Where did you get the idea for Don’t Turn Around?
This idea flowed from a conversation I had with my agent and editor. We were discussing possible plot lines for my next book and the topic of confessions came up. By the end of our talk, I had an opening scene in my head where a character wants to tell a long-held secret but only if the other person wasn’t looking at them. It took quite a few iterations to get the story right as I wanted to bring it together with another idea I had about using my experience of working on a helpline. I’m a bereaved parent and for some years I volunteered on the Child Death Helpline, providing a listening ear to those affected by the death of a child. I should point out that the fictional helpline I created as part of my story has no similarities to the types of calls I took but I was able to use some of my experience. As a volunteer, I never knew who was going to call next or indeed, or whether I would ever speak to a particular caller again. This random connection is similar across many helplines and that’s what I focused on when creating a fictional helpline to help young people who couldn’t articulate their fears and needed to talk to someone. The helpline and the confession became the two essential ingredients that helped me create the plot for Don’t Turn Around.
Can you tell your readers a little about the story?
It’s ten years since seventeen year-old Megan McCoy died by suicide and the story of who she was and why she died is told from the perspectives of her mum, Ruth and her cousin, Jen who was also her best friend. In the intervening years, Meg’s parents have established a helpline in her memory to reach out to young people in crisis and Jen helps run it. The family have seemingly rebuilt their lives, however, there are questions that haunt them. What hold did Meg’s boyfriend have over her and why did she protect him to the very end? Was the brief note she left meant to be a cryptic message or did someone destroy part of the note before her father found her body? The family think they have accepted there will be no answers until a young woman phones the helpline and reveals things that only Meg could know. Will she suffer the same fate as Meg or can they save her?
What were the challenges you faced whilst writing this novel?
When I started planning Don’t Turn Around, my original intention was to write it solely from the perspective of Meg’s cousin, Jen. It’s Jen who uncovers hidden secrets about Meg when an unknown caller phones the helpline, so it seemed logical that it should be her story. However, when I was about a third of the way through the first draft I realised I needed to give Ruth a voice. It should have been an easy decision because, like Ruth, I’m a bereaved parent rebuilding my life over a decade after losing my son. However, Nathan died from cancer and I was reluctant to take on the responsibility of putting myself in the shoes of someone who had lost a child to suicide. Once I convinced myself that I had to include Ruth, I went back to the beginning of the book and started over. I needed time to get to know Ruth and work out what made our stories similar and what set us apart.
What do you hope that readers will take away from Don’t Turn Around?
Having worked on the Child Death Helpline and been involved with The Alder Centre which supports bereaved parents, I’ve seen the impact suicide has on a family. Losing a child under any circumstances is devastating but it’s the stories I’ve heard from parents who have lost their child to suicide that have often stayed with me. I can’t help but wish that those sons and daughters had followed a different path, sparing their parents from the depths of grief I know all too well. Of course, life isn’t simple and someone suffering from depression or the effects of trauma won’t always appreciate how much pain they leave behind, and that’s why it was important for me to set my story ten years on from Meg’s death. I wanted to illustrate the ongoing pain her mother suffered, not to mention the guilt and the constant reminder that she would never be the same without her daughter.
Why did you choose the Liverpool waterfront as your location?
I’ve set many of my books in Liverpool but normally I focus on lesser known areas of the city to give my readers a flavour of life beyond our iconic skyline. However, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to mention the Pier Head and Three Graces, which comprise of the Liver Buildings, the Port of Liverpool Building and Cunard Building as these are what people usually bring to mind when they picture Liverpool. Don’t Turn Around is largely set in Mann Island (no, it’s not an island) which is the section of waterfront next to the Pier Head and has been redeveloped in recent years to include a modern office block where my main characters work. The choice was an easy one because I used to work there and meant minimal research was required. I enjoyed describing scenery that was so familiar to me, in fact, I don’t know why I had put it off for so long.