Jess and Heather were once best friends – until the night Heather’s sister Flora vanished. That night, lies tore their friendship apart. But years later, when a brutal double murder shakes their childhood town, Jess returns home. Because the suspect is Heather. What happened to the girl she used to know? And what really happened the night Flora disappeared?
Claire Douglas, author of Then She Vanishes, tells us what inspired the book’s small town fairground setting.
I’ve always been fascinated by fairgrounds. There is something inherently creepy about them, which maybe stems back to a Hitchcock film I saw years ago, where a woman is strangled in a fairground and nobody notices her screaming because of all the shrieks of merriment. It made me realise there is a dark side beneath all the flashing lights, loud music and joviality. Nobody expects something bad to happen in a place where everyone is supposed to be having a good time.
When I started writing Then She Vanishes I knew straight away that I wanted to base part of it in a small fictional town by the Bristol channel with a travelling fair. I came up with Tilby – a hybrid of Tenby in Wales and Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset. I liked Tenby for its curved front, and Burnham-on-Sea because my parents had a caravan stationed at one of the parks. We would go there for weekends when I was growing up because it wasn’t far from where we lived near Bristol. It had a fairground and my step-sister and I had crushes on the boys who used to whirl the waltzers around. Many of the thrillers that I have loved have had a fairground setting, like The Chalk Man by C J Tudor and The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood. I think they are so atmospheric, but also nostalgic.
I grew up in a small town in South Gloucestershire, where everyone knows everyone else, and a big crime like that at the beginning of Then She Vanishes would never be forgotten. Even though my main character, Jess, leaves her hometown for university she always feels a tie to the place, because for a few years she was really happy there spending time with her best friend, Heather and her family at their caravan park.
This caravan park was also inspired by my childhood holidays in Burnham-on-Sea. I like how transient they are, especially during the summer months when Flora goes missing. I imagined what it must have been like to be a teenage girl living in one: bored because the family are busy running the park, enticed by the travelling fair that only comes once a year, bringing fresh blood to their sleepy seaside town. But also I wanted to write about what a caravan park would be like in winter, when they are practically deserted, when, maybe, there is one lone customer who might not be all he seems.
What excites and inspires me the most about all these places, from the fairground to the seafront, is the darkness that lurks just beneath their jolly, picturesque facade – a darkness which makes them ideal settings for thrillers, and a darkness that permeates Then She Vanishes.
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