Beth Lewis drops readers into an unexpected and brutal world with The Wolf Road, the story of a girl who has just discovered that her savior, a man she calls her father, may be a serial killer. Lewis shares a look behind her debut.
When I pull back the curtain and actually think about where The Wolf Road came from, rather than what single moment inspired it, I realise writing it was pure escapism. It was a novel partly born of frustration at city life. There’s too many people, too much concrete and glass and noise, not enough trees and fresh air and wildlife. Elka’s attitude to and love of nature is mine, her mystification at certain peoples’ behaviour is also mine. Whenever I would put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to laptop, I would be transported to the forest and mountains, away from my too-small middle-floor London flat. It was wonderful and I hope is something readers can experience too.
When I dig deeper, pull the curtain back further, this frustration diminishes and I realise there are other reasons behind certain aspects of The Wolf Road. I grew up in the countryside. Two fields stood between me and the wild Cornish coast, the sheer cliffs and hidden coves, bristling with tales of smugglers and pirates. The weather bore down on us from all sides, and sometimes the squall lasted all night. It was a visceral, evocative place, and I’d never realised before how much it’d fed into my writing.
In the fields and along the coast stood two Second World War watchtowers. Both abandoned and given up to the elements. One tall and thin, three storeys of red brick with open sides on the top floor. The other squat, made of dark grey stone, walls two-foot thick and further away, on an area of moorland at the lip of a valley. We’d play in them, make them our dens, then flee when we saw the farmer coming. My brother and I would wander around these valleys and scrubland, populated by straggling sheep and too many rabbits, and we’d find dozens of shell casings, unexploded artillery rounds, ammo boxes, even an old, crumbling rifle. They were remnants of another world, a past of violence and gunshots and invading forces that I knew almost nothing about. At 10 years old, I had a vague sense of WWII, but it wasn’t a real event to me. It was what we learned in history class or were forced to hear about from grandparents. I knew it was Big and Bad and it left its mark everywhere, but it was never in the forefront of my mind. At that age, I never needed or wanted detailed and thorough explanations of the cause or its repercussions throughout the country. It didn’t affect me. It was done and dusted years ago. I just lived where a piece of it had happened.
The fact that this huge, world-changing event could happen and, eventually, be largely forgotten about, was fascinating to adult me and perfect story fodder. I figured the people alive generations down the line would not be all that interested in why their world was the way it was, instead, I thought, they’d be concerned with just living their lives. That’s really the origin of the post-apocalyptic element of The Wolf Road and the reason the Damn Stupid, Elka’s term for the decades-ago war that changed the world, is only touched upon. Even with scraps of history all around her, tales handed down from grandparent to parent to child, Elka’s concerns were of the “here, now” not the “back then,” as were mine at her age. She was worried about where her next meal would come from, where she would sleep that night, how she could reach the top of the ridge and there is a beautiful purity in those most simple of motivations.
Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has traveled extensively throughout the world and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales and great white sharks. She has been, at turns, a bank cashier, a fire performer and a juggler, and she is currently a managing editor at Titan Books in London. The Wolf Road is her first novel.
Author photo credit Andrew Mason.
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