Gone – North East England – Rebecca Muddiman

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Why a booktrail?

Following on from her success with Stolen – the winner of the 2010 Northern Crime Writers competition in 2012 has done it again and places the North East on the North East Noir map.

Story in a nutshell

250,000 people go missing in the UK every year.

91% of those reported to police are found within 48 hours.

99% of cases are solved within a year.

And 1% stay gone.

Eleven years ago, troubled teenager Emma Thorley went missing. The police assumed she was a runaway. But now a body has been found in woods near Blyth.

DI Michael Gardner knows he didn’t take Emma’s disappearance seriously enough back then, but when he and DS Nicola Freeman start to reinvestigate, they discover that the past will come back to haunt them – and others.

Place and setting

Middlesbrough - where DI Gardner was based Blyth woods - where the body is found Alnwick Police station - DS Janet Williams works here Morpeth - links in the case are made here too
Middlesbrough – where DI Gardner was based
Blyth woods – where the body is found
Alnwick Police station – DS Janet Williams works here
Morpeth – links in the case are made here too

The book opens in Middlebrough and Blyth as we meet a series of characters who have just heard the news –

“The body was found in woods near Blyth earlier today”

Their reactions to it could not be more differerent and the trail of suspicion starts to weave and coil its way around each and every one of them throughout the novel.  The missing girl is thought to be Emma who disappeared 11 years ago but it is DI Michael Gardner, based in Middlesbrough who reacts with regret that he failed the girl. Meanwhile, Louise also in Middlesbrough fears that the discovery will mean that ‘they will find out what she’s done’. Then we are in Blyth – the scene of the crime and we  meet Lucas – a vile and sexist individual who ‘ has history’ with the dead girl.

The investigation into the woods and into those who knew Emma takes the police deep into the heart of Northumberland – Morpeth is a place of interest for someone linked to her past. Alnwick police station – the office of DS Janet Williams – becomes a place of investigation too since someone the police become interested in and so before long the trail from her disappearance to her discovery becomes a veritable trail across Northumberland and beyond.

Still it is the woods near Blyth which provide the dark and chilling point of interest. Added to that, the looming presence of Lucas and the dark criminal clouds start to gather in earnest.

Thoughts

A snappy, well structured and well written tale of a chilling and very real to life case. Maybe it was the statistics in the blurb which did it, but this felt like a real case and for that reason the undesirables you meet in and around Blyth are particularly nasty. Very real and believable – just down right nasty.

Told in dual time line –  1999 and 2010 (present day) , this was an effective mix of the confusion and regret of the present day investigation coupled with the dangerous unravelling of the past. very effective two paced thriller which made me want to read just one more chapter in order to fill in another missing piece of the puzzle.

The mix of characters was particularly interesting as the two police officers joined up to solve the crime. The regret and sheer frustration of the investigation past and present rang true and when you add those people Emma knew well – and their past actions – the puzzle grew in complexity and took on  a life of its own.

A missing persons case is perhaps the greatest puzzle of all as everyone seems to have a theory or an explanation of what happened. But peel back appearances and there is a lot more ‘behind the scenes’. You the reader feel very much a part of the investigation and the breadcrumb trail Rebecca leaves you is not as easy to follow as you think. I was left wondering what on earth I would find out at the end of it. And I was not disappointed. Gritty, real and a North East Noir pin on the booktrail map.

A cuppa with Rebecca Muddiman

Settle down with a cuppa and join us please
Settle down with a cuppa and join us please

 

 

Hi there! Glad you’re able to join us. Rebecca’s on her way over for tea and cake. I’ve done what I said and prepared some lemon drizzle. Well it worked on Mari Hannah last week hehe

Oh there’s the doorbell…..Hi Rebecca, come on in.

Rebecca has arrived for tea and cake
Rebecca has arrived for tea and cake..talk of my lemon drizzle making skills gets around!

Kettle’s on. Cake is served. Thanks for popping over. It’s great to see you again. Thanks for agreeing to chat with me about your book. Care for a piece of cake?

