My Favorite Bit: Kay Kenyon talks about SERPENT IN THE HEATHER
Kay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about her novel Serpent in the Heather. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Now officially working for the Secret Intelligence Service, Kim Tavistock is back to solve another mystery—this time a serial killer with deep Nazi ties—in the sequel to At the Table of Wolves.
Summer, 1936. In England, an assassin is loose. Someone is killing young people who possess Talents. As terror overtakes Britain, Kim Tavistock, now officially employed by England’s Secret Intelligence Service, is sent on her first mission: to the remote Sulcliffe Castle in Wales, to use her cover as a journalist to infiltrate a spiritualist cult that may have ties to the murders. Meanwhile, Kim’s father, trained spy Julian Tavistock runs his own parallel investigation—and discovers the terrifying Nazi plot behind the serial killings.
Cut off from civilization, Sulcliffe Castle is perched on a forbidding headland above a circle of standing stones only visible at low tide. There, Kim shadows a ruthless baroness and her enigmatic son, plying her skills of deception and hearing the truths people most wish to hide. But as her cover disguise unravels, Kim learns that the serial killer is closing in on a person she has grown to love. Now, Kim must race against the clock not just to prevent the final ritual killing—but to turn the tide of the looming war.
What’s Kay’s favorite bit?
When I started writing my Dark Talents series, I knew that my protagonist, Kim Tavistock, at age 10 had experienced a traumatic event that shattered her family. Thus, “She had seen how easily the world could spin out of control.” So when Kim is shaken or gripped with excitement, she has a telling mannerism: she straightens things or turns to lists. In other words, she attempts to put things in order.
Living in England, where she is a stranger, notable among her possessions is a train timetable, a little orange tract.
She couldn’t make sense of it right now. Adjourning to her room, she took out her well-worn copy of the London and North Eastern Railway timetable and traced the columns of arrivals and departures. The stops and connections to other lines. There was no secret to the British railway system. In fact, it embodied an elegant, systematic plan. She had always found the little LNER booklet a comfort, framing the world in an orderly way, which was very important, given the sorts of things that could happen.
In the following snippet, Kim is traveling from Yorkshire to Wales, and as usual she has her London and Northeastern Railway timetable with her. But it’s not the one she needs for this trip.
“I say, you’ve got the wrong timetable there, you know.”
In the first-class compartment, a rotund, amiable man sitting next to Kim and wearing ill-fitting tweeds offered her the timetable to Chester.
Kim smiled at him. “Oh, yes, I know. But I do prefer this one.”
He blinked in confusion and, murmuring an apology, tucked the timetable into a breast pocket.
At some level, Kim is aware that it’s a talisman. At other times she believes she’s just being practical. As she says,
“One could hardly get lost in England if one knew the railway system, and as a kind of newcomer—born in England, yet a stranger—she had long depended on the railway system maps to make sense of things.”
In this next moment, Kim has just heard of another murder of a teenager, the latest in a string of murders.
Kim wandered over to the mantel, adjusting the spacing of the Royal Dalton figurines, and then the four candlesticks, all in a row. That done, she turned to the architectural drawings and began aligning the sheets.
Kim carries a gun, and hopes she never has to use it. In this scene she realizes it is likely to come to that, and soon.
At the tea table in her room, Kim sat before the box of cartridges and her snub-nosed Colt revolver. She could hardly remember the drive across the headland to the castle, so hard had she been concentrating on acting naturally. . . . She removed six cartridges from the ammunition box and lined them up in a row.
At the castle, she has been served her supper in her room. She is shaken by the surmise that she had come to a few hours ago: the identity of the assassin.
Kim’s dinner sat on a tray at the table: squab and mash, the servant had declared. There would be no formal dinner tonight. She tried to remember what squab was and feared it was dove. She gazed at the food, straightening the tableware just so, lining up the fork with the knife, the napkin, and plate.
As an author, I find it so interesting that it’s not just the big decisions and actions we take that reflect our deeper selves. Small moments, showing surface tendencies and habits can help to frame the character’s world. I loved reminding myself of Kim’s need for order with habitual mannerisms and patterns of thought. These examples from Serpent in the Heather illustrate how small things can have big import, and that’s why it’s my favorite bit.
Kay Kenyon is the author of fourteen science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Entire and The Rose quartet. Her latest work is the Dark Talents trilogy from Saga Press, historical fantasies of dark powers, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage set in 1936 England. It began with At the Table of Wolves, praised by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.” Book two, Serpent in the Heather, garnered a Kirkus Review that called the book, “A unique concept that is superbly executed.” The final book of the trilogy, Nest of the Monarch, will be published in 2019.