As an aspiring writer I’m always interested in what sparks an author to write their novels. Today I’m delighted that Harriet Cummings, author of We All Begin As Strangers has agreed to tell me a bit about how her novel was inspired by real events.
We All Begin As Strangers will be published by Orion on the 20th of April 2017 and is available for pre-order by clicking here.
We All Begin As Strangers
It’s 1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary English village of Heathcote.
What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘the Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.
When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes the Fox is responsible.
But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets the Fox is really after…
Inspired by a real 80s mystery, and with a brilliant cast of characters, We All Begin As Strangers is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.
Real Events as a Starting Point For Stories
A Guest Post by Harriet Cummings
For most writers, it’s everyday life that feeds our imaginations. Even authors writing novels set in distant places or historic periods will – arguably – draw on the people and situations around them to make their stories come alive. This might be just the odd detail like a personality trait of a friend or a line overheard in a cafe. But it often provides a spark that warms up the writing.
In this way, for me, creating stories tends to feel like a conversation between my own life as I experience it every day, and what I put on the page. This is part of what makes storytelling so exciting; I find that crafting characters makes me more observant and appreciative of life around me – people are infinitely interesting and such rich fodder for fiction!
Of course this can occasionally make for an uncomfortable time. Friends and family members might be anxious about whether they’ll find themselves in a story. And as the author we might question the ethics of it all. How closely can we portray things we’ve witnessed? To what extent must we consider everyone’s feelings?
No doubt we shouldn’t shamelessly fill our pages with the ups and downs of our friends’ lives! We need to be tactful and sensitive. But I don’t think writers should be afraid of using real life and real events as a starting point for inspiration.
My own novel We All Begin As Strangers was inspired by something that happened in my parents’ village the summer I was born, in 1984. A man who came to be known as ‘The Fox’ was breaking into people’s homes across this village and others around the area of The Chilterns. He committed awful crimes including rape and shooting a gun, injuring someone’s hand. But he also, on various occasions, simply spent time in people’s houses, watching and listening to family life. Sometimes he could be there for hours without anyone hearing him. People would later find blankets where he’d made makeshift ‘dens’ and their photograph albums or possessions left out but not stolen.
It was this aspect of The Fox, his voyeurism, that inspired my story. In some ways the writing process was slightly anxiety-inducing because in no way did I want to lessen the crimes of The Fox or to distort the truth. The marketing needed to make clear that this wasn’t a historical book, retelling the events of that summer, but a fictional version that takes a true story as its starting point.
Maybe some people might argue it’s insensitive to use traumatic past events as a means to write books. But for me, fiction can provide a crucial way to explore and talk about difficult things. Books don’t always need to be logical or to make some moral point. Sometimes they are about trying to understand the darker elements of the world around us. As writers – and readers – we shouldn’t shy away from this.
About Harriet Cummings
Harriet is a debut novelist with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a script writer, she’s had work performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as independent venues around London.
While studying at Faber Academy, Harriet threw herself into her first novel and hasn’t looked back since. She is currently working on her second novel – another dark drama, set in Whitby.
She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and springer spaniel.