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Researching a New Location: The Hiding Game by Louse Phillips

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Article by Louse Phillips ©.
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As a writer of psychological crime thrillers, I often find myself in unique situations for research, like chatting to off-duty hostage negotiators over a chicken burger in a fast food restaurant, or talking psychosis with a psychologist, or at times, eavesdropping on suspicious characters. Meeting new people who do unusual things, for me, is one of the most exciting aspects of research, and having the right conversation with the right person can cause your inspiration to ricochet with story twists, plot points, and insights, unravelling at breakneck speed.

It’s the same with locations. As a writer you observe. You think about how a place can be at a particular time, for example, late at night, a spring morning, or in rush-hour traffic. You think about the people who will inhabit that place, perhaps a homeless woman on a park bench, or a well-dressed man, or even a group of neighbours chatting. You ask yourself why are they there? How do they fit into your story? And what is unique about the location?

Researching The Hiding Game, was an amazing opportunity for me, because, for a start, it meant travelling to Boston and the South Shore. It also meant meeting people who would end up changing the direction of the story. I was as excited as a child going to Disneyland for the very first time.

Arriving Stateside, I had already lined up several interviews with key people, but even before my first meeting, arriving in the city, I was like a sponge soaking in everything I could, people, professionals with their smart suits talking on cell phones, women with finely manicured nails eagerly walking their dogs in Boston Common, joggers, homeless folk, the lone man silent at the 9/11 Memorial, children going to school. I took in the smells, Dunkin Doughnuts, street vendors with cooked sausages, the scent of flowers spilling out onto the street, freshly brewed coffee, the sounds of construction sites, traffic, conversations in hotel, the accent of shopkeepers, waiters, students talking fast. I devoured the Boston Globe in Starbucks, had breakfast in a bustling Italian restaurant, walked the various streets, past the elegant stone-stepped houses with their small ornate front gardens, and then later, a little further out, took in the mix of New England style homes, some looking the worst for the wear. The contrast between those with money in the city, and those without, was obvious from the get-go. In some homes, the poverty and lower socio-economic conditions practically screamed through the battered woodwork, whilst others gleamed with their bright pastel colours. Everything, was already feeding into my story, and as my hand scrawled numerous notes in my notebook, to be reread once I got back home, the city, the location of my story, was at long last coming to life.

By Day 2, I contacted with my first interviewee, an undercover cop with more holes in him from gunshot wounds and stabbings than even he could count. Beforehand, I had no idea what I was in for, but the meeting certainly wasn’t disappointing. Dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans, and a dark baseball hat, the two of us spoke eagerly over a cranberry iced tea, but within seconds, he paused the conversation to take a call from an informant. In my head, I immediately thought about all the American films and dramas I had soaked in over the years. Then the undercover cop showed me the informant’s name on his cell phone, as he spoke through a surveillance currently going down. We spoke about informants, the police system, court cases, the community. I got to learn about him, his family, and why he chose to be a police officer, and how the most important thing about being an undercover cop, was being able to hide your eyes, to not let people know what’s really going on inside your head. The detective had a way about him that made me want to write a whole book on him, and he was critical in forming the story of THE HIDING GAME, both then, and through our many conversations since.

On Day 3, I slipped out of Boston for a short while, and travelled to Rhode Island to meet another contact. There, I swallowed up everything about how the Grand Jury system worked, how some people say you can indict a ham sandwich, when the reality can be very different. I heard about D.A.’s, Police Investigative Reports, American politics, but most importantly, I got really valuable insight into how the U.S. judicial system works. Like my meeting with the undercover detective, the Rhode Island meeting, added layers to my story that would have been impossible to achieve without actually being there.

I had many more meetings during my stay in the US, including those with senior crime officers connected to one of the Major Crime Units in the city.  I found myself in a cell, voluntarily of course. I sat in interview room, with emergency exit buttons and mirrors, behind which cops studied their subjects. I met a black female officer injured after a junkie shot her in the knee. ‘If they wanted to kill you,’ she said, ‘they usually aim for the head.’ Later, I stood in the police station examining the security cameras focused on the then empty cells. I heard how crime rises in the city with the heat. When it’s hot, those without air-conditioning, without money, are like grenades ready to explode, and with their anger rising, anything can happen.

At the end of Week 1, I hadn’t yet reached the South Shore, but I already knew the decision to go Stateside was absolutely the right one both for me, and for this story. I hope, if you read it, you’ll agree.

(c) Louse Phillips

About The Hiding Game:

The thrilling new bestseller from acclaimed crime writer Louise Phillips.

Abby Jones, a young nanny from a small town outside Boston, is the last person with infant Jacob Rotterdam when he becomes seriously ill. Within hours he dies, and Abby is charged with his murder.

Heather Baxter, her defence attorney, knows the case is not as clear cut as the Assistant District Attorney claims, and with enormous media attention on the trial, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When Heather digs deeper, the shadows of her own past, and her mother’s unsolved murder 25 years earlier, in the same small town, begin to unravel with deadly consequences, placing both Heather, and her young client in danger.

A young girl on trial, a 25-year-old murder, and a small town willing to do anything to protect its secrets.

LIZ NUGENT – “This story will enthral you to the end.”

PATRICIA GIBNEY – “Absolutely gripping story, expertly crafted, an addictive page turner. I loved it.”

KAREN PERRY – “A cracking good read, full of twists and turns.”

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD – “A riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines legal thriller set in A Small Town in the USA with dark secrets and murky lies.”

Order your copy online here.


Louse Phillips is the author of four bestselling crime novels, each nominated for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year in the prestigious Irish Book Awards. She won the award in 2013. A recipient of several literary awards, arts bursaries and residencies, her work has appeared in various literary anthologies. In 2015, she was a judge on the Irish panel for the EU Literary Award, and in 2016, she was longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. Recently, her first two novels were published in the US. THE HIDING GAME, her latest novel, received an Arts Bursary for Literature from the Arts Council of Ireland.