As My Mother’s Secrethas been wending its way into the world, I’ve been working on another psychological thriller. It’s called One Year Later…
One year ago, the Flowers family gathered at The Pines, a rambling farmhouse in Somerset, to celebrate the youngest child’s third birthday. Tragically, the day before her birthday, Ruby-May drowned in the garden pond while her grandfather, David Flowers, was meant to be looking after her.
One year later, Ruby-May’s anniversary is fast approaching. The three Flowers siblings, Nick, Bethany, and Amy, who is Ruby-May’s mother, decide to hold the anniversary of the child’s death on a remote island off the coast of Italy. They’ve barely spoken to each other for a year, and none of them have seen their father, David, since the funeral. This is their chance to heal and come together as a family before it’s too late.
But as the extended family, including partners, children and hangers-on, gather in what appears to be an idyllic location, a rural farmhouse next to a stunningly beautiful beach, David shows up, still refusing to admit he was culpable. As the tension escalates, buried secrets will be uncovered…and not everyone may make it home…
Originally called The Anniversary, the novel is book-ended by scenes in Bristol and Somerset, where I live, but most of the action takes place on a tiny island off the coast of Italy. Sadly, I didn’t manage a research trip, as my husband pointed out I’ve been to Italy more than enough times to satisfy most normal people, and I should just do what writers are meant to – use my imagination. Fortunately, the weather this summer is breathtakingly-hot, which helps, although I would much rather be on a beach than at my desk.
One Year Laterwill literally be out one year later…August 2019. Just in time for your summer holiday.
It’s hard to believe, for me at least, but after doing little else but think about the characters in My Mother’s Secretfor a year and a half, my novel is out in the real world! We had a fantastic launch party at Waterstones, Bristol, with locally-brewed beer and locally-bought prosecco, and squidgy cakes inspired by the ones baked by my protagonist, Emma Taylor.
My wonderful friend and talented voice-over artist and presenter, Gillian Burke, read the part of Emma Taylor, and rising star, Abbi Bayliss, read the part of her daughter, Stella. I put my Northern accent to good use and read Lizzie Bradshaw’s section, which is quite dark. I hope I haven’t scared my daughter for life.
Big thanks to my lovely husband, Jaimie Rogers, my publicist, Kirsty Doole, and sister, Emma O’Connell, who kept the show on the road!
I love reading and writing – obviously! And I then love meeting up with people to chat about what I’ve read, maybe over a glass of wine!
In case you’d like to talk aboutMy Mother’s Secret in your book club, we’ve put together some questions to get you started. You can download them below. Do email me if you have any of your own, or have a look at a Q&A with me.
The wonderful writer and the editor of the Asian Writer, Farhana Shaikh, interviewed me for her new podcast, Dear Writer. She had some lovely, sensitive questions and we discussed writing from fear, why I write thrillers, the link between nature and creativity and being British Asian.
And here’s a short interview with me talking about My Mother’s Secret.
Happy Earth Day! Today, we’re celebrating our extraordinary planet, and trying to end plastic pollution.
In a month I’ll be heading to one of my favourite places on earth, Langdale, in the Lake District, to go hiking and to talk about My Mother’s Secret in the Sticklebarn, a National Trust pub! I can’t imagine a more perfect combination: walking, wilderness, writing, reading, meeting old friends and new, and a cosy pub. Did I mention that my talk is in a pub? Oh, and the Sticklebarn brews it’s own gin and vodka!! (You can find the details here).
One of the settings for My Mother’s Secret is Elterwater, near Langdale. I’ve been going for a few years and staying in the fantastic Elterwater Hostel. You can read more about my experience here, if you’re interested. So when I was wondering where my character, Lizzie Bradshaw, and her husband, Paul, could live, it seemed like a no-brainer. I imagined Paul working as a National Trust warden out on the Langdale Pikes (a spectacular set of mountains), and as a part-time barman in Sticklebarn. Obviously that meant I had to keep returning for further ‘research’!
The metal frame of their thirty-year-old backpack creaked as Paul adjusted the straps. She ran through their names in her mind: Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, Pike of Stickle, Loft Crag, Harrison Stickle – the five Langdale Pikes. If they even managed a couple of these hills, they’d be doing well.
They’d taken the path directly behind the back of the Sticklebarn pub, where Paul worked part-time at the weekends, past the gold blaze of larches in Raven Crag, and now they were heading along the ridge, with Dungeon Ghyll roaring below them.
I’ll be writing about using setting and location in fiction for the The Asian Writer, so do look out for that post.
I’ve written before about the joy of hiking for writing as I believe walking can help one be more creative. I’m not alone; many writers, from William Wordsworth to Charles Dickens, used walking to help them think about their work.
Recently, I came across some research by behaviour and learning psychologist, Marily Oppezzo, from Stanford University, on how walking can help trigger new ideas. Marily has run several studies on movement and creativity, but in one, she asked people to brainstorm how an everyday object, say a key, could be used creatively. The definition of creativity she used was that it had to be novel and appropriate, in other words, no one has come up with that idea before, but also, appropriate for the situation (so, we all know keys open locks – so another use for a key that is unusual but fitting). The people doing the test either sat down or they walked on a treadmill in a windowless room.
