Like the spark for Crossing the Line, the spark that created my heroines Ruby and Jinn came from an evening on the sofa watching TV. I remember that quite clearly, because I was struggling with another half-begun story that was refusing to play – indeed, it was threatening to take its ball away – and I’d decided an evening in front of the TV was the only way to put my brain into that standby mode that sometimes helps.
And on came a Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary about the murders of five women in Ipswich in 2006. You know, I nearly changed channels – a callous response, but sometimes there’s only so much unhappiness you want to witness.
But I didn’t turn over, and so the seed for The Opposite of Amber buried itself in my brain. The programme gave no special prominence to the horror of the murders, or even to the perpetrator. It was the story of the women and their families, and the focus was very deliberately on them – their personalities, their lives – as the programme tried to rescue them from the easy label ‘murdered prostitutes’. The story was tragic, yes, but there was tremendous strength and hope too. Their families grieved for women who had never meant to follow the lifestyles they did, and who in some cases had been trying to escape it.
I didn’t want to write about those women and their families – it would have felt like an intrusion I wasn’t qualified to commit – and I certainly didn’t want to write about their dreadful smirking killer. But characters had already started to grow in my head: two sisters whose lives spin, barely noticeably, onto wildly different and dangerous paths.
Is that justifiable simply because I didn’t fictionalise real women? It was the real women who gave me my story-spark.I still don’t know. I know, though, that it’s what I do, it’s what all writers do. I suppose we all have to decide, on our own consciences, the limits of what’s acceptable