Guest Post: The Inspiration Behind Little Bones by Sam Blake

Tuesday 17 May 2016
Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sam Blake's Little Bones where I am sharing a guest post where Sam reveals the inspiration behind the novel. I hope you enjoy reading the post and definitely recommend that you check the book out, which is out now and my review will follow shortly.

Attending what seems to be a routine break-in, troubled Detective Garda Cathy Connolly makes a grisly discovery: an old wedding dress - and, concealed in its hem, a baby's bones.

And then the dress's original owner, Lavinia Grant, is found dead in a Dublin suburb.

Searching for answers, Cathy is drawn deep into a complex web of secrets and lies spun by three generations of women.

Meanwhile, a fugitive killer has already left two dead in execution style killings across the Atlantic - and now he's in Dublin with old scores to settle. Will the team track him down before he kills again?

Struggling with her own secrets, Cathy doesn't know dangerous - and personal - this case is about to become...

The Inspiration Behind Little Bones
by Sam Blake

Stephen King talks about story being the collision of two unrelated ideas – the ideas behind Little Bones weren’t entirely unrelated but they collided one sunny Sunday afternoon as I was driving back from a Readers Day that author Sarah Webb and I had programmed at a hotel in Dublin Airport.

On the way home I heard a documentary on RTÉ radio about Kerry born playwright George Fitzmaurice. Fitzmaurice is best remembered for his play The Country Dressmaker that he submitted to the Abbey Theatre in 1907.  Fitzmaurice died aged 86 years and left no will and few personal belongings – apart from a copy of every play he had ever published and a few in draft form, which were in a suitcase under his bed.

For me, it was Fitzmaurice’s suitcase that caused the collision of ideas.

Several years previously I’d watched an RTÉ TV documentary about an unmarried twenty-three year old Irish girl, Belinda Agnes Regan who in 1947 was living in lodgings in Manchester. She had left Ireland knowing she was pregnant, but terrified of the disgrace it would bring, had concealed it.  She went into labour in the middle of the night and delivered the baby herself, incredibly, in a room she shared with a younger girl who apparently slept through her ordeal. Covering the baby with a blanket “so Shirley would not see it,” she crept to the bathroom. When she returned, the baby wasn’t breathing.  Wrapping the body in brown paper and a ‘blue frock’ she hid it while she returned home for Christmas.  While she was in Ireland the body was discovered, and the trial transcripts reveal that she had tried to burn the baby’s body before leaving it in a suitcase under her bed where it was discovered by her landlady. On her return to Manchester, Regan was arrested and convicted of infanticide.

These two stories, heard many years apart, came together in my head, and on the drive home I started wondering about suitcases and dresses and dress makers and what would happen if the bones of the baby had ended up in a dress – a wedding dress – the crucial thing that Belinda Regan had perhaps yearned for, for nine long months. At that point I had no idea who owned the dress, or how the bones got there or WHY…but I knew the mystery would be solved by a Detective Garda called Cat Connolly. Growing up on a council estate, Cathy is the youngest of four, and won a scholarship to a private school which connected her to a world of privilege - a world where there was never any question that girls can succeed at anything they choose, a world where all the glass ceilings are broken. Cathy is bright, focused and determined, but she’s also an impetuous risk taker and when she’s up against it, will follow her heart over her head. Consequently, she gets herself into a lot of trouble.

I’m not sure where Cathy came from – she’s is a lot like a crime writer I know – but she arrived in my head fully formed, with her car and her kitbag ready to go to the gym. I think if I’m developing characters in the future I might go for a gentler sport though – to get Cathy right, and to give her fight scenes the ring of truth, I realised that I needed to talk to a kick boxing champion. And doing that, I realised that Google can’t tell you everything – it can’t tell you how your muscles burn after a training session, how they stiffen up, and it can’t tell you what it feels like, after a really tough hour in the ring, to be sweating so hard you cannot see. I only found that out by taking up kick boxing. I’m fit, I go to the gym at least three times a week, but nothing can prepare you for the effort and energy used in a full on kick boxing training session. And to write Cathy’s fight scenes I needed to know exactly how they unfolded, that she’s right handed so she needs to lead with her left, that you need both incredible flexibility and balance to be a champion in this sport.

The incredible Maeve Binchy whom I was privileged to know, always said ‘write what you know’ – I can’t say I’ve killed anyone recently, but I have spent a lot of time in the ring ducking punches…

About Sam Blake

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the national writing resources website She is Ireland's leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.

Little Bones is the first in the Cat Connolly Dublin based detective thriller trilogy. When a baby’s bones are discovered in the hem of a wedding dress, Detective Garda Cathy Connolly is face with a challenge that is personal as well as professional – a challenge that has explosive consequences.

Follow Sam Blake on Twitter @writersamblake or Vanessa @inkwellhq – be warned, they get tetchy with each other!

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