What her team found was that the people on the treadmill came up with twice as many ideas! As a result of her research, she’s come up with a few tips: she says to decide on a topic you want to brainstorm first, then go for a walk, think of as many ideas as you can, and jot them down at the time (either take a notebook or record them in your phone).
This is also how I work: I put a writing problem into my subconscious, and then later, I’ll go for a walk, take it out and turn it about. Big hikes with company are fantastic in a different way. I won’t necessarily be able to concentrate on knotty problems on the way up Thunacar Knott, but I will return refreshed and reinvigorated by the walk, the wildlife and my inspiring friend; ready to crack on with the next novel!
I do hope to see you in the Sticklebarn pub for a chat about writing, walking and, maybe, gin!
I’d love you to come to my book launch party if you can make it! It’s 7 p.m. Friday 11 May at Waterstones, Bristol. There’ll be readings from My Mother’s Secret, and since the lead character, Emma Taylor, is a baker, it’s only right and proper that we should have plenty of cake! There will also be fizz, beer and soft drinks to wash it down! It’s a free event, but do RSVP so we know how much cake to bake!
I will also be discussing plot at Novel Nights on 23 May at 7.30 p.m. and reading in one of the locations featured in the novel – Sticklebarn, Langdale in the Lake District on 26 May. Please check my Events page for details.
If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about what inspired me, have a look at this mini video, or take a look at In Conversation with…
If you are interested in reading further, it’s available to pre-order here.
So, Sanjida Kay, tell us what My Mother’s Secret is about.
My Mother’s Secret is told from the point of view of three women: Lizzie Bradshaw, Emma Taylor, and her teenage daughter, Stella. Stella thinks that her mother has a secret. She knows her mother had a traumatic childhood, and that she’s an unusually anxious person, who sometimes has panic attacks. But she believes her mother is hiding something bigger, and Stella is determined to find out what it is. As Emma tries to keep her secret, Lizzie is caught up in a terrible crime… and Stella’s investigations will uncover something truly shocking that could shatter all their lives…
I write, ‘My mother has a secret.’
What was the inspiration behind My Mother’s Secret?
It’s hard to say exactly what the inspiration was, because that would give away the secret Emma is hiding! There were a few stories in the news that obsessed me at the time. One of them was about undercover police officers who infiltrated environmental activist groups and had families with some of the women they were investigating. Although My Mother’s Secret is not about undercover cops, it made me think about longterm lies and deception within close relationships, whether you can ever truly know those you love dearly, as well as power imbalances within marriage.
…as you can see, my dear, I know who you are and where to find you…
The story is mainly set in Bristol, the Lake District and Leeds – with two National Trust estates featuring prominently! Setting is really important to you. Can you tell us a bit about the locations for My Mother’s Secret?
The settings in My Mother’s Secretare all dear to me. Emma and her husband, Jack, and their two daughters, Stella and Ava, live in a suburb of Bristol called Long Ashton. Emma frequently visits a ‘friend’ at Tyntesfield, which is a magnificent Gothic mansion owned by the National Trust, just outside Bristol. Stella says the house looks as if it was designed by ‘an architect on crack’; the estate was funded by the Gibbs’ family’s trade in guano. An episode of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes was filmed there! Tyntesfield is surrounded by wonderful grounds and woods. I love visiting – and researching the novel was a brilliant excuse to go as often as possible!
I can’t help shuddering. He means the large, curved metal cage in the courtyard near the servants’ entrance. It’s large enough for a child to stand inside and, like the aviary on the other side, reminds me of something sinister out of a fairy story.
Lizzie and her young family, Paul and baby Dylan, live in Elterwater, a hamlet in the Lake District. Whilst Lizzie is commuting to Leeds for her job, Paul is doing a double shift for the National Trust, as a part-time warden in a mountain range known as the Langdale Pikes, and as a bar man in the National Trust’s only pub: The Sticklebarn Inn. I love hiking, and visit the Lake District at least once a year. I normally stay in an amazing hostel in Elterwater; from there I can walk to one of my favourite mountains, Scafell Pike. And I normally manage to call in at the Sticklebarn Inn on the way back!
Apart from hanging out in National Trust tea shops and having mini breaks in the Lakes, what kind of research did you have to do for My Mother’s Secret?
The life of an author is so tough! I had an odd juxtaposition with my research: Emma is a baker; she works in a bakery based on Hart’s Bakery, beneath Temple Meads station in Bristol. So I spent a day hanging out with the bakers, as well as visiting pretty frequently! I was totally able to indulge my cake obsession in this novel! The other aspect of my research, though, was investigating the impact of organised crime. From the sublime to the horrific.
His words echo in my head: ‘I can assure you that, as well as killing you, I will hunt down your family and I will kill them, and then I will find your friends and I will kill them, too.’
Although My Mother’s Secret is a commercial thriller, you’ve included a few discussions on some literary fiction. Why is that?
