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B.P. Walter on the Novels that Inspired Hold Your Breath

Posted on 27th March 2020 by Mark Skinner

Following up his explosive domestic thriller A Version of the Truth with the eerie, atmospheric Hold Your Breath, B.P. Walter is fast making a name for himself as an exciting new voice in crime fiction. Below, Walter outlines the novels that inspired the writing of his latest book and the literary references that pervade the text.

My first novel, A Version of the Truth, was a standalone thriller set between an affluent townhouse in Knightsbridge and the halls of accommodation at Oxford University. After spending so much time within quite established, domestic settings, I decided I wanted to write a book set somewhere quite radically different, so I chose the dark, intimidating surroundings of a massive forest, and a creepy little cottage situated right in the middle of it. The novel concerns a young girl, Kitty Marchland, who is suddenly taken away from her home by her parents to the aforementioned cottage in the forest for disturbing reasons that start to emerge as the story develops. Because the plot deals with both psychological suspense whilst knocking on the doors of the horror genre, I had a lot of fun filling it with nods and references to other works that have inspired my writing. Here are some of the key titles that have played a part in its creation…

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

This strange and unnerving Agatha Christie story plays quite a prominent role in my novel, and I make a point of noting how it runs against the ‘traditional’ (and arguably incorrect) view of Christie as a writer of fun, cosy whodunnits. She wrote such a vast array of fiction of different kinds – from ingenious mysteries to unsettling romances, disturbing supernatural tales to twisted psychological thrillers. The Pale Horse is a hard book to define, as it does have a murder-mystery element, along with a menacing (potentially supernatural) edge: witches who might have the power to kill from afar. The novel leaves a lasting sense of dread and foreboding, something effectively explored in BBC One’s recent adaptation starring Rufus Sewell.

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One of the Queen of Crime’s more supernaturally tinged outings, The Pale Horse investigates the sinister goings on at the eponymous pub and whether a trio of witches are behind it all. Taut, suspenseful and creepily atmospheric, this is prime late period Christie.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

A childhood classic, adored by many readers. Adaptations of the book often understandably focus on the epic battles and climactic good vs evil finale, but for me it was the sense of threat in the first third of the book that made it unforgettable. The idea of a forest policed by wolves where the trees could themselves be spies for a deeply evil force is a terrifying concept, and since an intimidating forest features throughout most of Hold Your Breath it was the perfect book to reference at pivotal moments.

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As a quartet of wide-eyed evacuees encounter wicked witches and saintly lions, Lewis guides the reader expertly through the brilliantly imagined world of Narnia, entered through a wardrobe door.
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Dracula by Bram Stoker

Although there are no vampires in Hold Your Breath, Bram Stoker’s masterpiece had such an affect on me when I first read it at university, it made me want to explore the gothic horror genre in some way. Although my book is very different (more real-world, and set in Britain in the 1980s), I often return to Stoker’s novel to remind myself how effectively place and dread can evoked. Also, in Hold Your Breath, I have the central child character Kitty as the owner of a (now out of print) paperback of The Scars of Dracula, a film novelisation of the 1970 movie – I included this as a fond nod to the Hammer horror adaptations of Stoker’s story that I became obsessed with as a Film Studies student at university.

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From its iconic vampiric tropes to its now-familiar cast of characters, such as Mina Murray, Van Helsing and, of course, the eponymous Count, Dracula has lost none of its power to terrify and enthrall.
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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

The theme of a young person thrown into a mixture of gothic intrigue and family secrets drives Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s deeply atmospheric and utterly delightful novel, published after her death in 1817. I love Jane Austen, and although Emma is probably my favourite, this holds a special place in my heart because of its investigation into reading fiction and how being a book lover can change one’s outlook on the world. Its “heroine in training” Catherine Moorland devours gothic novels, including The Mysteries of Udolpho, a bestseller by Ann Radcliffe that my central character Kitty (full name ‘Katherine Marchland’ – not dissimilar to ‘Catherine Moorland’…) tries to tackle during her time in the cottage in the forest.

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Bursting with energy and playful wit, Northanger Abbey tells the story of Catherine Morland and the gothic romances that fill her head and cloud her judgement. A shimmering example of Jane Austen’s supreme craft, this is an enduring English classic.
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The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Last but not least is William Peter Blatty’s horror-genre-game-changer, The Exorcist. Perhaps equally famous in film form (brilliantly directed by William Friedkin and released in 1973), this a real masterclass in terror and both the book and the movie ramp up the tension to extraordinary effect. Once read (or seen), it’s never forgotten. 

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A masterclass in disturbing atmospherics and full-throttle occult thrills - and the literary horror classic that spawned the notorious Hollywood movie - Blatty’s chilling tale of possession and devilry is every bit as terrifying as it was when first published in 1971.
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