Tina Seskis: five real-life mysteries that inspired me
It is only when I came to write this that it occurred to me that all three of my published novels have been about missing people, in one way or another. Mysterious disappearance as a theme has featured heavily in fictional stories (think Gone Girl, Lolita, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Castaway) but I have always been fascinated by real-life disappearances. There is something so tragically compelling about them – the endless theories and possibilities about what could have happened, the unconfirmed sightings, the wild goose chases, the open-endedness, the not knowing. And then, of course, there is the heartbreak of those who are left behind – the suspicion that inevitably falls on often entirely innocent friends and family, the unimaginable fear of what the lost person might be going through, the lack of closure, even when interest in the story has long dwindled. It is tragedy writ large, human suffering in every shape and colour.
So here are the top five real-life disappearances that have moved me, and in so doing have, in some small way or another, inspired my writing.
1. Agatha Christie
As a massive fan of her books as a teenager (and forever after!), I was astonished when my mother told me that Agatha Christie had once disappeared in real life. I rushed up to the library and found a book that had been written about those lost eleven days, but it offered no real resolution, which just piqued my interest further. More theories have come to light in recent years, of planned suicide due to her husband’s affair, covered up by her own excuse of amnesia, but the truth is no-one knows, and never will now.
2. Ben Needham
The original missing child, largely forgotten after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, was the most heartbreaking story of a child who was being looked after by his grandparents inexplicably disappearing from his home one sunny day in Greece. There appeared to be no clues, no motive, no trace. The mother searched for years. And it was finally found, just last year, that it was most likely a terrible accident, and the little boy had been unknowingly buried in a building site. My heart goes out to the family.
3. My friend’s uncle
When we were at university, my friend’s uncle disappeared without trace. He left no message for his wife, or his teenage children. Nothing. They didn’t know if he was alive or dead, whether he’d had a breakdown, or an accident. A few months later he wrote to them, saying he was with someone else now. Years later, he and his children are still trying to repair their relationship.
4. Missing cats
I get desperately upset when the posters of impossibly cute lost cats (the latest: “Honey is Missing”) go up around our neighbourhood, especially as I’m always reminded of the story one of my ex-colleagues once told me, about how her next door neighbour’s cat was driving her mad, and so one day she bundled it into the back of her car and drove it to the other side of Bristol, and it was never seen again. If you’re reading this, you know who you are.
5. Harold Holt
The ingredients are all there for the ultimate mystery. A sitting prime minister, under pressure. A rough-waved beach on one of the most beautiful peninsulas in Australia. A country thrown overnight into political crisis. A body never found. Was it suicide? Or was he simply overcome by the waves? Or was he a spy for China and was picked up by a Chinese submarine (yes, really, one of the many conspiracy theories)? Of course, again we’ll never know for sure, but it never stops people speculating…
So there you have it. Next time you read a novel and think, hey, that would never happen, who knows – maybe it already has…