In Neville’s The House of Ashes (Soho Crime, Sept.), two trapped and traumatized women, Sara Keane and Mary Jackson, discover terrifying links that bind them to a 120-year-old house in Belfast.
You’ve said you need two things before you begin writing—a point of departure and a point of destination. What were those points for The House of Ashes?
The initial inspiration came from a real-life crime that happened a few years ago in Northern Ireland. I realized that it could be insensitive to those affected by that crime to use it as the basis for a novel. One aspect stuck with me: the idea of an isolated house being the focal point of the story, so that became the point of departure. I knew I wanted Sara and Mary to end up with a bond of friendship, so that became my point of destination.
You’ve also said every character has to have a desire. What desires do you see for Sara and Mary?
For both of them, I think the desire is freedom. Freedom to be themselves, freedom from the men who have oppressed them in different ways. It goes beyond merely surviving their predicaments, but becoming the women they really want to be.
Why use supernatural elements?
The otherworldly often creeps into my writing. I like to keep an ambiguity to it; those supernatural elements could easily be psychological manifestations. I’ve found readers will bring their own values and beliefs to a book and will often decide for themselves whether these things are in the characters’ minds or actually exist in the world of the story.
Why does violence play a significant role in your fiction?
I’m not sure my books are as violent as people seem to think. Much of it’s implied rather than explicitly stated on the page; the threat and the aftermath are far more interesting than the act itself. The House of Ashes is largely about the lingering echoes of the bloodshed that happened in the house. When the violence does come, it’s brutal, as it is in real life. I won’t sanitize it, but neither will I revel in it.
Why does the past so often affect the present in your work?
Growing up in Northern Ireland, one is acutely aware of history and the shadows it casts on our day-to-day lives. Since my debut novel, The Ghosts of Belfast, my books have had that recurring theme of the past shaping the present, the inescapability of it and also how the present colors our perception of the past. The two are impossible to separate, no matter how much we’d like to put the past behind us.