Inspiration comes at the strangest times. I write when I’m on holiday (in fact I write ALL the time), 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.
Below is the house that inspired Hare’s Landing itself, it’s a hotel in Falmouth called Merchant’s Manor – there are two large statues of dogs outside the porch (you can just see them here), although in The Dark Room they are hares. I often write here and plot in their beautiful book nook, and it was calling out to be in a book!
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.
This is the first time I’ve set a book in the same month that it’s being released, and while we can’t travel 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…
There’s shades of Rebecca in this small-town mystery, full of atmosphere and menace and with a satisfyingly complex plot. The Dark Room is another winning page-turner from Blake and the perfect read for curling up in front of the fire on a winter’s night. Although with its shocking reveals and ghostly undertones, good luck getting to sleep afterwards…
NY Times bestseller and Edgar nominated author, Catherine Ryan Howard.
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