Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
Please welcome Helen Matthews, author of the psychological suspense novel Façade, here today and read her Guest Post, “Location, Location, Location – the Importance of Place in Fiction”, and discover more about her book and herself!
What are the key ingredients for a successful novel? I’d argue that, after establishing the characters and figuring out the plot, it’s sense of place that brings a story to life.
During lockdown, when we weren’t allowed out, unless we were key workers, or for supermarket visits and daily exercise, the once-familiar world close to our homes became an alien landscape. Where were the crowds of people? The queuing traffic? What was that strange high-pitched noise? Clue: it was probably bird song. My chosen exercise was cycling, and I could travel further on wheels than on foot. Because I was cycling solo, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. Some days I passed the spot where our husbands had set up a banner and balloons to welcome me and two girlfriends back from a 90-mile bike ride along the Kennet and Avon Canal. It stirred in me the same sense of achievement I’d felt three years ago when our saddle-sore backsides crossed the finish line. Places can spark memories buried deep under your skin.
In fiction we create a sense of place using words. This doesn’t mean heavy-handed description or a glut of adjectives and superlatives. A few lightly-sketched details can bring a location to life and create a mood.
A classic example of a house that is vital to a book’s plot, and the mood of its occupants is Manderley, the brooding mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca – it inspires a sense of tension and dread. The house in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, in its isolated, bleak setting, is a symbol of turbulence and foreboding.
My novel, Façade is psychological suspense and mystery but property and houses are underlying themes which add substance to the plot. The two main characters are the Stapleton sisters. Rachel, who has built up a seemingly-successful property business from small beginnings, and her sister Imogen, who, despite living abroad with her rock star husband, has squandered everything and never owned a home. Jealousy of her sister’s success drives her to extreme lengths in her quest for revenge.
In Façade, there’s a whole cast of houses and homes, including minor ones such as Gamekeeper’s Cottage, where some bad things happen. But two properties are central to the story. The Old Rectory, a splendid Georgian house owned by Rachel and Imogen’s parents, was once perfect but is now decaying. To each family member, The Old Rectory means something different. The house keeps the family trapped in the past, by tragedy, envy, guilt and by a burden of obligation. The Stapleton parents have a schizophrenic relationship with the house: it’s the place where their baby son, George, died but also a symbol of their lost success, wealth, and importance. To Rachel, the daughter who has supported her parents financially, it’s a never ending burden which traps her on the treadmill of a life that no longer fits. The following quotation gives a sense of how Rachel feels about the house:
The feeble sunshine painted The Old Rectory’s rear windows into reflective mirrors and the house seemed to whisper to her, as if re-establishing its claim: mend me, fix me, love me. She gave the neighbour’s cat, Monty a final hug and set him down on the path.
For Imogen, the family home is a cause for resentment because she believes her parents have helped bankroll her sister, Rachel’s business and are clinging on to the house, rather than selling it and passing some of their wealth to her.
Returning to England following the death of her husband, after 20 years away, Imogen gets a job interview through an old friend, Gavin. He’s one of those people who knows everyone and everything so he also finds her a place to live, rent-free, in a houseboat on the Regent’s Canal at Little Venice in London. Here, the sense of community among boat dwellers in their hidden central London location is strong and Imogen meets genuine people, such as Bill, and has the opportunity to reinvent herself.
Imogen sensed Bill had spotted a vacancy in her life and, in his clumsy yet endearing way, imagined he was edging closer to filling it. He’d invited her to spend a weekend with him in Dartmouth where, it appeared, he owned a quayside cottage but no boat. So, being a boat obsessive, he rented out his cottage and lived most of his time in London on the canal. What was wrong with some people?
In this healing environment, Imogen could begin to atone for her past but, when the opportunity arises, off she goes again, chasing wealth and the admiration she confuses with love.
Imogen drifted from room to room, sensing life going on elsewhere and pined for the carefree days on the Lazy Lucy: the swish of water; the neighbours, so close she could hear them arguing or brushing their teeth; the sizzle of olive oil hitting the pan as someone cooked dinner.
Within the close community of London’s waterways, Imogen had found home but, sadly for her, she failed to recognise it.
Thank you so much for this insight into the importance of settings in your writing and that of others!
Read on to discover more about Façade and Helen Matthews!
A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.
Silence echoes louder than truth.
When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.
Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.
Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.
The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.
As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.
Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.
Purchase Link – mybook.to/facade
Author Bio –
Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade will be published by Darkstroke in September 2020.
Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.
She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.
Social Media Links –
Twitter – @HelenMK7
Instagram – @helen.matthews7
Website – https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com