Jane Casey about ... The Missing
Books by this Author:
interviewed Jan 2010 by Sarah Rudd
1. Firstly, congratulations on getting your first novel published – how does it feel?
It’s very exciting and a little bit surreal. I’ve had the literary equivalent of stage fright for the last couple of weeks! I think every author gets a bit nervous before their book comes out, in case readers hate it, or reviewers pick holes in it, or (worst of all, maybe) it’s completely ignored. Like all debut authors, I dreamed of seeing my book published, and I still can’t quite believe it’s actually happening.
2. The Missing is an emotional rollercoaster ride that we take along with the protagonist, Sarah Finch, about her missing older brother and her subsequent reaction to being faced with the murder of one of her students later on in life – why did you decide to split the narrative between “past” Sarah and “present” Sarah?
I wanted to tell both stories – to follow the investigation into the murder of a child, but also to see the effect that a tragedy can have on a family over a long time. Sarah is quite a complicated character, and my intention was that through the episodes from the past, the reader should come to understand why she has become the person she is now, and why she makes the decisions that she does. The murder of her student makes Sarah confront the truth about her brother’s disappearance and what it has meant for her – and she realises what she has lost because of it. The story puts her in some very difficult situations and someone with a different background might chose other ways of handling those situations. But for Sarah, in the end, there is only one way of coping.
3. Taking on the challenging and emotive topics of child abduction, abuse and murder is (in my opinion) extremely brave for a debut novel. What was the motivation behind choosing this sensitive range of issues and how did you get insight into the psychology of Sarah’s character?
The story unfolded the more I thought about the basic idea of a child going missing and the likely aftermath. Sadly, nothing in the book is completely impossible, even if this specific set of circumstances is invented. Children are all too regularly abused, and every year some are abducted and murdered. There can be very bad people in the most ordinary places; literally nowhere is entirely safe. That’s a very powerful starting point for a crime novel.
When a terrible crime takes place, the repercussions are widespread and long-lasting – with Sarah, I wanted to look at what it’s like to be part of the collateral damage. I read a lot of interviews with the families of victims of crime, and victims’ impact statements which can now be read out in court before convicted criminals are sentenced. The details of individual cases may be different, but the sense of trauma is the same. And I think worst of all must be not knowing what has happened to your loved one. The families shuttle between hope and despair, and the effect is ultimately corrosive. The crimes in The Missing are not based on any specific real-life events, though.
4. ]We’re intrigued that the police in your novel seem to make perpetually dubious or questionable decisions, which give them a realistic air of human fallibility, but could also appear to be a slight on the ethics and morality of our police force – what do you [i]really[i/] think about the police?
There’s a tendency to see the police as being somehow different from everyone else in society because of the power they have and the trust that is placed in them, but actually there are good police officers and bad ones – those that are good at their job and those that are incompetent or lazy or fed up. They are human! There is quite a lot of rule-bending (if not outright rule-breaking) in The Missing, and some of that is creative licence. But I am very fond of all of the police characters in the book, whatever their shortcomings. The one thing they all have in common is that they are doing their best to do the right thing. In crime fiction, the detectives tend to be either flawed but fundamentally decent or supernaturally perfect – and I’ve never been drawn to the super-policeman who can do no wrong.
5. Talking of which, you didn’t dwell on police procedure or forensic detail in The Missing, which some readers of this genre would be expecting; was this intentional and are you planning on focussing on either aspect in future novels?
Because The Missing is told from the perspective of an onlooker, rather than the police who are investigating the crimes, there was a limit to how much detail of the investigation I could introduce. Sarah is drawn into the investigation in spite of herself and she does get to see quite a lot – more than she wants to, at some points! But most of the procedure happens at one remove from the narrative, deliberately. In my next book, the narrative is shared between two characters. One of them happens to be a police detective, so the procedural aspects of the investigation are explored in much more detail.
6. Your second novel is to feature a serial killer, which is certainly a different approach to the one taken with The Missing, do you feel that this is deliberate or just a natural progression as you find your way as an author?
I think every author wants to make progress and explore their genre – I certainly do – but the next book is not such a departure as it may seem. There is a serial killer, but the narrative focuses on one of his victims rather than on the killer, and once again past events affect what happens in the present of the novel. It’s different from The Missing because there are two first-person narratives, one belonging to an officer investigating the murders and one belonging to the victim’s best friend. But I think if The Missing appealed to you, you’ll like the new book too!
7. ]Being in the publishing world, how does it feel to be on the receiving end of reviews and interviews for a change?
It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but on the whole I find reviews funny rather than taking them too seriously. One person will love something that another person hates, and you can’t please everyone. I must admit to being more comfortable when I’m not the centre of attention. Writers very often enjoy being quite reclusive and solitary, but part of the job of being an author is promotion. And sometimes (as with this), the questions are fun!
8. If your house was on fire, what 3 things would you absolutely have to save before getting out?
Assuming that someone else rescued the baby and the cat went out the cat-flap, I would very sensibly save my laptop, a painting that I bought on my honeymoon and the table I use as a desk. It is very old and very beautiful, and my husband gave it to me years ago, before we were even engaged. He really couldn’t afford to buy it and I hadn’t dreamed he would, but he did. Mind you, it is terribly heavy, so it would have to be a slow-burning fire.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world (apart from London!) – Where would it be and why?
Dublin is my hometown and I would love to live there again. It’s got everything! It’s beautifully placed between the mountains and the sea, and it certainly doesn’t lack for culture or decent shopping. More than that, though, it has a great atmosphere and the people are generally friendly, even if they are quick to come up with a smart remark at the slightest opportunity. It took me a long time to get used to being ignored by Londoners!
10. Finally, you named your cat ‘Fred’ – why not Cuddles or Snowflake or even Marmalade?
Fred was named after Fred Astaire because he’s black and white and looks exactly like he’s wearing a tailcoat and spats. We did not realise when we named him that he was flat-footed and exceptionally clumsy. He has the capacity to cause chaos with those paws.Read our full review of The Missing by Jane Casey