The best books for creating an unsettling sense of atmosphere and place

Who am I?

I'm a writer from Northumberland in the North of England. All my writing is inspired by Northumberland, the county I grew up in and will always consider my home. My stories are born from a place, and my goal is always to take my readers there, to envelop them, unsettle and disturb them, scare and entertain them, and, above all make my readers think. I devour literature that does the same and am drawn to writers who immerse me in their worlds, giving me a vivid and often unsettling sense of atmosphere and place. I hope these books highlight the importance of this feature of writing, and highlight how a place can almost become one of the most important characters in the story.

I wrote...

The Storm

By Chris Ord,

Book cover of The Storm

What is my book about?

A fierce storm envelopes a fishing village in Northumberland, and a ship the ‘Embla’ is wrecked on nearby rocks. The morning after, ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the lifeboat coxswain finds a young girl naked, and alive on the beach. Phil and his wife Mary take care of the girl, vowing to help her return home once the storm has ended. The girl is silent, mysterious, and some in the village are unsettled by her presence. When young men begin to disappear the suspicions grow and whispers spread. Tension mounts as more sinister events unfold, and the community becomes paranoid and divided.

Who is this stranger? What is happening to the village? One man is determined to find the truth.  

The books I picked & why

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Jamaica Inn

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Jamaica Inn

Why this book?

Du Maurier is the master storyteller. Not only is she able to create a powerful and unsettling sense of place and atmosphere, but her stories are compelling and hook the reader from beginning to end. For me, it is all about the story, the ability to engage, enthrall, and entertain. I read so many books that are written in glorious prose, but very little happens, they’re all style over substance. They win prizes, but not the reader’s hearts. My primary goal is to write great stories, and the words are simply my means of doing this. Style should never get in the way.

Several of Du Maurier’s short stories have been made into classic films, most notably Don’t Look Now and The Birds. Jamaica Inn is classic Du Maurier, as it demonstrates both her brilliant storytelling and ability to create a strong sense of tension through the settings. The sea is an important element of the story and its relationship with the community. How it provides and takes its power, and its danger. These are themes which are very much at the heart of my second novel, The Storm.

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of I Am Legend

Why this book?

This is one of the best horror novels, and in my view, the best dystopian novel ever written. The atmosphere is suffocating as you are drawn into a terrifying world of isolation and fear. It is this kind of atmosphere I want to recreate in my novels. The twist at the end is genius, and I love stories that keep the reader guessing and are full of surprises. I'm a huge David Bowie fan and this was a major influence on my favourite Bowie album, Diamond Dogs. Everyone focuses on the obvious link between 1984 and Dogs, but tends to overlook this one. Less well-known and not quite as significant as 1984, this book is just as compelling and powerful. It's short and can be read in a day which only serves to heighten the unsettling impact.


By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

Frankenstein is one of our most important novels. Like so many of the classics, it captures the zeitgeist of a significant point in human history. Mankind’s creativity was allowing us to harness and control nature, and science was unlocking new potential, invention, and ambition. However, the novel is also a warning, not to let ego and ambition overcome us, and that nature still holds great power. It’s a fantastic story, but the book also deals with important universal themes. It is thought-provoking and moving, and the ideas still have a powerful resonance in today’s world, perhaps more than ever.

Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I want my books to be more than just stories, but also to make people think and reflect on the world and communities they live in. Frankenstein was one of the first novels to do this, and is still one of the best.  

Let the Right One in

By John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ebba Segerberg (translator),

Book cover of Let the Right One in

Why this book?

I came to this book having seen the original Swedish film version. It's a clever modern take on the vampire tale and breathes new life into a theme that had become a bit hackneyed. The mood is dark and menacing and many of the characters are lost, unsavoury, and disturbing. At its heart, this is a love story between a lonely young boy and a mysterious girl who moves next door. Love is a key theme that underpins my novels. Not romantic love, but the love of family and community, and the lengths people will go to in order to protect that love. I also explore our relationship with strangers, how we view and treat them, especially when we think the people and things we love are being threatened.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King,

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

Stephen King is a great modern storyteller and a master of horror and suspense. However, I’m going a bit left field with my final choice and highlighting his book on the art of writing, rather than one of his novels. For many years I wanted to write a novel. Many times I tried and failed. I had the passion and desire, but I couldn’t find an approach that worked. Writing is an art, finishing a novel is a discipline. There is no right or wrong way, but you have to find a model that suits you.

It was only when I read On Writing by Stephen King that I realised there was an approach I could use, that fitted my style, and would work. The book highlights King’s development as a writer, his love of the art, and his frustrations in trying to get published. Above all, it demonstrates his compulsion to write, his passion, the strict discipline he applies to his work, and provides an array of tips he has picked up along the way. I would implore any aspiring writer to read this book. It was the key that unlocked everything for me, and I know has inspired many other writers to realise their dream of writing a novel too.  

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