The Inspiration behind The Invitation
A lot has been said in these past few days about crime fiction as a genre, and I even had a heart-searching moment last week about my choice to write in this area. But I think that if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that the problem isn’t women, and what they may or may not choose to do.
Just as well, as I have a new book coming out, and guess what, it’s in the crime genre! It’s not a ‘don’t look behind you’ book, or even a ‘don’t dare go in the cellar’ book, though I have written books touching on these deep-rooted and perfectly valid female fears before. This time it’s a locked room-style puzzle, a little in the style of the great Agatha Christie. I hope people will enjoy it.
I’ve written a little about the inspiration behind the book. Have a read and see what you think! Hopefully you’ll be inspired to place a little pre-order. It’s only £1.99! Obligatory sales talk over now, and on with the post…
Castles and captives: A look at the real life inspiration for the setting of The Invitation, my twisty new psychological thriller.
When I’m writing a novel I feel a bit like a bird building a nest. I dart here and there, picking up bits and pieces of ideas that don’t look as though they’ll ever amount to anything. Then I spend ages weaving these motley fragments into something that, hopefully, eventually, becomes substantial enough to carry a full-blown story from beginning to end.
One of my main inspirations for writing The Invitation came from a very unsuccessful day trip three years ago. Bored children, wet weather, endless woes with my then partner… all these were in the mix. Throw in a badly-researched visit to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, a misreading of the (perfectly clear) timetable for the tidal causeway, and my own reluctance to get seawater in my wellies, and you have a situation where I found myself rapidly marooned on an English beach. The pathway to the place I wanted to see was disappearing, right before my eyes, under the weight of an indifferent chilly tide and there was nothing I could do. My companions splashed on far ahead, apparently oblivious. I was left cursing my own inability to act swiftly enough – and the relentlessness of nature. Even though I was pretty downcast at the time, I had just been given the first strand of a story. I couldn’t get to the island – but wouldn’t it have been much so worse, the other way around? What if you were stuck on an island, with no means of escape?
I became fascinated by St Michael’s Mount, the place I’d so nearly been to. It is stunningly beautiful, very well maintained, and has an ancient castle at its summit – a gorgeous, almost chocolate box tourist attraction. But a little digging revealed a satisfactorily gothic backstory – in the earliest times, a giant named Cormoran was said to live on the island, terrorising the mainlanders and snacking on their cattle. From 495AD onwards, there have been local tales either of St Michael guiding fishermen safely around the island, or of mermaids luring the unwary onto its rocks. Then the archangel St Michael himself is said to have appeared on the western side of the island. Four miracles took place during 1262 and 1263, while French monks are said to have been the first to build a priory here, near the island’s bedrock. If you touch this bedrock, it is said your wish will come true.
My own fervent wish, by this stage, was to set my next book on an island just like this one. When I was at a party, months later, and someone told me that, right across the room, there was a descendant of the family that had owned the island since 1647, I had another strand of my story. What would it be like to own your own island?
The beautiful and filthy-rich Rachel Cadogan then popped into my head, fully formed, together with her little band of university friends. She is the latter-day mermaid, beguiling her friends with an invitation they can’t refuse. What if an island like this was the venue for a reunion? A reunion that maybe… shouldn’t happen?
Cornwall is so easily cut off from the rest of the UK – severe flooding regularly wipes out train lines and causes massive disruption. A private island would be even more vulnerable. And what if each member of your group of friends had their own secrets and lies that they would do anything to protect?
The idea for The Invitation actually seemed so perfect that I thought it must already have been done. I googled frantically and was thrilled to see that no, the island had never been used as a backdrop for a murder mystery – although it has played host to lots of TV and film crews over the years, and once starred in a movie version of Dracula.
Just when I had everything I needed for my story, the UK went into lockdown. Suddenly we were all stuck, on our own equivalents of private islands. We were dealing with things as best we could, just like Rachel’s marooned guests. And, just like in the story, some were handling it a lot better than others.
The things we were all going through made The Invitation seem even more compelling to me. I loved writing it, from the sounds of the sea that I was missing so much, while I sat in hot, dusty Lewisham in south London, to the tangled web of motives I created. I’ve written murder mysteries before, but this was by far the most satisfying I’ve worked on. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. And I hope one day you might actually make it across the causeway to visit St Michael’s Mount – and return safely, of course.
The Invitation by A. M. Castle will be published on 26th March 2021. Pre-order it here.