Behind the Scenes of The House on Blackberry Hill
I spent a lot of time thinking about what story I would write when I sat down to write a “big book”. I went through many concepts over the course of several years, all the while writing shorter romances for Harlequin and Samhain. The first idea was a WWII set story with a hereditary blood disorder at the heart of a mystery. Then there was a dual time setting moving between the past and present, featuring an apple farmer and the Nova Scotia coast. And there was the current story, The House on Blackberry Hill, though the initial concept and first draft of this book is drastically different from the finished project. Things evolved…and for the better. I love this story – the characters, the little bit of intrigue, and especially the town of Jewell Cove and the people in it. I’m over the moon that I’ve got the Jewell Cove series coming to my readers.
But there was one element that was present in every single premise no matter the time, setting, or characters. And that element is the ghost at the top of the stairs.
Do I believe in ghosts?
I do. I can’t explain it, but hey, there are a lot of things I can’t explain and it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. No matter what version of this story I came up with, there was always a ghost at the top of the stairs. That ghost was always a woman. In The House On Blackberry Hill, the ghost is that of Abby’s great-grandmother Edith. A woman with a dark and surprising family secret.
So where did this ghost come from? The house where I grew up.
My mom says she never felt anything strange about the house. And I thought I was alone in my “sense” that there was something more. It wasn’t until I was older that conversations with my best friend and my sister let me know that it wasn’t just me. Last year I discovered that the house was part of a “ghost tour” for Halloween, but I have no idea what the new owners have or haven’t seen.
It started when I was very little… maybe five years old. We had a house full of people though I don’t remember why. The memory of that day is actually very fuzzy except for one thing: standing at the bottom of the stairs and looking up, and the odd, frozen feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I saw a woman standing there. She wasn’t young. She had grey curling hair and was dressed in a black dress and plain shoes. She didn’t look happy but she didn’t look angry either. She looked stern. Hard. I don’t know who she is. At times I’ve questioned whether she was just someone who was visiting that day who frightened me. But I don’t think so. Because no one can tell me who she might have been.
I moved out of the house permanently when I was twenty-three. Up ‘til that time, I had an odd feeling about the stairs. My room was right at the top, first door on the left, and the bathroom across the hall. At night, if I had to get up to go, I turned on my bedside lamp. Then my overhead light. Then I scooted across the hall to the bathroom and flicked on the light. Turned it off again, scooted back, turned off the overhead light, got in bed, and THEN finally turned off the bedside lamp. If I were downstairs going up, I used the three-way switch at the bottom to turn on the upstairs hall light. It sounds silly, but for me it was necessary.
I also had a hard time with the attic. Not so much the attic itself but the door and the window behind it. I hated opening it. Once it was open, I was fine. But boy, that end of the hallway creeped me out. That my sister had the same experiences is both freaky and reassuring.
I never saw anything other than that woman when I was small. But the feeling was always there. Always. And when my heroine, Abby, explores the old Foster mansion, I know exactly what she’s feeling when she puts her hand on the cellar doorknob or looks up the grand staircase. I only wish I could get to the bottom of my story the way that Abby does.
The House on Blackberry Hill releases on April 29, 2014. Look for book two in the Jewell Cove series, Treasure on Lilac Lane, in November. You can find out all about Donna’s releases at www.donnaalward.com.
Let me know if you believe in ghosts by commenting below and we’ll draw for a winner to receive a kindle copy of THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL!
About the Author:
A busy wife and mother of three (two daughters and the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist.
An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript.
Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly twelve years in Alberta where her Harlequin career began, writing about cowboys and the west. She’s a two-time winner of both the Bookseller’s Best Award and the Colorado Award of Excellence, and a 2012 RITA finalist.