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Author Rebecca Thorne on her latest novel, The Grief House

Rebecca is often out exploring the Somerset Levels Photo Steve Edwards
Rebecca is often out exploring the Somerset Levels Photo Steve Edwards

Like many writers, walking forms a crucial part of my creative process and the landscapes I walk invariably affect my work. Several years ago, I moved from a coastal village in the Quantock Hills to a town in the Mendips; I now live with my back to the hills and the Levels before me. The new scenery bled into my words. The result was The Grief House.

Most days I walk for an hour through the hills and gorges; I let my mind wander and digest whatever I wrote the day before, drawing out and pulling apart any knots as my feet navigate the path’s roots, cracked rocks and steep slopes. From the top of the hills the view stretches for miles in a blanket of houses, roads, fields and woods, which, at this time of year, are burnished gold. But however much I loved these heights, it was the Levels that affected me deeply.

The land plays games with your eyes, on the Levels. The name suggests a flat landscape, but the truth is far more subtle: playful even, if you’re dressed for it and know your way. Treacherous, if you don’t. Rather than the flat solidity you may find elsewhere in the country, this land stretches ahead in shallow waves that seem to shift beneath your feet. The land dips and rises, and the horizon cannot be trusted; it both shrinks and stretches distance. Glastonbury Tor seems two or three miles away, not the eleven insisted by a map.

Great British Life: Walking through the Somerset landscape inspires Rebecca Image Getty Images Walking through the Somerset landscape inspires Rebecca Image Getty Images

One year, I took my annual pilgrimage to watch the murmuration; a spectacular sight guaranteed to perk up the coldest January afternoon. If, that is, you find the place the starlings plan to visit. That year, I did not. Instead, I walked for miles trying to spot them. I dragged my feet through fields, small clusters of woodland, foggy wetlands and didn’t see a single person let alone starling. Over the course of several miles, I passed a grand total of three houses and one barn. I walked and walked, way past the time that the birds would have settled for the night. Darkness fell. I traipsed back to my car and drove home. The next week I returned with a friend and still found no starlings. I thought we walked in the same direction, but I must have made a mistake. This time, we walked through small villages of stone-built cottages, where the scent of homecooked food shot the air. There were dozens of other walkers, oodles of dogs, a pub with a roaring fire. What is this place, I wondered, that offers isolation with one hand and community with the other?

As I began to develop the book and build setting and atmosphere, I found my mind wandering back, time and again, to those seemingly flat stretches of land. I have lived in Somerset for fifteen years, and they still feel other-worldly to me. How much stranger would they seem to a young woman who had never visited Somerset before? How would she respond to the groves of trees that seem to suck the mist from the marshes?

It was no surprise, then, that the Levels found there way into The Grief House. I wanted to create a thriller with a supernatural twist and a warm heart, where the land was as beautiful as it was mysterious, and the atmosphere could shift as fast as a flipped coin. What better place could there be to set such a tale?

Great British Life: The Grief House by Rebecca Thorne, published by Raven Books, (£16.99, Hardback)The Grief House by Rebecca Thorne, published by Raven Books, (£16.99, Hardback)

THE GRIEF HOUSE

A week-long grief retreat on a beautiful country estate with no phones and no wifi isn’t ex-tarot reader Blue’s usual getaway. But ever since her mother’s death she’s been carrying a secret. Could this finally help her let it go?

When she arrives, it’s raining, and there’s something strange about the house. Only a few guests have made it through the weather. As the owners, Molly and Joshua Park, try desperately to cling to normality, the storm worsens until they’re stranded in the house – cut off from the outside world.

And after one of the guests disappears in the night, Blue wonders who around her, the Parks and the guests, is telling the truth about why they’re there – and whose grief might be hiding a deeper secret...

The Grief House is available to buy from January 18th and will be available in local bookshops and online via bloomsbury.com



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