Where does my inspiration come from?
Towards the end of All the Rage, there’s a scene between Erica Somer and her DI boyfriend Giles Saumarez, where she’s mulling over his obsession with true crime TV (don’t worry – this isn’t a spoiler!). She can see why he’s drawn to programmes like Making a Murderer or The Staircase, but can’t understand why he finds shows with semi-spoof titles like Wives with Knives and Southern Fried Homicide equally fascinating. But when she asks him, he replies that it’s all about understanding human motivation: ‘Why, after ten thousand years of human evolution, we’re still doing such appallingly shitty things to each other.’
As you’ll know by now, I’m a bit of a true crime junkie myself, so there’s a lot of me in Giles (or Giles in me, if you prefer). But I don’t just watch it to find out why (though that is a big part of the draw). I also find it a rich source of raw material for my books. I’m not alone in that, of course – there are many crime novelists who draw inspiration from real life. But we don’t all do that in the same way.
In my case, true crime will often provide the springboard for a book. It’ll give me a place to start, in other words, but my stories never end in the same place as the real-life events which triggered them. So, for example, In The Dark drew on the infamous Fritzl cellar incarceration in Austria, and elements of No Way Out were prompted by the equally notorious case of Christopher Foster, who killed his wife and daughter and then burned down the house with the entire family inside. But with both of those books, the narrative developed in a completely different direction, and – as always – the characters I invented took on lives of their own.
Which brings me back to All the Rage. Because this is another book with clear roots in real life.
It was a story that made the national news, and if you live anywhere near Oxford you’ll certainly remember it. In September 2016, a young girl was snatched off the street by two men in a car, in the heart of prosperous North Oxford, only to be found wandering nearby, several hours later, in a distressed state. The abduction happened at a busy intersection, between the Banbury Road and the Marston Ferry Road, it was at the height of the rush hour, and yet no-one seemed to have seen anything. There were no witnesses, no CCTV, nothing. It made no sense.
A massive police operation swung immediately into action – there was an exhaustive search of the surrounding area and the fields near the river, e-fits were issued, and there were repeated appeals for information. Ribbons were put up in the area to show solidarity with the victim, young people were warned not to go about alone, and the whole city was on edge. And then suddenly, six weeks later, the police announced that the abduction simply ‘did not take place’.
And that was it. No further official comments were made, and nothing was ever heard about the story again. To this day, we still don’t know.
But I have always wondered. Not just because it was so ‘close to home’, but because it’s such a strange and thought-provoking story.
I don’t know the truth, any more than anyone else. I don’t know the girl’s name. All I do know is that something must have gone very wrong. So while All the Rage is not about that girl, the germ of Faith’s story was inspired by hers. And as with In The Dark and No Way Out, I’ve used a real-life case as a way to explore the complex and contemporary issues that case raised. I’ve re-imagined the events of 2016 in another time and with a very different girl, and I’ve asked myself the same questions we were all asking ourselves four years ago.
Why did the girl do what she did? What really happened?
What possible explanation could there be?