Part forensic-thriller, part medical-thriller, Sacrifice combines both elements to great effect in this atmospheric and original debut -SIMON BECKETT, author of The Chemistry of Death
This slick, fast moving thriller has a cracking opening scene and goes on to develop into a gripping story of intrigue and adventure . . . An interesting and skilful debut -MARGARET YORKE (CWA Diamond Dagger winner)
Born in Lancashire, Sharon Bolton trained as an actress and a dancer, has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has a degree in drama and an MBA. She pursued a successful career in PR and marketing, but her career break to start a family enabled her to write her first novel, Sacrifice, which has been inspired by her fascination with British traditional folklore. Here she explains those fascinations.
I was close to giving up. Too many years of big, brown, self-addressed envelopes thudding onto the door mat as yet another slush-pile cocked a snook at me and my literary aspirations.
My problem? I wanted to write the sort of book I loved to read (creepy thrillers with a spooky twist) but the market just wasn’t interested in books about the supernatural. Stephen King and a selected few could get away with it (so I was told by more than one agent) but a new pretender with no established reputation – forget it!
Crime was the growing genre, it seemed: hard-nosed, gritty, true-life crime. The trouble was, I’d never particularly enjoyed that sort of book; and I really didn’t think I could write one.
So was there another way? Could I write something that toyed with the supernatural, maybe dangled it in front of the reader’s nose, only to snatch it away at the last minute with credible explanations, and a plot that (at a pinch) might happen in real life?
It was an intriguing challenge. One aspect of the supernatural genre that’s always rather annoyed me is that it’s all too easy for the writer to “plot-cheat”. Scary things can happen that never really get explained because – hey - it’s the supernatural at work. (Sometimes, I wonder if the horror writers have it a bit too easy.) But what about a genre where spooky things do happen, where it seems some sort of malevolent entity is at work, but in which, by the last chapter, everything has been given a natural explanation? Spooky crime, I called it to myself. Could I write a spooky crime novel?
It helped that I already had an idea bubbling away. Years earlier, I’d been in a tiny town in Austria, watching people waltz in the square as the town clock struck midnight. And the first line of a novel came into my head: “I danced in the snow as the clock chimed in the New Year; and a monster grew inside me.” And I began to think about stories involving a woman, who desperately wanted to be pregnant, conceiving something that was in some way alien and that could, ultimately, destroy her.
Probably because of its Austrian origins, I wanted to base the story on a Germanic or Norse legend and one day, in Aylesbury Public Library, I came across the legend of the Shetland Kunal Trows, the race of supernatural males who stole a human wife in order to perpetuate their species. It had sufficient similarities to my own idea to make me want to learn more. Gradually, the characters began to take shape, as did the storyline. I started to write.
Most aspiring writers, at some early point in their career, are given five words of advice. Write about what you know. Nonsense! Think about all the fabulous books we’d never have read if their authors had stuck to what they know. I say, write about what you imagine, about what intrigues you, what scares you, what you dream about. And then back it up with hours of cold, hard research.
I had to do a huge amount of research before, during and after writing Sacrifice. I have no medical background but wanted my heroine to be a credible obstetrician. I had never visited the Shetland Islands. I knew next to nothing about police procedures, forensic investigations, the effect of peat bogs upon the human body. For me, this learning process was part of the pleasure of writing the book; whilst the challenge was to take the reams of technical information I’d learned from the internet, books and knowledgeable friends and turn it into a few interesting and entertaining paragraphs. It helped that my day-job, for nearly twenty years, had involved doing almost exactly that. Have I made mistakes? Almost certainly. And I’m sure people will be quick to point them out. So be it. I’ll try to make fewer next time. And fewer still the time after that.
I loved writing Sacrifice but throughout the process I had massive doubts. I could feel the characters taking life, I was confident in the narrative - but the underlying plot? Was it just too far-fetched ever to be taken seriously?
Its success in finding an agent and publishers relatively quickly convinced me of the importance of luck in this business. A year or so before Sacrifice was finished, Dan Brown’s fabulous The Da Vinci Code took the world by storm. Suddenly publishers were hungry for modern day thrillers based on ancient legends and, as I read in The Bookseller, the market started looking for, “… not straight fantasy, but books with a fantastical twist.” The genre had evolved, and the spooky-crime novel I’d begun several years earlier had got its timing just about perfect.
And my next book? Two ideas have long intrigued me. The first, how events of the past continue to impact upon all our lives. The second, the sharp contrasts that are all around us: an elderly couple living in near poverty in the midst of an affluent modern village, the sinister undercurrent of violence beneath the perfect surface. Book 2 is set on the idyllic Dorset/Devon border. And it’s about venomous snakes.
SACRIFICE is published by Bantam Press 11/02/08 Hardback £10.00 BUY IT
Visit Sarah’s website www.sjbolton.com
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