When I was writing Devil’s Day I became interested in the experience of living in a remote community and scoured the Ordnance Survey maps of Lancashire trying to find a suitable setting for the story. Eventually, I found the Langden Valley in the Forest of Bowland, which winds through several seldom-trodden miles of heather and bracken to the lonely moors above Bleasdale. There are no farms in the valley, but I began to think about what it would be like to live and work the land there. How would it feel to be in a constant battle with the elements? What kind of folklore might have emerged in such a place? How important would it be for those who lived there to stick together? Working collectively and not beholden to anyone else, might they feel as though there was more purpose and structure to their lives? This last thought I started to explore through the novel’s narrator, John Pentecost.
John grows up on the family farm but moves away at the first opportunity to train as a teacher and has been living in Suffolk for the last decade or so. He has recently married and his wife, Kat, is pregnant with their first child. When John’s grandfather (known by everyone in the Endlands as ‘the Gaffer’) dies suddenly, John returns with Kat to the farm for the funeral. This coincides with the annual ‘Gathering’, where the other two families – the Dyers and the Beasleys – pitch in to help bring the Pentecosts’ sheep down off the moors for the winter. Being back in the valley, John feels a growing sense of allegiance to the place and tries to persuade Kat to stay and raise their child there. But when he finds out that the Gaffer was involved in a violent incident earlier in the year he is forced to decide whether to expose the truth or to prove his loyalty and close ranks with the other farmers.