By Karen Harper
Jane Jordan is known for blending two compelling genres—horror and romantic suspense. And in her latest gothic-inspired novel, WHISHT HALL, Jordan taps into both genres well to deliver a story that is bold, unique, and filled with atmospheric details.
In this The Big Thrill interview, she shares what inspired WHISHT HALL, as well as provides insight into why setting is so important in her books, and what she’ll be working on next.
Please tell us what your new book WHISHT HALL is about.
After losing her father, Amy Derneville travels to remote Whisht Hall on Dartmoor, the home of her step uncle and three step cousins. Far from being close, her cousins have unresolved rivalries, and one possesses an odd and destructive power.
After an eventful outing to a dangerous and haunted wood, Amy doesn’t know who to trust, and the cries from of the legendary Whisht hounds shatter her nerves completely.
As the mystery of the family starts to unravel, her uncle is murdered on the moors. Fearful that she could be next, Amy flees to New Orleans and to a strange house in the middle of the black-water swamp—here lies some dark fragment of a past she never knew.
Drawn into the world of voodoo, she uncovers the shocking truth of her family as she is propelled toward disaster. Now, Amy must return to England and face an adversary who means to destroy everything she holds dear.
I can tell from this novel and your previous books that “setting as character” is ever-present in your work. Can you comment on that?
Setting is very important to me in constructing a story. My first novel, Ravens Deep, was set on Exmoor and came about after I stayed in a remote ancient house on the moor. The atmosphere of the place inspired me to write that story. It was a beautiful house, but so remote, hidden from all the main roads in a wooded valley. There was the tiny forgotten church in the woods which gave me so many ideas and made the story come alive.
The house overlooked the Bristol Channel and felt somewhat sinister when the mists rolled in from the sea and blanketed the surrounding countryside. Through research, I discovered that this coastline was famous in history for smugglers, and the house itself had been a notorious opium den centuries before.
My characters came alive as I began to write. My protagonist, Madeline, was loosely based on myself, but adding a ghost and a vampire seemed a natural progression of the story.
The story moves to London. A city full of history and color, but also many secrets, like the vast underground network that exists beyond the London subway. Dis-used ghost stations and old war cabinet rooms gave me material to write the second book in the trilogy, Blood & Ashes.
WHISHT HALL was an opportunity for me to transcend two major places—Dartmoor in England and New Orleans. Both places are atmospheric with their own share of legends and unique culture. Dartmoor is remote with some hauntingly beautiful places and odd traditions, like letterboxing on the moor, a practice of leaving a note or letter for others to find.
Your website emphasizes that authenticity is important in your writing. How do you do your research and then work that in to support your fiction?
When I wrote Ravens Deep, I based it on an actual house and a few of the experiences I had. I could put myself in that character and write how I would react to that situation—it felt easy to write from that point of view. With later books I completed a lot of research, but I do believe research will only get you so far, you must go and experience things and then the writing comes naturally.
When writing WHISHT HALL, I visited Dartmoor, I experienced the dense mists that roll in from the sea and over the countryside, and how disconcerting it can feel when you can barely see your hand in front of your face. Then, there were the strange noises that come from the moor—usually from animals, but deer bellowing through the mist is hauntingly eerie.
I climbed Hound Tor (a tor is a granite outcrop) which my protagonist Amy does in the book, and all the emotions that I felt, I put into that chapter. It was the same when I wrote about Wistman Wood, which is one of the most enchanted places I have ever been, but there is also something completely unsettling about it.
You have been both self-published and now traditionally published. Can you share your story and some advice for those writers wanting a traditional publisher?
After I wrote Ravens Deep, I was invited to a well-known literary agent’s office in London. As you might imagine I was ecstatic, especially when she told me that she loved my story, but then, she said: “Vampires are just not in right now.”
I tried to put my point of view across that the market was perfect for a vampire romance. At that time there had been no real vampire stories since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, some twelve years prior. This was also months before Twilight or True Blood hit the headlines. Ultimately, she turned me down, saying she didn’t think she could sell it to a publisher.
Maybe I should have pushed harder, but I figured she was the big London agent and I was an unknown writer. However, that experience led me to self-publish my trilogy.
