The Inspiration Behind My Book: Keep You Safe by Rona Halsall
Inspiration is a tricky thing to pin down, I think, but it’s the commonest question you find yourself asked as an author – ‘What’s the inspiration behind your story?’ So here’s my attempt to explain how Keep You Safe came to be and what I learned about the writing process.
First you need to know a bit about the story… It follows Natalie, who is convicted of a crime she has no memory of committing. Her husband doesn’t believe she is innocent and takes their son to live on the Isle of Man, where Natalie has no legal rights. Three years later, when she is released, Natalie knows that her son is in danger. But who can she trust?
The starting point of my story was the idea of a woman being separated from her child. This is an emotive subject for any parent and I felt it would be a theme that most people would be able to relate to, from a parent’s and a child’s point of view. It was also something I felt very strongly about, having been separated from my three children for a short time while going through an acrimonious divorce. I knew I had the emotional knowledge to do the story justice, and I think that’s such an important element of the writing process. If you’ve never experienced a certain situation, then it is so much harder to empathise with your characters and make the story believable. At the time, I was relatively new to writing and the words of wisdom – “write about what you know” – were very much at the forefront of my mind.
The second element, was an image I had of the first scene, which was so clear in my mind it was like watching a movie – all I had to do was write it down as the images flowed through my head. It is set on a ferry, when Natalie is crossing to the Isle of Man to find her son and she meets a musician, Jack. It’s a trip I’ve made many times, my husband being Manx, so I had no problem describing the scene. Again, I was sticking to what I know. I also thought the Isle of Man would be a cool setting for a story! So then I had my theme, my setting and my opening scene and from there I just kept asking myself why? And what if? Which I feel are the two most important questions for an author when plotting a story.
As any author will tell you, the first draft often bears little resemblance to the final story and that’s exactly what happened with me. I knew very little about women’s prisons and knew that I’d have to do a lot of research to make these sections convincing. I have to say I was overwhelmed by the documentaries I watched and was devasted at the plight of some women, who are separated from their children on a regular basis as they are in and out of prison. It confirmed my belief that the justice system doesn’t always hear the woman’s voice and that was an element I wanted to add to my storyline, together with the helplessness that many vulnerable women feel.
Once I had my first draft, it went out to a handful of readers and the editing process began. I changed it from a mystery into a full blown psychological thriller with lots of action (which was a lot of fun!) Once I’d secured an agent, their feedback helped me to really beef up the prison scenes and give the story more of an emotional punch. Finally my editor at Bookouture waved her magic wand and helped me to finesse the whole thing into the finished product.
As you can see, it’s not just my inspiration that has made this book – it’s very much a collective effort, with new input at each stage, from people who were passionate about the story and had new ideas on how to make it the best book it could be. And at every re-write and edit, as my understanding of my characters grew and their personalities became more rounded and their motivation more consistent.
As I was writing, I went through all the emotions that my characters went through. If a scene didn’t make me cry, I knew I had to do more work to get the emotional thump I wanted my readers to experience. When my characters were scared, I needed to feel my heart racing. Getting the emotions right is such a tricky part of writing and is an element that I tend to layer into the story once the plot is just right. It takes time and tweaking, but it’s worth the effort.
From my debut novel, I have learnt that inspiration isn’t just one thing. Yes, you have to start somewhere, but inspiration comes at all stages of the writing process; from the research, the way the characters develop in your head and from the many people who will read your story before it’s the finished article. I have learnt that it’s good to have an open mind and allow new ideas to enhance what you have started.
(c) Rona Halsall
About Keep You Safe:
What if trying to protect your child only put them in danger?
Natalie is desperate to find her little boy. It has been more than three years since she saw Harry. Three long years in prison for a crime she knows she didn’t commit.
But her husband believed the police, and took their son.
Who has gone to such great lengths to destroy Natalie’s life? Everyone she once trusted – friends, family, all the people close to her – what secrets do they hide?
If Natalie finds the truth, will she get Harry back, or lose him forever?
A totally gripping psychological thriller – perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, The Girl on the Train and C.L. Taylor.
Order your copy online here.
Also published this month by Rona Halsall is Love You Gone:
When Mel arrives at the holiday cottage in the Lake District, she expects to find the heating on and her husband Luke and the two children waiting for her. Maybe a bottle of wine open…
Instead, there is just a note on the side, saying they’ve gone out for a walk.
But they aren’t back several hours later, and Mel knows something is wrong. Really wrong. When a search doesn’t find them, she has to confess to the police that her marriage isn’t all that it seems.
Even if that risks her own secrets being revealed…
An absolutely incredible, page-turning psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming, for fans of Gone Girl, Behind Closed Doors and Ruth Ware.
Order your copy online here.