Creepy, atmospheric and unnerving, Lisa Hall’s latest book, The Woman in the Woods, will have you hooked and terrified in equal measure this Halloween. Set in a small, sleepy village in Kent, Lisa tells us more about what inspired her to set this supernatural story there…
My Inspiration for The Woman in the Woods
The seed of an idea for The Woman in the Woods was sown on a blustery autumn evening. I was leaving the house to collect my eldest son from work, leaving my two other teenagers in the house alone. I stepped out, drove away, and then realised I hadn’t locked the door behind me. I spent the short drive wondering all kinds of scenarios (nothing actually happened!), and by the time I got home I had a very clear picture in my mind of a woman who knew that something bad was going to happen to her children – but she didn’t know what or how.
At this point, nor did I, but I spend a lot of time thinking and planning before I even put pen to paper, and it was as I was driving to visit my mum that I drove past the sign for Pluckley. I’d heard of the village, had driven past it a hundred times, but this time as I passed the turning, something clicked in my mind. Could the vision my main character was seeing, of someone leaning over her children intent on doing harm, be an echo of the past? As the most haunted village in England, Pluckley was the perfect setting for Allie and Rav’s story, and I knew then that there was potential for me to drive the story in a different direction to your usual psychological thriller.
I started researching and found a whole raft of stories connected to the village – from the highwayman killed at the aptly named Frights Corner, to the ghost of Lady Dering who is said to haunt the church graveyard – and when I visited the village, I found it lives up to its reputation. The Woman in the Woods is set during a warm summer, despite the spooky Halloween vibes it gives off, and I found that Pluckley in the summer is a beautiful place to visit. The streets are quaint, the houses old and typical for the area. I found the perfect house for Allie and Rav to live in on the edge of the village – but there is still an undeniable air of otherworldliness about it. In the evening, once the sun has gone down, the village takes on a different feel. A lack of streetlights along the surrounding country roads means that once night falls the darkness is absolute. Odd mist patches hang over the road that passes Dering Wood, also known as Screaming Wood, and in The Black Horse – the pub that Allie and Rav frequent – the landlady has tales of the remains of a child found in the wall by the fireplace, who is said to run up and down the bar. The landlady doesn’t visit the upper floor of the pub, because it doesn’t ‘feel right’ and there is said to be an old vicar who haunts it.
I knew after reading the stories surrounding Pluckley that the book needed to have a supernatural element and Agnes Gowdie was born. In the novel, Allie is unsure whether there is something living in her house, or whether someone close to her is messing with her mind, and the ghosts of Pluckley were the perfect inspiration for me to explore this. In addition to this, Allie is a florist, and this was something that gave me the idea of planting herbs and flowers in the garden that could also have been used by a healer, adding another layer to the story by way of superstition. Agnes Gowdie is a figment of my imagination (I hope), but the setting of Pluckley gave me the ideal opportunity to turn the novel from a simple psychological thriller into something more – a novel where superstition, motherhood, trust, and mental health clash wildly.