During the writing of Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, I was very much aware of how my own background shaped this novel, but I had no idea of what the 2016 reader would bring to it. The thing I’m certain of most is that I’ll be asked whether the terror attacks across the world these past 18 months inspired this story. It’s a fair enough question. In my novel, a deadly bomb goes off on a tour bus in Calais, France. But back in early 2013 when I was in the planning stage, my reason for France was because the English Channel afforded two countries a view of each other on a clear day.
The thing is that I grew up on Bible stories. The one that stuck most in my head was of Moses leading the chosen people to the promised land. The image in my Catholic children’s bible was of him seeing it from a distance but never getting there himself. In a way, the view from Calais to Dover across the Channel became the promised land for one of my characters, who yearns to return home.
I’m not one to write down the genesis of a character, or an idea, when I first think of it. I wish I were, because I’d love to revisit those early moments. But what I do know is that my focus for this novel was never going to be terrorism. Instead the idea came from my obsession with stories about wrongful convictions, whether it was the Guildford Four from Ireland, or the Memphis Three, or the Central Park Five. Of course, the tragedy of those cases lies primarily with the victims. But there are always scapegoats, and in most cases, wrongful convictions are about class or race.
With regards to character, I’m not sure where Bish Ortley came from, except that he came to me known. I gave him my own age, my fears, and to a certain degree, I gave him the skills I’d acquired teaching high school boys. In that job, I learned to negotiate, bargain, empathize, ask questions, and listen. I didn’t want Bish to be a tough detective who had seen it all on the streets. I wanted his skill to be with people. So when he’s caught up in the bus tragedy because his daughter survived the bombing, it’s his ability to empathize and communicate that finds him unofficially working for the Brits to work out what happened across the channel.
Ultimately as a writer, my focus is always on the ties that bind us as humans and the communities we become part of. It’s that sort of universality that I always aim for, regardless of what is taking place in the world at the time of a novel’s release.