H F ASKWITH is a British writer of dark fantastical fiction, and author of A Dark Inheritance. Her latest novel A Cruel Twist of Fate is gloriously gothic YA mystery-thriller. Good Reading for Young Adults caught up with the author to discuss her new novel.
ABOUT THE BOOK
When 17-year-old Helena is sent to be a governess at Archfall Manor – a beautiful but crumbling manor house, perched at the edge of a causeway in the North Sea – she feels confident she will know how to deal with the esteemed but eccentric Cauldwell family who own it. But it quickly becomes clear that the Cauldwells are hiding more than Helena could ever have dreamed of.
A series of sinister events come to a head the night of a great storm, which washes away the only path back to the mainland – and reveals in the morning that there has been a murder… quickly followed by another.
Suspicions and paranoia quickly run rampant. Someone has dark motivations in mind – and a killer’s instinct to enact them.
But the Cauldwell’s aren’t the only ones keeping secrets. Helena has a very important one of her own – and soon she begins to wonder whether forces beyond her control might be willing her to enact her own dark plan . . .
Just how far will she go to get what she deserves?
MEET H F ASKWITH
What inspired your novel, A Cruel Twist of Fate?
A Cruel Twist of Fate was inspired by my favourite elements of storytelling, blending together the bits I love most from fantasy, mystery and the gothic, with a pinch of science-fiction and a tense family drama. I definitely wrote the book that I was wanting to read.
What can tell us about your character Helena?
Helena is creative, curious and incredibly determined. At the beginning of the book, debt forces Helena to assume a false identity to take a governess position with the Cauldwell family, who were involved in the mysterious disappearance of her father when she was just a baby. Helena is driven and desperate to unravel the truth throughout the novel, especially when events at the house take a sinister turn.
Is the Cauldwell family based on or inspired by real people?
The Cauldwell family are elusive, wealthy and famed for their unusual inventions, although there are also ominous stories that haunt their reputation. The family is not based on any real people. I created them because I’m really interested in writing about unusual family dynamics and so I really enjoyed imagining the members of the family and how they all relate to each other, with rivalries, tensions and the impact of expectations.
How did you come up with the Archfall Manor?
When I started writing the book, I wanted to create a classic, creepy, gothic manor house and enjoyed writing the descriptions of the labyrinthine corridors and the unusual inventions inside the rooms. In the writing process, the house evolved to have an identity of its own, and Helena feels the house is almost alive. As the mystery of the plot unfolded, I realised I needed to have a clearer picture in my mind and created a floorplan of the house so I could work out the logistics, and I love that this scrawled document evolved into a fully illustrated piece in the front of the book!
Did you draw inspiration from other gothic tales to help shape this novel?
Within the story, there are echoes of other gothic narratives that inspired me – Helena becomes a governess at a large manor house, following in the footsteps of that other literary governess, Jane Eyre; Archfall Manor is located on a tidal island, a bit like The Woman in Black; a storm cuts the island off from the mainland, which allows for a locked room mystery to unfold, like in the work of Agatha Christie. However, I’ve tried to create a story which goes in its own direction and has surprises for the reader.
What did you find most challenging or rewarding about writing this novel?
One of the trickiest parts of writing A Cruel Twist of Fate was plotting out the mystery, as it required me to take a new approach and ensure that I outlined the structure in advance. I needed to know all of the answers beforehand so that I could leave clues for the reader and implement the twist I had in mind.
Can you share any of your writing habits or routines that help with your creative process?
I find that when I’m drafting a new novel, one of the key elements for me is maintaining momentum, and that means checking in with my writing every day. Sometimes that does look like focused time adding to the word count, but at the very least I do need to just open the document and read through what I’ve been working on. Often once I’ve done that, I end up writing the next part. One strategy that works really well for me is writing in short sprints, popping on a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and writing without expecting it to come out perfectly, reminding myself that I can always refine the words during the editing process, but they do need to exist first!
What do you hope readers takeaway from your novel?
I hope that readers are drawn in to the mystery of Archfall Manor and that they enjoy trying to solve it alongside Helena! One of the key themes of the story is the idea of destiny or fate and the ways in which we can influence what the future holds for us and I hope that it inspires readers to consider their own beliefs about these big questions.