I was very excited when I was asked by Virginia Woolstencroft of Orion Books to join the blogtour (starting April 17th) with my review of Harriet Cummings We All Begin As Strangers.
Inspired by true events, this book is Orion Fiction’s lead debut for 2017. So eager was I, I wondered if I could find out a little more about the book and about the author (Harriet Cummings) in advance of it’s release on 20th April…a little teaser I suppose!!
So Harriet wrote for us all a wonderful post, with loneliness as it’s central theme and a little background to We All Begin As Strangers.
I’ll hand you over to Harriet now….
by Harriet Cummings
My debut novel is set in a small English village during the summer of 1984. An unknown figure dubbed ‘The Fox’ is slipping into people’s homes but not hurting anyone. Instead it seems he just watches family life before silently disappearing again. Not knowing who he is or what he wants, the community is increasingly unnerved.
Things really get worrying, however, when a fellow villager named Anna goes missing.
Some neighbours form vigilante groups while others lock themselves indoors, weapons at close hand. And hysteria soon spreads as everyone begins to question the people they’ve lived next door to for years.
While the story is about a community pushed to the brink, it also explores the theme of loneliness.
This roots back to the real-life person who inspired the story. Although the real Fox (a man named Malcolm Fairley) did hurt people, on some occasions he simply watched and it was this aspect of his home intrusions that interested me.
I was born the summer this was going on across the area of The Chilterns and later heard stories of my parents borrowing a Samurai sword and setting up tripwires in the garden. Of course there’s no excusing what The Fox did but I always wondered about his motivations – did he crave the intimacy he was missing in his own personal life? It’s impossible to say but the question stayed with me.
Many years later I started writing a novel.
The idea of The Fox had always been at the back of my mind and on thinking about a fictional version of him I found a concept and set of characters came to me fairly quickly (I’d previously been working on another novel that had been plodding along with no end in sight).
This story went easily onto the page and, as the weeks passed, I realised a theme was emerging: loneliness.
The novel is told by four characters who each have initial fears for their own and Anna’s safety, then develop a more complex relationship with the idea of someone in their home observing them and even understanding things that they, themselves, have failed to confront.
We find an unfulfilled young wife, a vicar with a difficult past, a policeman who looks after his brother, and a supermarket manager fixated on a painting – all of them lonely and grappling for some kind of change. In their hunt for Anna, the villagers are forced to not only reveal darker parts of themselves to neighbours but to gain their own self-acceptance.
Although the novel is set in 1984, today we’re still living in a society that can be lonely for many of us. We’re often connected online and might have plenty of chances to travel and meet others, but nevertheless struggle to feel truly known.
I personally find that when I get lonely, reading books can be a real comfort – the universal human truths that often underpin stories help me to feel linked to other people, no matter who they are.
I hope my own novel deals with the idea of loneliness in a sensitive way and might even help people to understand it in relation to their own lives.
It’s 1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary village of Heathcote.
A mysterious figure is sneaking into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘the Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.
When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes the Fox is responsible.
For the worried residents, finding Anna will be difficult – but stopping the Fox from exposing their darkest secrets might just be impossible.
Inspired by a real 80s mystery, and with pitch-perfect characters, WE ALL BEGIN AS STRANGERS is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.
The ideal read for fans of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP and ELIZABETH IS MISSING.
Purchase Link ~ We All Begin As Strangers (available now to pre-order)