Where do you find good material for fiction? Right under your nose – Jill Childs

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By Jill Childs

I’m a journalist by profession and for years, I lived in and travelled to far-flung places, reporting the news. I met people with remarkable stories to tell. They’d fled war or natural disasters. They’d suffered terrible hardships and loss. I was caught up in riots and cross-fire and met the victims of all manner of brutality.♥

I filed news reports but often came away from danger zones feeling frustrated. The underlying human stories of the people caught up in these tragedies still felt untold. I’ve written fiction since I was a child and I started to write novels inspired by news events and the many people whose lives had touched mine.

Writing friends seemed envious. “It’s easy for you,” they said as my novels started to hit the bookstands. “How can I get published when I haven’t been anywhere more glamorous than the corner shop? I spend my evenings sorting out the laundry or helping the kids with their homework.”

The set-in-war-zones books did well enough. Then I had children – twins! – and suddenly I didn’t want to be on and off planes any more. My world too shrank to trips to the supermarket and a whole lot of laundry and very little sleep. Oh dear. I knew I wouldn’t stop writing. But what material did I have to explore now?

Well, it was the best thing that ever happened to me – and my writing. Now I had small children, I was suddenly plugged into the local community in a way I never had been before and the stories were everywhere. I hung out with other mums and met my neighbours and made friends with some of the amazing local nannies.

My latest novel, Jessica’s Promise, grew from all this, from observing “ordinary” families all around me – and thinking: yes but, hmmm, what if…?

For example. A lot of houses in our road are being “done up” at great expense by affluent professional families who are new to the area. They sit alongside others with far less cash who inherited their houses or flats from parents – or even grandparents – and can’t afford improvements. What if they were neighbours? What would they make of each other?

And what about the strange, sometimes tense, relationship between nanny/childminders and mothers? It’s fraught with anxiety for some mums who feel guilty about handing over their children and are frightened of being usurped.

So what might happen if a nanny really did have a dark, secret past? And what if the mum felt under so much pressure – at work, at home – that she started to lose all sense of who she could really trust in her life? And imagine then, if something happened to the child in the nanny’s care, in this case, to little Jessica…

Ah, now there’s a story waiting to be told. No aeroplane needed.


Jill Childs has always loved writing – real and imaginary – and spent 30 years travelling the world as a journalist, living overseas and reporting wherever the news took her. She’s now made her home in London with her husband and twin girls who love stories as much as she does. Although she’s covered everything from earthquakes and floods, riots and wars, she’s found some of the most extraordinary stories right here at home – in the secrets and lies she imagines behind closed doors on ordinary streets. Jessica’s Promise is out now, published by Bookouture.

@author_jill

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