My latest book In a Single Moment is now out and I thought you might be interested in where the idea for the book came from.
It's hard to explain without SPOILERS so if you haven't read it yet then maybe stop reading at this point!
When I was a girl, my mum told me a story about someone she was at teaching training college with. Valerie, my mother told me, had been swapped by the hospital at birth and grew up in the wrong family.
Her mother, Margaret, knew almost immediately what had happened but could get no one to listen so, rather ingeniously, she chose to ensure that her connection with the other family was never lost by making the other father godfather to what was, in essence, his own child.
But Margaret never persuaded anyone that she was right. The parents of the other baby, Peggy, refused, on the advice of their solicitors, to participate in any blood tests despite the fact that you could just by looking at the children that they were with the wrong families. (I've seen the photos so I know this is true.) As she became more desperate, Margaret entered into correspondence with playwright, George Bernard Shaw to try and get her cause noticed, and those letters form the basis of a book, Letters from Margaret which I bought for my mum as a gift.
I was fascinated by this story as a girl. How could you be in the wrong family and no one do anything to sort it out? It made no sense to me. The truth had finally emerged just before my mother met Peggy, over twenty years later, but I'm not sure it was all happy families from that point on.
As I result of hearing about Peggy and Valerie, I always wanted to try my hand at a baby swap book. However, I didn't want it to be obvious that the babies didn't fit where they had landed so I gave everyone dark hair and no particular distinguishing features. As I wrote, I played with ideas of nature and nurture in both families, dropping in clues which might suggest both that a swap had happened and that it hadn't. In fact, I didn't know if there had been a swap as I was writing and only discovered the answer for myself when I wrote the scene in the art gallery, which is almost at the very end of the book.
Let's talk a little now about the setting. Lincoln is a beautiful cathedral city in the midlands of England and I lived there for a few years in the 80s. I decided to set the book there because it lent itself so well to my plot. The old town, all history and tourists, is at the top of a very steep hill and the working part of the city is down at the bottom beyond the railway tracks, a very visual representation of the haves and the have nots. It's also small enough that Sylvie and Michelle could reasonably have bumped into one another.
I had a wonderful trip, revisiting old haunts and seeing the place through an adult's eyes. I was only sixteen when we moved away and the world looked very different to me then. As ever, places I discovered on my research trip made it into the book. I know exactly where Sylvie and Jeremy live and can take you to the dyke where Donna sees the fox. The dénouement scene was also inspired by my own visit to the art gallery and I spent a very self-indulgent morning in the cathedral. Some places I had to make up. The houses where Michelle and Dean might have lived don't have gardens in front of them, so I added those with a flourish of my artistic licence.
And there you have it. I hope you've found this post interesting. If you're reading the book with your book club then there are some questions to kick start your discussion HERE and as ever if you want to ask my anything about my books then please do get in touch. I love to hear from my readers.
Lincoln Cathedral from the castle walls.
Steep Hill, Lincoln.
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