R. S. Pateman talks about his novel
The Prophecy of Bees

Second novel serendipity

My second novel, The Prophecy of Bees, came from a very different place than my first in practically every way.

The Second Life of Amy Archer had grown from a seed of an idea I’d had twenty years earlier – and left neglected in a drawer until my agent encouraged me to develop it. Writing any book has its ups and downs and Amy Archer was no exception. But, on the whole it was a pretty straightforward process.

I was unencumbered by expectation of publication or success. Free from obligation to anyone but myself.

Research was minimal; the novel concerns reincarnation and although I did start to dig into the theories about it, I was concerned the book would become too dry and didactic. And, as the book’s premise depended on the central character’s reaction to claims that her murdered child had been reincarnated, I wanted her thoughts on the subject to be knee jerk rather than considered and theological.

I wrote the book at a friend’s house, a former Gate House to a manorial estate in the Cotswolds. I spent too long gazing into the garden – which included an old, dried up water well. In cold weather, the warm air below ground would rise as ‘steam’ from the well mouth. It made me think of a witch’s cauldron or someone breathing beneath the surface. I didn’t know it then but the seeds for The Prophecy of Bees were being planted.

When it came to submitting the manuscript for Amy Archer, my agent, Oli Munson at A M Heath, said I needed a synopsis for a second novel. My mind flew to the witches and bodies I saw in the breath rising from the well. The premise quickly took shape but I knew very early on that, unlike with Amy Archer, I had lots of research to do.

Once the research was underway my attention was caught as much by superstitions as by tales of witchcraft, spells and folklore. As a writer of psychological thrillers in domestic settings, the fact that so many superstitions feature domestic items – cutlery, washing, baking and so on – meant they were a real toy box for me.

But there were also a lot of them! I made copious notes from the 530 pages of Steve Roud’s Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Northern Ireland then found hundreds of other weird beliefs and practices online. My mind was buzzing with possibilities but the sheer volume (and variations) soon became overwhelming.

I struggled to find a way to make them work in a coherent plot. In need of inspiration, I went for long walks in the gorgeous Cotswold countryside and was drawn into two local churches – where my prayers were answered.

The first church had a stunning array of hassocks embroidered by the villagers. Some depicted religious images (fish, crowns, crosses etc) and others had scenes from village life or local landmarks. By chance, the one I found beneath my knees showed a bee on a honeycomb.

At another church I discovered a stained glass window, an optical illusion that showed the Virgin Mary’s face on one side – and a man’s on the other.

Although I was already drowning in material that could be included in the book, I knew these two elements were vital. One provided me with a structure for an important part of the book and the other unravelled a plot knot I’d been unable to resolve. Divine inspiration indeed!

Alas the inspiration didn’t extend to the actual writing. I ended up writing three completely different but entirely complete novels – all had the same premise but the plot, characters, narrator and tense changed in every single one. The easy flow of Amy Archer seemed a very long way away; the curse of the second novel had struck again.

But, in a novel about superstitions, spells and witchcraft, perhaps that was only to be expected.

For more information, please visit R. S. Pateman’s website.