York writer Nuala Ellwood's latest dark, twisty thriller follows a woman who loses everything... and can't remember how. The author spoke to STEPHEN LEWIS

A woman called Maggie wakes up in a hospital bed. There's a splitting pain in her head; her eyes won't focus properly. All she can see are orbs of yellow light glowing above her. She hears movement, muffled voices in low conversation: "She's stirring," someone says.

Gradually, panicked, confused, Maggie begins to realise something is horribly wrong. Someone's missing. Her daughter - Elspeth. Where's Elspeth?

So begins York writer Nuala Ellwood's latest dark, twisty thriller, Day Of The Accident.

Doctors break the news to Maggie that her 10-year-old daughter is dead: drowned in a locked car that somehow went into a river. Maggie knows that in some way she's responsible. But she can't remember how...

Gradually, everything is stripped away from Maggie. Her husband, Sean, has disappeared. Worse, he sold their house before he went - including all her belongings, even mementos of Elspeth. She's got nothing. No-one. And she still can't remember what happened.

Nuala, who lives off Bishopthorpe Road, has a track record for dark thrillers like this. Her last book, My Sister's Bones, followed a traumatised female war reporter who, returning from the horrors of Aleppo, headed for her empty family home in Kent to curl up and try to forget. Instead, she hears screams coming from the house next door one night and is drawn into an investigation which uncovers horrors to match anything she saw in the Middle East.

So is the same in store for Maggie? Discharged from hospital still numb and uncomprehending after lying in a coma for 10 days (we learn that she, too, nearly died), she is placed into bed & breakfast accommodation by social services. "And then things get even worse!" say Nuala with a laugh, speaking on the phone from a creative writing conference in Cambridge.

We begin to follow Maggie on what Nuala calls her 'journey of rebirth', as she tries to piece together what happened on the day of the accident that killed her daughter.

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But shadows haunt her every step of the way. Gradually, we learn that something awful had happened to her once before, as a child. And something doesn't add up. "Maggie and some of the people around her are not who we think they are," says Nuala.

Partly, the book is an examination of what happens when when we strip away everything we love and everything we know. What is left? Maggie, Nuala admits, is completely alone: and completely reliant on strangers - the manager of her B&B, her social worker - just to be able to go on living.

There's something else, too. Maggie, it turns out, is a frustrated writer. A full-time mum who hasn't worked for 10 years, before the accident she'd begun to write a novel: secretly, almost shamefully, thinking people would blame her for not devoting all her time to her family.

She knows of women just like that, says Nuala - women who have had children, and who concentrated on nurturing them as they grew up. "And there's a sense that they feel that their creativity, if they're not earning a living from it, is a luxury, something to be done in secret."

As with her previous novel, there's a brooding sense of place about the book, too. It's set in and around Rodmell in Sussex, where Virginia Woolf once lived, and near where Nuala herself also once lived and where her son Luke was born.

Another River Ouse - not ours, but the one in Sussex in which Woolf committed suicide by drowning - features strongly in the book. It's where Elspeth dies - and gradually it becomes clear that it has been a big part of Maggie's whole life.

There's something strange in the air about this part of Sussex, says Nuala. "There's an unearthly feel: something quite mysterious."

It's a mystery that grows and deepens as Maggie goes in search of the truth. And, just as in her earlier book My Sister's Bones, there's an unexpected twist that changes everything you thought you knew...

Day Of The Accident has already been published on Kindle, where it went straight into the top 10, says Nuala. Nuala herself will be returning to her native Stockton-on-Tees to launch the paperback version of the book next Thursday.

Meanwhile, she's already well on with her next novel - a dark and twisty thriller set, this time, in the remote Yorkshire Dales.

"I'm coming home for that one!" she says.

  • Day Of The accident by Nuala Ellwood is published on February 21 by Penguin, priced £7.99. Nuala will talk about her new book in a Q&A session at Waterstones, York, on March 28 as part of the York Literature Festival. More details yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk/venue/waterstones/