do my ideas come from?
with a ‘what if’ question – something
that snags an author’s consciousness and
won’t let go until it has been thought through, explained and
Suspect, came from a story I was told by a social worker in Nottingham, who had
that day taken a newborn baby
from a teenage mother whom a judge had deemed incapable of looking
carried the newborn down the hospital corridor, listening to the
screams of its
mother, she pondered the ramifications. She looked down at the baby boy
asked, ‘What if one day you come looking for me? Are you
going thank me for
having saved your life or blame me for having ruined it?’
What a question! What a hook!
begins with a naked woman on a bridge. Not just any bridge, but
masterpiece, the Clifton Suspension
Bridge. She is
perched on the edge, wearing
high-heel red shoes and talking on a mobile phone.
clinical psychologist, Joseph O’Loughlin, is trying to talk
her down, but she
isn’t listening…not to him. The voice she hears
belongs to someone else.
turns to and says, ‘You wouldn’t
understand,’ before dropping the phone and
tumbling to her death.
Shocking. Tragic. Pointless.
three days later her teenage daughter turns up at Joseph
and says her mother would never have killed herself. She was terrified
This is the
if’ moment. The hook. The central mystery at the heart of Shatter.
As far as I
such an event has never happened in real life, but the inspiration for
is very real.
A decade ago
I was working as a journalist in Britain I had the
privilege to spend time with
forensic psychologist Paul Britton, one of the pioneers of
profiling in Britain. Britton
worked on string of high profile
murder cases in the nineties, including investigations involving Fred
Rosemary West, Jamie Bulger and the gay slayer Colin Ireland.
anecdotes he told me was one concerning a malicious phone caller
the north of England –
a man who raped women’s mind rather
than their bodies.
targeted his victims using local newspapers. He would pore over them
looking for stories about teenage girls, who had, for example, been
play hockey, or netball, or tennis for the county or the district.
they were promising dancers or actors, who had made the news.
included photographs of the girls, in school uniform and mentioned
lived and went to school.
directories, the caller would look for a family with the same name,
that area. He phoned when the girl was at school, hoping to catch the
good Samaritan who’s looking after
had a bit
of a fall in the playground. Twisted her knee quite badly. But
it’s OK now, I’m
looking after her.’
Where’s Sarah? Can I talk to her?’
here, lying on the bed. She was quite muddy after her fall, so I popped
school uniform in the washing machine and I’ve given her a
bath. She has such
pretty blonde hair, but I don’t think her uniform flatters
her figure. The
pleated skirt looks is all wrong.’
talk to her.’
she’s wearing a gag. But I’ll put the phone down
next to her ear. Tell her to
relax. Tell her to let me do everything I want…’
It’s shocking. It’s every parent’s worst
I know what
you’re thinking. You think surely a mother would phone the
school and make
mother would never hang up. Yes, she’d want to call the
school. She’d want to
phone the police. She’d want to scream for help. But what she
would never ever
do is hang up the phone. She can’t take that risk. What if
he’s telling the
me for many years because I could imagine the psychological scarring it
to the victims. The caller would make these women take off their
out of their houses and drive to remote locations. This is where the
would find them, half-frozen, terrified and convinced they were saving
I live in Australia now
– on Sydney’s
northern beaches – and it was here that
I came across an almost identical case to the one in Britain.
The MO was
same – using local newspapers to gather details about teenage
girls and then
calling their mothers. In the Sydney case,
police believe as many as a
thousand women over a six-year period were left mentally scarred by the
finally captured him in 1998 after an elaborate operation involving
hidden cameras, listening devices and voice analysis. One victim had
record the caller’s voice on her answering machine.
I have read
of the victim impact statements. Many described their nightmares and
relived that terrible moment whenever they heard the phone ringing.
a postscript, to tell you that the men who committed these crimes were
punished. In Australia the caller
was charged under the
Telecommunications Act with using a telephone to menace and harass and
accused of intimidation. He received an eighteen-month jail sentence.
In the UK, the
offender was sent to a secure
psychiatric unit for treatment.
of these cases is referred to in Shatter, they did
help inspire the
story. And of all my novels this one is perhaps the purest
thriller. It isn’t about body counts or bloody mayhem.
It’s about what we
perceive is happening. The imagination is capable of conjuring up far
terrifying fates than any horror writer or Hollywood filmmaker
final word to my wife (something she’s used to).
read Shatter in daylight hours and said afterwards: ‘You know
we’re never going to be invited to
dinner again because nobody will have a sick bastard like you in their
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