There were several threads of inspiration that contributed to If They Knew. One of the less obvious, perhaps, was the idea to use a motorway service area as a location in the novel. As a child, I often made long journeys with my family to see the grandparents we’d moved away from and breaking the monotony at the motorway services (along with I-Spy and my dad’s Chris Rea tapes) is part of the backdrop of those childhood memories.
Later, as an A-Level student, I got a holiday job in the retail shop at Charnock Richard services on the M6. I worked there for three years, on and off. It was opened in 1963 with an architecturally-experimental restaurant situated on the bridge of the motorway, so diners could view the traffic below. When I started there in the mid-1990s, the restaurant was still a waitress-service Little Chef, complete with staff in frilly aprons, leather booths and balloons and lollipops for children, but soon after it was quickly dismantled and turned into fast-food outlets.
Some of the older staff in the shop, many of whom had worked there for decades, would tell me about how local families used to come to the services, and particularly the restaurant, as a treat. They clearly lamented the lost glamour of a place which had once represented a space-age future, and was, by then, rather sorry for itself. I suppose that faded grandeur appealed to my writer’s sensibilities, but so too did the liminality of the place; the contrast between the workers who spent hours there and the customers for whom this was just a brief pit stop in their day.
So Moreton Chase, which features in If They Knew, is modelled on Charnock Richard, and I hope it aptly reflects the theme of changing fortunes, as well as the figurative journeys of all of the characters. I know in my days as a shop girl I served a few famous faces – musicians, TV personalities and so on – but I’m sure the stories of some of my anonymous customers would have been even more interesting. Did I sell a newspaper or pack of cigerettes to anyone who was on the run? Who had committed a crime? Who was living a double life? I’ll never know…
I know who you are.
I’ve come to pay you back.
Nobody in Barbara Marsden’s family knows about her past, least of all her daughter Helen. But someone wants the truth to come out.
When Helen discovers a sinister note at Barbara’s house, she can’t understand who would want to threaten her mother. She’s determined to find out who sent it, but soon realises her search might hurt her own family and put Barbara at risk…
What really happened all those years ago? And who is going to end up paying the price?