I walked through the meadow...My eyes rose to the fringe of trees on the downs above me. I’d walked there often and knew that if I climbed the hill and let myself through the kissing gate, the air would be several degrees cooler, the narrow path knotted with roots. My imagination started to run riot.
When I was a child, I had a favourite book. It was called Marianne Dreams and was about a girl who was confined to bed with an illness. Out of boredom, she would draw pictures with a pencil belonging to her grandmother, then at night would dream about the lonely house she’d drawn. The one that stood in the middle of an expanse of waving grass. It might have been a children’s book but it was the first to give me goose bumps.
That was a long time ago, but it was this image I had in my head as I walked through the meadow below the Steyning Rifle Range last summer. A place I wouldn’t even have been, had someone not given me their ticket to the Steyning Festival ‘Photographing Nature’ walk.
I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, and was probably the only person using an iPhone, but I was happy to be there. The place was beautiful – the grass waist high in places, tiny speckled orchids peeping out through the green. I took a few photographs then wandered away from the others, lost in thought. Aware only of the whisper of the grass as the breeze stirred it, the tickle of the seed heads on my skin and the green pillows of the downs in the distance.
I had a lot to think about as I’d just started my second novel, We Were Sisters, and was still struggling to decide where to set it. My first novel, What She Saw, had the brooding fells of the Lake District as its backdrop. I’d chosen it for its atmosphere. It’s beauty. For the next novel, I wanted a different setting. Somewhere I knew just as well. Somewhere else I loved. As I brushed the long meadow grass with my hand, a memory stirred. As a child, I would run my fingers up the grass stems until I had a bunch of seeds, then scatter them to the wind. It was something Kelly, the child in my novel, might do. I looked around me. It was a lightbulb moment. I could set my novel somewhere like this, with a meadow my child could run through.
The only problem was, We Were Sisters was to be another psychological thriller. I needed to find other places that were darker. More atmospheric. My eyes rose to the fringe of trees on the downs above me. I’d walked there often and knew that if I climbed the hill and let myself through the kissing gate, the air would be several degrees cooler, the narrow path knotted with roots. My imagination started to run riot. What if there was a clearing in those woods… at its centre, a tree with two monstrous trunks?
As I started to jot down notes, I found myself at the entrance to the disused rifle range and that was when I knew for certain that my search for the perfect setting had come to an end. The place was so atmospheric: the stark structure of the rusting target frames contrasting with the bulbous colourful tags and pictures on the graffitied wall. With racing heart, I took some photographs, knowing instinctively they would be better than the ones I’d taken of the orchids. If you read We Were Sisters, you might recognise the meadow, the wood, the rifle range – even a road just like Mouse Lane. But, of course, it’s a work of fiction. I’ve used the essence of these places, changed things, moved them around and embellished them to create a more sinister place for my action.
The perfect setting had been on my doorstep all along.
Now all I’ve got to do is think of a new one for book three!