The inspiration for The Hanging Wood, the fifth in my series of Lake District Mysteries, came from my increasing fascination with sibling relationships. As an only child, I’ve often thought the ways in which brothers and sisters inter-act together to be slightly mysterious. In the past, I never found it easy to imagine what that kind of relationship would be like – but of course, one of the joys of being a novelist is that it gives you the chance to stretch your imagination in fresh directions.
A question I asked myself was what it would be like if your brother or sister disappeared, and was never found again. What if the commonly held view was that a relative had murdered the missing child – but you didn’t accept that was true? What if you clung to the belief that your sibling was still alive?
In the story, Orla Payne has never been able to come to terms with the idea that her older brother Callum was murdered by their uncle, who then committed suicide. The body was never found. She meets Daniel Kind, the historian, and when she confides in him, he urges her to talk to DCI Hannah Scarlett. But then a shocking tragedy occurs.
The book is set in the Keswick area of the Lake District, one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Much of the action takes place in a tightly-knit community surrounding old Mockbeggar Hall – there is a farm, owned by Orla’s father, a caravan park where her mother used to live, a residential library, where she has been working, and the Hanging Wood of the title. The library, by the way, was inspired by a real-life library in North Wales – St Deiniol’s Residential Library, also know as Gladstone’s Library, a magical place built by a Victorian Prime Minister and full of atmosphere; it was also the setting for the launch of my last Lakes book, The Serpent Pool.
This story develops the slow-burning relationship between Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind, and as well as exploring family connections, it is also concerned with the nature of justice. ‘Don’t you care about justice?’ Orla asks Hannah. Of course, Hannah does, but she finds that few things are harder in life than making sure that justice is truly done. I enjoyed writing The Hanging Wood enormously and I hope that enjoyment is very evident to the people who matter most – the readers.