Writing a psychological gothic

Hello there and welcome to the blog I’m keeping for the duration of the researching/writing of The Nesting, which is published in 2020 around the world.

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. — Stephen King

reinebringen-norway-wallpapers-66915-3545569I didn’t intend to write a psychological gothic, but I’ve been writing and publishing fiction for almost a decade now and one thing I know is that you need to be able to describe the work fairly quickly and concisely. If you go into writing a novel without a handle on the tone of the thing, it can result in a very uneven piece.

Once I finished the edits on my last novel – The Blame Game, out in March 2019 – I entered that strange realm that is called Between Book Contracts. Without a book to work on I felt adrift. I immediately came up with several ideas for new projects and showed them to my agent. Amongst them was a sketchy side idea involving the construction of a holiday house ‘somewhere in Europe’. There were indications of weird things afoot, lies, deceptions, and hauntings of various kinds. My agent said she liked the sound of it. I was a bit surprised, though glad – this particular idea had been rolling around my mind for a while, and it didn’t take long to come up with six chapters which I sent to her. Then I entered that other strange realm, called Waiting for Feedback from Your Agent. Will she love it? Hate it? My money was on the second one. But actually she loved it. And lo, The Nesting was born.

As you’ll probably have guessed, I’ve decided to set this book in Norway. I’m not exactly sure why Norway. Again, it’s something to do with the tone of the book – the wild, raw landscape of Norway seemed the perfect place for the emotional registers of the book. But there was a wee bit of serendipity in this choice, too. I’d never been to Norway, but increasingly I’d see tourism ads popping up on my browser. Or maybe this book just wanted to be set in Norway. I’m a great believer that the story is already ‘there’ – you just tap into it. A lot of the decision-making as a writer feels subconscious, or out of my hands. The story is already written, and I need to listen to it.

I’m persuaded that this is the case with The Nesting because much of the thematic preoccupation of this book seems to connect in ways that feel wholly serendipitous. One of my main characters, Tom – the architect whose wife has died several months before the story opens, and who is trying to build their dream ‘summer’ house in Norway – is highly principled, and feels that the house ought to be a kind of monument to environmental ethics. As I’ve researched Norway the impact of climate change has emerged as a particular concern to Norway, both architecturally and environmentally. When I visited Oslo recently, I was told that the climate has been getting increasingly warmer, and indeed it was surprisingly mild for November. I envisage this theme becoming even more central to the story as I write.

So anyway, why a psychological gothic? My work always contains a psychological element. In this case, memory, mental illness and unreliable narrators are key. The ‘gothic’ element is in terms of the imagistic qualities of the landscape and the tone of the book. Brooding, haunting, spectral. There is a ghost in this story, or several. It’s exciting to be writing what feels very much like a new genre.

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