Most fiction is autobiographical to some extent. Both the theme and the setting of my new novel You Yet Shall Die reflect my personal experience.
Two years ago, I found out that I had a half-brother and a half-sister I knew nothing about, and this planted the seed of the story. The novel begins with the protagonist Hilda receiving a visit from a woman who claims to be her late father’s child. From then on, however, the plot of the novel bears no resemblance to my own life. Whereas the contact with my new-found relatives has proved entirely positive, this is not the case for Hilda and her brother Dunstan. Dunstan, already stressed by problems at home and at work, suffers a physical and mental breakdown and his actions almost lead to tragedy. Hilda is compelled to explore the mysteries in their family background, and some shocking secrets from their parents’ past are revealed. The content is not so dark as this summary suggests because there are touches of humour, references to cats, and a reasonably happy ending.
My early childhood was spent in Gravesend, Kent, and sometimes at weekends my grandfather would take me for walks on the nearby marshes. Why I should feel inspired to set the main part of my novel there I have no idea, and it was a rather inconvenient choice because I had not been back there for so long, and visiting from my present home in New Zealand was quite an undertaking. I was in fact able to spend two days in the area in May, walking in the rain across the desolate landscape which did not seem to have changed much over the years. Carol Davidson’s book On the Marshes, and her online videos, were a great help. The East Sussex coast, another old haunt, features in one chapter. Another is set in a 1960s London cabaret club – not part of my personal experience, so the biographical material from In Disgrace With Fortune by Jean Hendy-Harris was a useful resource.
In a previous post I discussed the pitfalls of writing about the recent past, for example it is easy to forget that not so long ago most people did not have access to the internet or carry mobile phones. The timeline of You Yet Shall Die shifts between 1953 and 2005 and I chose these dates to be historically accurate, fitting in with the availability of certain drugs and medical procedures mentioned in the book. I have set the scene by occasional reference to contemporary novels, music and events.
As discussed in another previous post, classifying crime fiction isn’t an exact science. I describe You Yet Shall Die as “domestic noir” because the plot involves crime, both past and present, rooted in family secrets and tensions. But unlike some books in this sub-genre, it is not exclusively told from the feminist viewpoint, and nor is it too “noir”.
I loved it! I really liked the characters and the sense of buried secrets gradually coming to light. And the twists were excellent, very clever! Sarah S, NZ
A well-constructed novel of would-be, actual and closet murderers joined together by blood … this story would be listed as cozy crime in the publisher’s genre list even though the book is anything but cosy … a revelatory read. Julian T, UK