Sarah Hilary: The Power of Setting in Tastes Like Fear

Sarah Hilary: The Power of Setting in Tastes Like Fear

Marnie is waiting at the crime scene, a scorched black section of main road where two vehicles collided the night before. Four people are in hospital. One of them says the crash was caused by a girl walking out in the traffic; he swerved to avoid hitting her. The girl has since vanished, leaving this wreckage in her wake. There’s a slim chance that she might be May Beswick, a missing teenager. Noah has been seeing May’s face in his dreams for weeks now; he’s desperate to find her, as is Marnie.

This story is all about loss, and fear, and the illusion of safety. London is filled with empty buildings, and lost people. I wanted to capture the sense of a city which on the surface is fizzing with life – everyone always moving, except when the traffic brings them to a halt – but underneath is scored through with hidden people, and hiding places. The girl who caused the car crash came and went in the blink of an eye, almost like a ghost cutting across the skin of the city. Marnie and Noah must follow the scars to find her, and the other lost souls in the story.

The final scene in this extract shows Marnie and Noah interviewing the eye witness from the crash. Joe Eaton, a shocked and bewildered father whose wife is still in surgery, tries to piece together how the accident happened, struggling to remember details about the girl he swerved to avoid. I’m intrigued by the role of the witness, what it does to a person to hold that evidence, those pictures, in his head. Joe describes a girl who might be May Beswick. But if so, she’s suffered terrible trauma, no longer the happy teenager that Noah was seeing in his mind’s eye.

Whether or not she’s May, the missing girl needs to be found. And she is not the only lost teenager in the city. As the story unfolds, Marnie and Noah realise that too many young people are being lured to an imaginary place of safety.

London is a city of illusions. If you stand in a certain place along the Embankment, Battersea Power Station looks whole, as if all four of its chimneys are intact. But it’s a trick of the light, like so much else in the city. In this story, I wanted to take the reader right into the cracks that run across London – all the places you can be lost, and found.