Published on September 4th, Lady’s Slipper is Alison Gray’s third book and the second in her DS Abby Foulkes series. As you see, the cover image is lovely – I have it on my (very basic) kindle, but I’m going to treat myself to a paperback too, so that I can put it in a prominent position on my shelf and see it every day.
A week or two ago, I talked to Alison about her new release.
The ‘Lady’s Slipper’ cover image is stunning – how does it fit in with the story?
The cover image captures the atmosphere I’ve felt in one of the settings in Lady’s Slipper. It’s Castle Eden Dene, one of Durham’s National Nature Reserves. Castle Eden Burn runs for about four miles through a deep gorge in the landscape to the sea at Denemouth. When you are deep in the gorge, you can feel a sense of stillness and isolation.
Within the cover image there is also an ‘In Memoriam’ stone hidden or disguised as a tree. This resonates with the story, as the truth of what happened in Lady’s Slipper twenty years before the story begins is hidden or disguised in a child’s memories of her dead mother.
When you started to write Hibiscus Fruit, where DI Abby Foulkes is on holiday in Greece, did you intend to write a series, or did the idea come later?
I started to write Hibiscus Fruit with the idea that I wanted to write a crime series. So right away I was looking for a series character. I had no idea who DS Abby Foulkes was before I began writing Hibiscus Fruit but once I got to know what had happened to her and the choices and problems she was now facing, there was no doubt in my mind that she was the character I was looking for. I live in the North East of England which is rich with history and I wanted a character who would work and solve cases here so she is from Newcastle upon Tyne. However, she has personal links with Greece and I think that future stories in the series will be found in both locations.
The inspiration for the story came from two of the locations within the story – Castle Eden Dene and Kielder forest. I have visited both places several times over the past decades. I first visited Castle Eden Dene in December in the 1990s and found the atmosphere of the place incredibly powerful, almost magical. Kielder forest is a huge expanse of reclaimed marshland where pine trees grow and in the 1990s was much less cultivated in terms of holiday and recreational facilities. The area was awarded ‘dark sky’ status in 2013 as it’s a place where night sky is protected from light pollution.
These natural landscape locations fired my imagination. I considered the qualities of the different forest landscapes in the region and how a child might react to seeing something terrifying happening in one of them and how she might get beyond that.
Your first book, Out of the Tower, is a standalone mystery story. What differences are there when you’re writing a series?
For me the difference is about the central character and how much you want to develop that character. When you write a standalone story, the standalone story is enough in itself. When you write a series, each book must have a story that is enough in itself but you also want to spend more time with and take your character further.
The first two books in the series – Hibiscus Fruit and Lady’s Slipper – take place during the first year following the murder of Abby’s partner. She’s raising a young child alone although she has the help of her mother and sister. She’s conflicted about carrying on in police work following the death of her partner and we can still see the pain of this in Lady’s Slipper although she has moved on since Hibiscus Fruit. But the cases she’s involved in on Greece and in the North-East of England are essentially complete stories in themselves.
When you write a book in a series you have to be careful to give a complete enough resolution within each individual book, while at the same time leaving some hooks that can take you forward into the next story or stories for that character.
What did you have to research for Lady’s Slipper?
Lady’s Slipper has a complex plot with a number of strands touching on areas I don’t know a great deal about. For example, I had to find out what forensic theory might have been debunked in recent years, whether or not police would search for a tramp who was put forward as a witness, whether a lifer who denies a crime would ever be released from prison, how long it might take to die from certain injuries, and so on.
I had to ask a lot of questions to do with policing, the prison and justice system and to do with medical and social work matters too. I’m lucky in that I know people I can ask questions of in those areas but I have to admit that I sometimes wished I hadn’t made the plot as complicated as I did!
Did you encounter any problems along the way with this book?
I found the research for the plot complexity challenging as each time I got an answer I’d have to make adjustments in my plot so it has been through a few twists and turns to get it to where it is now!
It’s also an emotive story and I’ve found it hard at times to detach from it.
Tell us three things you ‘must have’ when you sit down to a day at the keyboard.
The first thing would be absolute peace and quiet to think and immerse myself in writing. The second thing would be my laptop because I always work on the computer and not on paper. And the third thing would be a hot drink – usually coffee, but sometimes tea.
What’s next? You once mentioned a historical novel? Or will there be a third case for Abby?
There is a third case for Abby. I have already begun thinking about it and it will be called Forget-me-not Blues. I can’t give out any further details yet as I don’t have them. Perhaps if you ask me again in a year’s time or so I will be able to!
Alison Gray was born and grew up in Scotland during the 1960s and 1970s. She now lives in the north-east of England.
Her first novel, Out of the Tower, was shortlisted for the Constable Trophy 1992.
Hibiscus Fruit is the first in a crime series featuring the character DS Abigail Foulkes and is based in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Aegean.
Lady’s Slipper is her third book.
You can find Alison Gray on Amazon UK and US, or your local site.