"Like most of my novels, Buried Thunder
started from an image in my head. I had no idea what that image meant or where it was going to lead, but I followed it as I always do. The picture I saw was a girl rushing through a forest at dusk and stumbling – literally – upon a body lying in a thicket: a woman of about thirty.
I didn't know who the girl was or the woman, or why they were there, but I was intrigued by the picture, so I carried on. The girl checks the body over, makes sure the woman is dead, then hurries off to raise the alarm in the village. The trouble is she's not sure of the way back, since her family have only just moved to the area – and there's an even bigger problem.
She's barely taken a few steps before she sees a second body lying in front of her: a man with red hair. By this time the words were coming fast. She checks the man over. He too is clearly dead. She sets off again, only to see a figure standing at the top of the clearing, bent over a third body lying on the forest floor.
And suddenly she's running for her life.
This was still Chapter One.
I had no idea who all these people were and I was also aware of another question. What was it that had sent the girl rushing into the forest in the first place? That brought me to the central character in the story, and its most potent symbol.
I've been fascinated by foxes all my life and I quickly realised that the presence of a fox was going to dominate this novel; and so it was that during the writing of Buried Thunder
, as the girl – Maya – struggles with the elemental forces closing around her and her family in their ancient country hotel, I found myself obsessed with the role of the fox in the story, and with foxes in general.
Yet for all the research I did into the nature and mythology of foxes, I still found myself yearning for something more visceral, more personal that I could experience, something that would give me the kind of insight I felt I didn't yet have into these sinister and beautiful creatures.
Then one day that experience came to me.
For many years now I have been working in an old stone outhouse at the top of my village. My family and friends call it 'Tim's Bolthole' and although it's very primitive, it's a perfect place to write: peaceful, secluded and situated on a big parcel of land with fields and rolling hills all around. Not far away there's a paddock and a stable, and the snort of horses is often the only sound I hear during my working hours.
Some months into the writing of Buried Thunder
I stepped out of the Bolthole late one afternoon to take a break and gather my thoughts. I'd written the first draft and was into the second, but I wasn't happy with the material, especially the scenes with the fox. I felt I hadn't connected with the animal in the way I wanted to. I wasn't sure what was missing, but something was, and it was unsettling me.
In this mood I wandered down to the low paddock fence and leaned on it. Everything was quiet. The horses were inside the stable and dusk was falling. I just leaned on the fence, thinking, then after a few moments, I sensed that something was watching me from the paddock. I turned my head slightly to the right, and there, no more than ten yards away, was a fox.
It just stood there, watching me with those strange yellow eyes. I stared back and neither of us moved for some time, then suddenly it looked down and started grubbing in the ground with its paws. This went on for a minute or two, then just as suddenly, it stopped and fixed me with its eyes again.
And so it went on, the animal staring, then looking down and grubbing in the ground, then staring again, and me just standing there, looking back. Ten minutes went by, then abruptly it ended. A last bout of grubbing, a final stare, an electrifying moment of stillness, then the animal turned, loped away round the back of the stable, and was gone.
I realise now that the birth of Buried Thunder
took place at this point."