The Inspiration Behind No One Saw A Thing by Andrea Mara

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No One Saw A Thing

By Andrea Mara

No One Saw A Thing: Andrea Mara discusses the importance of keeping readers hooked in her unputdownable new crime thriller.

When I was twelve and on holidays in London, myself and my six-year-old sister got on a Tube and before my parents and siblings could join us, the doors slid shut. As they watched in horror, the Tube pulled away from the platform, with my sister and me inside. My dad apparently shouted ‘Tower Bridge! Tower Bridge!’ through the closed doors and although we didn’t hear him, the person beside us did, and told us where to get off the train.

My dad told me this story again a couple of years ago, and for the first time, I truly understood how utterly terrified my parents must have been. No mobile phones, no way to reach us – all they could do was rush to Tower Bridge on the next Tube and hope we’d be there. Then another thought struck: should I turn that terror into a book?

I decided I should. The children would need to be younger. At twelve, I was unlikely to walk off with a stranger or abandon my younger sister, but what if the fictional children were six and two? And so, the characters came to life in my mind – six-year-old Faye and two-year-old Bea who get on a Tube ahead of their mother, Sive. The doors close and the children are whisked away without their parents.

And what if, I wondered, when Sive gets to the next station, only one child is there? So that’s what I did. In No One Saw A Thing, Bea is at Oxford Circus when Sive arrives, but there is no sign of Faye. And because she’s only two, Bea can’t speak properly yet – she can’t tell anyone what happened to her older sister. Only that she’s ‘gone’.

So now Sive and her husband Aaron are frantically searching London to find their missing child. What next? Well, the aim of any crime writer is to keep readers hooked, to keep them turning pages, to keep up the pace. And at this point, the pace is (rather handily) being dictated by the story itself – the parents are rushing back and forth between stations, getting updates from police, being pulled in for questions. The chapters are short, descriptions are minimal, the mood is frenzied.

But I also needed the reader to get to know Sive and Aaron when they’re not in a panic – what they’re like as ordinary people when they’re not searching for their missing child. So I began writing chapters set three days earlier, when the family arrives in London for a reunion with Aaron’s old housemates. We see them through a different filter and get to know what makes them tick, why they’re a couple, what they’re like as parents, how their jobs shape family life and sometimes pull them in different directions.

The chapters here are longer, with more colour, as the reader gets to know Aaron’s old housemates too, and to witness the pulling of threads, the unravelling of back stories and secrets. There’s a drip-feed of information so that readers can work out bit by bit what’s going on with the family – the aim is that the answers make sense when they come; that the reveals have been breadcrumbed and foreshadowed, and that the seasoned crime fiction reader can play detective. But of course this is also to keep people turning pages – to drop some but not all of the story in every chapter, so that readers continue reading, trying to find out what’s going on.

As a reader, some of my favourite words are ‘something niggled but slipped away’. This is my catnip – I will keep reading pretty much anything to find out what niggled. So unsurprisingly, this is also one of my favourite lines to employ as a writer – the memory that surfaces but disappears before the character can grab hold or the answer that’s so close she can almost touch it – except she can’t. She must wait, and so must we.  

The other means of hooking readers and keeping them turning pages is of course the tried and tested cliff-hanger. You can’t end every chapter on a cliff-hanger, it feels artificial and contrived, but when those moments emerge organically, they’re a great place to end a chapter.

Of course, you can have all the drip-feeding and niggling and cliff-hanging in the world but if the reader doesn’t care about your characters, they won’t keep turning the pages. In crime, characters often exist first and foremost as props on which to hang the story. But it’s important too that the reader is invested in them, rooting for them, and willing to keep turning pages to discover if they find their missing child.

On that note – my parents found their missing children pretty quickly that day in London back in the eighties, and it all ended happily. In No One Saw A Thing, as tends to be the case with fiction, the story doesn’t come to an end quite so quickly . . .

No One Saw A Thing by Andrea Mara is out now in bookshops and online.

(c) Andrea Mara

About No One Saw A Thing:

No One Saw A Thing

Two children get on the train. Only one gets off…

‘Probably the most suspenseful book I will read all year.’ Liz Nugent

‘Twisty, clever, impossible to put down.’ Louise O’Neill

No one saw it happen.
You stand on a crowded tube platform in London. Your two little girls jump on the train ahead of you. As you try to join them, the doors slide shut and the train moves away, leaving you behind.

Everyone is lying.
By the time you get to the next stop, you’ve convinced yourself that everything will be fine. But you soon start to panic, because there aren’t two children waiting for you on the platform. There’s only one.

Someone is to blame.
Has your other daughter got lost? Been taken by a passing stranger? Or perhaps the culprit is closer to home than you think? No one is telling the truth, and the longer the search continues, the harder she will be to find…

Praise for No One Saw a Thing:
‘I was hooked by the end of chapter one.’ Jane Casey
‘Such a clever page-turner’ Cara Hunter
‘I DEVOURED it.’ Fiona Cummins

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Andrea Mara is a crime novelist from Dublin, Ireland, where she lives with her husband and three children.
Andrea also runs multi-award-winning parent and lifestyle blog, OfficeMum.ie.

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