Authors reveal the images that inspired 100,000 words



About the author...

Sarah Ward is the author of two DC Childs novels, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw set in the Derbyshire Peak District where she lives. Her third book in the series, A Patient Fury, is out in September. On her blog, Crimepieces (, she reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world, and she has also reviewed for Euro Crime and CrimeSquad. She is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. 

I’m inspired by all sorts of things. Snippets of conversations, memories from my childhood and experiences of those around me. I rarely draw directly from the original source of inspiration, I just allow my imagination to tease over what I’m thinking about and concoct a scenario along the lines of: ‘What if…?’. 


The best crime novels aren’t just plot and character driven though. Talking to readers in libraries and bookshops, it’s clear that many crime novels are chosen because of where they’re set. Location plays an important role in my books and the Derbyshire Peak District has lots to places to inspire. I’m forever taking photos of buildings and places that I pass through and they often trigger something in what I’m writing. 


My second book, A Deadly Thaw, opens with the discovery of a body in a disused mortuary situated amongst woodland. The place is fictional, I call it Hale’s End, but inspired by buildings requisitioned during the first world war to use as hospitals.

To envisage how it would look, I looked to existing buildings situated in woodland and loved the look of this former mill in Ashford-in-the-Water. It pops up on quite a few urban explorer websites and it’s wonderfully atmospheric. Because of the strict planning laws of the Peak Park, it’s unlikely these remote places will ever be restored and so they’re there to remind us of Derbyshire’s past and to draw inspiration from. 


Later in the book, a woman’s body is found in a mill race, her body weighted down with stones. I didn’t need to think very hard about the place I wanted the body discovered; Caudwell’s mill at Rowsley was ideal and I looked through my photos to find one that reflected the majesty of the place.

It’s still a working flour mill which also houses a vegetarian café and artisan shops. In A Deadly Thaw, the mill has closed down as I wanted the location where the body is discovered to be a place of desolation. I prefer to fictionalise my locations, so I called the spot Fearnley Mill. The name is so ingrained in my imagination that I often refer to the real place by it’s fictional name. 

Not all of the narrative takes place in Derbyshire though. My first book, In Bitter Chill, was set in the winter and has a closed-in, claustrophobic feel that reflects the heart of the story. For A Deadly Thaw, which is set in the spring, I wanted the setting to feel slightly more open and I was looking for a town that was in driving distance of Derbyshire but just as isolated. Because, there are a few references to Hammer films in A Deadly Thaw, I decided on Whitby because of its associations with the Gothic.

It’s a beautifully atmospheric town and I soaked up the ambience during an overnight trip which included a visit to the Abbey. I still like to study this photo as it evokes a time when structures were built to last for centuries. 


My visit to Whitby was the first time I’d travelled somewhere for research and I felt like a proper ‘grown-up’ writer. Now I regularly visit potential locations for inspiration and my iphone is full of photos to glance at when I’m chained to my desk writing.

Thank you, Sarah, for the insight into your writing world!