A doctor and mother of five isn’t supposed to write dark tales about ordinary families; what is she drawing on as she fractures the smooth and glassy surface of every day domesticity? Where on earth does the story come from?
The seed that grows a book is nourished in a complex mulch and that is very true for Little Friends, a story about three different families in London who are thrown together when one of the mothers offers home - based lessons for dyslexic kids; the adults become fascinated by each other and forget to watch their children. They have no idea what the kids get up to in the woods or upstairs in the attic, and of course, none at all of the tragedies that will ensue.
I used to watch my brood all the time; in the garden, at the beach and distractedly while shopping. I was there as mothers are, to pick them up when they fell or call them back if they went too far in the sea. As they grew up, I stopped knowing everything about them, the things they said and where those bruises came from. I lost my power. Children have to separate from parents but that boundary between childhood innocence and adult capability can be fraught with danger.
When I was a GP I saw families all the time: mothers bringing in their kids with worries that ranged from sore throats to mysterious abdominal pains. An infected ear is straightforward to diagnose; a silent child is another matter. I was always glad to see those families because it’s perilously easy to ignore a child who doesn’t complain, I’ve done it myself, often. As a doctor you hope that with time and trust, complex little knots of family or school life can be undone and that you’ll have long enough to hear the whole story but there is only so far you can probe.
One of the best things about being a full time writer of psychological suspense is that
I can take a different stance; I can probe as far as I want into the hearts and minds of my protagonists, adult and children alike. I can let my imagination off the leash and go where I never could as a mother and a doctor; I can delve right into the jungle of childhood. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, has always seemed to me to be a devastatingly honest portrayal of childhood. Parents tend to think that children have happy times together, it’s one of those convenient myths that we tell ourselves when we pack our children off to school or sleepovers; as long as they are with their friends it's alright, we say. If only. Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eyes, Stephen King’s Carrie and even Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte attest in their different ways to the horror that children can visit on each other and the lasting damage that inflicts.
Little Friends was also a response to John Updike’s Couples in which the adulterous parents use their children as an excuse to get together for barbecues and birthday celebrations, only to send the kids out of the way into the further reaches of the garden; we never do find out what happens to the children but in my book, the voices of the children interject to give the reader an insight that the parents don’t have until it’s almost too late
Story grows from place as well as out of the past. We brought up three of our children near the pretty and privileged little village of Dulwich; like so many areas of London, if you turn a corner you can find yourself somewhere completely different. Tremendous wealth coexists with its opposite; the potential for new friendships as well as conflicts can arise.
I travelled to the Peloponnese in Greece to research another story; the Mani is an unspoilt area of rugged beauty; we stayed in an old tower house surrounded by olive trees and I realised this would be a perfect place to take my characters and see how they behaved. It’s refreshing for your readers to go somewhere different, I always think it's a little like treating them to a holiday. It is also true that dark stories glow with a particularly vivid light against a beautiful backdrop.
Family life, work, reading, imagination, place and travel; the mulch is rich and it needs to be, that seed has to work hard to grow a book that readers will enjoy. I’d love to hear what you think about Little Friends.
Their children are friends first. They hit it off immediately, as kids do. And so the parents are forced to get to know each other. Three wildly different couples. Three marriages, floundering. There are barbecues, dinner parties, a holiday in Greece. An affair begins, resentments flare, and despite it all the three women become closer. Unnoticed, their children run wild. The couples are so busy watching each other that they forget to watch their children. Until tragedy strikes. Because while they have been looking the other way, evil has crept into their safe little world and every parent's biggest nightmare is about to come true...