Sleeping Beauty – How Somerset inspired my thriller, One Year Later

The Pines is a rambling farmhouse that our parents, David and Eleanor, converted years ago, and although it no longer has the land it came with, it still has a huge garden. It sits on the lower slopes of the Mendips in Somerset, the woods behind, green fields gently falling away in front of it. On a good day – and 15 August, with its clear blue skies, was one of those days – you can see over the tops of the seaside towns of Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare and all the way across the Severn estuary to Wales.’

This is how Nick Flowers describes the house his family grew up in at the start of my psychological thriller, One Year Later. When I was writing this novel, we were living in Bristol, but we’d just bought a house and some land in a remote part of Somerset and our plan was to renovate our new home. We spent a fairy-tale summer camping in the empty house and trying to keep on top of the vegetation that threatened to engulf the place. Each weekend we would leave the roads behind and bump along a bridlepath, verges of cow parsley and pink campion brushing the sides of the car, the house itself hidden behind an overgrown hedge, a creeper like a briar from Sleeping Beauty, swallowing the porch and stealing through the windows. We’d forage for raspberries and red currants, cook on a one-ringed burner, burn coppiced hazel in a grand stone fireplace, and watch the sun sink behind the small-leaved lime.

In the garden there’s a small pond, which was choked with weed and water lilies, and the ruins of a tumble-down cottage. Both features inspired pivotal scenes in One Year Later. In my story, the youngest child in the Flowers family drowns in the garden pond the day before her second birthday. A year later, Nick, who is desperate to bring the family together so that they can heal, has a dark memory of nearly being killed in the same garden…

The rest of my article on how Somerset inspired my latest psychological novel – and my writing in general – is out now on the Royal Literary Fund’s website as a podcast; you can also hear my fellow RLF fellow and friend, Emylia Hall, who talks about the Cornish landscapes of her childhood that she rediscovered through her writing.

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