Finding The Missing Girl
When I began to imagine the novel that was to become The Missing Girl, the characters drifted into my mind almost fully formed. Two sisters – the younger one, Anna, thoughtful and sensitive, idolizing the older more outgoing Gabriella. I imagined how they looked and what their personalities were like: their good points and their flaws. I put them in the context of their family and the village where they lived.
Then I asked myself questions. What is their story? Which of the sisters will tell it? The answer to the latter came quickly. Anna would be my protagonist because she was the more vulnerable of the two; I felt I was more able to get beneath her skin. The answer to the first question was more complex. I knew Anna would face a terrible event which would shape her life forever - but what would that event be?
I slipped out of my imagination and back into real life. Like many people, I’m often affected by tragic stories, terrible situations that happen to ordinary people. They might be stories about people who go missing, or where there is a sudden death or loss within a family. Sometimes, a spokesperson comes forward on the family’s behalf, a lawyer, or a friend. Other times it might be a member of the family, perhaps a parent or an older sibling. But what about the siblings who are too young to know, whose understanding is limited to the fact that their brother or sister is no longer there? These children are shadows in the background, waiting for an explanation, waiting for their sibling to come home.
This became my inspiration for Anna’s story, and I began to write - the story of a young girl, whose beloved sister disappears in the autumn of 1982, and her subsequent search for the truth.
Did I do research? Yes, to some extent, reading about real life cases, looking at articles, the harrowing details, trying to understand how people felt. But it wasn’t long before I put that research aside because I had no wish to replicate one person’s tragedy, nor did I want to capitalize on anyone else’s grief. So The Missing Girl isn’t based on one specific story; instead, it’s a combination of them all - but it also comes from my imagination.
I’m a writer, and I make things up, and often that’s based not only on my experience and personal aspects of my life, but also on empathy. Most of us have experienced (or will at some point) grief or loss or some other deep sadness that helps us recognize those emotions in others. And that was what I tried to do - use my own emotion and empathy to get inside Anna’s head, to understand as well as I could what it would be like to have a sibling disappear and to try to show that in a novel. I hope I’ve succeeded, but ultimately, of course, that’s up to my readers to decide...