I’ve got a few questions I’d like to ask you –

 

1. Congratulations on winning the Northern Writers award in 2010!. Now you have had your first novel published by Moth Publishing. What made you want to start writing and did you ever think you would have such great success?

I’ve always written – even from being a little kid. I think it came from being such a big reader, especially things like Roald Dahl. It just seemed that the worlds you could make up were so much more exciting than the real world so I started creating my own. It was while I was at college that I realised I’d like to write for a living but I never really thought that it would happen. I thought it would always be just me sitting there alone in my room so it’s great that I’m almost there. I still have a day job but it’s amazing to think I can at least call myself a writer now!

 

2. At your author event at Whitley Bay library, you mentioned that you have an interesting way of plotting. Can you tell us more about this?

Yes, it might be because of my background in screenwriting or maybe it’s just what works for me. Basically, I start with an idea and try to build it up until I have a basic plot. Then I write each plot point or scene that I have onto a little card and spread them out across the floor. Then I can see where the gaps are, can think “how do I get from here to here?” and add things to it. I also move things around so the structure changes. I then use this as a basic outline but quite often once the writing begins I’ll add more or make changes. I’m not someone who likes to write very detailed outlines. I like to have a bit of wiggle room and once I start rewriting things can change dramatically. Covering the floor in cards is odd to some people, but it works for me!

 

3. Stolen has a plot that everyone, not just mothers, can identify with – ‘Think of your most prized possession. Think of the one thing you love more than anything else. Think of the one thing you would die for. And then think of losing it.’Why did you decide to write about what must be the greatest loss of all, that of a child?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision to write about losing a child. My initial idea was more generally about missing people and how often they come back. But around the time I was thinking about the idea, the Madeleine McCann case was in the news and later there were other high-profile cases that seemed to follow a pattern in the way they were reported in the media – sympathy followed by blame followed by disinterest – and that was what really interested me.

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4. Was it hard to write about such a difficult topic? What made you choose it?

It was hard to write but mainly because I wasn’t sure I could write about being a mother, especially a mother who loses her child. I don’t have kids so it seemed so far removed from my experience that I constantly worried whether I could pull it off.  A writer friend pointed out that it was our job to write about things outside our own experience and I realised that I’d had no qualms about writing about being a murderer or whatever!  But I think I chose it simply because it was a story that kept nagging at me and I wanted to explore themes around people going missing.

 

5. Why did you choose to set your book and situations where you did? do you actually go to these places when researching your plot?

Most of the places are in Teesside where I’m from so I knew them quite well and could picture them without going out to them. I didn’t name most of the streets etc but in my head I know where they all are.  I didn’t actually set out to write a book set in my hometown but once I started writing it just seemed natural to do it. Plus I quite like the fact there’s a crime novel set in Redcar. I’ve never read anything set here so it’s nice to fly the flag so to speak. Even if lots of horrible things happen in the book!

 

6. Has your experience of working abroad influenced your writing? 

I’m not sure it influenced my writing directly but I think all our experiences feed into what we do in some way. Mostly, I think working in abroad gave me a bit more confidence which led to me making a decision that I was really going to give writing a go. I’d dropped out of university and went to work in Holland for four months when I was 19. When I came back I realised that writing was what I wanted to do and signed up for a Film and TV Production course where I specialised in screenwriting and finally let other people read my work. That was the beginning for me really.

 

7. How have you found working with a regional development agency – New Writing North? Do you think these agencies are a good way of promoting new writers such as yourself?

I think I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here talking to you about Stolen without New Writing North! The work they do is fantastic, they open up so many opportunities for writers and I’ve been lucky enough to work with them on several projects. I won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2010 which are run by NWN and then the Northern Crime Competition in 2012 run by Moth Publishing who NWN are a partner in. I was also a volunteer mentor in one of their Young Writers’ groups for a while which is an excellent project. I would’ve loved to have had a group like that when I was a kid.

