It follows then that the very first ‘glimpse’ I had of the story and of Carmel was in a forest. The whole novel began from a central image I had of a little girl standing amongst trees. She had curly hair and was wearing a bright red coat and somehow it was obvious to me that she was lost. Shortly after I sat up in bed and wrote the first chapter of the book straight off though strangely that first chapter didn’t come from Carmel, but her mother Beth. Beth is talking about her daughter, recalling her birth, something has happened but we’re not sure what or why.
I read somewhere once that all books about missing people are crime novels but they are also love stories too and I think that’s certainly the case in my book. The dual narrative happened quite naturally – it was always going to be a book about mothers and daughters and this seemed the best way of telling it. They both get a chance to tell their stories. I usually edit my work a huge amount – I don’t even like think about how many drafts I get through! – but that first chapter is special to me because very little in it has changed since writing it in the dead of night all that time ago.
The red coat stays special to me too. I still love the image of it and I also love how cleverly the design team at Faber & Faber used it with the broken button on the book cover. Plenty of films have used it – the red coat is the only spot of colour in a black and white backdrop in ‘Schindler’s List’ and there’s the creepy little chiller of a film ‘Don’t Look Now’ inspired by a Daphne du Maurier short story. It still sends chills down my spine when I watch it – the mysterious little red-coated figure running down the dark murky alleyways of Venice, so atmospheric and spooky! It was also wonderful to see, on publication day, an army of women from the Faber offices brave the awful February weather and take to the streets of London in red duffel coats to hand out samplers of the book.
‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ hopefully takes you in an unexpected direction. That’s what I love as a reader and it’s what readers have been telling me as I’ve been up and down the country touring with the book this year. Meeting other avid readers has been a joy – and one of the unexpected bonuses of being published.