Some stories start in dark places and, prompted by the question What if?, emerge slowly into the light. This story started five years ago when my daughter was woken by a man standing over her bed. She was eleven years old.
We were lucky. The prowler ran off when she challenged him. And my child is resilient; she recovered much faster than I did.
Motherhood is guilt. Particularly when they’re little. Forgot your lunch, sweetie? That’d be Mum’s fault. Turned up in full uniform when everyone else was wearing free dress? Definitely Mum’s fault.
Mothers are great at taking responsibility. I swear some Mum is out there right now taking the blame for the Ukraine crisis and the fall of the dollar.
We’re even better at torturing ourselves with terrifying ‘what ifs’. . .
But as the years safely passed, I stopped beating myself up as a mother and found myself responding to that prowler incident as a writer. Turning it over in my mind, intrigued by the fictional possibilities prompted by that most tantalising of questions: ‘what if…?’
What if it happened to a girl who was home alone? What if her mum was dead? What if her dad worked nights? What if the only person who came running when she screamed was the one person she hated most in the world?
And so the story of Intruder began to emerge, each question prompting countless others.
Why does Kat hate her neighbour Edwina? How could her dad Jimmy leave her alone, night after night? How would a vulnerable, motherless, once-bitten, twice shy teen react to a guard dog being forced on her? And how would she respond to the unexpected and unconditional love it offered?
On one level, Intruder is about vulnerability and what we need in our lives to make us feel safe. On another, it is about how the inescapable past shapes and, at times, traps us.
Like all of us, Kat sees the world through the prism of her own experiences. She hates her neighbour; she knows what she saw. A single shocking snippet of reality that sets like concrete in her mind and becomes the bedrock for all her subsequent actions.
The intruder is the catalyst for change in Kat’s life. Bringing her simmering problems with her troubled father, Jimmy, to the boil. Shattering her fragile belief that she is fine on her own. Forcing her to accept help – from the unwanted dog, Hercules, the new boy, Al, and her much-hated neighbour, Edwina. And ultimately, compelling her to face a truth buried in the bedrock of the past.
To paraphrase one of my favourite characters. Intruder is like an onion. It has layers. I hope its readers enjoy peeling them back. :)