Would you trust a complete stranger?

After Chloe and her daughter Freya are rescued from disaster by a man who seems too good to be true, Chloe decides she must find him again to thank him. But instead of meeting her knight in shining armour, she comes across a woman called Nadine Caspian who warns her to stay well away from him. The man is dangerous, Nadine claims, and a compulsive liar. Alarmed, Chloe asks her what she means, but Nadine will say no more.

Chloe knows that the sensible choice would be to walk away – after all, she doesn’t know anything about this man. But she is too curious. What could Nadine have meant? And can Chloe find out the truth without putting herself and her daughter in danger?

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Tell us about the two different titles for the book?

In America, the book’s title isn’t Pictures or It Didn’t Happen; it’s The Warning, and really it’s all about warnings.  It was inspired by a warning I received in real life.  I’d met someone I thought was wonderful – almost too wonderful to be true – but when I mentioned the person’s name to someone else I knew, she said, ‘Oh, God, not X! X is a monster, and completely untrustworthy – you should run for the hills.’  It made me start to think about how hard it is to allow a relationship to develop naturally and in good faith when you’ve been warned in advance about a person.  Even if they don’t put a foot wrong, you’re always thinking, ‘But what if tomorrow they tie me to a chair and force me to watch Lord of the Rings DVDs against my will?’  

Then I realised how often in my life this had happened to me and continues to happen: I’ll be minding my own business, totally fine, not worried about a thing, and someone will come along – someone who has decided I’m not making the decisions they think I ought to make – and say, ‘Wait! Stop! If you carry on the way you’re going, you and all your family will surely be murdered by marauding psychopaths!’  I noticed it a lot when my children were little.  They’d be perfectly fine and having fun – eating a Mars bar or walking along a wall – and some well-meaning relative would say, ‘I wouldn’t let them do that if I were you – they might die of scurvy and/or break their necks.’  Then I had a kind of Eureka moment.  I realised that if you’re going to warn someone about something, you’ve really got to be pretty certain the terrible fate you’re alarming them about is a genuine danger, because otherwise your warning might well be the worst thing that happens to them!  I felt so strongly about this that I wrote a poem on the subject which can be found here.

Anyway, my children have not yet died of scurvy, and all those warnings that they might, in retrospect, look like aggressive acts of fear-mongering, and deliberate undermining of my confidence in my own parenting skills.  I became obsessed with warnings, and knew I wanted to write a book centering around a situation like this.

Please tell us about the characters of Freya and Chloe

Freya is a nine-year-old girl who wants to be a singer and has an audition for a show.  Her mother, Chloe, nearly ruins everything by forgetting the music Freya needs to bring with her in order to be allowed to audition.  Chloe is the main character in Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen.  She’s a woman who has not been lucky in love so far – so when a handsome stranger called Tom Rigbey appears and seems to have the solution to all her problems, including the missing audition music, she is tempted to believe in him as her knight in shining armor.  But then she is warned about him by one of his colleagues, who claims he’s ‘a plague in human form’ and a sociopath.  Chloe doesn’t have much confidence in herself and her own judgment, so she’s scared off at first.  

But then she realises she does have confidence in Tom Rigbey’s essential goodness, even after only meeting him once.  So she sets out to investigate, convinced her hero is what he seems and not the bad guy she’s been told he is.  What Chloe discovers, however, is something she couldn’t possibly have anticipated, and far more horrifying than she could ever have imagined…

What is the appeal of writing psychological crime fiction for you?

I love mystery and suspense above all – that feeling of being desperate to know what’s going on, and, at the same time, not having a clue!  But knowing that the urge to find out the truth will be satisfied by the end of the book. So, that’s why mystery fiction, but I love psychological mysteries in particular because they’re about people’s warped minds, which is my interest and obsession.

You write both fiction and poetry, so do you have a preference?

It changes over time, but I think if I had to name one true literary love, it would be crime fiction. That’s what I love to read most.

You have a husband and children so how do you juggle your time between your family and writing?

I’m asked this question fairly regularly, and it puzzles me a bit! Loads of people work and have spouses and kids.  Dentists, chiropodists, aeroplane pilots, dinner ladies… I think it would be weird if a person decided to have a partner and children and never do anything else apart from hang around with them.  Equally, it would be just as weird for someone to have a job and decide to neglect all human relationships in order to focus on it. So I do what 99% of people do: I have meaningful relationships in my life, and I work hard – just like almost everyone else I know!

You have been shortlisted and won awards for your writing so how does it affect your confidence each time you are recognised in such a way?

It’s lovely to be shortlisted – and the best thing of all, for me, was to win the 2013 Crime Thriller of the Year at the Specsavers National Book Awards for my novel The Carrier – but I’m not sure it affects your confidence that much, really.  I think people are either confident or not, fundamentally, and that has more to do with both nature and nurture than shortlists and awards!

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