Stella is in a Book Club at school. She’s a spiky, slightly tom-boyish girl, who loves Jane Eyre – and, of course, the Gothic element in the book fits in beautifully with the Gothic mansion at Tyntesfield. One of the books she’s reading in her book group is The Golden Bowl by Henry James. For anyone who knows me, they’ll know that I like to write books that can be read as straightforward stories, but there’s usually another element going on for anyone who is interested. In My Mother’s Secret, the theme is from this wonderful tale, by Henry James. When American heiress, Maggie Verver, is about to get married, her best friend and her fiancé, who happen to have been in a relationship with each other, buy her a wedding gift. It’s a golden bowl, but when they bring it home, they realise the bowl has a crack in it. It’s a metaphor, a symbol, and also a key that unlocks one of the novel’s revelations.
The book he was looking at has fallen open on a double-page spread. It’s a quote in exquisite calligraphy: ‘It isn’t a question of beauty, it’s only a question of truth.’
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing another psychological thriller for Corvus Books, provisionally called The Holiday. It’s about a family whose three-year-old daughter drowned a year ago.The mother, Amy, wants the whole, extended family to go away for the anniversary of her daughter’s death to try and heal. She books a house on a tiny island in Italy though an online company…but the holiday goes dangerously wrong. My inspiration for this one was the rise of online holiday companies, which might not always be the safest option for travellers…
I lean on the windowsill to look down at the swimming pool, and something sharp digs into my palm. I wince; embedded in the heel of my hand is a human tooth. It’s tiny with a sharp point, a dull ivory, with a hollow where it once grew in a child’s jaw.
I’m heading up toGranite noir, a crime fiction festival in Aberdeen in one month. I’m going to be talking about children caught up in crime fiction with two incredible psychological thriller writers, Mel McGrath, author of Give Me the Child, and Colette McBeth, who’ll be talking about An Act of Silence.
All of our books feature a mother as the central character and their child, who is in peril. There is nothing our characters would not do to protect their child – although in Mel and Colette’s stories, the situation is more complex. Linda, the protagonist in An Act of Silence, has an adult son whom she has never truly trusted: will she believe him now, when he’s been accused of murder?
As for me, my character, Zoe, in The Stolen Child, would go to the ends of the earth for her daughter, Evie – if she knew where to find her. Arguably, Zoe inadvertently put her daughter in danger by falling for another man, an artist called Haris, who is darkly fascinating. This goes to the heart of what it takes to be a good mother: you obviously need to love and care for your child or children, but to do so well, you need to be happy too.
Where do we draw the line between our needs and those of our family?
It wasn’t until the train went past that she saw the small body lying in the long grass by the side of the wood.
She couldn’t tell how long she’d been searching for her daughter. It was dusk, but it had seemed darker as she ran through the wood, tripping on hooked tree roots, her feet crunching through crisp, curled ash leaves….
…and ends on 9 November. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Bone by Bone. To enter, please head over to my Facebook page and like and comment on the post about the competition.
I find that reading out loud really helps me edit my work – plus, it’s good practise for book launch readings! Here are a couple of extracts from the antagonist’s point of view, and one (read when I was writing The Stolen Child) from Zoe’s point of view (she’s the main character).
It’s one month today! More details are on my Events page, but if hearing about The Stolen Child isn’t sufficient incentive, there will be prosecco and beer from Grape and Grind, and a Stolen Child inspired Bourbon and coffee cake made by Ahh Toots!
Bone by Bone was published on March 3 and we had a celebration at Waterstones, Bristol. It was a wonderful night, and a huge thank you to those of you who were able to come! My editor, Louise Cullen, atCorvus Books, introduced me and read a statement from Kidscape, the anti-bullying charity I’m supporting. I read the prologue to Bone by Bone, and Laura Soper, an actor training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, read an extract from Autumn Wild’s point of view, the nine-year-old girl in my thriller. And then we ate cake and drank fizz!
Statement from Kidscape:
‘We are really sorry not to be with you in person tonight for the launch of Bone by Bone. We are hugely grateful to Sanjida for working so closely with us and donating a portion of the profits of the book to Kidscape.
My friend Ingrid, from Dunleavy Vineyards, is bringing along a couple of bottles of her delicious pinot for us to sample, cake artist Tam from AhhToots is making a ‘Bone by Bone’ alcohol-fuelled and caffeine-laden cake, and our local winter, Grape & Grind, is helping us out with prosecco and Wiper and True Brewing Co. beer!
It’s going to be an awesome party! Hope you can join us!
It’s less than a month until Bone by Bone is published! And if you’re in Bristol, do come to the book launch.
It’s going to be at Waterstones, The Galleries at 7pm, Friday 4 March. I’m delighted we’re going to serve prosecco and Wiper and True beer provided by our local vintner, Grape and Grind, plus a Bone by Bone inspired cake by cake artist Tamarind Galliford of Ahh Toots! based in St Nicholas’ Market. My friend, Ingrid Bates, is donating a couple of bottles of her delicious rosé from her own vineyard (how cool is that!) Dunleavy Vineyards, for a lucky few to sample!