When I moved back to America in 2013, I was determined to get a traditional publishing contract. I stopped wasting my time on agents and approached publishers directly. Black Opal Books offered me a contract in 2016 for The Beekeepers Daughter and also published WHISHT HALL.
The moral of this story is don’t waste time with agents—they are looking for any excuse to turn you down, not to make your career. Instead, approach smaller publishers directly, as you can’t even send an email to any of the top six publishers without a recommendation from someone in the industry.
Unless you have a connection to someone that works or knows an agent in a major publishing house, then save yourself the years of heartache and seek out the smaller publishers.
Your novels definitely sit on the line between supernatural thrillers and romantic suspense. Is your blend stronger in one of these genres?
I see my novels as primarily dark romance, but with a strong element of the supernatural or thriller running throughout them. I think you need to be careful placing labels on your work. If you say romance, you instantly put a whole segment of readers off. The same with supernatural, or horror. My novels are unique stories— they’re not the typical boy meets girl who fall in love and everything ends up happy ever after kind of story.
My books stand out from others in these genres, as I have never tried to write like anyone else or follow what’s fashionable. I write the stories that I want to read and hope my readers will want to read them and love the uniqueness of them.
Your cover for WHISHT HALL is compelling with its fog, open gate to a strange building, and a wolf waiting. How much input did you have on that art?
I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover of WHISHT HALL. The grand old house in the mist, with the black wolf beyond the gates, says this wolf is linked to this house, and that the house is intriguing, a place that has secrets. Even though Black Opal Books would have produced my cover for me, I asked a friend from DusktilDawn designs if she could produce my vision, as I already knew and loved her work. After a few edits, she produced the perfect cover for my book.
I was totally intrigued by your blog comment that “ghostly things are a memory or energy left behind” rather than the dead returning to haunt someone. Can you expand a bit on that?
I have had several ghostly encounters—I worked at a 1000-year-old castle on Exmoor in England, which was haunted. I have lived in a 500-year-old cottage that was haunted by a ghost of a cat. Every time I saw the cat, he did the same thing—he ran across the fireplace hearth and into the wall. When people saw the gray lady at the castle, she always walked down the staircase and along a hallway.
We discovered that the portion of the wall that the cat ran into had once been the entry to a staircase, and had been blocked up.
These ghosts are not aware of the present or people, but they are like a memory being played out over and over again. Not everyone in the cottage saw the cat, and not everyone who visited the castle saw the gray lady. But my explanation is that a form of residual energy is left behind, and becomes visible at certain times. Many old buildings, especially old theaters, leach out cigar or perfume scents, even when cigars have not been smoked in a building for decades.
I think sights, smells and unexplained noises can all heighten our perception of the paranormal. The dead do not return—we like to think they do as a way to cope with personal loss, but I believe that occasionally an element of a person or animal remains, and that is what we witness.
Besides, every old house has had someone die in it during its history, especially in the old countries of Europe where houses are centuries old. But these homes are not filled to brimming with spirits trying to communicate with the living.
She returned to England after a fifteen-year absence, to spend six years in the southwest of England living on Exmoor. Here, inspired by the atmosphere, beautiful scenery, and the ancient history of the place, she wrote her first novel Ravens Deep. The next two books, Blood & Ashes and A Memoir of Carl, completed her gothic vampire trilogy.
Jane is a trained horticulturist, and spent time working and volunteering for Britain’s National Trust at Exmoor’s 1000-year-old Dunster Castle. Gaining more insight into the mysteries surrounding these ancient places, and having always been intrigued by the supernatural, inspiration came for The Beekeeper’s Daughter, a historical dark romance.
While England and Scotland provided a backdrop for previous novels of vampires, witches, and haunted mansions, New Orleans presents a setting for her fifth novel, WHISHT HALL, a multilayered thriller that combines the age-old struggle between good and evil, a tale steeped in voodoo, the culture of the Deep South, and the hauntingly desolate Dartmoor.
Since returning to Florida in 2013, Jane also began writing for Florida Gardening Magazine. She now lives in Sarasota with her family.
To learn more about Jane and her work, please visit her website.