We’ve all seen public buildings in our towns and cities: hospitals, schools, churches and swimming pools. Old and new in style, they perform a function and have a familiar interior. Some of these buildings, though, we perhaps only recognise on the outside. I’ve passed courthouses, the magistrates and the crown courts, and not thought much about their interior or what goes on inside them. Unless you work there, the only reason you might attend is as a defendant, witness or juror.
Sitting in an old courtroom, admiring the painted ceiling and generous quantity of oak panelling, (but not the scaffolding supporting one wall), my spell as a juror brought with it a civic sense of duty, and curiosity about the building itself. And, like any writer, it spurred on ideas, imaginations of a different trial to the one I heard. It started out with one issue – acoustics. The old court was problematic and once I had to raise my hand and ask for an answer to be repeated. ‘Please speak up’ was a frequent request. An unfortunate environment for a courtroom. Later, after the trial, I kept thinking about how voices carried, or not. The whispers I imagined, though, were not coming from the witness box, but closer to the ear, and they might be the kind that hung in the air, and disturbed the listener.
That was it. The start of a book. Whispers, unintelligible and accompanied by a little shivering and disquiet. Eventually, they would come to mean something, and lead the story out of the courthouse, away from the trial to somewhere different and unexpected.
Beyond the Yew Tree is as much about place as it is time, and that’s the play on the word ‘beyond’, because I wanted to take the reader back in time and also focus the story on specific locations, including a prison graveyard. (Yew trees are common in graveyards.) So from courthouse, to graveyard, then where? Well, that would be spoiling the story.
Whispers in the courtroom.
Only one juror hears them.
Can Laura expose the truth before the trial ends?
In an old courtroom, a hissing voice distracts reluctant juror, Laura, and at night recurring nightmares transport her to a Victorian gaol and the company of a wretched woman. Although burdened by her own secret guilt, and struggling to form meaningful relationships, Laura isn’t one to give up easily when faced with an extraordinary situation.
The child-like whispers lead Laura to an old prison graveyard, where she teams up with enthusiastic museum curator, Sean. He believes a missing manuscript is the key to understanding her haunting dreams. But nobody knows if it actually exists.
Laura is confronted with the fate of two people – the man in the dock accused of defrauding a charity for the blind, and the restless spirit of a woman hanged over a century ago for murder.
If Sean is the companion she needs in her life, will he believe her when she realises that the two mysteries are converging around a long-forgotten child who only Laura can hear?