S. K. Tremayne is a pseudonym. We don’t know who you are, or even if you’re a man or a woman. Why did you want to be anonymous?
Several reasons. Firstly, this kind of intense, claustrophobic, psychological thriller was an entirely new departure for me. I’ve either written ‘literary fiction’ and journalism as Sean Thomas (my real name), or Dan Brown type religious conspiracy thrillers under the name Tom Knox. If I’d written this book under either of those names many readers would have approached the book with firm expectations (for good and bad!). I didn’t want any preconceived notions, if possible.
The second reason relates to the first. I preferred not to be categorised, beforehand, as a man. That is to say, because the novel is largely related through the voice of the mother, I didn’t want anyone to presume I was a man and therefore, perhaps, less able to voice the concerns and anxieties of a mother. I didn’t want to lie outright, I just wanted ‘neutrality’. A blank slate. Simple initials and a surname give you that.
Thirdly, and finally, Tremayne is the surname of my paternal grandmother (I am Cornish on both sides). So it does belong to me. It honours my Cornish ancestors.
One thing we do know is that you are an experienced travel writer, and your descriptions of the remote Scottish island are powerful and compelling. What was it about this place that drew you to it?
I’ve been visiting the very real island of Eilean Sionnach – it literally means ‘fox island’ – just off Isle Ornsay, in Skye, since I was 22. In other words, for three decades. The haunting, lyrical, expressively Celtic beauty of Sionnach made a fierce impression on me the first time I saw it, and the first time I slept in its chilly cottage under the whitewashed lighthouse. I’ve been returning to the Inner Hebrides ever since. Indeed it was the island that planted the seed. A few years ago I decided I had to set a thriller on Sionnach, or a lightly fictionalised version thereof, because it had all the right ingredients: moodiness, loveliness, isolation, savage austerity (it really is cut off by tides and storms for much of the time). I just didn’t know what to put on the island, by way of a plot. Then one day, sitting in a pub in London with some mates, wondering how my narrative might develop, a friend said ‘twins!’ And that’s how the book was born. I have bought that friend a lavish dinner, since, I hasten to add.
We’ve got identical twin sons and know it is difficult sometimes to tell them apart, especially when they are little. The ghostly bond between Kirstie and Lydia is chilling. Were you a little inspired by The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which demonstrates how creepy stories about siblings can be?
I was inspired by several books. Amongst them was, yes, The Turn of the Screw, which deftly plays on the innate eeriness of children – their closeness to the Other Side, whence they recently came. Also I drew inspiration from The Exorcist, which is genuinely frightening in way few novels are, because it makes the menace vividly human and real because it is so utterly domestic – and embodied in an innocent child. That is what I strived to do in The Ice Twins (in a very different setting, obviously). Another inspiration was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which builds uneasy atmosphere through tiny but telling details of perspective, dialogue, character.
This makes it sound like The Ice Twins is a ghost story or a horror novel, which it isn’t. My intention from the start was to write a novel which could be read as a ghost story if you wished, but which can also be read as a psychological analysis of parental guilt, grief and denial, springing from the death of a beloved daughter. Right up to the end, and maybe beyond (I hope), the reader is not entirely sure what is happening…
So will you come out now and reveal your true identity? And continue writing chilling thrillers?
I am extremely happy to say I am Sean Thomas, aka Tom Knox, aka S. K. Tremayne. And given the success of The Ice Twins, for which I must thank all the generous and kindly readers across Europe (and my friend in that pub!), I will very definitely be writing more thrillers in this genre.