‘Dadda will come and get you back from your fake family….’ I’ve always loved innocent-man-on-the run type stories – the Fugitive TV series and books such as Testament by David Morrell – and wanted my debut novel, Sweet William from Saraband Books, to focus on a manhunt.

But I didn’t want my main character to be a squeaky-clean hero. Nor did I want him to have a tacked-on idiosyncrasy or affectation. I wanted him to be a rounded, ‘real’ person for better or worse.

Trawling the internet one evening, I stumbled across an Instagram message from someone I vaguely knew. It went something like this (and, for obvious reasons, I’ve tweaked it more than a little).

Happy Birthday Bubba! I miss you every minute of every day and love you very much. When you’re 18, Dadda will come and get you back from your fake family and we’ll be together for ever and ever as a real family. Just you wait and see. Love Dadda

There was my lead character – a man who has been separated from his little child, most likely by a court, and longs for the day that they’ll be together once again.

The message – a mix of hope and suppressed anger – sums up the feelings of many men who, for whatever reason, are no longer able to see their children.

And so Raymond Orrey, the narrator and man on the run of Sweet William, started to take shape. He’s a man who loves his son, William, more than anything else in the world. He sees himself as the most wonderful father.

All he needs to do is to break out of the psychiatric unit he’s been sent to by a judge, make his way to the foster family caring for his son 150 miles away, and then snatch William to start their new life in the South of France where they can be together for ever and ever.

He’s calculated every move – including kidnapping the boy at the annual family gathering at Aldburgh – but nothing is ever straightforward, and he’ll let nothing stand in his way…

Iain Maitland is the author of Sweet William published this month by Saraband Books

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