Sources of inspiration: Looking For Charlotte
Inspiration comes from the strangest places. For me it usually is places (though that’s probably a whole different blog post) but in the case of Looking For Charlotte it came not so much out of the blue but out of the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
I remember the moment well. It was December, some years ago now, and I was in a cafe waiting for some friends to join me for a pre-Christmas lunch. I was early so I picked a copy of the Telegraph from the rack and flicked through it.
It was in the World News section — a grim story but one which ended with hope. Somewhere in America a drug-addict father had confessed to police that he had murdered his two children and buried their bodies but he couldn’t remember where. Somewhere along an Interstate in Pennsylvania; he knew that much. And there was a plastic pipe nearby. And then, dear reader, in a life twist no plotter would make up, he died.
So far, so soul-destroying. It got worse when the police, having failed to find the bodies, gave up on the search. But out of darkness came light in the shape of a supermarket worker, a total stranger to all those involved. Determined to bring the children’s mother closure, she set out to find the bodies. Every evening after work, every day off, for six months, she drove up and down searching for the bodies — and found them.
I still have the original cutting, or I think I do (I can’t quite put my hand on the folder but I know I put it somewhere safe). The important thing is that I was so moved by this story that I bought a copy of the Telegraph on the way home, tore the story out and kept it. I knew then that there was a story in it for me; and that story is Looking For Charlotte.
I changed a lot of it. Instead of America it’s set in Scotland; instead of teenagers there’s a toddler called Charlotte; the child’s mother struggles with a new relationship just as our heroine struggles with the emotional loss of her own children; and as for the ending…I changed that many times, too. In the first draft, Flora, our heroine, discovered the body, as in the story. Then I decided that that was too good to be true and in the second she didn’t, but discovered something else instead. Then I changed it back to the first and then I had a better idea and then…
No, no spoilers. I won’t give away the ending except that there’s a resolution. But Looking For Charlotte is, for me at least, that rare thing — a story that had to be told.
They parted just beyond the bridge across the Ness, Grace heading up the pedestrian streets and Flora cutting across to the library, fronted by the long line of cars full of Saturday shoppers manoeuvering towards the car parks. She wasn’t a regular library user, but once the idea had taken her she remembered that there was something she wanted to check.
In the reference section, she stood for a moment before selecting the Ordnance Survey map that covered the area south of Ullapool. She knew it quite well. When the children were young they’d gone walking there regularly, able to reach the open spaces without pushing the slowest (usually Amelia, though Beth was the youngest) too hard. They’d graduated to more difficult walks, then stopped walking altogether. Eventually she had developed a fondness for the slightly less bleak terrain to the south of Inverness, where she went occasionally with Philip and his brother, or with a colleague from work. She hadn’t been out all year, not since before Christmas, in fact, and even then they’d been rained off not very far in and driven back to the comfort of a tea shop in Grantown-on-Spey.
A nostalgic yearning for a good long walk swept over her as she unfolded the map and smoothed it out across one of the desks. She and Danny used to look at maps together plotting their routes. His stubby forefinger, with its bitten nails, had traced the most challenging route to start, sliding along the steep and craggy ridges until he remembered the children and reluctantly redrew, shorter, safer.
She thought she knew the place where Alastair Anderson had left his car, and found it easily enough. Under her fingers the map was a flat web of never-parallel lines, of ugly pock-marking that told of steep, loose rocks and inhospitable terrain, just the type of place they used to walk. Somewhere up here, Charlotte Anderson was buried. Carried there, already dead? Or walked there and then killed? Surely neither was realistic; surely they would have found her, with their dogs and their mountain rescue helicopters scouring the ground for new scars, and all the rest of the equipment they had at their disposal.
Looking at the map had been a mistake. It was obvious now. Besides, she couldn’t see it any more; all she could see was the image of Suzanne Beauchamp, that beautiful face with the cold façade, like a wax death mask from Madame Tussauds. More poignant, of course, since it must hide a struggle, a struggle to conceal or to suppress a deadly mixture of grief and guilt.
‘Go away!’ she said softly to this mirage of a grieving woman, a little afraid of its power. ‘Go away!’ And then, in the only defence left to her, she began to fold the map away.
Divorced and lonely, Flora Wilson is distraught when she hears news of the death of little Charlotte Anderson. Charlotte’s father killed her and then himself, and although he left a letter with clues to her grave, his two-year-old daughter still hasn’t been found. Convinced that she failed her own children, now grown up and seldom at home, Flora embarks on a quest to find Charlotte’s body to give the child’s mother closure, believing that by doing so she can somehow atone for her own failings.
As she hunts in winter through the remote moors of the Scottish Highlands, her obsession comes to challenge the very fabric of her life — her job, her friendship with her colleague Philip Metcalfe, and her relationships with her three children.
I live in Edinburgh and I write romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve been writing all my life and my first book was published in February 2014, though I’ve had short stories published before then. The thing that runs through all my writing is an interest in the world around me. I love travel and geography and the locations of my stories is always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.
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