Today, I have the fantastic Nuala Ellwood on the blog – she needs no introduction, with the release of her book My Sister’s Bones available now as an eBook, here she talks about how the novel came together, with help from her illustrator husband!
I work from home alongside my husband, Nick Ellwood, who is an illustrator. It’s a rather crazy existence where no two weeks are the same. On any given day, after dropping our little boy off at school, we’ll head to our respective desks. I’ll spend the morning trying to get inside the head of my latest character while in the studio on the floor above me Nick will be working on his latest project. One week he could be drawing a Georgian town mouse, the next a life size mural featuring a 16th century nun, the next the horrors of a present-day refugee camp. As for me I have just gone from writing about a troubled female war reporter to chronicling a grief stricken doctor who lives as a virtual recluse in the depths of the Yorkshire Dales. When we come downstairs for lunch neither of us really makes any sense as we are still in our own different worlds. Which is why it was so lovely to come together recently to produce a booklet documenting the research process of my debut thriller, My Sister’s Bones.
My Sister’s Bones tells the story of Kate Rafter, a war reporter, who returns from a harrowing experience in Syria to her childhood home on the Kent coast. Once home she becomes convinced that something terrible is happening in the house next door but she can’t be sure if the screams she is hearing are real or simply a manifestation of PTSD.
Before I set out to write My Sister’s Bones I knew that it would involve a huge amount of research. The novel covers a range of complex issues from the war in Syria to the terrors of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from childhood abuse to alcoholism and I wanted to portray these issues as truthfully and sensitively as possible. I knew that I would have to immerse myself in the world of my novel if I wanted to achieve this so I applied to Arts Council England for a research grant and was extremely lucky to have my application accepted.
As well as writing the novel I also wanted to produce a record of my research that would, hopefully, be of help to other writers. This took the form of a booklet, which documented both the research and the creative process involved in writing a novel. I wanted the booklet to contain images and I knew that Nick would be the perfect person to collaborate with. He accompanied me on my research trips to Herne Bay, where the novel is set, and created a series of images around the key locations. He also took the major themes of the novel – PTSD, war, perception, alcoholism – and produced his own original and powerful visual interpretations.
These drawings helped enormously as I set about applying my research to the novel. Now I had a visual aid and the ideas and characters that had so far existed only in my head suddenly burst forth and took on a life of their own.
Here are some of the highlights from the booklet, which also features quotes from My Sister’s Bones: