Can you imagine the thrill Sarah Ward must have been feeling when her agents called up in May last year to say that Faber & Faber had bought the rights to her novel In Bitter Chill, as well as a second book? Well we caught up with Sarah in November at Iceland Noir and she was still glowing with the news. At last, the book is in our hands and our review is being prepared. If you like a dark, chilly mystery that’s all about family secrets and repressed memories then this is the thing. Set in Derbyshire’s Peak District in a fictional town called Bampton, the story’s roots lie back in 1978 when two girls were kidnapped. One escaped and the other was never found. A cold case in more ways than one, it still haunts the area and the main protagonist, Rachel, the girl who survived. We invited Sarah Ward over to the CFL sofa for a quick chat about the book…
First off, can you give us some background on yourself, where you’re from etc and how you ended up an author?
I’ve been a reader of crime fiction since I was a teenager. In 2005 I started writing online reviews for a variety of websites including my own blog, Crimepieces. I’d always wanted to write a crime novel but it wasn’t until I moved to Athens in Greece that I finally put pen to paper. In Bitter Chill was the result.
What do you think crime fiction lovers will love about In Bitter Chill?
I hope they’ll like the atmosphere of a cold Derbyshire setting and the evocation of a long winter. I’ve also tried to balance elements of a police procedural with a tale of long buried family secrets. The book works as both a standalone novel and the start of a series.
Tell us a little bit about the main characters – Sadler, Connie and Rachel?
Sadler and Connie are my main police characters. Sadler is refective and remote. Connie impetuous but more involved in events that unfold. Rachel is the schoolgirl who is kidnapped in the 1970s. She grows up to be a genealogist and is able, by unravelling her own family secrets, to discover the truth of her kidnapping.
It’s surprising more authors don’t use family history as a theme in their crime novels. It’s a massive hobby and doing it really is a bit of detective work. What made you decide to put genealogy at the centre of your novel?
I’d been thinking a lot about my own family history and, in particular, my maternal line. I suppose my reflection on this spilled over into the plot. I’m fascinated by direct lineage rather than wider family history.
How much family history have you done and what interesting mysteries have you uncovered or solved?
I did a small amount of family research in advance of the book but not much. I wanted to concentrate on the fictional characters I’d created and their own stories. I did manage to go back through my matrilineal line and discovered all the my female ancestors had married men younger than themselves. This is true as far back as 1820 where I stopped.
It’s also the only book I know of set in the Peak District – tell us about the area and why you chose it?
I live in the Peak District and the landscape is absolutely stunning. I wanted to set the book in an area I know well but use a fictional setting which meant I didn’t have to worry about things such as mobile phone coverage which is very patchy here. The setting is remote, exposed to the elements and unique to this area.
Who are the authors that have influenced you and/or inspired your style of writing, and why do you like them?
I devoured Agatha Christie as a teenager and aspire to her complex plotting. I love the quality of the prose of PD James and Ruth Rendell. This trio of writers are major influences on my writing,
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Hakan Nesser’s The Living and the Dead in Winsford. An excellent book.
Your deal with Faber is two books. Are we going to see more of these characters? What’s the news on your second novel?
I’m finishing my second novel as we speak. It has the same police characters but a new female protagonist and a new story. It’s set in the spring this time so we get to see a slightly wetter Derbyshire.
In Bitter Chill is released on 2 July and you can read our review soon here on Crime Fiction Lover.