So I guess it was inevitable that Maud would arrive, almost fully formed, in my head, when my grandmother (now diagnosed with multi-infarct dementia) told my dad and me that her friend was missing. I saw Maud immediately, stepping out of her house, muffled up against the cold, guarding against the doubt of those around her, occasionally confused and often vulnerable, but determined to carry out her investigation, to find out the truth.
I was twenty-two when I got that initial spark of an idea, but I didn’t begin to write the book in earnest until a year later. I agonized over it for months, in fact, unable to help feeling that this wasn’t the story for me, that I hadn’t got the right sort of experience, that I was too young. I tried to force myself to write a novel from the point of view of a young woman instead, a woman like me, living in London, trying to begin her career, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sustain the interest and, worse, I felt exposed by everything I wrote, as if I was preparing a diary for public consumption. Often when I re-read a piece of writing, I found myself in it in a way I couldn’t bear and I soon realized that it was only writing Maud’s story in Maud’s voice that would allow me to commit to a novel without that crippling self-consciousness. Making that discovery was incredibly freeing: knowing that readers couldn’t assume I was writing an autobiography, I felt I could make observations and express opinions. Maud meant that I could write without shyness and ultimately write a richer, braver novel.
In the end, for all the difference in perspective, Maud’s world is not that strange to me and her experiences aren’t so very different from mine. I had two grandmothers; I went to department stores and cafés and doctors’ surgeries with them, and although I didn’t directly experience their struggles, I did witness them. I was a teenage girl and although I didn’t grow up in the post-war years, I did meet and have confusing crushes on charmingly dodgy older men. Perhaps then, I thought, I did have a chance at writing this story convincingly.