The process for writing Magpie Hall was completely different from The Sound of Butterflies. While there was one defining moment that put the idea for my first novel in my head, Magpie Hall was an accumulation of images, ideas and themes. It started with a newspaper article about a young female taxidermist. ‘What an interesting job,’ I thought. ‘I wonder what sort of person is drawn to taxidermy, and what might she have been like as a child?’ I contacted the taxidermist in question, who is also an artist/jeweller, and asked if I might meet with her.

At the time I was struggling with another novel that was dead in the water. I was losing enthusiasm for the story, and to top it off, another book had just been published with an almost identical premise – even the title I had intended. I hadn’t even considered abandoning it, as I didn’t have any other ideas. My meeting with the taxidermist was just the catalyst I needed to dump the dead weight and chase a shiny new project.

I had also been enjoying books with a bit of a mystery in them, and have always been drawn to the concept of cabinets of curiosities, so these got thrown into the mix, along with a big old country house. And there I had my starting point. A young female taxidermist arriving at her grandfather’s crumbling country house, something mysterious happening.

Exploring the character of Rosemary and her relationship with her grandfather, and thinking about an ancestor who collected curiosities led to all the other aspects of the novel and eventually to the story itself. It was a very organic process and as each piece of the jigsaw appeared in front me it was like so many epiphanies.

I decided I wanted Rosemary to have tattoos, and was elated when I discovered that someone with a lot of tattoos is called a collector. There I had my connection between Rosemary and her ancestor – they were both collectors. But further into my research I learned that tattooing was hugely popular among the British aristocracy of the late 19th century. More connections. From there, the story of Henry and Dora and their love bound by tattooing bloomed.

When I started attending lectures on the 19th century novel (even writing an essay on the gothic aspects of Wuthering Heights), the story continued to grow and change and more and more layers became apparent to me. It became a novel about the gothic novel itself, and I began playing with intertexuality and gothic tropes. It was almost a process of discovery – that the book was somewhere deep inside me and everything I was doing was triggering its release, bit by bit. Finally I had the story and I could finish committing it to the page.

I could write a whole book about the process of writing Magpie Hall, but if I say any more it would give too much away to anyone who hasn’t yet read it.

— Rachael King