This week we welcome Rae Cairns to the blog. We’re following Rae’s journey to publication on the podcast and we LOVE her debut novel The Good Mother. Here she tells us all about where the idea for the novel was born. You can read more about Rae on our Emerging Author Spotlight page.
I love a good ‘What if…’
Wherever I am, whether I’m driving, walking the dog or watching my kids play sport you can bet I’m daydreaming and asking myself – ‘What if…’ What if that waiter who just spilt the wine is actually an undercover detective? What if that suitcase over there has travelled worldwide, and carries the secret to one unsolved murder in each country it has passed through? What if the two elderly ladies having a fist fight at the shops yesterday (yes this really happened) were actually mothers who’d met in court, one the bereaved parent of the victim of a brutal crime, and the other the parent of the innocent accused now doing time? What if my sister rang me, screaming she’d just woken up in the boot of a moving car? (That What if has kicked off my next novel). Maybe it’s just me and I have a dark mind but I can’t remember a time where I didn’t ask ‘What if’. There was one however that wouldn’t leave me alone. For 15 years it lurked.
Back in the 1990’s, during the final years of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, I worked in Belfast mentoring disadvantaged youth. While there, I briefly fell in love – that all consuming, passionate, I will change my life for you, young love. He wooed me with letters and dancing and sweet nothings in my ear. I was hooked. Then people around me began to let things slip. How he wasn’t who I thought he was, to be careful of his charming ways. All of this unsettled me and I began to delve deeper. When I uncovered my boyfriend’s close ties to a paramilitary organisation I confronted him and discovered much of what he’d told me about himself had been false. I immediately broke things off, and while I was heartbroken for a short while, I knew I’d dodged a bullet, so to speak. Upon my return to Australia I found myself questioning what would have happened if I hadn’t found out until much later about his paramilitary ties? After all, we been a couple for a few months, and he’d already been angling for us to live together. It shocked me that not one local friend or work colleague gave me a clear heads up, even knowing that the goal of my work in NI was to undermine the power of the paramilitaries. Had this been the reason he was with me? Or did he truly believe so strongly in his cause that he thought I’d come around?
Years later, once my children were settled at school, I began a creative writing course it was the 15 year old ‘What if’ that kept demanding to be explored – what if the relationship with my NI boyfriend had gone for longer, and he had exposed me to the underworld of Belfast more than I realised? What would happen if our paths crossed today? So I began to write. And the story evolved. I found new characters, and more primal threats and motivations. It became a very different manuscript from the one I’d started. While I did use some of my experiences from over there to springboard from, The Good Mother and Sarah’s story is a complete work of fiction.
Still, I will always be grateful to the What if that got me started.
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