I’m delighted to welcome the lovely and talented Elisabeth Carpenter to my Thursday Themes blog today, to discuss writing about dark themes (definitely a subject I can relate to!)
Writing about dark themes – by Elisabeth Carpenter
My books so far have dealt with many dark themes: missing children, family secrets, affairs, and mental illness. My second novel, 11 Missed Calls, is about a young mother suffering from post-natal depression, who disappears on holiday, leaving behind her two children – one, just a few months old.
The inspiration for this novel came from an article I read a few years ago in which a mother had been missing for over twenty years, leaving behind her husband and children. A private investigator took it upon himself to research the case, and found the missing woman living in another town, leading a new life. She didn’t want any contact with her family.
I wrote from first person point of view, so it was important that I try to understand what my characters are going through. To do this, I read memoirs and articles online where people describe their experiences. In my previous book, the missing person was a child, but with 11 Missed Calls, it’s an adult. This raises questions for the family left behind. Are they alive or dead? Did I do something to make them leave? Special occasions are poignant and not a day goes by when they don’t think about that person. It remains a mystery as to what happened, and the mind can’t help but conjure the circumstances that befell the missing person. It was heart-breaking to read people’s experiences; I couldn’t help being touched by it. That they never have a resolution to what happened to their loved ones is devastating. It certainly has made me over protective with my own children.
It can be difficult writing about such challenging issues all the time. I’ve said to myself that I’ll write a happy book next time – but I probably wouldn’t know where to start with that. I don’t think it’s as interesting to read a book where everything is going well for someone. It’s hard to empathise with someone perfect.
I’ve written from the points of view of a killer and a child abductor, but people who do bad things still have affable traits – they have to love something. So, in some sense I give my anti-heroes some likeable qualities, so I feel a little more comfortable in their mindset (which is actually mine … it can get a little weird explaining it!)
To counteract the dark issues in my books, I try to end with a satisfying resolution, though not necessarily happy for everyone involved. Some aspects of real life are awful, if you read the news, so I think I’m used to switching off when I close the computer.
I have a group of friends who also write about dark issues; they’re lovely, kind and funny. If I’m having a bad day, writing a particularly harrowing scene, there is always at least one online at some point during the day to cheer me up (and I hope I do the same for them!).
Here are two things I know about my mother:
- She had dark hair, like mine.
- She wasn’t very happy at the end.
Anna has always believed that her mother, Debbie, died 30 years ago on the night she disappeared.
But when her father gets a strange note, she realises that she’s never been told the full story of what happened that night on the cliff.
Confused and upset, Anna turns to her husband Jack – but when she finds a love letter from another woman in his wallet, she realises there’s no-one left to help her, least of all her family.
And then a body is found…
11 Missed Calls is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078TRL7KD
Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston. She completed a BA in English Literature and Language with the Open University in 2011.
Elisabeth was longlisted for Yeovil Literary Prize (2015) and Mslexia Women’s Novel award (2015).
She loves living in the north of England and sets most of her stories in the area, including the novel she is writing at the moment.
Twitter / Instagram: @LibbyCPT