Books interview: Helen Sedgwick – Where The Missing Gather

Helen Sedgwick is someone steeped in the world of books. Not only an author of literary and crime fiction, she was joint managing director of the sadly defunct Cargo Publishing, has been a managing editor of Gutter magazine, and has worked as a creative writing tutor.

That only begins to scratch the surface of this polymath’s CV. SNACK caught up with Helen to talk about her latest novel, Where The Missing Gather, second in the Burrowhead Mysteries series.

This interview first appeared in the July 2021 issue of SNACK. You can order a physical copy of the magazine here.


What can you tell us about Where The Missing Gather?

Where The Missing Gather is a cross-genre crime novel combining aspects of a police procedural with folk horror, ghost story, social commentary, archaeology, and supernatural mystery. It’s a crime novel that might not have an actual crime in it, and a police procedural in which the police are being closed down and the community is at least as important as the detectives.

With multiple points of view, it follows DI Georgie Strachan and the police investigation into what appears to be a ritual sacrifice, while also exploring the history of the village of Burrowhead and following an archaeological excavation that might shine light on how the crimes of the past relate to those of the present.

Beneath the investigation runs the story of a rural community that has been repeatedly let down, the complicity of that close-knit community in its insularity and fear of otherness, and the villagers who are searching for a way to rebuild.

It’s about race and class in modern Britain and how we can’t move forward until we fully acknowledge the guilt in our past. But it’s also about kindness and forgiveness – and while the twists and turns of the plot make for a gripping whodunnit, on a deeper level it’s about where society is failing us and how we can bring about change.


Photo credit: Michael Gallacher

It’s the second Burrowhead Mystery. Did you know when you were writing the first, When The Dead Come Calling, that it was part of a series?

I knew from the start I was writing a trilogy. The idea came to me as a long narrative arc that needed three books to cover, as well as a series of mysteries that had to be solved within each novel itself. I love writing long-form fiction, and a trilogy felt like my natural next step.

Creating an overarching narrative about how characters and places change is what interests me. And there are a lot of characters because the joy of writing for me is to explore as many different points of view as I can. There are no good guys and bad guys; there are a lot of complex and flawed people, all of whom are given space, and all of whom have reasons why they do what they do and have become who they are.

What attracted you to move to writing crime fiction? Was it a conscious decision?

The idea for the trilogy came to me during a visit to St Ninian’s Cave (a fictionalised version of which appears throughout the trilogy) and was entirely about atmosphere to begin with – claustrophobia mixed with a wild and windswept coastline, and a sense of ancient history being alive and influencing the present. The nitty-gritty of the plot came later.

My starting point was the place, the mood, and from that it could have become a horror or even a ghost story (there are elements of both), but during the writing it became crime fiction with a difference.


Photo credit: Michael Gallacher

Your first two novels could be described as literary science fiction. Does your background in the sciences inform all your writing?

Very much so. After this trilogy I’m planning to write another literary sci-fi using ideas from quantum entanglement to explore four completely different human societies on distant planets.

I think there’s something quite scientific in the way I structure all my novels, and in the themes that I keep returning to: cause and effect, how people and places change through time, how the natural world works and how our own behaviour intersects with the universe around us.


The Burrowhead Mysteries feels like a series that could be adapted for TV. Have you had any thoughts along those lines?

I saw the story very visually while writing it. I love writing prose, though, description and atmosphere and the way I can play with narrative voice in novels, so I think I would need someone else to adapt it for television. I hope they do!

Where The Missing Gather is published by Point Blank

Main photo credit: Michael Gallacher

This interview first appeared in the July 2021 issue of SNACK. You can order a physical copy of the magazine here.


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