Author Heidi Perks on the real life inspiration behind her debut novel Now You See Her
Now You See Her is the story of two friends, both mothers, who couldn’t be more different. Charlotte is separated and mum to three confident children, while married Harriet has an only child, Alice, who she barely lets out of her sight. The first time Harriet leaves Alice is to attend a bookkeeping course to build a better future for her family. Strongly encouraged by Charlotte, she volunteers to watch Alice for the day so Harriet can attend. But when Charlotte takes all four children to the busy school fete, and her concentration momentarily slips to her phone and social media, Alice disappears without a trace.
I was initially inspired to write the book after hearing a true story of a child who was left in the care of family friends and very sadly had a fatal accident. What played on my mind was the effect it had on the parents responsible and how sufferable the guilt must have been for both parties, for very different reasons. Their respective grief wasn’t something they would ever be able to share with each other due to the blame and responsibility. It got me thinking how and if you could ever move on from something like that.
And so Now You See Her was born. The story centres around the friendship of these two women and the lies they hide behind, questioning whether or not you can ever really come back from a betrayal of that magnitude, intentional or not. The story is split into two time-frames; the aftermath of the fete and two weeks later when both women are being questioned by the police. One of the main things I wanted to achieve in this story was for the reader to constantly switch their allegiances, to first feel the profound guilt of Charlotte and then the crushing panic of Harriet. To achieve this, I decided to tell the story from both their points of view, oscillating between their voices and shining a light on what was really happening behind the front these two women show the world.
While I was in the midst of writing, another story emerged about a woman caught using her mobile phone while driving and how her friends and neighbours began to turn on her. This wasn’t something I had originally contemplated but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was a very real reaction. Charlotte’s friends would surely have become wary of leaving their children with her, even if deep down they knew she hadn’t done anything they wouldn’t have done themselves. Yet instinct kicked in – the women safeguarded themselves at the detriment of their friendships, a response that is only magnified by social media.
Apart from taking inspiration from real life stories, I carried out a lot of research into cases of missing children and came across many first-hand accounts where the horror and fear of the parents was palpable and were themes that ran throughout all of the cases I studied. These were feelings I could relate to, having once lost my own son at a very busy theme park. The immediate urgency, the chilling fear that the worst had happened – it still doesn’t take much for me to conjure up the dread I felt in that moment.
Now You See Her by Heidi Perks is published by Century, Cornerstone, PRH on 26th July (available in hardback or e-book at all good bookstores, supermarkets and online – https://amzn.to/2JjyGr5)