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C.L. Taylor's new novel of psychological suspense, 'The Missing,” is a story of a family torn apart by secrets. For her part, Cally Taylor doesn't think it's any secret why novels such as hers enjoy great popularity - particularly at the moment.
In this e-interview, the British author reveals her thoughts on that popularity, discusses her craft, and considers the narrative challenges inherent in the plot of 'The Missing.”
Q: What was the initial spark for the plot of 'The Missing?” What led you to this particular story?
A: Many of my psychological thrillers are inspired by my fears and 'The Missing” was no different. I have a 6-year-old son and my worst fear is anything terrible happening to him. I knew I couldn't write about a child that young going missing because I would find it too distressing so I gave my main character Claire a teenage son - Billy - instead.
I find the relationship between parents and teenagers fascinating. It's a tricky time of life when some children pull away and become more secretive as they explore their own identity and desires and it's hard for a parent to keep up. When Billy goes missing it's a shocking wake-up call for Claire as she discovers that her son isn't the only member of her family that has been keeping secrets from her.
Q: Your narrator suffers several dissociative amnesia incidents in the course of relating her tale. What were the narrative challenges of representing those episodes and of having your character piece them back together later?
A: The dissociative amnesia scenes were tricky to construct and write. I did a lot of research into the condition and I wanted to make Claire's experience as accurate as possible but I didn't want the reader to find the narrative repetitive each time she came out of a fugue and was disorientated and scared. The solution was to focus on her feelings for the first fugue and move the action on a little quicker in the subsequent chapters.
I wanted to be faithful to the condition, but I also had to make it work with my plot. Most people who suffer from dissociative amnesia only suffer one - possibly extended - episode but I needed Claire to suffer from several fugues over a short period of time so had to use a little artistic license there.
Q: Unreliable female narrators have been enjoying strong popularity in recent years. In addition to your work, books by Paula Hawkins, Fiona Barton and Gillian Flynn occupy this literary space. Why do you think readers respond so strongly to characters like Claire? I've mentioned a few of your contemporaries, but do you think of yourself as working in a longer literary tradition?
A: Unreliable narrators are nothing new and psychological suspense has been around for a long time ('Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938) but, like any genre, it falls in and out of favor. I think the current popularity is down to a desire by readers for a different kind of female character.
Like most young women in the mid-90s I was a huge fan of Bridget Jones and the book by Helen Fielding did phenomenally well. One of the reasons it was such a success was because Bridget was so relatable. As well as being warm and humorous she was flawed, ditsy and unlucky in love. Similar romantic comedies flourished and they sold well for at least a decade; then, it seemed, readers grew tired of the genre.
But where to turn for a new type of relatable character? Psychological thrillers bridge the gap between women's fiction and crime. The characters are relatable - they're mothers, wives, friends - and they experience things we can all imagine. Who hasn't wondered if their partner is having an affair or if the person who's followed them all the way home is stalking them? Which mother hasn't lost sight of their child in a supermarket and felt terrified that they've been snatched?
As well as relatable characters the mystery element of a psychological thriller is addictive. We're like armchair detectives, analyzing the behavior of the minor characters, contemplating the red herrings and working out exactly what's behind someone's suspicious behavior. Then there's the huge thrill of guessing the twist, or the shock if you don't.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I'm currently getting ready for the UK publication of my fifth psychological thriller, 'The Fear.” It's about three women whose lives intersect after 31-year-old teacher Mike Hughes runs away to France with one of his 14-year-old pupils.
I am also in the early planning stages of my sixth book which mostly involves writing notes in my phone at all times of the day and drawing spider diagrams on my whiteboard and then rubbing them out again! I'm hoping I'll have the plot sorted by mid-February so I can start the first draft.