Path of Needles by Allison Littlewood, just came out in November, and she was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!
I’m very excited that Path of Needles is now out in the states! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you Kristin, I’m very excited about it too! I really wanted to write a book that focused on some of the things I love, which included deep dark forests and the fairy stories I adored as a child. It struck me that some of those stories have some pretty nasty happenings which didn’t particularly bother me back then, but if they took place in today’s world – well, it would be pretty different. The result was a book that combined the fantastical with a police procedural, with a serial killer bringing some of the darker aspects of those old stories to life.
I love that you made your main character, Alice Hyland, an expert in fairy tales. What kind of research did you do for the book?
I remember sitting down to re-read some favourite fairy tales and thinking, this really feels like cheating! It’s lovely when research is so pleasant. I also read a lot about the evolution of the stories and the many variants that have been recorded over the years. Fortunately there’s a lot of information available, with particularly useful books written by Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar. I found the research into police procedure more taxing as that was a new challenge for me, though fortunately I found a couple of friendly officers who looked over the text. That was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time walking around the locations I used in the book too. It’s odd to walk around some lovely places wondering how someone could have moved a dead body or kidnapped someone . . . it certainly spiced up my walks for a while!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
I think deep down it was always my dream to be a writer, but it seemed such a fragile and impossible one I never really thought it would happen. I worked in various jobs that involved writing in some way, though I was producing copy for catalogues and press releases rather than trying my hand at fiction. Then one day I enrolled on a local course, to force myself to give it a go. I remember being incredibly nervous – I’d built writing up as something big and scary that other people did. I’m just glad I took the plunge, as I quickly discovered I loved the practice as much as the idea of writing.
What was one of the first things that you remember writing?
I can clearly remember making little books when I was a kid, usually about horses! I think I probably had a better idea of what I wanted to do when I was five than when I was fifteen. After I got going as an adult, I tried my hand at all sorts of things before I realised that it was horror or dark fantasy that made me really get excited. I started to go more and more down that path after that. I didn’t grow up immersed in the genre – I read avidly, pretty much devouring anything and everything I got my hands on – but my writing soon started to influence my reading habits.
What is your writing process like?
There are days when it comes easily and days when it doesn’t. The main thing is to have the discipline to sit down and keep going and finish. I set myself word count targets to try and keep up a reasonable pace, so that I keep immersed in the world and the characters I’m creating. It’s horrible to have a gap in the middle of a first draft and have to find a way back into it – ugh. Of course, it’s good to have a reasonably tight deadline – it focuses the mind beautifully! It’s great when it flows and I don’t even notice time passing.
What are a few of your favorite authors?
I love Neil Gaiman’s work, and I love the fact that he’s turned his hand to so many different things – novels, graphic novels, children’s books, poetry – and it all turns out beautiful and magical. Stephen King is the master, of course, and his son Joe Hill is producing some fantastic books. I also enjoy work by Hilary Mantel, Sarah Pinborough, Mark Morris, David Mark, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Sarah Langan, Neil Cross and Graham Joyce.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That’s a tough question! Going back a few years, I’d really love to pick up Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda again. It’s not a genre novel but a historical one, full of rich detail and quirky characters and the most wonderful ending. I’d love to be able to read it again without seeing it coming! Or perhaps The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It’s unrelentingly bleak and hypnotic and astonishingly well written.
What are you currently reading?
I’m dipping into a few things at the moment. I’ve just started on The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which I’ve never read before. I’m also revisiting some fairy tale territory, with Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner. I usually have a short story collection on the bedside table and just now it’s an older one – Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to sign another book deal with Jo Fletcher Books, so I’m currently editing a new novel that revisits the territory of A Cold Season. And I’m doing an extra project involving holidays and zombies, which is unashamedly pulpy but a ridiculous amount of fun! I’m also working on a lovely project with an illustrator friend, Daniele Serra. I have a short story idea that keeps prodding at the back of my mind so hopefully I’ll be able to slot that in at some point, as hopefully there’ll be a collection published at some point next year.
About Path of Needles:
When an expert on fairy tales is called in to consult on the investigation of bizarre murders, her premonition and insight causes suspicion; she must solve the case–and fast–to prove her innocence.
Alice Hyland is an expert on fairy tales–lecturing on the well-known stories and their lesser-known variants–and the natural choice for Police Constable Cate Corbin to consult when a dead girl is found in the woods dressed up as Snow White. Especially when the girl’s grieving mother receives a parcel containing a glass bottle of blood stoppered with the dead girl’s toe. Cate’s boss, Detective Superintendent Heath, isn’t convinced of the connection to folklore until a second girl is found, this time dressed as Red Riding Hood and with claw marks gouged into her flesh, like a wolf had been at her.
As she dives deeper into the case, Alice beings to sense a supernatural pull connecting her to the murders. A series of uncanny events seem to be pointing her in the right direction, but she’s not the only one noticing; By the time a third girl is found in the local castle, Heath begins to wonder if their fairy tale expert knows too much, and Alice finds herself no longer an asset, but a suspect. But she can’t stop following the clues, and her determination to solve the mystery herself and prove her innocence may lead her somewhere she can’t return from.