As soon as any parent finds out what my novel, While My Eyes Were Closed, is about, they immediately furnish me with their own lost child story. Sometimes it is recent, sometimes it took place thirty years ago or more, for some, it lasted only a matter of seconds, for others, worryingly longer, but for all of them, that moment is etched in their memory and the feeling of panic as raw as if it was yesterday.
I know, because it was my own lost child story – two of them in fact – which inspired me to write the novel. When my son was two-years-old, we took him to Center Parcs, It was only a matter of months since Madeleine McCann had gone missing. I settled my son down in a fold-up bed wedged between our own bed and the wall. All was quiet but I still decided to check on him a couple of hours later. It was dark in the room (we used travel blackout blinds as the early morning sun tended to wake him) and it took a while for my eyes to adjust as I felt my way across to his bed. But as soon as I reached the bed I saw that he wasn’t there. He slept in a toddler sleeping bag so there was no duvet to check under. The bed was bare. I checked to see if he’d rolled off onto our bed or the floor – nothing. My eyes were drawn to the window. We were on the ground floor and I’d left it open a crack because of the heat. All I could think of was that he had been taken as we’d sat in the next room. I felt sick. I called my husband, I was physically shaking by the time he came in. I simply pointed to the empty bed, unable to form any words. Fortunately my husband was considerably calmer than I was. He put the light on and started a methodical search of the room. It was only when he got down on his hands and knees and looked under the beds that he saw a small bundle in the far corner. Somehow, my son had slipped down the narrow gap between his bed and the wall (which I was sure he’s head couldn’t fit through) and remained asleep there on the floor in his sleeping bag, oblivious to our frantic efforts to find him.
I didn’t really sleep much that night, the ‘what ifs?’ running through my head. Having worked as a journalist for 15 years, I was well aware that ‘I never thought it would happen to me’, was the most common response when people were interviewed about tragic events. But what interested me was how what I’d done – or hadn’t done – would have been forensically examined by the media and public if my experience had turned into something tragic.
A few years later I took my son to a park we hadn’t been to before and he asked to play hide-and-seek. I closed my eyes and started counting. When I opened them again he was, of course, nowhere to be seen. After ten minutes of fruitless searching, and with a now familiar clenching feeling in my stomach, I thought how ridiculous it is that we watch our children like hawks and then take them to a park, close our eyes and tell them to run away and hide. Fortunately, I found my son shortly afterwards but again I was struck by how things could have turned out differently and how I would have been judged if they had.
Since While My Eyes Were Closed has been published in ebook, I’ve already had people question why Lisa actually closed her eyes during hide-and-seek, rather than pretending as you ‘should do’. Well, no-one gave me the manual on how to play hide-and-seek when I became a mother. And as the parent of a child who has been brought up not to cheat – and is furious if they find other people cheating – it never crossed my mind to peek, until the point where I struggled to find him, that is.
Of course, the advent of social media has meant that parents – and particularly mothers – are judged and commented on even more. I was interested in the huge amount of vitriol spouted on social media about the McCanns and other parents of children who have gone missing.
And I think the truth is that often the public want to believe that parents are responsible because then they can reassure themselves that it couldn’t happen to them. The truth, that sometimes children do go missing and it is no fault of the parents, is a far more unpalatable one.
As I started working on the plot for my novel, I knew right from the beginning that I wanted the abductor to be a woman. My husband, a photographer, had worked on the case of the missing baby Abbie Humprhries, who had been found safe and well with a female abductor after 17 days.
I wanted my novel to be not so much a whodunnit but, far more interestingly in my view, a whytheydunnit. At no point did I sit down and think, ‘I know, I’ll write a psychological drama’. It was more a case that the characters and the story chose me and to do that story justice, I had to write it in a certain way. I don’t actually see this book as a big departure from my previous novels, it is more of an evolution. I’ve always written about dramatic events in people’s lives and how they impact on those around them. My previous six novels may have been categorized as commercial women’s fiction but they dealt with such issues as miscarriage, domestic violence, a suicide attempt, traumatic brain injury, a child with a life-limiting illness and a marriage breakdown. Hardly the supposed ‘chick-lit’ fare. It was simply that with this novel, the dramatic event which occurred happened to be a crime, which took me into new territory.
While it’s not a crime book or a police procedural, I did, as with all my novels, want to ensure that I researched the subject matter thoroughly. Fortunately, the father of one of my son’s school friends is a police sergeant who specialises in missing people, so I was able to quiz him at length and draw on my own experience of how the media report such disappearances.
I hope the novel which emerged is a thought-provoking read which will make readers question how they judge people who hit the headlines and how such events could so easily happen to any one of us.
And I’d also like to apologise for the fact that it will probably put you off the game of hide-and-seek for life!
While My Eyes Were Closed has received over 500 4 & 5* reviews on Amazon and is a top ten e-book bestseller. It publishes in paperback on 05 May. Catch up with more from Linda on her website linda-green.com
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