Today I am thrilled to welcome the marvellous Holly Seddon to my blog. Holly's brilliant debut psychological thriller, the greatly anticipated Try Not To Breathe, is out tomorrow - 7 January - with Atlantic/Corvus. It's published on the same day and with the same publisher as What a Way to Go (we're Book Twins!), so we thought we'd celebrate our mutual publication dates by doing a cross-posting on how our teenage years inspired us to write. You can read my take over on Holly's blog. Meanwhile, here's what Holly had to say...
WHY I DIPPED INTO THE TEAN YEARS FOR DARK INSPIRATION by Holly Seddon
I could not have written Try Not To Breathe if I’d started it today. Not one chapter, not a single word. You see, when I began work on that very first draft, my daughter was nine-years-old. This year, when my debut thriller is published, she will turn 15.
So what’s the problem? Well, Try Not To Breathe centres around the attack and almost-murder of Amy Stevenson who was – you guessed it – 15 at the time. Too close to home, way too close.
The teen years are uniquely terrifying, whichever way you’re approaching them from. Frightening for the teens themselves, thrust into new situations, burdened with new feelings, less protected than ever before. And for parents, we have to set our teenagers free, watch them grow adult bodies, occupying more adult spaces, while still picturing the babies they once were, wobbly on their feet and needing cuddles above all else.
Try Not To Breathe is out tomorrow, but I started writing it many years ago. When I was working on the story, which is partly set in 1995 and mostly in 2010, being a mother of teenagers was some abstract thing to worry about in the future. I had three young children then, I had enough to deal with in the present. So I didn’t picture my little girl when I was getting to know Amy. I pictured myself.
Amy, the victim - who has been lying in a vegetative state for 15 years when journalist Alex Dale first stumbles upon her - was a Britpop-loving, moment-grabbing 15-year-old.
She was hungry for the world, excited about her future and brave as only teenagers can be. When I wrote Amy, I wrote her with passion. I loved (and shared) many of her dreams. I got to realise so many of mine, but Amy never got the chance.
At 15, you think you will live forever, that you can achieve anything and – for most of us – that the worst things you have to kick against are the twin cages of home and school. Wrong on every count, but this naïve framing of reality is the perfect backdrop for rage and risk, for pleasure and pain.
Surprisingly, considering I was writing a psychological thriller where Amy undeniably finds herself in a terrible situation, I felt a nostalgic pang for those years. I think it was a craving for the bravery that accompanies the fear.
Amy is cooler than I was, I didn’t exactly make her in my mould, more the mould of someone I would have loved to be friends with. I hope it doesn’t make me sound like a nut to say that I did start to imagine Amy was a friend. And writing her was a bittersweet pleasure, reliving those intense emotions that, overall, I’m glad to have left behind.
But now my daughter is a teenager. And had I written Try Not To Breathe now, it wouldn’t be myself I’d imagine. It would be my girl, the teenager I know best, going into those dark places, being all but broken by them. I couldn’t do it.
The teens are ripe ground for a thriller writer. When you are a teenager, those years are about exploring, getting to know who you are, carving your place in the world, kicking against the protective nests your parents have spent years carefully building around you. Your soundtrack plays as loud as it can go and you kick with all your might. Sometimes, the world kicks back.
Little did I know at the time, but I started that manuscript at the last possible point I could. And I’m very glad that I did.