Archive for May, 2011


Monday, May 23rd, 2011


I am not in the habit of reviewing books on my blog usually; that’s not what this is about. There are thousands of book review sites out there and I’m sure most of them do a better job than I ever could. But it is impossible to comment upon ‘Madeleine’ without reviewing it in some sense or other so in this case I will have to. This is mostly because there are so many threads that run through the McCann’s story which invite judgement and although I will try to refrain from making too many I will point out those elements where it is possible to do so. My intent is to discuss my impression of the book and the opinions I have formed because of it; I think to do anything else is disrespectful to her parents.  I decided to write about the book for two reasons: firstly because I was so moved by reading it that I felt that I had to write about it, and secondly because of something that happened to our family almost twenty-five years ago when I was five and my sister was two. Like the McCanns we had gone abroad on holiday, to Lanzarote in our case, and we were staying in a resort complex much like the one in Praia da Luz. Like the McCanns my parents would put myself and my sister to bed in the apartment and go for dinner in the restaurant, which was quite far away. Like the McCanns they would return at regular intervals to check on us. One night I awoke whilst my parents were still away to see a man leaning over me to reach into the cupboard above my bed; I can still picture him and the room, he was a shadowy, unthreatening presence. I thought nothing of it and went back to sleep. It’s hard to understand even now why I wasn’t more alerted by this, but at that age children are generally very trusting and I must have assumed that it was a staff member or some unknown friend of my parents’. At any rate I took no notice. It later emerged that our apartment had been broken into and our camera and passports stolen whilst I and my then two year old, blonde, sister lay asleep in the room. It is nothing more than good fortune that the intruder was only interested in financial gain that night.

My copy of ‘Madeleine’ by Kate McCann arrived at 3pm last Wednesday. By 10pm on Thursday night I had finished all 383 pages of it. It was an engrossing, intelligent and moving read. It was very difficult to read in parts, as you would expect, and the overall story is very shocking for lots of reasons, but I recommend it wholeheartedly nonetheless. I first became aware that there was going to be a book about Madeleine McCann at the London Book Fair where there was a huge – and I do mean enormous – advertisement for it. I knew instantly that I wanted to read it. Like many others I imagine I was consumed with interest about one of the most shocking stories of recent years. A beautiful, innocent three year old girl being snatched whilst on holiday with her loving parents is just so unimaginably awful and I was keen to try and understand exactly what had happened – as far as anyone knows.  Was it as straightforward as it seems? Were there any elements that point to something other than the obvious conclusion? It is testimony to Kate McCann’s honest and well-written account of Madeleine’s abduction that I feel that I do now know exactly what happened. It’s a tremendous achievement for Kate to have written the book, it would have been a difficult task – both practically and emotionally – and she makes it clear that it was not a decision that she took lightly. For a long time she writes that she felt incapable of undertaking such a task and more than that, she was unwilling to share such personal details with the public at large. As is natural. Writing that book was tantamount to putting her entire life on a plate, handing it to the man on the street and saying “Here, judge me. As a wife, mother and individual. Draw your own conclusions about me and my decisions, including some about the most sensitive areas of my life.”

The book charts some background to Kate and Gerry so we understand them as people, their road to becoming parents which as most might know had to be done via IVF, and then swiftly moves on to the events of May 2007 and the subsequent years. The book manages not to be defensive or aggressive in explaining decisions which is an achievement because I think the temptation to do so must have been strong. As we all know, Madeleine was abducted when Kate and Gerry left their children unattended in their holiday apartment to eat dinner with friends a few hundred yards away. This is not why she was abducted, but this is the reason it was possible. From Kate’s recollections along with those of others it seems likely now that the family were deliberately targeted. Kate makes no statements of fact about anything that is not proven, instead she is careful to make suggestions and raise possibilities. However it is clear that the McCanns believe that they were watched for a period of days leading up to the night of the 3rd May, that their movements were assessed and monitored and that Madeleine was chosen. Kate recalls watching her daughter on that holiday and now realises that she wasn’t the only one. It appears to have been a carefully planned abduction; Kate believes that the children were drugged in some form and that the abductor was in their bedroom the night before Madeleine was taken. She records the seemingly unimportant choices and decisions that were actually crushingly significant, such as where to eat on the night of 3rd May for example. Kate and Gerry almost decided to eat in their apartment that night and not go out but thought that wasn’t fair on their friends. It must be an appalling thought to know that if they had made that decision to stay in then Madeleine would not have been taken. Kate’s account is littered with examples like this. She believes that their ordered, structured routine on holiday – characteristic of both of them as people – gave the abductor/s the chance to monitor and understand their movements and that is perhaps one of the reasons why Madeleine was chosen. It’s clear that their habits were noted, perhaps through sheer observation or perhaps because of things like the fact that the resort staff had written their unusual block dinner booking in the reservations book along with the reason why they were allowed to block book – because they were leaving children unattended in the apartment. It’s important to note that they weren’t the only parents doing this, their friends were behaving identically.

