In another life (and, like every writer, I have many other lives) I’m a travel writer. I use words to describe the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had, and to try and pin down the essence of a place. And they’re different, not just in terms of language or culture. The rough volcanic rocks of the English Lakes have a totally different feel to the soft fields of southern Scotland, not too many miles away.
I’m telling you this because places are important to me. Almost without exception, the starting point for my novels is the location. Then come the characters and then, bringing up the rear, the plot. That’s why my books tend to be set in places that aren’t just scenic but are interesting as well (and are usually somewhere I’ve been on holiday because that’s when I have time to think).
Looking For Charlotte is different. The idea came from a newspaper cutting which gave me both plot and characters, though obviously I tinkered with them. But it didn’t give me the location. The real life location, Pennsylvania, is somewhere I’ve never been and about which I know nothing so it clearly wouldn’t do. So I took my characters, Flora and Suzanne, and I moved them across the Atlantic to Scotland.
Perhaps I should tell you what it’s all about. Hearing that the police have abandoned the search for a toddler, Flora Wilson embarks on a search for the child’s body so as to bring closure to Charlotte’s mother, Suzanne — a quest which takes her through large and empty tracts of the Scottish Highlands.
Why Scotland? It’s where I live. The Highlands, the focus for most of the novel, is somewhere I spend a lot of time (though admittedly never enough). And the Scottish landscape fits the tone of the book to perfection.
In a search for a buried child, the land is the key. First, following the clues left in the killer’s suicide notes, Flora must identify the area where the body might be buried — she must read the landscape. It changes with the seasons; she must read that too. The book is set in winter where the mountains and moorlands are bleak, sometimes even hostile and Flora’s misreading of nature leads her into peril.
Looking For Charlotte isn’t a travel book, but the story is closely integrated with the land in which Flora lives — a land of brooding beauty and fierce contrasts, and a land I love.
They fell into silence as they thought about the past. Perhaps they’d rambled the same hills at the same time with their previous partners. Maybe she and Danny had straggled separately along rocky paths while Philip and Jo walked hand-in-hand a few hundred yards away. Perhaps. Perhaps. She looked sideways and saw that Philip had a pensive look on his face, as if he were thinking the same thing. But she didn’t ask. Philip made her feel young and happy, but the shadow of Jo scared her in some mad, inexplicable way, haunting the day out like a ghost of the Scottish hills. Always, surely, at the front of Philip’s mind, at the very kernel of his being.
They sat for a while longer in silence against the sun-warmed rock, looking to the south. Here, a window of perfect autumn weather had surprised them. To the south there was more of a haze, where a low glaze of cloud lay over the Great Glen and the hills around it. In the distance, if Flora looked hard, she could see faint scars on the landscape a short distance from the road, close to a glass-roofed extension to a crumbling house and a rusty old farm vehicle. If she hadn’t known what it was she’d never have guessed. The police had gone now, though they hadn’t quite been able to bring themselves to abandon their search site completely. When she and Philip had driven past on the way up, they’d seen the blue and white tape and the Keep Out signs. From a distance it just looked like another swathe of peat cutting, though one where there was no peat to cut.
Sitting beside her, Philip, who’d suggested this walk, glanced at his watch. His sigh was one of reluctance; she knew that, like her, he loved to walk but spent little enough time on the hills once work, football, and domestic chores were taken care of. She worried that he took a puritanical view of self-indulgence, felt guilty about enjoying himself too much or too often. She wanted to make him smile.
‘That’s three o’clock,’ he said reluctantly.
She glanced at her own watch for confirmation. ‘Should we head back?’ There was a tempting summit a little further on, but she’d spent enough time in the hills to know how false the promise of even the smallest detour could be.
‘I suppose so.’
Standing up, they dropped down below the ridge to where the elements once again became bearable. Out of the wind it was warm again. Flora unzipped her jacket and looked towards Loch Broom and the glittering jet and silver jigsaw which the light had made of the Summer Isles and the sea. The fretted outline of the coast always made her stop and think, and today it reminded her of something. ‘What was it Joanne said?’
Once again Philip’s mind was following her own; he answered without the slightest puzzlement. ‘When the tide goes out we’re all part of the same landscape.’
‘It’s a very nice idea. That we’re all interconnected.’
‘Apparently it’s a very strong Celtic concept. I must read up on the Celts.’
They were silent as they scrambled down the steepest part of the path. A quick glimpse to the south showed the fold of cloud had drifted a little closer. ‘You must miss her,’ she observed with daring, as they reached a flatter part and began making more rapid progress, side by side on the widening path.
Divorced and lonely, Flora Wilson is distraught when she hears news of the death of little Charlotte Anderson. Charlotte’s father killed her and then himself, and although he left a letter with clues to her grave, his two-year-old daughter still hasn’t been found. Convinced that she failed her own children, now grown up and seldom at home, Flora embarks on a quest to find Charlotte’s body to give the child’s mother closure, believing that by doing so she can somehow atone for her own failings.
As she hunts in winter through the remote moors of the Scottish Highlands, her obsession comes to challenge the very fabric of her life — her job, her friendship with her colleague Philip Metcalfe, and her relationships with her three children.
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1D7pNY6
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1JmAwBR
I live in Edinburgh and I write romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve been writing all my life and my first book was published in February 2014, though I’ve had short stories published before then. The thing that runs through all my writing is an interest in the world around me. I love travel and geography and the locations of my stories is always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.