Thriller that delves into the dark side of fairytales

Author Alison Littlewood
Author Alison Littlewood
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Alison Littlewood’s chilling first novel was a huge hit. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston about her latest book.

Debut novelists rarely get published and to secure a three book deal with your first work is virtually unheard of, yet Wakefield-based author Alison Littlewood managed to do just that. A Cold Season, a supernatural chiller set in a snowbound village about a young mother trying to build a new life for herself and her son after the death of her soldier husband, was published in January last year by Jo Fletcher Books.

“I have been writing for years, mainly short stories, and everyone tells you it’s impossible to get published so it was a dream come true really,” says Littlewood, who worked in marketing before becoming a full-time writer. “I actually got made redundant in the same week that I got the book deal,” she says.

The timing couldn’t have been better and Littlewood rewarded her publisher’s faith in her by attracting the attention of the Richard and Judy Book Club which is guaranteed to boost sales by quite a significant margin.

Her second book Path of Needles was published last week and is a compelling read, focusing on a series of murders which, from the gruesome way in which the victims’ bodies are posed, appear to have a connection with fairytales. A young police officer, Cate Corbin, is part of the investigating team and on a hunch she calls in academic Alice Hyland, an expert in fairytales, to assist them on the case.

The book was, in part, inspired by Littlewood’s own fascination with folk tales, myth and legend. “I was thinking about the fairytales I had loved as a child,” she says.

“Then I started to think about some of the dark and gruesome things in fairytales that you maybe don’t really notice or understand as a child – and I thought ‘what if those things happened in the real world?’” She began by researching the different variants that exist of fairytales we have all heard of and think we know. “I did quite a lot of reading, but it wasn’t a chore,” she says. “It was interesting to learn about how stories were passed on and changed.”

The nature of her novel’s plot meant that she also had to learn more about the detail of police investigations. “I had come from a supernatural thriller background in my short stories, but this took me more into the realm of the crime genre.” Like A Cold Season, Path of Needles is set in Yorkshire locations that Littlewood is very familiar with. Local beauty spots such as Sandal Castle and Newmillerdam country park, close to Littlewood’s own home, both feature quite prominently. “I like to have at least visited or know a place fairly well before I put it in a story,” she says. “You get more of a richness around it. And you can relate to any myths or stories there are about the place.” Having written a very successful first novel, some writers can find it quite inhibiting to embark on a second, but Littlewood managed to avoid that difficulty. “I had drafted about three quarters of it when I got the deal for A Cold Season,” she says. “I thank my lucky stars that I was already a good way into it and I knew where it was going, otherwise I do think I could have found myself being blocked.”

Delving into the darker recesses of human existence and interaction is not necessarily a comfortable way of making a living for most people, and Littlewood admits that she is not quite sure what attracted her to writing this particular kind of fiction. “I think we are all like the little kid hiding under the bed,” she says. “I tend to write about things that personally scare me and I’m also fascinated by the fact that, despite all the technological advances we have made, there are still things we can’t explain.”

Path of Needles , Jo Fletcher Books, £7.99

Horror, chills and thrills

Alison Littlewood was raised in Penistone, South Yorkshire.

She attended Northumbria University where she originally planned to study graphic design but switched to a joint English and History degree.

She then went into 
a career in marketing 
before developing her 
love of fiction, writing 
short stories in the 
horror and fantasy 

Her first novel, A Cold Season, was published 
by Jo Fletcher books in January 2012 and was selected for the Richard 
and Judy Book Club 
which described it as “perfect reading for a dark winter’s night” .

She lives near Wakefield with her partner Fergus.

Alison’s latest book, Path of Needles, is out now.