My new gothic mystery novel Phantom Audition is out now, and messing with the heads of readers to agreeable effect, judging by the plethora of five star rave reviews currently gracing sites like Goodreads and Amazon. I’m very pleased, as I put a lot of work into this book.
Preparation for writing any story of this kind involves research into a number of fields, but in this case I was able to draw on a lot of my own knowledge regarding film. Having worked in television, and had some limited involvement in film productions (including making my own short films on various occasions), I drew on what I already knew in many cases, but also investigated a number of fascinating facts from film history.
For example, the idea of a famous actor consulting a medium about whether or not they should take a role is directly inspired by the late, great Peter Sellers, who did exactly that. Rather more unhappily, cases of actors burying themselves in parts with alarming effects on their mental health are not uncommon. Perhaps the most notorious and tragic relatively recent example is found in Heath Ledger, who died of a drug overdose after finishing work on The Dark Knight, where he played the Joker. Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar, again something that directly inspired the story in Phantom Audition.
Settings also play a key role in the novel, which briefly takes in Wardour Street in London – home to many film and television production houses – as well as Boars Hill in Oxford, where I used to live. However, the most notable location is the Jacobean mansion at the heart of the story. In Jacobean buildings, there really are sometimes priest holes from the times when Catholics were persecuted by the ruling Protestant monarchs in England. Said Catholics would often hide in these places to avoid arrest. Baddesley Clinton House in Warwickshire is one example, and another is Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. Both are owned by the National Trust and are open to the public.
Here is one final point of interest not about research or locations, and more about the writing process itself. Unlike my previous novel The Irresistible Summons, which had huge swathes of plot, subplot, and characters excised (almost 20,000 words) from first to final draft, Phantom Audition survived largely intact, aside from the usual editorial nips and tucks, with one key exception. Originally Mia’s best friend Bronwyn and hired help Verity were one and the same character. I did this to try and condense characters, but in this case it proved a condensation too far, and made the finale too implausible. It felt a lot more believable to separate the characters, so I undertook a significant rewrite to change that element of the plot.
Phantom Audition is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is available now in paperback or on Kindle. Click here to get your copy.