I’m thrilled to be taking part in the tour for A House of Ghosts to celebrate the paperback being published. Thank you to Tracy Fenton and Zaffre Books for inviting me to take part. I have A House of Ghosts in hardback and it’s so beautiful. I’m glad to see that the paperback looks just as good. I reviewed the book last year and you can read my review here.
So what do I have for the blog tour then? Well, William Ryan has kindly answered a few questions for me all about A House of Ghosts. But first, the blurb.
Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.
At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.
For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .
Where did the idea for the story come from?
I’ve always wanted to write something about the First World War and one aspect that particularly appealed to me was the rise of Spiritualism, the belief that the dead did not entirely pass and could be contacted, the popularity of which grew exponentially due to the huge casualties on the Western Front. I thought a crime novel built around it might work quite well, with maybe a few other elements thrown in.
It’s quite a mixture of sub-genres in a way – ghost story, spy thriller, a Golden Age whodunit and even romance. Were you aware of that when writing it?
Absolutely. I think if you go looking for elements of John Buchan, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie, you’ll probably find them and a few other writers as well. I don’t understand readers, or writers, who think that books need to keep strictly to type – it’s fun to mix things up, both for the reader and the writer.
Your setting is wonderfully claustrophobic with Blackwater Abbey on an island that’s cut off from the mainland by a snow storm. Did you base the island on a particular one and have you ever been cut off?
I’ve been snowed in a couple of times which I suppose counts as being cut off – but there weren’t any ghosts just a lot of hot chocolate. Blackwater Island is a mixture of Burgh Island, which I used to live very close to and which Agatha Christie used as a basis for one or two of her novels, and Lundy Island, which is a bit more remote and off the North Devon coast. The house is an invention but based it on a selection of Tudor Houses. I took what I needed from each of them, although I think the ossuary came from an Italian monastery.
What can I say? I’m a writer, I make stuff up.
Your books are historically based. What kind of research did you have to do for A House of Ghosts? Would you consider writing something contemporary?
I knew the period of the First World War quite well already but I did do a fair amount of research into Spirtualism and some less well-known events, like the Silvertown Explosion, and I now know more about gas masks than I probably should. I enjoy research though and, conveniently, it tends to be where I find a lot of plot ideas plus, in this case, it allowed me to watch quite a lot of Downton Abbey reruns. There is a certain certainty to the past, which is helpful for a writer and you can explore contemporary issues at the same time (surreptitiously). That having been said, I’m very open to writing a contemporary novel. I have one or two in mind.
Ghost stories seem to be making a comeback. Was that part of your plan from the beginning or did the ghosts weave their way in later?
Ghosts were in from the beginning and fortunately my editor, Sophie Orme, likes a fictional ghost so we were on the same ghostly page, so to speak. I’m not sure why ghosts are so popular at the moment but I think it may have something to do with technology taking over the world around us and people needing a dose of the unknown from time to time, just to keep them sane.
Your two main protagonists are Kate Cartwright and Donovan. They make a formidable double act. Do you have future plans for them?
Originally A House of Ghosts was intended to be a standalone novel, but I really enjoyed writing it so I left open the possibility of a sequel, just in case. I can’t confirm anything just yet but I’d say the chances are 60/40 – it turns out readers enjoyed reading it as well. Even if he doesn’t come back with Kate in a sequel, Donovan is likely to show up in a supporting role in another novel I’m working on. It seemed a shame not to give him another run out.
A big thank you to William Ryan for answering my questions. If you like the sound of A House of Ghosts (the perfect read for chilly weather) then you can buy it by clicking here.
William Ryan’s first novel in the Captain Korolev series, The Holy Thief, was shortlisted for a Crime Writer’s Association’s New Blood Dagger, a Barry Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The second in the series, The Bloody Meadow, was shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and the third, The Twelfth Department, was also shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year as well as the CWA’s Historical Fiction Dagger and was a Guardian Crime Novel of the Year..
The Constant Soldier, William’s fourth novel was described as “subtle, suspenseful and superb” by The Daily Mail and shortlisted for the HWA’s Gold Crown and the CWA’s Steel Dagger.
William’s latest novel (as W.C. Ryan), A House of Ghosts, was published in October 2018 and the paperback released in October 2019.
William lectures on creative writing at City University and helps run the First Monday Crime evenings. Visit william-ryan.com for more information.