Published by Sandstone Press
Ebook & Paperback : 16 February 2017
approx 320 pages
It’s a honour to be starting off the blog tour launch celebrations for The Devil in the Snow. I only received the book last week and haven’t had time to read it yet, but the synopsis immediately appealed and, the fact that (like me) both author and story are Essex based, I simply couldn’t pass this one by.
My review will follow once I’ve had a chance to read but in the meantime I have a great guest post from Sarah on the (not so small) matter of setting.
The importance of place
by Sarah Armstrong
It is easy to find where some novels belong in place and time. My first novel, The Insect Rosary, was written about my gran’s farm in Northern Ireland and it couldn’t have been placed anywhere else. Set in the two periods in which I remember it best, the early 1980s and the present day, the novel starts when two sisters arrive at the farm and ends when they leave. My second novel, The Devil in the Snow, wasn’t so easy to place.
I had the central idea of the characters, their family and its lost children, but I couldn’t work out where the story happened. I tried working with places I’d spent time in, and it kept coming back to Colchester and specifically the route I used to walk to school. But I didn’t want to set it in Colchester because it felt too close to where I live now.
Place is vital for novels, and I like to use places I’ve been, but those that are distanced by time so I can look at them clearly: Woolwich, Plumstead Common, Canterbury and Putney. But for some reason this story seemed to be drawn to Shrub End with its wide, cracked roads. Instead of layers of time like The Insect Rosary, this novel was about hidden and secret places and Shrub End felt too open and modern. But, with no other location as strong in my head, I gave in and set it in Colchester.
To get to school I used to trudge across a green, and often muddy, space which sat between three secondary schools. It went from one end of Norman Way, and the 1950s estate off Shrub End Road, to the other end, and the rather more posh Lexden Road. Norman Way itself was never finished, just the two ends, and the space between them was often a place of terror. There were regular rumours that the students from the other schools were going to ‘get us’ on the way home, and tales of them throwing snowballs at each other, packed tight around rusted compasses with the points sticking out. There was also a long alley which led to Bluebottle Grove and Roman earthworks, a place of yet more whispers – the stories have stayed with me, of men lurking in the bushes.
The emotional setting was starting to make sense, but I still didn’t know where my main character lived. I looked at maps of the area, and saw Victoria Road backing onto a connecting field. This reminded me of a line I’d read on a website, years before, about a man who’d seen fairies dancing around the base of a tree on Victoria Road in the 1960s. Now I had the location where two odd people would meet, and my protagonist would live in a house nearby. I could start to write the novel, but thinking about fairies and folk tales had reminded me of another tale which fascinated me – the devil’s hoof prints.
There are a few stories about the devil leaving imprints in rocks and the landscape, both in the UK and the US. The story which I first read concerned hoof prints in the snow, seen in Devon in 1855. These prints led over houses and through towns and villages, across walls, gates and haystacks, relentlessly for miles – some reports said 100 miles. I wondered what it was like to feel that the devil was coming right to your door, and what if it really was you he was after? My new novel, The Devil in the Snow, answers this question.
About the book:
All Shona wants is a simple life with her young son, and to get free of Maynard, the ex who’s still living in the house. When her teenage daughter goes missing, she’s certain Maynard is the culprit. Her mother, Greta, is no help as she’s too obsessed with the devil. Her Uncle Jimmy is fresh out of prison and has never been entirely straight with her. Then there’s the shaman living in her shed. Shona soon discovers that the secrets she buried are as dangerous as the family curse haunting her mother.
About the author:
Sarah Armstrong teaches creative writing with the Open University. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and her novels are published by Sandstone Press. Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children.
Goodreads Giveaway : There is currently a Goodreads giveaway for The Devil in the Snow – open from 9 February – 16 February 2017 (GB only). The entry link is here
and, from the publication day of 16 February 2017, for a limited period, the book will be available to download from Amazon UK for £1.00 (click here for link)