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Destination: danger

Renée Knight is the author of Disclaimer – an addictive, unsettling psychological thriller about secrets, revenge and how well we really know those around us.

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up and begins to read. But as she turns the pages she is horrified to realise the book is all about her. This story will reveal her darkest secret. A secret she thought no one else knew – one involving a holiday many years ago…

Here, Renée delves into the darker side of the holiday and why it’s a perfect feature in a psychological suspense novel.

“A holiday. The idea of it glimmers in the future, a perfect space in which to do nothing, in a place that is not home. A beautiful place where the sky is blue and the sun shines, a place where we might be someone else for a while, still ourselves but with a slight shift. Our guards are down, we don’t expect anything to go wrong for in our heads we have escaped from reality, from the nuts and bolts of real life.  Anything invested with so much hope offers rich-pickings for writers interested in unsettling their reader.

Disclaimer by Renee KnightIt is of course a fantasy, the idea of ‘getting away from it all’ because we cannot leave ourselves behind. Packed inside us, albeit zipped up in a side pocket, tucked away out of sight, are the bits of ourselves we hope to bury for a week or two.  The small anxieties, the nagging doubts or the great sorrow that it is hoped can be forgotten, for a while at least. What better example of this than ‘Don’t Look Now’, Daphne Du Maurier’s short story. A couple desperate to escape their grief over the loss of their child, their hope for a chance to begin to repair their damaged selves. A fool’s errand, for their choice of destination only leads them further into the narrow streets and dark corners of the horror they live with. Just because we choose the holiday destination does not mean we are in control of the place.

Holidays in the sun offer a particular Icarus-style attraction to writers. Here, in both literal and metaphorical terms, people are stripped down versions of themselves peeling off both their clothes and their skins, exposing themselves like human sacrifices laid out on a slab to be picked at. Things smell different, taste different, feel different on holiday, better than they do at home and no matter how often we try and recreate that sensuality when we are back, it never quite comes off.  That idea of living in the moment, our senses enhanced, makes us vulnerable.  What could possibly go wrong?

Holidays are where happy memories are formed, where friendships are rekindled, families re-group after long, cold months of taking each other for granted, but it is that contentment that brings the jeopardy and it is that that is at the heart of psychological suspense: the precious thing that can be lost. Holidays offer an enclosed space, like the big, old house in classic ghost stories, where the protagonist is trapped, and where, one by one, all the things that make us feel safe and secure are stripped away. The intense light found on a holiday offers up the deepest shade. And there, moving in and out of the shade, are the strangers. The people who seem like you, who have chosen the same beautiful spot to get away from it all. You watch them.  They watch you. People watching is part of the fun. So many smiles too, an abundance of them, people who have never seen each other before and are unlikely to again, smile at one another with the innocence of children. Perhaps not so surprising then that the temptation, as a writer, is to wipe those smiles away and to show what is really going on beneath the surface.”

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