Thursday 16 February 2023

What happens next by Kate Hamer

In my debut novel ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ (published in 2015) Carmel is kidnapped by a religious cult when she was just eight years old, as they believed she had healing powers. We follow her journey as she struggles to hang on to her sense of identity while under immense pressure to take on an identity that was not hers, while her desperate mother searches for her.

While I was writing the book I didn’t know if a anybody would ever read it, let alone that it might be published. The response was as unexpected as it was overwhelming. When it charted as a Sunday Times bestseller I had to face one of my greatest fears – being asked to appear in public! What I hadn’t realised is that with any book that does well there’s an audience wanting to meet the author in book clubs and festivals up and down the land. As someone who had been too shy to do a reading in the school assembly this was terrifying. The first one was Cheltenham Literary Festival, an event I’d been to as an audience member to soak up some of my favourite writers. Now, here I was. My legs wouldn’t stop shaking, I actually thought I was going to fall over on the steps on the way up to the stage. Yet, somehow with the help of my editor and a generous chair I got through it.

I was so glad I did, because if I’d given up at that first hurdle I’d never have got to meet the wonderful crime readers at events all over the country, not to mention fellow authors. I have heard whispers that the nicest authors are the crime writers and the more grisly the books the nicer they are. I’m not sure if this is true but it’s amazing how the panel often was great fun, and something miraculous happened – I started to enjoy these events! 

I soon realised that my very favourite bit was the audience questions at the end. It was always interesting and unexpected and it confirmed my belief that once a book is published and ‘out there’ in the big, wide world it really doesn’t belong to me anymore, it belongs to the readers. I’ve had questions about the writing process, about character’s lives ‘outside’ the book, about tiny details I’m amazed that anyone picked up on, but the most frequent question was, ‘Are you going to write a sequel?’ or even, ‘When are you going to write a sequel?’ 

Well, it took a long time. I wrote other books, ‘The Doll Funeral’ and ‘Crushed’. Yet somehow the seed planted by readers took root. The characters in that first book began clamouring again, especially one – a little girl called Mercy who has the briefest of all appearances in the first book – I felt emerge so powerfully, wanting to tell her story, wanting everyone to know what had happened to her.

So over two long years I wrote ‘The Lost Girls’ and now it’s here in glorious technicolour. In the book, after a five year long ordeal Carmel is returned to her mother Beth, but of course nothing can ever be the same again. The family might crave to return to normal but the longer Carmel is home the more she begins remembering, digging into what happened – despite the fact her that her traumatised mother is desperate to move on and never have to talk about it again. Carmel begins to remember dreadful things that make her blood run cold – and starts to ask herself the question: what happened to the other lost girls before her? The novel is her quest to find out. 

In fiction, we’re made to believe that the crime is resolved when the case is solved, but more and more I pondered on the aftermath. What about the effect of the crime, many years later on. How has it changed relationships, life paths? How has it blown people off course or make them take directions they never would have if the crime had gone uncommitted? That’s what I wanted to explore here, alongside Carmel turning detective herself, reclaiming her power and her own life story by exposing what happened to others.

I loved meeting the characters from the first book again, feeling them live and breathe once more and give a voice to others that seemed to be waiting in the wings in the first book. In fact, I think I may now be hooked on writing sequels!

The Lost Girls by Kate Hamer (Faber & Faber) Out Now

Lost, she narrowly escaped disaster. Beth is desperate to return to normality. After a years-long ordeal, her daughter is finally home and safe. But Carmel has questions she can't ignore about the cult that kidnapped her, and about the preacher who gave her another girl's name. Found, she must survive a miracle. Digging into her past, Carmel uncovers secrets which suggest that she wasn't the only lost girl - and which puts her in danger all over again. While her mother struggles to salvage the safety they've only just found, Carmel tries to come to terms with who she has become. One question, a mystery at the heart of her disappearance as a child, haunts her: What happened to the other lost girls?

You can find more information about Kate Hamer and her books on her website. You can also find Kate Hamer on Twitter @kate_hamer

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