Fear of Falling is published this month and I’m posting the Afterword from it here as it describes where the impetus to write the book came from.
Adoption is often thought of as a fairy story, a happy-ever-after for those concerned. But at the heart of every adoption is loss, the loss of family and identity and legacy for the child, the loss of a child for the birth-parents, the loss of the possibility of having a biological child for most adoptive parents who come to adoption because of infertility.
I was one of half a million babies adopted in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in the UK. The majority of us were adopted because our mothers were unmarried at a time when both Church and state punished such women for transgressing, deeming them morally depraved and unfit to be mothers. There was social stigma and shame attached to being pregnant and unwed, and huge pressure on women to give up their babies. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a successful reunion with my birth-mother and to form strong relationships with her and my seven birth-siblings. My adoptive parents met my birth-mother, brothers and sisters and that was a hugely positive experience. Reunion alongside counselling helped me heal emotionally, and my birth-mother said the same. An important part of that whole process was to acknowledge the grief, insecurity, guilt, even the anger that came with being adopted.
Thankfully, times have changed. Nowadays women have more control over their lives and more choices about contraception, reproduction and sexuality. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Few babies are relinquished for adoption. In this century people who adopt are more likely to be creating a family with a child who has been taken into care, a child who has had a damaging start to life. Friends and acquaintances of mine have adopted and some have encountered serious difficulties with the behaviour of their children, especially as they reach adolescence. Barely any of those families, or the ones I’ve read and heard about, have been able to get access to the sort of support they needed when they needed it. A survey carried out by BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme and Adoption UK in 2017 found that more than a quarter of adoptive families were struggling, facing challenges so serious that the adoption was at risk of disruption. It’s not an issue that is widely aired ‒ it’s almost taboo. What is heartening is that nine out of ten respondents were still glad they had adopted. And adoption does work for the majority. But the most vulnerable children in our communities need unstinting assistance, and their families deserve backing to the hilt with resources putting in place for those who require it. Our adoptive parents may give us all the love in the world but sometimes love is not enough.
There’s a real mix of genres here. Crime thrillers, a western, general fiction, two very different ‘crossings’. Sprawling tales that span continents and those that home in on a more intimate canvas. What they all share are memorable characters and the power of great story-telling.
Girl Zero by A. A. Dhand
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
I’ve enjoyed all of these and recommend them whole-heartedly.
The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig
Righteous by Joe Ide
The Last of Us by Rob Ewing
Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
A Double Life by Flynn Berry
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
The Liar’s Room by Simon Lelic
Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
Another clutch of books I’ve enjoyed. They keep on coming! Hope you can find something here you like.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Winter by Ali Smith
No Dominion by Louise Welch
This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
I’m delighted that The Girl in the Green Dress is out in paperback this week. The novel tells the story of teenager Allie Kennaway who heads off for Prom night, cheered on by her dad Steve and her little sister Teagan. But Allie never comes home, beaten to death in an apparent hate crime because of her transgender identity. Back in September, on first publication, I wrote about how my experience as a parent of a transgender child had been the inspiration for writing the book. You can read that post further down the page.
Most of my recent stand-alone titles have focused on ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, they have taken the point of view of victims, relatives, suspects or even perpetrators rather than investigators. I’ve been interested in telling stories about how crime impacts on people’s lives, the sort of nightmare situations that any of us might find ourselves in.
With The Girl in the Green Dress I chose to combine that perspective with the more traditional police procedural, something I’d experience of with my Blue Murder series and for the Scott and Bailey books. So in the novel we hear from Steve and from two parents whose sons may be involved in the crime and also from the two detectives working on the murder – DI Donna Bell and DC Jade Bradshaw.
Donna and Jade grew on me as I got to know them and there’ve been several readers asking if we’ll see them again. All I can say is I do hope so as I’d love to revisit them but there are no immediate plans for that.
Meanwhile thanks to everyone who has given me such lovely feedback on the book, and to the readers who have come up and talked to me about it at readings – and shared their own stories. It’s wonderful how books can connect people.
I nearly always tweet about what I’m reading with #FridayReads. I like to share recommendations with other readers. This week I decided to post a batch of titles I’ve enjoyed on my blog instead. Enjoy.
The Long Drop by Denise Mina
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
The Party by Elizabeth Day
Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman
The Red House by Mark Haddon
Beloved Poison by E S Thomson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
It’s been a good while since I posted – my website was hacked and has taken ages to sort out. So I’ve been building up a backlog of recommended reads. There’s plenty of variety in this first selection from a unbearably tense psychological thriller and a beautifully written epic Western to an homage to the world of Highsmith, an unusual and poignant examination of death and love and a stunning crime debut with a deaf central character.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
Fever City by Tim Baker
The Brittle Star by Davina Langdale
The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
The Girls by Emma Cline
Being Dead by Jim Crace
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Looking to give a book as a present? Here are some more titles that I’ve loved this year.
South of Darkness by John Marsden
The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout
Hearts And Minds by Amanda Craig
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan
A Quite Life by Natasha Walter
IQ by Joe Ide
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The starting point for a novel, the spark that ignites an idea, varies. It can be a location that sets my imagination alight or an item in the news, it might be a particular image, or a question that is troubling me. The Girl in the Green Dress sprang from something very close to home, my experience as a parent of a transgender child. In the novel, teenager Allie Kennaway heads off for Prom night, cheered on by dad Steve and her little sister Teagan. But Allie never comes home, beaten to death in an apparent hate crime because of her transgender identity. I’ve written about hate crimes before, crimes rooted in racism, in Stone Cold Red Hot and Split Second. But never about a transphobic crime. When I shared early chapters of the book with my writing group, people found it illuminating – no one had friends or family who were transgender. And I realised there weren’t many transgender characters in the fiction I’d read (with some notable exceptions like Breakfast on Pluto and Tales of the City read years ago and more recently the wonderful The Sunlight Pilgrims). I had a lot to learn myself, from my child and from reading information on transgender advice and support sites. Crime fiction is renowned for being a very effective genre for exploring social issues and contemporary hot topics and with this novel, at a time when increasing numbers of young people are questioning their gender identity and turning to gender identity clinics for support and health care, I wanted to shed some light on what it is like to have a transgender child, and hopefully to increase understanding of transgender issues.
The big question I ask in the book is how far you would go to protect your child – what if you suspected them of involvement in a terrible crime? Is your duty to keep them safe and shield them? Or to respect the law and make them take responsibility for what they’ve done? The parents involved have very different responses to the dilemma. Responses that put the search for truth and justice, for Allie and her family, in jeopardy.
And as is only right, the book is dedicated to my wonderful daughter Kit, the inspiration behind the story
These were the books I read when I was away this year. All superb, all very different. Enjoy!
Autumn by Ali Smith
Fell by Jenn Ashworth
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Willnot by Jim Sallis
Happy Accidents by Tiffany Murray
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
South by Frank Owen
The Dry by Jane Harper