By Lindy Ryan
If you’ve been reading horror lately, chances are you’ve come across Darcy Coates. A USA Today bestselling author, Darcy has more than a dozen horror and suspense titles on the bookshelf with her byline, including Hunted, The Haunting of Ashburn House, Craven Manor, and more. Her newest, GALLOWS HILL, which released last month (September 6) from Poisoned Pen Press, the adult mystery fiction imprint of Sourcebooks.
Recently, Darcy took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with Rue Morgue and share more on GALLOWS HILL—and what’s up next for the Australian author.
Hi, Darcy! First off, what inspired you to write Gallows Hill—anything in particular? I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of your books, but Gallows Hill now reigns as my new favorite.
Thank you! Gallows Hill had its earliest inspiration from a small boutique winery my family stopped at about a decade ago. Until then, I’d thought you could only make wine from grapes, but they used unconventional bases—everything from oranges to flowerheads to chili peppers, all grown in their own garden.
I always thought that would be an amazing place to set a story. Even though Margot’s family business morphed to feel more of a traditional winery, it still carries some traces from its source: a storefront that’s open to the public and the close-knit feeling of a small business.
The crux of the story, though, actually came from a bad dream. I won’t spoil the ending, but Margot’s final discovery was something quite literally out of a nightmare!
Gallows Hill is a masterpiece of gothic horror, about an estranged daughter who comes home to inherit much more than the family business. But the family business itself is interesting. Do you have any background in winemaking, or did you undertake any special research to get the details quite right?
So much research went into the story! My favourite piece of trivia: some of the most expensive wines come from grapes that are allowed to grow moldy on the vine. It’s nicknamed Noble Rot and adds a natural sweetness that’s difficult to get otherwise.
I absorbed an incredible amount of random trivia in the months before and during writing Gallows Hill to make sure the winery would be (mostly) accurate. Only one problem: Margot couldn’t know any of it. I wanted her to feel entirely out of her depth in the business, so her knowledge of wines had to be kept absolutely bare-minimum, and almost all of my research was left on the cutting room floor. (Tragic!)
I loved Witchety’s character, and her sculpture, The Watcher. She’s such a welcome bit of sunshine in a dark book. As the mom of a golden retriever, I loved her pup even more! Combined they brought such a wonderful tenderness to the story. Can you talk a little more about the “goodness” of these characters in contrast to the darkness of Margot’s own ancestors?
It’s so, so important for me to have those little measures of warmth in a story. They give us a reason to care for the characters and create moments to breathe between the heavier segments. Plus, they can heighten the sense of dread we feel when things turn bad; shadows appear at their fullest when there’s some light to contrast against them.
I love Witchety. I think a lot of young girls have this shared experience of concocting strange things in their back yards… jars full of water and flowers and leaves, cakes made from mud dried on stones, strange little toys formed from twigs and old string. Witchety is one of those girls who never grew out of that phase, but instead leaned into it and learned to harness it into something a little bit powerful.
Gallows Hill is rife with beautifully macabre imagery and immersive atmosphere, balanced with a delicate spiderweb of a horror story. Where do you draw inspiration to craft this type of story?
Every story I write starts with the same question: What would scare me the most? It’s a great question; it means I’m always excited to write (since I’m telling a story I desperately wish I could read), and I can re-ask that question as often as I need if I’m not certain where to take a scene.
That’s why you’ll see some themes pop up across different books–old houses, old trees, lost graveyards, things that are dead, whispers in a dark room. Those are all themes that fascinate me and make it hard to sleep at night, and I can’t get enough of them.
What are you working on next?
Oh, I’m excited about what we have coming up!
First is a very dark survival thriller. A tour group finds themselves stranded in a snowbound cabin as they’re picked off one by one. Any of them could be the killer, and no one’s coming to save them. It’s fast and a bit gory and was incredibly fun to write. It’s called Dead of Winter and is due out next July!
The next story—the one I’m writing right now—is a YA horror story set in a small town where people go missing with no explanation. It’s called Where He Can’t Find You and leans into my love of urban legends and monster horror, with a really strong found family dynamic. I asked my editor how dark I was allowed to go, and she told me to lean into the horror. I didn’t mean to take it as a challenge, but it’s unraveling to be a deliciously creepy, deeply horrifying story, and I can’t wait to share it with you.