Now You See Her is the story that evolves when four-year-old Alice disappears suddenly at a busy school fete. Alice is in the care of her mother’s best friend, Charlotte, for the day. But when Charlotte temporarily takes her eyes off the children, confident they are safe on the inflatable Jungle Run, Alice vanishes without a trace.
This was at times a very difficult book for me to write as it taps into one of my greatest fears. I lost my own son once and ever since have become slightly neurotic when the children aren’t in my sight. Three years ago, when my son was four, we visited the theme park with some family friends. It was the height of summer, a very hot and extremely busy day. The pirate show had just finished and it felt as if the entire park were gathered around the lake to watch it. Struggling though the crowds we stopped at a kiosk to buy some drinks and when I looked back my son was gone. One minute he was by my side, the next he was nowhere to be seen.
Panic set in immediately. I begged the young man behind the kiosk to take me to the customer services office I needed to get to while my friends split up and hurried off in different directions. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I wasn’t even able to accurately describe what he was wearing I was so frantic. My writer’s brain took me to all kinds of dreaded scenarios, as it often does, and I feared that my son wasn’t just lost but someone had taken him.
For me it was an excruciating fifteen minutes before my husband found him. Thankfully he had just wandered off. Since then I have heard so many similar stories (I begin to wonder if it’s symptomatic of living by the beach as so many children seem to walk off at the seaside) and in all of them the fear and dread are palpable. It is clearly every parent’s worst nightmare and it was this that made me decide it was the book I wanted to write.
Charlotte’s reaction at the fete is paramount to the scene where Alice disappears and it was imperative I got this right. Similarly when Alice’s mother, Harriet, is told her that her friend has lost her child. Along with my own experience it was the many first-hand accounts I listened to that enabled me to figure out how the two women would react and hopefully create the desperation and fear that were essential to their story. In doing so I needed to explore the places their minds took them to the moment they knew Alice was missing, and how this might have been different for both of them.
Alice isn’t found safe and well in half an hour, and for what came next I pored over news stories as well as consulting a detective friend of mine who helped me understand police procedure when the child isn’t found quickly, safe and well. As frightening a thought as that is he also put my mind at rest that such incidents are incredibly rare. Heidi Perks is the author of Now You See Her (out now, hardback). Available in all good book stores, supermarkets and online.