Home of New Writing North
Home of New Writing North

8. Which 4 writers living or dead would you invite to a dinner party?

That’s a really hard question! I think maybe Raymond Carver just so I could try and get him to tell me how he did it. I think short stories are really hard to write but his are almost perfect. I want to know the secret!  Then maybe Tina Fey because she’s one of my heroes. Steven Moffat so I could discuss Doctor Who. And Jon Ronson because he would have the best dinner party anecdotes.

 

9. Finally would you be able to share a little something about your next novel? When is it coming out?

It’s currently called Gone but I think that will change. The book is the second DI Gardner novel and picks up a couple of months after Stolen ended. Again it focuses on missing people but in a very different way. It begins with a body being dug up in Blyth which appears to be a girl who went missing eleven years earlier and whose case just happened to be investigated by Gardner. So it kind of drags him back to face up to his past that he’s been running away from for the last decade.  Hopefully it will be out next year.

Thank you so much Rebecca. What a pleasure it’s been.  Look forward to reading your second installment of DI Gardner. You of course will be welcome back here where I will once again be making cakes. Chocolate brownies next time?

 

 

 

 

Stolen from the North East of England

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I am very excited to write about Rebecca Muddiman’s debut novel for a few reasons. 1) It’s fantastic 2) It has been printed by Moth Publishing which is a new venture between New Writing North and Business Education Publishers  ltd – two organisations which support the development of new writing talent. I have attended an event, and met with Rebecca who won the Northern Crime Competition in 2012 and want to share a great local talent and a great initiative to get good writers out there!

Abby Henshaw is driving with her 8 month old daughter Beth, on their way to visit a friend. She is forced off the road by by 2 men in a white van, dragged into their van and brutally attacked before being dumped at the side of the road.

However, her nightmare is only just beginning –  Beth , her baby daughter has disappeared from the car and is missing…..

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The subject matter and descriptions, particularly of the attack are vivid and shocking but it is the search for the daughter that packs the largest emotional punch. It is written from the view point of the victim and is all the more gripping because of it.

This may come across as a crime novel but I would describe it as more of a thriller as you never know who to believe and often come up with an idea of who might be involved only to completely change your mind during the next chapter! The chapters are short and snappy which adds even greater pace and tension to the plot and is very fitting for something that you want to devour as fast as you can in order to find out just what happened to this little girl. You can feel the tension and the emotions of the mother on every page and it is very interesting to see the lengths to which she goes through in order to get people and the police to listen to her and for no-one to forget about her darlinb baby girl. All characters, the family and friends around Abby  are well developed and seeing them from Abby’s point of view gives an unusual way of meeting this characters, of finding out about them and deciding for yourself their part in Abby’s life and what secrets they might be hiding.

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The central idea – that of loss is compelling  –

Think of your most prized possession. Think of the one thing you love more than anything else. Think of the one thing you would die for. And then think of losing it

It’s Abby that probably has the most emotional line in the book for me. Right at the beginning which filters through the entire book making her role as a mother even more heartbreaking –

“I chose to be a mother. her mother I chose her.”

Never mind that characters such as Abby are not your most wholesome  characters. Abby is flawed in ways we discover later on as are other characters and this makes it more real and more raw. I thought how I would react in the situations presented and this made it all the more thrilling to read.

This novel is set in Teeside but obviously settings and the site of the abduction are not made explicit. The issues however override any mention of the settings as the subject matter is so stark.  Knowing Teeside slightly makes me picture certain places as I read the book but it is the mystery at the centre of the story that is the backdrop here.  We may think we know how we might act or feel in Abby’s situation and feel that we have heard of such a story in the Madeleine McCann case. It is certainly a situation thankfully very few of us experience but that makes it all the more frightening as we share Abby’s determination to find out the truth.

I talk to this new, upcoming writer tomorrow on the blog in my favourite spot ‘tea and a chat with….’

Right now I’m off to do some baking in preparation. Lemon drizzle anyone?