It’s not often I go back and look at my own work – there’s so much good writing out there just waiting to be read, why would you? – but a positive tweet from writer Nikki Copleston had me pulling a copy of Far Cry from the shelf and thumbing through the pages. Partly set in Cornwall, partly in and around Cambridge, the starting point of the story is the disappearance of a young girl and her best friend when on a camping holiday with her friend’s parents. The girls in the last year of primary school. Eleven.
I can still remember when the basic idea came to me: I was walking along a narrow, winding path on the cliff edge leading away from Cape Cornwall when a sea mist descended suddenly and for several moments I was completely lost. Unable to see where I was going. So easy to step off the path and stumble down towards one of those old mine shafts.
Suppose, I thought … suppose …
Suppose the girl – let’s call her Heather – had gone off with her friend – Kelly, that sounds right – gone off on their own with the usual warnings. ‘Take care now, the pair of you.” “Look where you’re walking.” “And whatever you do, make sure you don’t get lost.”
When they don’t come back after several hours – hours in which Kelly’s parents, increasingly desperate, have gone out searching – Kelly’s father, Alan, calls the police.
I’ve always liked that first sentence – They came in two four-by-fours, slow across the field, wheels sending up small plumes of muddied earth. Something about the matter-of-factness of it, They came – who are they? And the rhythm in slow across the field where the word order throws the emphasis on the word slow – so much more effective, I think, than had I used slowly – and then the way – or is this just my imagination? – the sound of the word plumes seems to rise up in the middle of the last part of the sentence when spoken.
Holiday over, I had something, the beginnings of a story. But not yet the beginning of a novel. Too simple, perhaps? Too straightforward? What if one of the girls is found, but not the other: Kelly, but not Heather. Who, then, is going to be the novel’s central character, who am I likely to be most interested in?Heather’s mother, it has to be, shaken by loss, riven by guilt at having given in to her daughter’s pleas and allowed her to go away with someone else. Ruth, that sounds right, it has to be Ruth.
Ruth – and this is my story developing, doubling – Ruth who, having managed against the odds to build a new life for herself – a second marriage, another child – is brought face to face with the cruel possibility that that daughter, too, might have disappeared. And so it is with Ruth that the novel begins. This is Chapter One.
The scenes I remember liking in the novel, the ones I enjoyed writing – and reading, afterwards – are those when, just for a moment or two, Heather appears to Ruth, as real as if she were still alive. There than gone. Her presence sending a shiver along my spine.