Synopsis:During a winter blizzard a small girl is found wandering half-naked at the edge of an ancient woodland. Her hands are covered in blood, but it is not her own. Unwilling or unable to speak, the only person she seems to trust is the young officer who rescued her, DS Lucy Black. DS Black is baffled to find herself suddenly transferred from a high-profile case involving the kidnapping of a prominent businessman's teenage daughter, to the newly formed Public Protection Unit. Meanwhile, she has her own problems—caring for her Alzheimer's-stricken father; and avoiding conflict with her surly Assistant Chief Constable – who also happens to be her mother. As she struggles to identify the unclaimed child, Lucy begins to realize that this case and the kidnapping may be linked by events that occurred during the blackest days of the country's recent history, events that also defined her own childhood. LITTLE GIRL LOST is a devastating page-turner about corruption, greed and vengeance, and a father's endless love for his daughter.
During a particularly bad winter a few years back, two children in different parts of Northern Ireland were found, wandering at night, in the middle of a snow storm, in their night clothes. The cases were unrelated and, in both instances, the children were rescued and returned home, but the image of a child, lost in a snow storm, resonated with me.
I’d long wanted to write a book set in Northern Ireland, having only ever examined the place at a remove from the southern side of the border through my novels featuring Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, but had resisted doing so. Part of the reason for this reluctance was that things in the North were changing so quickly, including the police force, which had changed from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, that any attempt to write about the place would be outdated and anachronistic before it ever was published. The other reason was that, until I had a few novels under my belt, I didn’t feel able to tackle the impact of the past on the present in the North precisely because I had grown up there. Despite those reservations, I did want to write about the North, more specifically, my home city of Derry and, more particularly again, featuring the ancient woodland of Prehen near where I grew up and in which my brothers and I had played when we were kids.
The image of the child lost in snow and the urge to use the location of Prehen’s ancient woodland coalesced in Little Girl Lost. A child, a snow storm and a woodland seemed to be to be the perfect ingredients for a type of fairy tale, especially if that lost child is being pursued by a sinister figure. But as well as having the features of a fairy tale, I wanted to write about the use of fairy tales and the significance of the settings in them, particularly of forests, places of darkness and the unknown; places of liminality between what we are and what we will become - much like William Blake’s Little Girl Lost and Little Girl Found.
A psychologist friend of mine had once told me about how fairy tales are used to help identify forms of trauma suffered by younger children. The victims are offered a range of fairy tales and asked with which they most identify. Their choice will often reflect the form of trauma or abuse that they have suffered. As a consequence, I wanted to write a fairy tale of sorts where the lead detective sits with the child in hospital at night reading stories to her. One of the stories, unwittingly on the part of the detective, elicits a reaction from the child and offers an insight into what has happened to her. I knew that, with his own family to look after, that detective would not be Devlin. If I was going to create a new character, it made sense to do something different from Devlin. Hence Lucy. The fact that, at the time, my wife and I had our first daughter, Lucy, after three sons, may have had something to do with it too.
So, the story began to develop, with a lost child and a found child, each with their associated fairy tales. However, it is impossible to write about modern Northern Ireland without being aware of the impact the past has had on its present. And so, the story also features two further lost girls, both of whom suffered trauma during and due to that period which is euphemistically called The Troubles, and their respective fairy tales as well. And one of those lost girls is Lucy herself.
Lucy, in many ways, represents a new generation, scarred by the sins of the previous one, trying to learn from their mistakes, without repeating too many of them, hoping that she is different from those who went before – most obviously her mother - but desperately aware that she probably isn’t. I deliberately wanted Lucy to represent something new; she is young, a woman, a Catholic, a member of the PSNI. She has returned home to look after her father whose own past troubles his present and whose memory fades daily with the developing Alzheimer’s he suffers.
I wanted a heroine who isn’t defined by the men in her life, but who sets her own course, follows her own agenda and makes her own mistakes. She believes in the importance of justice not as part of her career, but because it is vitally important for society that justice is served properly and evenly. This focus on justice is unsurprising for any author who grew up in Northern Ireland where lawmakers and lawbreakers were impossible to distinguish one from the other at times and where people carried out the most horrendous atrocities with impunity and, at times, with the support of the state.
Lucy is my attempt to reconcile the past and present, and to suggest the possibility of a future different from both.
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