The Stolen Child: A dark fairy tale

‘They stole you from me. They took you away for seven years. Your entire lifetime…Make no mistake, my darling. I am coming for you. I will take you back.’

 The Stolen Child is about a couple, Zoe and Ollie, who long for children and when they’re unable to have their own, they adopt a little girl, Evie, from birth. But when she turns seven, Evie receives a card from her real father, telling her that she was stolen from him. Like most thrillers, the idea began as a one-liner…but when I started to flesh out the story, I realised that I had another, darker influence…

My mother and step-father are Irish and I grew up in Ireland before coming to live next to Ilkley moor, where The Stolen Child is set. So my Irish background, and then moving to West Yorkshire when I was eight, played a huge role in shaping the kind of story I’ve told, as well as where it takes place.

Many Irish myths and folktales revolve around the little people, or faeries: one of the frequent themes of these tales is of a child who is spirited away by the faeries to the underworld, and then either returned years later when everyone they know is dead, or replaced with a changeling. When we were children, we used to chant a poem about faeries by Donegal poet, William Allingham. It seems to start off light-heartedly – Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen – but grows ever more sinister:

They stole little Bridget

For seven years long;

When she came down again

 Her friends were all gone.

 

I’m sure Allingham influenced WB Yeats who, at the age of 21, wrote The Stolen Child, also about a child being taken away by the little people, and which gave me the idea for the title of my novel.

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild 

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping 

than you can understand. 

Of course, there are no faeries in my story: it’s set in modern-day suburbia, and any nastiness is purely the result of our all too human desires. But there’s a dark thread that runs through The Stolen Child borrowed from those ancient stories. Evie, gorgeous and innocent though she is, may be damaged. Her biological mother was a drug addict. When Zoe first sees Evie as a baby, she finds it hard to love her:

‘Something is not quite right. I struggle to inhale. Something is wrong. Seriously wrong…She doesn’t look like our child. She doesn’t look like a baby at all. Not a human one.’

And later Zoe worries about Evie’s ‘quirkiness’, as if her daughter, a dark child in a blonde family, is a changeling. And then, there is the setting – Ilkley moor – where the heather is interspersed with rowan trees, which in Ireland, belong to the little people. You must never fall asleep beneath one of them… There’s something too about the age seven: it’s a time when there’s a big shift in brain development and children start having a conscience and becoming more emotionally and cognitively aware. Evie, as she turns seven, starts to realise what it means to be adopted, to be the outsider within a family. The faeries only release little Bridget after seven years…and seven is the number of years you’d serve in prison if your crime was extremely serious, but not quite as bad as murder… 

In Yeats’ poem, the child initially wants to go with the faeries because they promise to give him stolen cherries and take him somewhere beautiful, away from the woes of the world. But when he agrees, they reveal the true nature of what they’re doing and what the child will lose. And Evie, like many adopted children, is, at first, intrigued and beguiled by the idea of her real father coming to take her away.

‘Evie is our beautiful, dark-haired, green-eyed child,’ I say. I can hear the tremor in my voice. ‘Like many seven-year-old girls, she’s obsessed with princesses. We think she looks more like a fairy… Please find her. Please bring her back to us. We miss her beyond measure. She is the love of our life.’ 

But to find out who has really taken Evie Morley, you may just need to read the whole story…!

 

Ilkley Literature Festival

I was at Ilkley Literature Festival last week on a panel chaired by Dawn Cameron (left) and with writer and poet, Carmen Marcus. It was particularly poignant for me as, from the age of eight, I lived  on either side of Ilkley Moor, and The Stolen Child is set in Ilkley.

 

I read a couple of extracts from The Stolen Child and we discussed adoption, the themes of race and class in the book, as well as, of course(!) Wuthering Heights.

 

I’ll be doing a number of events over the next couple of months in Bristol and London if you can join me there! And if you have any writing questions for me, I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

 

 

 

Ilkley Literature Festival

I’m delighted I’m going to be speaking at the Ilkley Literature Festival this year.

I grew up on either side of Ilkley Moor, and my second thriller, The Stolen Child, is set in Ben Rhydding, in Ilkley.

 

 

I’ll be in conversation with fellow author, Carmen Marcus, author of How Saints Die. I do hope you can join us.

It’s on Sunday 8 October at 4.30 pm at St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley. Just enough time for a quick romp across the moor beforehand! Tickets on sale from the box office.

 

 

The Stolen Child: Behind the scenes: Filming the trailer

I thought you might like to see what went on behind the scenes when we were filming The Stolen Child trailer! The crew and I all live in the south-west, and it was going to be too tricky to get us all to Ilkley, West Yorkshire, where The Stolen Child is set…so we decided to use Porlock common, a heathland in Somerset, to stand in for Ilkley moor.

 

 

Here’s our actor, Ela Chia Gutierrez, playing Evie, being filmed by Director of Photography, Rob Franklin.

We wanted to start with Evie, who is a happy contented child, until she receives a sinister card… We planned to film this in a playground in Porlock – but when we arrived, it had been closed the night before as a piece of equipment was unsafe to use. Ah, the best laid plans.

We ended up filming next to some toilets in a car park… So glamorous!

 

 

Here’s Ela being lit by our camera assistant, Zoe Masters. Evie has just spotted a card left for her.

Hello my darling, 

I’m your real father. I’ve been searching for you ever since you were stolen from me. I love you so much. 

Daddy 

 

When we filmed on the common, aka, Ilkley moor, Ela dressed in a Princess Elsa dress and had to run across the heath –

 

 

– with my mobile taped on her back so we could tell her when she needed to STOP, and come back to us. We used a drone camera, operated by Jack Stevenson, to try and capture the feeling of isolation, wilderness and fear that Evie must have felt when she was lost on the moor…

 

 

I love this place. I love this land. It’s part of me, it’s part of who I am. But it’s no place for you: a seven-year-old girl in a princess costume. 

 

 

Here’s Rob and Jack operating the drone, filming Ela as she sprints across the moor.

Rob and Zoe then drove up to Ilkley moor and filmed a few shots to drop into the trailer to give that feeling of authentic wilderness.

 

 

The dark edge of the moor and the Cow and Calf rock are crisp against the blue-black sky. I can’t see anyone outside, watching us. As I shut the door behind me, I hear a noise. It came from the hall. I feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck. 

 

Let me know what you think! Here’s the finished trailer: