Samantha HayesI grew up in the Midlands with my parents and younger brother. I always wanted to be a writer and pestered for my first typewriter when I was ten. It wasn’t a clear-cut path to my dream career and it took several decades longer to get there than I’d anticipated...
What You Left Behind is published in the USA today!
*Update* I’ve just learnt that WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND is an Amazon.com ‘Best Book of the Month‘, which naturally I’m thrilled about!
I’m so excited that What You Left Behind is out in the States today, and I really hope all my lovely readers out there enjoy it. Apart from being a creepy, suspenseful thriller, it gives an insight into life in a typical English village (albeit beset by tragedy). My fictional village of Radcote is based on an area not too far from where I live (and indeed very close to where I used to live), and I hope you get a really good sense of the setting as much as the hard-hitting issues the book covers. And, as ever, I’d love to hear what you all think, so do ‘like’ my Facebook page and feel free to get in touch. (UK readers, please note, this books is called Before You Die over here!)
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The ideas behind ‘Before You Die’
It’s been too long since I wrote on my blog, what with getting on with writing my new novel and making sure lots of people hear about my latest book now it’s published. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to say a little about how I came to write Before You Die, the second in the DIs Fisher and Scott series – my married detectives who live in Birmingham with their two teenage daughters. As you can imagine, this scenario throws up all kinds of issues for me to write about in their home life as well as at work. Until You’re Mine was the first novel in the series (which I’m thrilled to say has just been long-listed for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award – woot!).
In Before You Die, Lorraine leaves the pressures of city life and heads to the countryside to stay with her sister, Jo, for a much-needed break. The beautiful (and fictional) village of Radcote in south Warwickshire is the setting for my story. With Adam working back home, and Grace, Lorraine’s eldest daughter away on a sports camp, Lorraine is looking forward to spending time with her youngest daughter, Stella.
When Lorraine arrives in Radcote, she is greeted by the sight of wilted flowers tied to a tree just outside the village. She learns that a young man was recently killed in a freak motorbike accident. A suicide note was later found in his belongings, stating he intended to kill himself. However, someone else claims to have witnessed a passenger on the bike, making suicide unlikely. Lorraine is also greeted by the news that Jo has split from her long-term partner without telling anyone. Is this the real reason Jo’s teenage son, Freddie, is so distraught?
The villagers of Radcote are still suffering the shockwaves of a spate of suicides a year and a half ago. It’s not something a tight-knit community recovers from easily. So when another young lad takes his own life, this time on the nearby railway tracks, people are convinced the nightmare is beginning again.
Lorraine soon finds herself caught up in the ongoing investigation, meeting her nemesis from a few years ago, convinced the detective has once again botched a case. And when Freddie mysteriously disappears one night, Lorraine knows that to save him she must act quickly, discovering if the recent deaths were really suicide… or murder.
Firstly, setting is really important to me. Having written Until You’re Mine entirely located in Birmingham, I decided I’d like to take Lorraine out into the countryside. Even though my fictional village is only an hour or so from Lorraine’s city home, she rarely sees her sister. Radcote is loosely based on a particular village (I won’t name it!) in south Warwickshire although mostly I made it up. I love the mellow stone of this Cotswold-influenced area, right in the heart of Shakespeare country, and the surrounding geography worked perfectly for my story—right down to the straight stretch of road I called ‘Devil’s Mile’. And Lorraine badly needed a holiday. So I gave her one. Then I turned it into a nightmare for her. How cruel!
As a mother of three (I’ve done the whole teenage thing!) one of the scariest questions you can ask yourself is: do we really know our children? It seems obvious, but our kids have grown up with technology that can take them ‘virtually’ across the world to meet strangers in a second, yet we didn’t grow up like this. As parents, we are faced with taking some kind of control of our kids’ online habits, just as we do if they go out (Where are you going? Be back by nine etc). It’s a daunting task because online they have access to the whole world and pretty much everyone in it.
With stories in the news of teenage suicides resulting from online bullying, I decided to research some of these sad cases. I found some shocking statistics. Over 50% of teenagers have been bullied online. Only 1 in 10 victims confides in a parent. Fewer than 1 in 5 incidents are reported to the police, and 90% of teens who have witnessed online cruelty have ignored it.
As any mother would, I couldn’t help applying the statistics to my own three kids. The chance that one of them was, or had been, a victim was high and terrifying. And even as I was researching, a young girl local to me took her own life because she’d been hounded and belittled online. Comments on a huge website popular with teenagers all over the world had driven her to this tragic act.
But I also realised that internet horror can happen closer to home through people you know, crossing over into ‘real life’ bullying too. Think you can hide in your bedroom to escape the bullies at school? Wrong. They’re waiting for you on social media, on your phone, in your emails. So my character Freddie, a once-vibrant and happy-go-lucky lad, wilts into a shadow of his former self, managing to conceal his angst from his mum, ashamed because he’s become a victim. Eventually, driven to extremes, he disappears. When Lorraine sets out to find out why, she uncovers more than she bargained for.
As a mum who writes thrillers centred on family and relationships, I think I write my own worst nightmares! I know I’m not the only mum who worries about her kids. The ‘What if…’ question is always at the heart of my plot ideas, followed by the seeds of my characters. I knew I wanted to write a book highlighting one of the many dangers our teenagers face, but I also decided to focus on how secrets can stay buried within families—another subject that fascinates me, mainly because they usually have a way of resurfacing. If you think about it, it’s also another form of bullying: Don’t ever tell… The threat is implicit.
Nine times out of ten, I’ll begin with my plot, creating the story around a single idea. In this case, it was a tragic suicide. But what if someone else knew differently, claiming it wasn’t suicide? And what if that ‘someone else’ was deemed unreliable? What if that person became a suspect and was an easy scapegoat for everything else bad that had happened in the area? A pack mentality is insidious, snaring people unaware, and is in fact another form of bullying.
Occasionally a character will strike me first – as in Gil, an autistic man in my story. I knew I wanted to write about Gil before the plot was fully formed, and indeed he helped me shape the narrative. He has his own point of view, seeing the world slightly differently to the rest of us. It was incredibly refreshing writing through his eyes, although I was careful not to stereotype him. Gil is just Gil, an autistic man doing his best to get by in surroundings that may not always make sense to him. The thing is, he witnesses something important, but no one is inclined to take him seriously. Through his incredible drawings, Gil is able to get his story across. But then his art lands him in hot water and we learn that Gil is harbouring a terrible secret.
I do hope you enjoy reading my novel, and exploring all its twists and turns. Lorraine certainly has her work cut out! I strived to highlight areas in our society where people are misunderstood and victimised—from teens, to adults, to the homeless, to those with developmental disabilities, and those who aren’t even here anymore to speak up for themselves. It’s a book filled with many varied characters, capturing a couple of weeks one hot summer where secrets from the past collide with the present, how prejudices and bigotry can laid bare if we only take the time to change our thoughts.
(First published on the Between My Lines blog during my blog tour)More blog posts:
The End of a Book and the End of the Year »
Do Not Disturb – #AmEditing »
Memories From Harrogate »
THE IDEAS BEHIND UNTIL YOU’RE MINE »