What was the inspiration for this novel?
The inspiration behind The Child’s Secret came after hearing about the ‘Whispering Gallery,’ in New York’s Grand Central Station. Apparently two people can stand in opposite corners of an archway and the acoustics allow their whispers to be carried to each other. I began playing around with various ideas for a story where my main character could ‘listen in,’ to the innocent wishes of a young child, and then go on to fulfil them. It took a while to think up a story that really fired my imagination, and it wasn’t until I was standing in front of the Allerton Oak in Calderstones Park, Liverpool that it all came together. The Wishing Tree was born and it became the perfect device to connect my characters.
A missing child is surely most parents’ worst nightmare. How did you find dealing with such an emotionally fraught storyline?
I should think most parents have experienced that sickening feeling when you lose sight of your child, even for just a few moments. Your imagination runs wild as you go through countless scenarios but thankfully for most of us, there’s a swift resolution when the child in question reappears wondering what all the fuss was about. With The Child’s Secret, I had to take that situation so much further and describing those scenes with Laura and Finn was intense at times. It was tough trying to put myself in the position of a parent whose child is missing, and even as a bereaved parent with my own personal experience of loss, it was a challenge to imagine how they must feel.
Do you think that fears for missing children are prevalent in our society? And with the rise of social media and the speed which information can change and distort, do you think this is true more so now than ever before?
We’re all more aware of the darker side of life these days and with historical cases of child abuse hitting the headlines on a regular basis, it’s natural for parents to have their fears heightened. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, it’s a small price to pay if such cases can be prevented or at least detected quickly. Social media and increased awareness has made it difficult for any parent to ignore the perceived dangers of child abduction and abuse, and because it’s impossible to quantify those risks, we’ve all become overcautious and children therefore have less freedom. Eight year old Jasmine wasn’t allowed to go to the park on her own and readers might even have thought it unwise for her to be allowed to go under the supervision of her friend’s sister. I grew up in the seventies so I was always going on treks to the park with my friends, but if my parents had known then what we know now, I’m pretty sure I would have had a completely different childhood.
The themes of your books tend to echo the shocking stories we read about in the newspapers and cause readers to think ‘there but for the grace of god…’ Do you think that’s an accurate description of your writing? And are the headlines sometimes a source for inspiration?
I think my latest books are moving in that direction and it’s a style of writing I’m thoroughly enjoying. My previous novel, The Missing Husband, was a perfect example of how I drew inspiration from the headlines because I came up with the idea while watching the evening news about a man who had been missing for twelve months. It’s human nature to want to peer into someone else’s life and be thankful that we’re not facing the same kind of trauma. It’s stories like The Child’s Secret that make us appreciate what we have and prompts us to hold those we love a little closer.
How did you find writing dual narratives, from an adult and a child’s perspective? Did you face any difficulties in creating these very different voices?
In the Child’s Secret, I tell the story from the view point of Sam, Laura and Jasmine and they were all very distinctive in my mind because of the difference in their ages, their sex and their characters. Sam’s voice was the strongest and most determined, while Laura’s was the quietest because she was so unsure of herself. I especially loved writing from Jasmine’s point of view because she had such an innocent and at times, simple view of the world. She was someone who still believed in wishes and it made me think what a shame it is that we have to stop believing in magic.
Did writing The Child’s Secret differ from your experience writing your previous novels? In what way?
The structure of this book was something that was completely new to me, having two separate timelines running concurrently. The story essentially starts when Sam meets Jasmine for the first time, but I open the novel on the day she goes missing and then look back at her past. The present day chapters threaded through the novel were a challenge because in those scenes all my characters knew each other very well. It took a lot of planning and during the rewrites I had to track very carefully who knew what and when, as well as deciding how much to reveal to the reader. There were times when my head throbbed as I tried to connect it all together, but I loved the end result and it’s a structure I’m planning on using again.
[SPOILER ALERT] As you wrote the book, how much did you want to play with reader’s perception of Sam, as a potential hero or villain?
I didn’t want to make Sam’s intentions clear from the outset, but there was more to it than simply playing with the reader’s perception of him. In the initial planning stages, I hadn’t intended for Sam to be a bereaved parent because it was his relationship with Jasmine that I was focusing on first and foremost. His past life became a way to explain both his hesitance to become involved in the little girl’s life, and also his strong desire to protect her. It also provided a reason for other characters to question his motives and here I was playing on what seems to be an all too common portrayal of bereaved parents as the villains. I’ve lost count of how many TV dramas I’ve seen where a parent’s loss has seemingly justified heinous crimes and I’ve always found this a little unfair. In my experience, bereaved parents are an incredible force for good and that’s why Sam was always going to be the good guy.