing about London: here was the place where I had been living for years, the area – Soho – that I knew intimately and yet it just did not work and there was no getting away from that.
I was quite upset because if not in London where could I set my tale? The answer – yet again – came from Scotland: the reason why it had been love at first sight when I had climbed down the steps of the plane in the tiny Inverness airport was that the landscape closely resembled Washington State and Seattle, which a visited a few years before. Seattle is a city on the West Coast of the United States, just over a couple of hours from the Canada border. It’s surrounded by water and close enough to the Rockies that on a clear day you can almost touch them. It’s a woods and mountain state with fearsome and beautiful national parks – people get lost and never found in those deep dark woods. Once the spark of the idea was there I couldn’t turn away and everything – strangely – fell into place: there was a lot of research involved but there was no question that my story had found its home – down to the fact that my main character lives in my relatives’ house and the view from her deck is the view of Vashon Island and Puget Sound that I love.
The writing process was a huge learning curve and yet there was one particular factor I did not expect: I absolutely relished writing the darkest, scariest moments in a way that completely surprised me. Here I was, a big fan of Stephen King for sure, but I would have never thought that those particularly creepy paths would be so attractive to me as I untwisted the story.
By the time The Gift Of Darkness was finished it was hardly what I had envisaged at the beginning and yet at its molecular level it had pretty much everything I had thought about in the flowery hotel room in Inverness many years before.