I'm thrilled to be today's stop on the blog tour for The Secret Keeper's Daughter by Samantha King. I have a wonderful guest post from Samantha, sharing all about her writing process for the novel.
Like all my novels, A SECRET KEEPER’S DAUGHTER is deeply personal to me. I always write from the heart, and the plots and themes that intrigue me most are generally ones very close to home: families, relationships, love and loss, hopes and fears. In essence, I enjoy creating fictional scenarios that are rooted in everyday life and will challenge readers to ask themselves what they would do in a similar situation! In order to do this authentically, I draw on my own experience as a wife, daughter, friend, sister . . . and especially as a mother. In my first two novels, the central character was a mum whose child was under threat, and the same is true of The Secret Keeper’s Daughter – because my writing process begins with my own fears.
The initial idea for this story arose from a ‘worry box’ – an old shoe box I decorated with my children, inviting them to post notes in it when they had anything on their minds that they found hard to put into words. Having stumbled across this worry box again one day, I reflected on how hard it is to know what’s really going on in someone else’s mind, especially a child’s, and how that can lead to spiralling fear and paranoia.
I imagined how I would have felt if my children’s notes had hinted at something truly devastating, and the character of Holly Mayhew started to form in my mind: a young mum who already feels under strain, caring for a new baby and worried about the state of her marriage. When her seven-year-old daughter Marley suddenly changes from being lively and chatty to fearful and withdrawn, Holly’s fears go into overdrive. Through her quest to solve the mystery, I wanted to explore parental paranoia and the corrosive impact of family secrets.
The worry box was at the heart of my story, and I planned the plot around seven notes, over seven days, with each note providing not only a clue to Marley’s fears in the present, but also triggering memories that expose Holly’s fears about her own childhood. The dual timeline needed careful planning to create a dramatic echo between the build-up of tension in the present day, set against the unravelling of traumatic events in the past.
In a sense, I drew on a therapeutic model in which a person’s beliefs and behaviour are underpinned by long-buried experiences, the unpicking of which can be deeply emotional – as it is for Holly. My training as a psychotherapist helped me enormously in this regard, and it always underpins my writing process, inspiring me to dig into the darkest corners of my characters’ hearts and minds.
The story setting was also very important to me. My first two novels were set in west London, where I live, but for The Secret Keeper’s Daughter I was inspired by family visits to the Suffolk coast, in particular the quirky seaside towns of Thorpeness and Aldeburgh. The sea, of course, also provided a handy metaphor for hidden dangers lurking beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic life – and, happily, a couple of extra research trips were required, to soak up the atmosphere and make sure I got details about the setting correct!
Writing is the perfect chance to give my imagination free rein, but my stories are always firmly grounded in real, everyday domestic life, and the hopes and fears for our loved ones that we all share. Both writing and reading are solitary activities, but they are also about shared experiences and human connection. I never feel alone with a book for company, and I’m never happier than when I’m writing!