To celebrate the publication of Chasing the Dark, I’m really pleased to welcome Sam Hepburn onto the blog to tell us seven things that only she knows!
Number 1- It’s not me, honest!
When I was writing Chasing the Dark I slaved over a hot laptop for hours and hours trying to make Joe’s Aunt Doreen as vile as possible and I came up with a character who is petty, snobbish, selfish, unsympathetic to poor Joe (who’s mum’s just been killed in a car accident), humourless, uptight, stingy and small minded. Then I began to worry that I might have overdone it so I read some extracts to my teenage children who thought about it for a while, declared that she was absolutely horrible, totally realistic and assumed I’d based the character on myself! Thanks kids!
Number 2 -What’s in a Name?
I love the title Chasing the Dark but it certainly wasn’t the first title for the book. I had a secret yearning to call it Venus with a Broken Toe but my family squashed that pretty quickly and the book began life as Tell Joe, echoing Joe’s mum’s last words. I liked it but my agent Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown, (who has an excellent ear and eye for these things) and my publisher, Chicken House all thought it was a bit boring. So we put our heads together and came up with the title Locked. It seemed to work. It was short, punchy, intriguing and referred to the abandoned house at the heart of the plot and the terrible secrets locked away for more than forty years that wreak havoc on Joe’s life. They even designed a book cover with it on but then one of the senior people at Chicken House woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling that it just wasn’t quite right for the story. So it was back to the drawing board. We had a long, intense telephone conversation throwing ideas around and, just hours before the deadline, finally came up with Chasing the Dark. Phew!
Number 3 -A Modern Magwitch
In the age of instant movies, Love Film and multichannel TV it’s hard to imagine that as a child the high spot of my viewing week was the Sunday tea time classic serial. I loved them all but I’ll never forget the terrifying opening scene of the serialisation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pip (the main character) is visiting his mother’s grave and suddenly he is grabbed by Abel Magwitch, a filthy, desperate, starving prisoner who has escaped from the convict ships moored off the coast. When Pip brings him food, drink and a file to saw off his leg irons an unlikely but life-changing bond is forged between the old man and the boy. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve reread Great Expectations over the years this scene never fails to grip me and it became one of the main inspirations for Chasing the Dark. I began to wonder who the modern equivalent of Magwitch might be and I decided that he would be an escaped prisoner who has stowed away on a lorry from Eastern Europe carrying a guilty secret that would turn Joe’s life upside down.
Number 4 - The Vanishing Earl
I was still at school when Lord Lucan disappeared just after his children’s nanny was murdered. The papers went crazy and the Lucan case became one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century. Did Lucan do it? Where did he run to? Was there a conspiracy of wealthy aristocrats keeping him hidden away on some secret island? Nearly forty years later the mystery still rumbles on and there are now websites and chat rooms dedicated to the rumours surrounding the Lucan case. This is the true crime that inspired the Clairmont mystery in Chasing the Dark. Of course I’ve changed and adapted the facts and, unlike the Lucan murder, which will probably never get solved, the fictional Clairmont mystery is finally cracked by fourteen year old Joe Slattery.
Number 6 - Ditch the nice guys!
In the first draft of the book there were two characters that I was really fond of. They were an elderly couple called Ray and Olive who befriended Joe after he moved in with his nasty aunt and they made his grim life just about tolerable. I could see them clearly in my head, hear Olive’s deep throaty laugh and Ray’s gruff, kindly voice and feel Joe’s relief every time he saw them, so I was appalled when my editor suggested that I should ditch them. I couldn’t bear to think of poor bereaved Joe having absolutely nobody to turn to and I felt as if I was a murderer as I plunged in the knife and cut Ray and Olive out of the story. But (as usual) my editor was absolutely right. Removing them increased the suspense, streamlined the plot and, I hope, made for a much darker and more thrilling book.
Number 7 - A room with a view
I had scarlet fever as a child and I was very sick, very blotchy and laid up in bed for nearly six months. I remember lying there watching the world through the window and I got to know everything that was happening in our street. Much later I saw the Hitchcock film Rear Window, in which an injured journalist solves a murder by watching the goings on in the flat opposite. So, when I was writing Chasing the Dark I wanted a main character who couldn’t dash around confronting villains because they were confined to their room through illness, but who could use their brains, deductive skills and the clues seen through their window to help to solve the central crime. That’s how I came to create Joe’s clever but severely asthmatic friend Bailey.
I’m an author get me out of here!
I am really claustrophobic, I hate being shut in small enclosed spaces. I don’t like driving through long tunnels, getting into lifts or crawling about in caves. Yuggh! It gives me the creeps just thinking about it, which made the scene where Joe and Nina get locked in a dark smelly shipping container almost impossible to write. For research purposes I did go in to a nice clean shipping container, for about five seconds, in broad daylight, with the doors wide open and it still freaked me out! I have to confess that that’s where my research into being locked up ended and so those scenes are written totally from my imagination. I’m now writing the next in the series and knowing Joe there’s sure to be some kind of danger looming but I just hope that this time he manages to avoid getting shut into any small, dark, nasty spaces!
Chasing the Dark is published by Chicken House and is available to buy now.
Joe's mum is dead. Killed in a hit-and-run car crash, along with someone he's never heard of. Angry and alone, Joe takes his dog for a late night walk. He finds himself at the gates of an empty mansion: a house of glass belonging to an old movie star. And it's here that Joe unlocks the dangerous mystery of what happened that night...
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