My guest in the Author Spotlight this week is Jennifer Young, author of romantic fiction. Welcome to ‘My Writing Life,’ Jennifer.
Looking for Charlotte – Jennifer Young
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.
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?
Please read on for more detail from Jennifer about the setting of Looking for Charlotte
Books come with standard disclaimers. “Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”
Um. I must have had my fingers crossed behind my back. The persons (living or dead) in my latest book, Looking For Charlotte, are indeed the products of my own imagination. So are the events, although I fully admit that they were inspired by things that actually happened. Those things happened, as my all-time real-life hero Christopher Marlowe put it, in “another time, another place, another country.”
Ah. Places. This is where I have my fingers crossed.
In another life I am a scientist. An Earth scientist to be correct. Facts, to me, are sacrosanct, so much so that I tiptoe round scientific near-certainties garlanding them with caveats in case some new evidence turns up or that 1% uncertainty is enough to bring the whole edifice crashing down. But the important thing is that, as a writer, I love places.
Looking For Charlotte is the story of one woman’s quest to find another woman’s dead child, lost and buried somewhere in the wilderness. The original (true) tale on which it was based came from the eastern US, a place I’ve never been and so a place my conscience won’t allow me to write about. As my heroine, Flora, tramps up and down the highland glens, in increasingly desperate weather and increasingly lonely places, she’s walking in the wilderness of my imagination.
I’m a deep hypocrite because when I read a book I like to do it with Google Earth to hand. But if you try and use Google Earth to track Flora’s progress you’ll fail. You’ll find her home town of Inverness easily enough, and you might even think you’ve found the part of town where she lives; but you won’t find her house. Nor will you find her office. And when she gets lost in the deep dark heart of the mountains and stumbles upon a friend, you won’t find that either. Because I made that whole chunk of the Highlands up.
But the broad brush picture is real. The real-life landscapes of the highlands reflect Flora’s quest just as the big themes of the book reflect the real-life themes that affect you and me — themes of loss and redemptions, of mistakes made and good deeds done in secret. Only the detail is different.
Because that’s how writing works. Even fantasy, even complete new worlds, have something in them that is real to us all and to which we can all relate. (Think of Harry Potter.) In my case, it’s the places. But I’m afraid I’m not enough of a scientist to let reality get in the way of (I hope) a good story.
Don’t judge me for that…
Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Jennifer and for writing such an interesting post about the inspiration and setting for Looking for Charlotte.
Looking for Charlotte is available to buy now using the following links:
About the Author 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 are always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.
Find Jennifer at: