On writing

Lesley Pearse on the inspiration behind the The Woman in the Wood

Author Lesley Pearse explains how the 'witchy' vibe of England's New Forest inspired her latest novel, The Woman in the Wood

People are always asking me where the ideas for my books come from, and usually I can’t answer as the truth is they just pop into my head, usually uninvited.

But The Woman in the Wood was different. I’d never been to the New Forest before, and when a friend suggested we went there for a couple of days I happily agreed.

As soon as we began driving through the forest towards Burley where we were staying, I got a sort of Witchy vibe. Suddenly I was imagining a woman living like a recluse in a little shack. It was quite a shock to find that Burley was once the home of a famous witch called Sybil Leek. In fact all the shops were full of witchy souvenirs. I took that as an omen and started seriously thinking about a book set in that village.

The shack of famous witch Sybil Leek

I didn’t want my woman to be a witch, just a little odd, but entirely misunderstood because of that. Added to that I had fifteen year old twins Duncan and Maisy being sent to live with their grandmother because their mother has been put into an asylum. They were bound to be intrigued by someone rumoured to be mad, when it was said their mother was too.

The Woman in the Wood is a dark story. It is about people not being as they seem; family secrets,  and adults who because of the way they were treated as children can be anything from exceedingly dangerous, to merely unable to express their feelings.  Maisy and Duncan have much to learn from all the adults, and danger is never far away. 

More about the author

The Woman in the Wood

Lesley Pearse


Fifteen-year-old twins Maisy and Duncan Mitcham have always had each other. Until the fateful day in the wood . . .

One night in 1960, the twins awake to find their father pulling their screaming mother from the house. She is to be committed to an asylum. It is, so their father insists, for her own good.

It's not long before they, too, are removed from their London home and sent to Nightingales - a large house deep in the New Forest countryside - to be watched over by their cold-hearted grandmother, Mrs Mitcham. Though they feel abandoned and unloved, at least here they have something they never had before - freedom.

The twins are left to their own devices, to explore, find new friends and first romances. That is until the day that Duncan doesn't come back for dinner. Nor does he return the next day. Or the one after that.

When the bodies of other young boys are discovered in the surrounding area the police appear to give up hope of finding Duncan alive. With Mrs Mitcham showing little interest in her grandson's disappearance, it is up to Maisy to discover the truth. And she knows just where to start. The woman who lives alone in the wood about whom so many rumours abound. A woman named Grace Deville.

The Woman in the Wood is a powerful, passionate and sinister tale of a young woman's courage, friendship and determination from one of the world's favourite storytellers.

Praise for Lesley Pearse

'Heart-warming and evocative, a real delight to read' Sun

'A narrative that gallops along, this is quintessential Pearse that will delight her army of readers' Daily Mail

'Glorious, heartwarming' Woman & Home

'Evocative, compelling, told from the heart' Sunday Express

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