Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth
But was she really a fairy changeling, stolen away by the Hidden People under the Hill, as her husband insists?
Albie Mirralls met his cousin Lizzie only once, at the Great Exhibition in 1851, when she enchanted him singing a hymn under the grand glass and iron arches of the Crystal Palace. Unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to the Yorkshire village where his cousin lived. Halfoak may look picture-perfect in the blowsy, sun-drenched days of high summer, but it’s steeped in superstition and older, darker beliefs.
Albie is a modern man, a rational man of science, but as he begins to dig into Lizzie’s death, he discovers far more than he could ever have imagined, for in this place where the old holds sway and the Hidden People supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just half a step away.
It seems a long time since I first had the inspiration for The Hidden People. It began with reading about the case of Bridget Cleary, who was burned to death in 1895 by her husband. He believed her to be stolen away by the fairies and replaced by a changeling, and claimed he was merely trying to drive it out and reclaim his true wife.
I’ve adored fairy tales since I was a child. As a writer, I’ve long been fascinated by the little folk, particularly in their darker aspects. Bridget Cleary’s case was too real for me to write about directly—she was an actual person after all, and what happened to her was horrific and tragic. I used the concept as a starting point however, and it encompassed several of my interests. It takes place when the old tales have intersected with and intruded upon reality. Stories are changing people’s lives. And changeling lore is fascinating—what if the people around us were not who we believed them to be? Not being able to take anything at face value, having to delve beneath, can be at once intriguing and disturbing. And it raised issues of the nature of belief itself—why do we believe, and what is the relationship between those beliefs and reality? And all this at a time when the coming of the railways and new technologies, the march of progress across the land, was meant to have driven out such superstition.
My subject raised more questions than I had originally anticipated. I was halfway through the book before I realised it was going to turn out a rather different creature than the one I’d expected. But perhaps that’s what happens when you mess with the folk! Now, I might go and scatter a little milk for them on the hillside, to keep them happy…
The Hidden People can be pre-ordered from Quercus Books, or picked up from October 6th at your favorite bookseller.