Q&A with Elodie Harper
An interview with Elodie Harper: author of THE BINDING SONG and prize-winning short story writer
Posted on June 28, 2017 in Author Q&A
Tags: debut, stephen king, thriller
How did it feel to be selected as the winner of the Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition by Stephen King himself?
Thrilled doesn’t really cover it. I was waddling down the street, heavily pregnant, when I found out. I was too enormous to leap for joy (my son arrived a few days later) but I certainly whooped. I’ve admired Stephen King for so many years, and love so many of his books, and it felt very special that he had read – and enjoyed – my story enough to choose it as the winner. The fact it was later published in an anthology which he introduced, made the experience even more special.
Had you already written The Binding Song when that happened? What was the journey to publication that followed?
I had already written The Binding Song when I submitted ‘Wild Swimming’ to the competition, but at that point I didn’t have an agent and was sitting on the MS, too terrified to send it out. Going on maternity leave finally gave me the shove to submit my book, as I imagined it might take weeks to get a reply. Instead I signed with my agent Juliet Mushens the following day.
News of the competition win came a couple of weeks later. Juliet had just sent the book out on submission and Ruth Tross at Mulholland Books expressed an interest. We arranged to meet but then my baby arrived two weeks early! It felt surreal emailing Juliet in the early hours telling her I wouldn’t make the meeting as I’d gone into labour. I suspected that I was unlikely to get any more sleep or be any less tired if we waited several weeks, so we rearranged to meet about ten days after my son arrived, and Hodder then made a formal offer for the book. To say this was the most momentous few weeks of my life, in every possible respect, would be something of an understatement.
Can you describe The Binding Song in 30 words or less?
A psychologist arrives at an isolated prison. Staff are secretive, and prisoners haunted by a figure seeking vengeance. Will she uncover the truth or be engulfed by this waking nightmare?
What was the inspiration behind the concept of The Binding Song?
I’ve always been intrigued by stories in which the supernatural is an expression of characters’ psychological state, and which ask where the line lies between real and imaginary demons.
The Binding Song is a story about grief and rage and I wanted to explore what it feels like to be trapped by these emotions in the closed environment of a prison where there’s no escape, not only from the physical space, but also from your own mind.
I spent time interviewing prison staff and inmates to make the environment as authentic as possible, and from my years reporting crime I was all too aware of the struggle people have to feel any sense of ‘justice’ after violence has ripped through their lives. The characters in the book are all grappling with this quest and I hope their experiences stay with the reader after finishing the book.
The bleak landscape and remote Norfolk location really adds to the ‘chilling’ nature of the book. What made you pick this specific location?
In many ways the location led to the book rather than vice versa. The first images of the story came into my head while driving home from reporting jobs through Elveden forest in the winter dark.
Norfolk, with its fog, flatness and unexpected sense of menace, quickly became a central character in the story but since the landscape is always filtered through the eyes of lonely newcomer Janet Palmer, this means it’s also a reflection of her state of mind.
I built the prison HMP Halvergate where Janet works in a part of the county I find particularly atmospheric – Halvergate marshes. It’s an eerie, wide open space, that’s barely changed over the centuries. When I first drove through the marshland for the first time as a new reporter at ITV Anglia I found it unlike anywhere else. I hope I’ve managed to capture some of its strange sense of otherness for the reader.
Which crime/thriller authors do you particularly enjoy reading? What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
I love so many, it’s very hard to narrow this down! My all time favourite thriller writer is Daphne Du Maurier, I regularly re-read My Cousin Rachel, it’s a wonderful mystery, and even more satisfying for never quite giving up the secret at its heart. When it comes to crime series, I enjoy the Rebecca Martinson books by Swedish writer Asa Larsson, both for her two fantastic female protagonists and her atmospheric setting in the small town of Kiruna, above the arctic circle. I also love Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway novels; it’s very refreshing to see a central character juggling sleuthing with looking after a toddler!
The books I’ve most enjoyed recently are Lie With Me by Sabine Durant and Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land. I thought Sabine Durant’s narrator Paul Morris was superb for the sympathy and repulsion he inspired and the twist not only came as a surprise but gave the entire book extra resonance. I found Ali Land’s novel utterly gripping and poignant, while her focus on children damaged by the crimes of their parents is an issue rarely given the attention it deserves.