The Longing is Domestic Noire that explores themes of love, loss, secrets and betrayal.
I'm not going to give too much away here just yet, but suffice to say, Jen Walker is the protagonist that narrates her story. It starts one crisp January night with her stillborn daughter named Sarah, and ends a year later with a newborn. What happens in the intervening time will change Jen's life forever. By definition of Jen being the storyteller, we don't really know how reliable she is in the information given to the reader, with all the twists and turns. Is she mad, bad or sad? Is she victim or perpetrator?
Our past is a constant shadow to our here and now. Jen can't outrun her past, and nor will kindness heal old family wounds. Jen is desperate to be a mother, a role that appears elusive for her. When Jen's husband commits suicide, she is thrown into an emotional abyss and becomes the grieving widow to her advantage. When an old friend, Ella, re-enters her life and shares a secret, her life will never be the same.
Jen's best friends are Ella and Rosie, all very different people. A duplicitous triangular friendship is formed ~each knowing secrets about the other. It is only a matter of time before they are spilled into the open with devastating consequences.
So, how far would you go to twist a friend's problem to your solution?
How did I get the idea for The Longing?
Once upon a time I was a Midwife, followed by many years as a health visitor working with vulnerable families, in South East England and in East London. Later becoming a manager, followed by a role as lecturer. Working at the proverbial 'coal face' you're privileged to be a witness to family life at the best and worst of times. I'm intrigued by family dynamics and the difficulties that arise when relationships become problematic, especially if the root cause is often found in childhood. My experience lends credibility, and a rich source of observations about women and family life to the storyline.
I started to ask myself the following questions about a character that would later become Jen.
What if, despite having a career, the one thing she really wanted was motherhood? What if her reasoning for having a family, to negate her experiences of being mothered, becomes irrational thoughts, obsessive even? What if an opportunity presented itself, and she agrees to hide a friends pregnancy in plain sight of the local community? All the while secretly making plans to abduct the baby once born. The seeds for The Longing were sown.
The other thing that intrigues me is women and their friendships. Personally, I treasure my female friendships ~ women I have known for decades for the most part. I know who I can call in the middle of the night if I'm in trouble. I know who can throw a good party, and I know who I can trust with my secrets. Before you ask, none of my characters are based on my real life friends ~ they have however provided one or two vignettes in the novel. I'm not saying any more than that!
Many drafts and edits later The Longing was born.
Are my character based on people I know?
The short answer of course is no, they're not. However, I am a people watcher and love nothing better than to sit in a cafe or on public transport for example, seemingly minding my own business, and watch the world go by. Observing interactions between people, body language and so forth. All in the name of research of course! Two characters in my novel I first saw on the Central Line in London. The pair encapsulated minor, but important characters I had in mind. They sat next to me, one barefoot, the other carrying a pair of Louboutin shoes. It was the shoes that caught my eye initially as I'd never been this close to a posh, expensive shoes before! Intrigued by the two women, I started to eavesdrop on their conversation. Perfect!
Jen's grandmother Lily, came to me as a Katherine Hepburn type character. It suited time and place and of a feisty older character that guides Jen.
Everyone else, including Jen, is a figment of my imagination ~ perhaps a loose amalgamation of people I've seen while out an about.
Where is The Longing set?
The London setting is loosely based on Hoxton and any scenes depicted are fictitious, though capture the essence of my experience of the area.
The Kent settings are loosely based on Rochester and Strood for Jen and her family; and Cobham for Jen's in-laws.
Lily's home town, and where Jen goes to live after her husband dies, is based on Deal and Walmar. I needed the contrast in settings to reflect different characters and situations. Deal Pier, Walker Castle and the esplanade all feature.
The books that inspired The Longing are:
The Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.
They are interesting reads that share a sense of longing, wanting what you can't have and people not being as they seem. The books written with a light touch, hiding a much darker side, and yet tell compelling stories of loss and grief.