I was pregnant with my son when the idea for The Accident first came to me. I wanted to write a novel about ‘keeping secrets’ but I had no idea who would be keeping the secrets or what those secrets would be. Then one day, when I was walking back from the supermarket – waddling along under the weight of my groceries – the first three lines popped into my head:
“Coma. There’s something innocuous about the word, soothing almost in the way it conjures up the image of a dreamless sleep. Only Charlotte doesn’t look as though she’s sleeping to me.”
I heard Susan’s voice as clear as day and I knew immediately that she was the mother of a teenaged girl who’d stepped in front of a bus. I kept repeating those three lines over and over again as I walked home so I wouldn’t forget them, then frantically scribbled them down. I kept writing and, less than two hours later, I had the first chapter.
I didn’t write any more until a couple of months after my son’s birth. As a new mum in a new town I was lonely, and very sleep deprived. For seven long months my son woke me every two hours at night. My health visitor told me I should nap when he napped during the day but he only slept for 45 minutes and it would take me up to half an hour to drop off. Fifteen minutes sleep is worse than no sleep at all, so I’d stay awake and watch TV instead – bad TV. I could have taken over the commentary of Celebrity Big Brother I watched so much.
And that’s when I decided that I needed to continue writing The Accident. It was vital, not just to stop my brain from atrophying after an overdose of reality TV, but because motherhood had changed my life so dramatically I was in danger of losing my sense of self and that self had always been intrinsically linked to writing.
I didn’t want to just start writing the novel. I had to plot it first. I only had 45 minutes, three times a day, and that didn’t give me enough time to stare into space, fingers resting on the keyboard, as I figured out what to type next. Instead I used every spare minute of the day I had to think about my novel. I thought about Susan, my main character, as I pushed the pram around a town I didn’t know and asked myself questions. Why was she convinced that her daughter Charlotte had deliberately stepped in front of the bus when everyone around her was convinced it was an accident? What had happened to her in the past to make her so paranoid? Why didn’t she trust her husband Brian? I thought about the plot as I sat on the single bed in my son’s room at 3am and fed him. What secret could a teenaged girl be hiding? Why would she break up with her boyfriend two days before her ‘accident’? Why had her best friend stopped talking to her? I asked myself question after question after question and slowly, slowly the plot began to emerge (and I became very good at typing it, one handed, into the Notes app on my iPad).
When my plot was as watertight as I could get it, I started writing, perched on the edge of the sofa in the living room with my laptop on my knees while my baby son snoozed in his pram in the kitchen. My fingers flew over the keyboard. When you’ve only got 45 minutes to write you don’t have time to procrastinate with Facebook or Twitter or suffer writer’s block. Whilst I was writing I made sure I ended every chapter with a cliff-hanger and started every new chapter with an intriguing scene. I wanted my book to be a page-turner. I didn’t want to give the reader a single opportunity to think ‘Oh, this is a slow bit. I’ll put it down here and come back to it later’. I wanted them to be glued. One of the ways of doing that is to include plenty of mysteries but not to keep them dragging on for too long. The central mystery must remain unsolved until the end of the book (for The Accident that mystery was Charlotte’s diary entry ‘keeping this secret is killing me’) but the other, smaller, mysteries need to be solved relatively quickly – only for a new mystery to add to the plot.
I finished the first draft of The Accident in 5 months and gave myself three months to rewrite it. Because I’d plotted it so tightly I didn’t have a huge amount of work to do. Instead I re-read the book, noting down plot holes and pages where I grew bored of reading. For the former it meant some more thinking, then some rewriting. For the latter it meant analysing why I’d become bored. Was it because there was too much introspection from my main character Susan? Was it because I had two scenes in a row that were too similar? Was it because the stakes weren’t high enough or the scene wasn’t tense enough. I rewrote and rewrote then I crossed my fingers and sent my finished manuscript off to my agent Madeleine Milburn.
Waiting for her response was the worst kind of torture. Naturally I imagined the worst (she hated it and wouldn’t be able to sell it) and, as each day passed, I became more and more convinced that it was going to be bad news. When her email finally arrived I had to force myself to read it, but read it I did.
‘It’s the best book you’ve written.’
Who knew that six simple words could reduce me to tears? But they did again, several months later.
‘Avon HarperCollins have made an offer’.
(c) CL Taylor
About The Accident
Sue Jackson has the perfect family but when her teenage daughter Charlotte deliberately steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma she is forced to face a very dark reality.
Sue will do anything to protect her daughter. But what if she is the reason that Charlotte is in danger?