Good Reading : April 2008
16 goodreading ı APRIL 2008 in action in 1917. It was a very spooky moment, because we knew very little about his early life.We knew he’d been on the stage in the 1920s and ’30s, and he did ENSA [Entertainments National Service Association] in World War II. He didn’t meet my mother until 1940, and by then he’d lost touch with his family, so there was no one we could ask. So we thought, who was it who died in 1917? Who was the man who married Mother in 1941? We got into the realms of doubles, and rascally cousins, and stolen identities on the battlefield, illegitimate sons and inheritances, and I became fas- cinated by the concept of people vanish- ing and creating new personas.’ Twygrist Mill in Spiderlight was inspired by a watermill, now owned by the National Trust, about an hour from where Sarah now lives. ‘The National Trust people were brilliant,’ she says. ‘They let me trample over it and crawl down in the foundations, and it really was the spookiest place.There were other people going around it, and I was walking around with these National Trust guys saying things like, “Well, if there were doors on that part of the foundation and we put somebody in there, how long do you think it would take them to die? Would they die of thirst or suffocation?” I received some very odd looks from nice ladies from women’s institutes.’ Sarah isn’t sure where The Death Chamber came from, but acknowl- edges that she’s been fascinated by ‘the idea of the inevitability of someone who’s waiting to be hanged. It’s such an ugly, and yet ritualistic, thing, the execution process.’This latest book also incorporates another of Sarah’s signature ingredients: many-layered plots.There are three intertwining skeins in The Death Chamber: one concerns the 1917 hanging of Nick O’Kane, an Irish activist; the second, the 1938 hanging of Neville Fremlin under the care of prison ctor Walter Kane; and the third is out present-day Georgina Grey, the anddaughter of Walter Kane who mes to Calvary Gaol to investigate bequest by the mysterious Caradoc ociety and its secretary, the strange incent Mead. It’s meticulously otted, and each thread is care- lly woven into the others to make very satisfying – and terrifying tapestry. How does Sarah do it? ‘I do a synopsis first, quite a detailed one,’ she says. ‘I try to put in the nuts and bolts as I go, saying “This will be a very tense scene” or This should echo what happened in the previous section” and things like that. But actually writing all of them I have to have a chart, with different columns for the different time frames, and I fill them in as I go along. But I do get confused! Fortunately I have two brilliant editors, they’re so good, and what one might miss the other one picks up.We’ve got two or three chances to get it right! The past influencing the present is what my readers like, they love it.That’s what I’ve become known for. And it is interesting, the question of the past still affecting the future.’ Indeed. As she writes in Tower of Silence: ‘… it was old, so old that you could almost smell the oldness breathing out of it, and you had the feeling that if you stretched your hands out you would be able to plunge them, wrist-deep, into the swirling miasma of the long-ago.’ But Sarah Rayne doesn’t spend all her time immersed in dark secrets of the past and disturbed minds both ancient and modern. She’s also involved in conducting talks and workshops with a fellow crime writer, Maureen Carter. They call themselves the Lethal Ladies. ‘Maureen is an ex-BBC journalist who does very what they call ‘gritty’ crime novels, very punchy – quite different stuff to mine, but we have an excellent rapport,’ says Sarah. ‘After one of the Crime Writers’ Association lunches we got into a discussion about joining forces to create a speakers’ group, for speak- ing to writers’ groups, reading groups, libraries, anybody who would listen. It’s mainly just the two of us, but we do have three or four colleagues we can call on if we’re booked for a gig in their town.We’ve evolved a very simple work- shop based on music: playing pieces of music that have inspired us, and getting the listeners to see what mind images it conjures up for them, then writing a piece based on what we’ve discussed. It’s a very simple premise but it goes down so well. It’s lovely to be able to encour- age people trying to write, because we all started somewhere. Each workshop takes up quite a bit of nervous energy, preparing for it and perhaps travelling to it, and the main thing really is to write books. But it’s fun because you’re putting on a show, it’s a performance.’ Ah, the paternal inheritance! Good news for fans is that Sarah Rayne has already finished her next book, Ghost Song, which is due out early in 2009. Any chance of coming out to visit this part of the world? ‘I’d love to think I’ll come to Australia one day, because I’ve had so many nice emails and letters, via my publisher, from Australian readers,’ she says. ‘It would be wonderful to meet some of them one day. I’d love to come – I’d be on the next plane!’ The Death Chamber is published by Simon & Schuster, rrp $29.95. book trivia author profile Well, if there were doors on that part of the foundations and we put somebody in there, how long do you think it would take them to die? Would they die of thirst or suffocation?