In The Attic

“I think we all have secret parts of ourselves” Eva Holland discusses The Daughter’s Secret with Maggie Mitchell

In the second blog on our new domestic thrillers this month, Eva Holland, the author of The Daughter’s Secret answers questions about her book from fellow author Maggie Mitchell.

The novel is called The Daughter’s Secret, but of course all of these characters have secrets. The novel seems to me suggest that our lives are largely structured by the things we hide….Or is that just true for these particular characters?

We don’t all have big, dark secrets like the characters in The Daughter’s Secret, but I think we all have secret parts of ourselves. Every day we choose how much we reveal and how much we hide. Maybe we hide our messiness when we’re at work to appear more professional or hide our anxiety about an important meeting from our colleagues because we don’t want them to know how out of our depth we feel. We might hide our dreams and desires – the longing for another person or to paint, or to pack a bag and walk away from it all. Wouldn’t our lives be different if we always told those around us what we were really thinking and what we really wanted? The lives of the characters in the novel are shaped as much by these little everyday deceptions and evasions than the bigger secrets they hide.

I loved the way the narrative is filtered through the lens of Ros’s anxiety. Was that central to your conception of the novel from the start?

It was. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Ros was: she arrived in my mind fully formed – anxiety and all – long before I decided to explore the idea of a teenage daughter going missing or the aftermath of a family trauma. What eventually became The Daughter’s Secret was initially intended to be a short story about Ros, a woman plagued by anxiety since childhood waking up one day to discover her anxiety had disappeared. The world around her was the same, but her perception of it was profoundly altered. A few scenes in I realised a short story wasn’t going to be enough for her.

Pretty Is and The Daughter’s Secret are both out now in paperback, ebook and audio

One way in which our novels intersect is that they both involve willing abductees. It’s disturbing, in The Daughter’s Secret, when Stephanie insists that she loves Nate—but it’s believable, too. Do you see your novel as exploring the nature of love, in a sense?

It was when I read the passage in Pretty Is in which Chloe describes her abduction that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put it down! I think – or I hope – The Daughter’s Secret digs into what we mean when we talk about love.

I’m hopelessly addicted to reading agony aunt pages in magazines. The letters that trouble me most are the ones written by people – and there seem to be plenty of them – who say their partner treats them badly and makes them miserable but they love him or her so can’t (or won’t) end the relationship. When these letter writers use the word ‘love’, what do they actually mean? Is it a force of destiny over which they have no control? Or is it just brain chemistry and pheromones? Is the idea of love rather than love itself binding them to something that’s doing them harm? We give a lot of power to that little word often without giving a great deal of thought to exactly what it means. I wanted to write about that.

The descriptions of art in the novel fascinated me — I could visualize Ros’s paintings very clearly. How important is Ros’s art to your understanding of her character? I mean, she couldn’t be a realtor, could she — or work for an ad agency, or something like that. Her art matters.

I’m glad you said that! They are very real to me and I wish I had the talent to paint them. Ros’s art matters to her and her alone; her husband and children have paid little attention to it over the years. Once she starts dedicating more time to her art she deliberately keeps it separate from her family life and uses it as a way to express her hidden feelings and even her secret fantasy of running away and leaving them all behind. She also uses the pursuit of her art as a way to physically distance herself from her husband and their home. It’s when circumstances bring her art and her family together that things start to unravel for Ros.

I was struck by your comment that you have an “overactive imagination,” because one habit of Ros’s that I found myself identifying with (somewhat uneasily, I admit!) is the way she spins elaborate alternate narratives out of every situation. Is this frenetic way of perceiving the world specific to Ros (and maybe novelists!), or do you think that a considerable part of everyone’s consciousness is constantly occupied not with what is but what might be, what could have been?

Wondering about how much other people spin these alternative narratives is one of the reasons I started writing the book. It’s something I do and I’ve always suspected other novelists must do it too. After all, we tend to be creative thinkers and being creative is about being able to envisage different possibilities. What could be better training for re-writing the endings of our novels over and over again until they’re just right than the constant imagining of what might be? I couldn’t remember reading a novel in which this thinking played a part and that made me want to write one. A surprising number of readers have told me they identify with Ros’s way of thinking while others have said ‘you don’t think like that, do you?’ and looked a bit worried when I have admitted that, at least to some extent, I do.

Eva Holland

Eva Holland is a freelance copywriter and public relations consultant with a lifelong love of words and stories. She grew up in Gloucestershire and studied in Leeds before moving to London, where she lives with her husband. The Daughter’s Secret is her first novel.