Sometimes it’s hard to place a particular book in a single genre. You set out to write a romance (say) and the story gets away from you. Before you know it it has an element of mystery, or the story takes a twist that won’t allow you the expected happy ending and you find you’ve written contemporary women’s fiction instead.
My latest novel, Looking For Charlotte, is a pretty good illustration of that. What’s it about, in a sentence? Well, it’s about a woman, Flora Wilson, who sets out to find a missing child, which makes it, outwardly at least, a mystery story. But many stories move across genres and this is one of them. The mystery element, though crucial to the book, is actually only a small part of if.
Consider Flora, first of all. She’s long-divorced, her children are grown up and, almost without realising it, she’s falling in love with a man who’s in love with someone else — his long-dead wife. And he doesn’t approve of her quest for the the body of a missing child to whom she has no connection. So how can Flora begin to reconcile her feelings for him with her obsessive search for little Charlotte? One of them has to compromise. Who will it be?
Charlotte’s mother, Suzanne, has a parallel story and a parallel romance, although her challenges and her choices are different. Freed from an unhappy marriage by the suicide of her husband, she has to deal with the devastating consequences — the loss of her daughter at his hand. So when Suzanne falls in love again her problem is one of guilt and fear. Can she learn to love again? Does she dare?
Suzanne is more of a typical romantic heroine than Flora but she’s very much the secondary character. Does that change the genre? Does that mean that Looking For Charlotte is not a romance after all but that, because its main character is in her late forties with grown up children and her potential partner is a few years older, it’s comes under the genre of ‘post-chick lit’? Or does mystery trump romance? If it’s even mystery, of course — it’s been described by one reader as ‘a brooding thriller’ and it’s true that there’s little darker than the violent loss of a child.
If pushed, I’d describe it as a contemporary romance with an element of mystery. The two love stories woven around the mystery are, for me, what drove the plot. But read it for yourself and see what you make of it.
She walked alongside the rutted track on the springy heather. This was where Ally had driven in his hired car, alone and knowing himself to be his own daughter’s murderer. How must he have felt? Lonely, of course. Even in the best times of his life Ally was always lonely, resisting all attempts to understand him and his problems, fighting against his perceived failures, his mental weaknesses. She knew them well. She had loved Ally, for a long time. She’d dedicated years of her life to making him happy and then she’d realised that she couldn’t do it. And by then she had a baby, another helpless being, but this time one who couldn’t do anything for herself. So instead of living her life for Ally, she’d lived it for Charlie. And now she had no-one to live it for but herself.
She stopped at the edges of the digging, looked down reluctantly. The house lay a few hundred yards beyond; a dog barked, but no-one came out. She was alone. Perhaps Ally had killed Charlie because he was jealous of the attention lavished on her. Perhaps he felt emasculated by a helpless child. And if he had, then that made it her fault.
‘It wasn’t my fault,’ she said aloud. ‘I did everything I could. I won’t be blamed.’
His silence — of course he was silent, he was dead and she was glad — accused her. She clenched her hands in her pocket and looked down at the non-grave where tiny white flowers had already begun to re-colonise, reaching out into the wet earth from the overturned clods. ‘Ally, you bastard!’ she shouted. Her voice disappeared in the wind but she believed he’d hear her. ‘You selfish, murdering bastard!’
As the tears welled up, she dug a hanky out of her pocket and suppressed them. Her phone was in there, too, so she fished it out and tried again. This time there was a signal, though faint. She rang her mother, but there was no answer and she didn’t leave a message, because everything had changed and she knew she would cry.
She tried Karen, not expecting an answer, but got one. ‘Hi Sue. All right?’ ‘You’ve got your phone on.’
‘Bad form during a wedding, I know, but I thought you might ring. I switched it off during the service, though. Where are you?’
‘I’m up where they found Ally.’
‘Oh God. You poor girl. Do you feel better?
Suzanne looked around her. ‘I don’t know. I can feel Charlie. Is that silly?’
‘I don’t mean I think she’s up here. I just think she’s with me. I always think she’s with me.’
Suzanne didn’t want to talk any longer. She held the phone face down and shouted to it, ‘I’ve hardly got a signal, Kazzy. But I’m fine. I’ll ring you tomorrow, okay?’ And she ended the call and slipped the phone back in her pocket. Then she began to walk back down to the car. It was true; it was as if Charlie was with her, walking beside her with her tiny toddler’s steps, stooping to touch the flowers and reach out for the butterflies. She would have loved this place.
She reached the car, got in, pulled down the mirror again and looked at her sad, old face. Love? What was love? And where was it, buried, deep and lost forever?
Divorced and lonely, Flora Wilson is distraught when she hears news of the death of little Charlotte Anderson. Charlotte’s father killed her and then himself, and although he left a letter with clues to her grave, his two-year-old daughter still hasn’t been found. Convinced that she failed her own children, now grown up and seldom at home, Flora embarks on a quest to find Charlotte’s body to give the child’s mother closure, believing that by doing so she can somehow atone for her own failings.
As she hunts in winter through the remote moors of the Scottish Highlands, her obsession comes to challenge the very fabric of her life — her job, her friendship with her colleague Philip Metcalfe, and her relationships with her three children.
Tirgearr Publishing: http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Young_Jennifer/looking-for-charlotte.htm
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1D7pNY6
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1JmAwBR
I live in Edinburgh and I write romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve been writing all my life and my first book was published in February 2014, though I’ve had short stories published before then. The thing that runs through all my writing is an interest in the world around me. I love travel and geography and the locations of my stories is always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.
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