About Helen Sedgwick
Helen Sedgwick is the author of The Comet Seekers (Harvill Secker, 2016) and The Growing Season (Harvill Secker, 2017).
Helen has an MLitt in Creative Writing from Glasgow University and has won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. Her debut novel has been published in seven countries including the UK, US and Canada, and was selected as one of the best books of 2016 by The Herald and Glamour. She is represented by Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown.
As a literary editor, Helen has worked as the managing director of Cargo Publishing and managing editor of Gutter, and she founded Wildland Literary Editors in 2012. Before that, Helen was a research physicist with a PhD in Physics from Edinburgh University.
A Conversation with Helen Sedgwick
Can you tell me something about you that your readers might not know?
I once performed a Telemann sonata for solo recorder in the Royal Albert Hall
Where were you raised? Where do you live now? Do you have any pets?
I was raised in London, moved to Edinburgh to study for a PhD in physics, and I now live in the far north Highlands. I have a two-year-old daughter and five chickens.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you follow a unique way for writing Fiction?
My process is organic and varied – I have to be flexible with a toddler in the house, especially at the moment. When I’m in the middle of a novel I write quite fast, to build up momentum, and I typically write around 2000 words at a time without stopping or editing. The result is a very messy first draft! But it has pace and ideas and characters, and I spend a long time editing it into shape. In between novels, I might not write for months. I am a big believer in taking time to think, and long walks for inspiration.
Writing ‘When the Dead Come Calling’
Tell us about inspiration for When the Dead Come Calling.
When I was in Wigtown a few years ago I visited St Ninian’s Cave on a very stormy day and the cave was so wonderfully atmospheric and creepy I just knew I had to set a novel there! I thought it was going to be a ghost story at first though, and it only later developed into a crime series. I remember wanting to write about a very unusual detective, to subvert the trope of the bitter alcoholic male police detective and instead write the story of a really decent woman, someone who loves her husband and likes gardening and just wants a quiet life. She became my detective, DI Georgie Strachan.
Could you tell us a bit about the village of Burrowhead? How did you create it?
I think Burrowhead is a combination of a lot of villages and towns that I have known in my life, throughout England and Scotland. It is a remote, isolated fictional village in the north of England, and it carries the combination of natural beauty and deprivation that small rural places can develop. I live in a rural community myself, so I’m familiar both with the wonderfully strong sense of community that exists, but also the frustration, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of jobs… And I am also very inspired by the landscape here in the highlands, some of which I have transported to fictional Burrowhead in the novel. The wild coastlines, the huge open ever-changing sky, the sense of nature being so much bigger than us – I love it.
What do you think will be the initial thoughts of your readers while reading your book?
What a great question! I really don’t know but I’d love to hear from readers about that. I wanted the opening to be really creepy, but I also wanted it to feel like crime fiction with a difference, like there was something unsettling and perhaps supernatural at work. There is a lot of politics in the book but it’s an undercurrent I think, and perhaps gradually emerges through the reading. I have had different people describe the book as both chilling and warm; both fast-paced and thoughtful. Perhaps it is the kind of book that does something different for everyone. I’d be very happy with that.
What kind of research did you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning this book?
I had to research a lot about police procedure, because when I started I knew nothing about that at all – and believing the book to be predominantly a ghost story, my police procedure was sketchy at best in my first draft! I got a lot of things wrong at first and had to learn a lot, so the writing and research sort of went hand in hand and took place simultaneously. There are plenty of great books out there about police procedure and forensics though (I would recommend The Crime Writers Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O’Byrne and Forensics by Val McDermid in particular) and I went through a phase of wishing I had become a forensic anthropologist I found it so fascinating!
What did you edit out of ‘When the Dead Come Calling’?
Oh, a lot! It was a long editorial process for this one, particularly as during the writing of it I realized that it was going to become a trilogy. One thing that got removed completely was a storyline about Fergus (DI Georgie Strachan’s unemployed husband) building his own set of wings so that he could fly. My publishers felt it was a little too ridiculous, but I loved the idea of this large middle-aged man believing he could fly; and for me there was something sad and touching about his desire to soar above his troubles. Maybe I’ll turn it into a short story one day.
What is next for Helen Sedgwick
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc?
When The Dead Come Calling is the first book of a trilogy, so I’m currently doing the final edits on the next book, Where The Missing Gather, which will be published in May 2021, with the final part of the trilogy due in 2022. After that, I’m thinking about writing some science fiction!
Click to read my review of ‘When the Dead Come Calling’