By Keeley Ryan
Kat Ellis’ latest novel Harrow Lake is a nail-biting read that fans of the horror genre won’t be able to put down.
The author recently spoke to SHEmazing about her love of the genre, Harrow Lake and the terrifying inspiration behind the legend of Mr. Jitters.
Oh, and her favourite ever horror film, naturally.
“I've always been a big horror nerd, to be honest. I mean, I grew up watching Friday The 13th, Hellraiser — all those big blockbuster monster movies,” she explained, adding that while she was probably “far too young to be watching most of them”, that was what kick-started her love for the genre.
“It’s so difficult [to pick a favourite] because I'm so fickle with my favourites. I really loved The Babadook in recent years, that’s one of my favourites because it's so scary and chilling but it also has this other level of story,” she explained.
“I think a lot of the monster, slasher movies and things like that, they’re brilliant for the scares but that there’s not too much if you dig down into the story. But with The Babadook, there’s the whole other layer to it. It gave me something to sink my teeth into.”
Harrow Lake follows Lola Nox, the daughter of celebrated horror filmmaker Nolan Nox. His most popular film, Nightjar, is a classic — and often celebrated in Harrow Lake, the town where it was filmed.
It’s also where he met Lola’s mother, Lorelei — who disappeared when she was a young girl. And when Nolan is hospitalised after he is attacked, Lola is sent there to live with the grandmother she barely knows…and soon comes face-to-face with the town’s terrifying secrets, including the delightfully creepy legend of Mr. Jitters.
The author cites Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Rebecca as one of the big inspirations of Harrow Lake — particularly when it came to the character of Lola.
“[The film] was my mum’s favourite, and I must have seen it about 100 times growing up,” she added, as she opened up about the film’s influence on the novel.
“The whole idea of this slightly naive young woman who finds herself living in a place that is completely out of her comfort zone, surrounded by strangers who are a little bit sinister and trying to fit into the shoes of this predecessor,” the Welsh author said.
“I mean, in the case of Rebecca, [the predecessor] is the first wife, [while Rebecca] has now become the second Mrs. De Winter. But that's kind of mirrored [in Harrow Lake] I think, with Lola returning to where her mother grew up, and where Nightjar – which her mother starred in – was made. Now, she's there and she looks so similar to her mother that everyone kind of has these expectations that she'll be just like Lorelei. But of course she isn’t.”
It isn’t just the fact that her mother grew up in Harrow Lake that is haunting Lola — there’s also the local legend of Mr. Jitters, whom folklore says haunts the town and those in it.
“In certain types of psychological horror, the scary part is in what you don’t see — what isn’t fully explained,” Kat noted about the creation of the character.
“I wanted to create this Slender Man-inspired local legend who, you know, [the villagers] can’t prove that he exists, but everybody still believes so vehemently in him,” she explained. “[I wanted him to] symbolise so much to all the people in Harrow Lake, but also to Lola when she comes to town and starts learning about this monster, who allegedly preys on the young women in Harrow Lake.
“He not only makes her feel fear, but face up to what she’s afraid of. I wanted to give him some layers, but not make him too cartoon-y of a villain, as well.”
As for if she would ever revisit Harrow Lake — or some of its residents — again, the author admitted she had “a few seeds of ideas”, but no definite plans.
“I think Cora is probably one of my favourite characters in the book. I think that if I was ever going to revisit Harrow Lake at all, I would want to tell more of her story,” she explained.
“I think I could definitely torture [the characters] some more. I mean, I’m not saying that I couldn’t build another story in Harrow Lake, like, I do have a few seeds of ideas about what I could do there. So, never say never, but I don’t have any definite plans to do that.”
Harrow Lake, published by Penguin, is available now.