Escape to the Country: Sarah Hilary takes us on a dangerous journey into fear and loneliness

Sarah Hilary explains why she set her fifth Marnie Rome novel, COME AND FIND ME, outside of London and the results that had.

Posted on July 5, 2018 in Guest Author
Tags: Come and Find Me, Noah Jake, marnie rome, sarah hilary

A strange thing has been happening since my fifth novel, Come and Find Me, was published in March. Readers keep telling me a certain chapter affected them in a powerful way. One said she had tears streaming down her face as she read it, another said it gave him nightmares, a third said this chapter was when the story took hold and wouldn’t let go. All things an author hopes to hear but odd that so many different people had such strong reactions to this same chapter — the first in which I’ve sent Marnie Rome out of London to the depths of the countryside.

For four books, I’ve tethered Marnie to her stamping ground in Greater London. Apart from the occasional day trip to visit her foster brother in prison (where he’s serving time for the murder of their parents), Marnie has stayed in the capital. In Come and Find Me, she’s let loose in the North of England (my old stamping ground) on the hunt for an escaped prisoner. The chapter is set in a cottage of weathered grey stone surrounded by empty fields and woods. Judging by her reaction to this alien environment, Marnie will not be relocating any time soon.

“The sudden brightness was an assault, disorientating because dusk had fallen so thickly an hour ago, swallowing the fields and woods around the cottage which frowned its floodlights down on them as if they were the escaped prisoners. At either side of a shallow porch a blue glazed pot stood planted with wind-beaten daffodils. It was eerily quiet, the kind of quiet London never knew, so that when a wood pigeon rattled out of the trees it was like a brick thrown with force through a window.”

Why did I decide to send Marnie to this unnerving rural idyll? And why has it affected readers so profoundly? The answer, I suspect, lies in the particular horror the countryside holds for me. I moved there after eleven years in London and while many good things happened, including the first inkling of an idea for writing Marnie, I cannot say I enjoyed my adventure in country living. In fact, it was an experiment which left me docile, dull-witted, dangerously isolated and desperately lonely. (I have since escaped back to a city.)

Lara Chorley, whose cottage is the one visited by Marnie, is living with these same feelings of isolation and loneliness. From her quiet country home, she’s been writing explicit letters to a violent inmate, Mickey Vokey. During the prison riot that opens the book, Vokey escapes, leaving behind him a trail of devastation and death. Marnie fears she will find him hiding in Lara’s cottage, lured there by promises the woman made under the duress of extreme seclusion.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not write letters to inmates, or make lethal promises of any kind. But when writing this particular chapter of Come and Find Me, it was easy to recall those feelings of exile and restiveness. While living in London, the countryside held a special lure for me. But the kind of contentment promised by magazines and television shows, cookery books and kitsch retailers, does not in my experience exist. Or rather it can exist as easily in a city as in a remote rural location. Ultimately, peace and quiet come from the inside. Just like so much of our fear. Loneliness exists in cities and towns, villages and hamlets. And it breeds its own terror, as Marnie discovers again and again in her work. This lesson is driven home to her in Come and Find Me. Lonely people, like scared people, can be the most dangerous of all.

 

COME AND FIND ME by Sarah Hilary is out now

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