The McCanns have come under some criticism for leaving their children alone and there are so many facets to this point that it merits a lot of discussion. I personally believe that blame can only be attached to them for this decision if they were reckless in making it. That is to say if they had given no thought to the children’s safety while they were away. And they were certainly not reckless. They did not take the children with them because they believed that it was too late for them to stay up – with which I personally agree. They were very young children and altering the routines they were used to so suddenly and dramatically would have made them tired and grumpy at the time and then also the following day. It would severely have impacted on their holiday and the children would not have enjoyed or understood it. Far better that they were bathed, cuddled, read to and then tucked up in bed. The next point we come to was that the apartment was left unlocked. I personally don’t understand the reasons for this, but I do trust in the McCann’s judgement. I don’t believe they were reckless, I don’t believe that they just didn’t bother to lock the door.  And then there was a babysitting service which they didn’t take up, the reason being that all it consisted of was a resort staff member going around the apartments and listening to see if there was any noise. The McCanns and their friends devised a system between them that saw a member of their group going to check on all the children at half-hourly intervals; clearly a better option.

It is chilling to read the sequence of events leading up to that night and absolutely appalling in retrospect that such trivial things as family habits an decisions about dinner would give rise to the end result. Kate often comments that it is easy to be wise after the event, and that is so true. A child being stalked for abduction while on holiday is the stuff of nightmares and certainly not something you ever expect. Being on holiday, being in the happy, sunny environs of a resort, being relaxed and entertained would all give rise to what transpired to be a false sense of safety. It is easy to see how the McCanns gave no thought to the possibility that evil might trespass across their holiday. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to them. I had always imagined that abductions were opportunistic, momentary decisions, but this doesn’t appear to be the case in this instance. Details that emerged after 3rd May make sense of the horrible situation. A child being watched and tracked and potentially drugged seems like such an outlandish, improbable idea, but put it in the context of known paedophile activity in the area and it makes sense. There had been reports of men getting into bed with children made to police over the preceding months and years, yet very little notice was taken of it. One mother commented that action should be taken “….before it happens again, or worse,” which is horribly prophetic.  But nothing seems to have been done. And Kate’s description of the police operation to find Madeleine sounds like a total disaster. Basic policies that we would consider automatic in this country just weren’t done in Portugal. People were allowed to wander in and out of what was a crime scene, the children weren’t tested for drugs despite medically-qualified Kate’s immediate concerns that night, staff were allowed to leave the resort without being interviewed, road blocks weren’t set up for hours – and all of this undoubtedly hindered the search for Madeleine. One of the most galling things for me was reading how a member of their group actually saw a man carrying a small child wearing pyjamas very similar or the same as Madeleine’s away from the resort. This is now believed to be Madeleine’s abduction. If it were me I would be tortured by the idea that if I had been alerted, if I had looked a bit harder, if I had gone over, if I had challenged the man then she would have been saved. But, as Kate writes, it is easy to be wise after the event.

It seems likely to me that the abductor must have had help within the resort. If Kate is right and they were targeted because of details revealed in the reservation book, and there was someone in the room the night before and the children were drugged, it seems so unlikely that all this could be achieved without inside help. And also why that area? Why that resort? These are questions you hope a police investigation would answer but not in this case. I am literally unable to imagine the fear and panic that would come along with discovering that your child is missing and I think not having confidence that absolutely everything is being done to find them would make this a hundred times worse. I find it incomprehensible why the Portugese authorities did not, and do not, do more for Madeleine.

Despite the sadness, the obvious devastation of family and friends and the occasional sense of futility, ‘Madeleine’ is in general a very positive book. The McCanns are firmly focussed on finding Madeleine. They are not delusional, they are aware of every possible scenario and in fact Kate writes of appalling images running through her mind, such as any parent would never want to picture. They are not stupid, they are very well aware that she could be dead. But they choose to believe otherwise, they choose to fight their hardest every hour of every day to find her. They cling to the positive stories that emerge occasionally of long-ago abducted children being found and returned to their families, as is quite natural for them to do. Kate often suffixes descriptions of her last cuddle with Madeleine, or last photo or last story with the words “….to date.” There is an utter refusal to admit that anything might literally be the last. And for this strength she must be admired. I would urge everyone who reads this and has not done so to buy ‘Madeleine’ – as all the royalties are going towards Madeleine’s Fund. I believe the British police are now involved in the search for her but for a long time there was no official body anywhere in the world investigating her disappearance, it was left to her parents to fund the search which must have been financially crippling.

Is Madeleine alive? Is she well? Is she cared for? Will she ever be found? These are unanswerable questions but for her parents sake as well as hers we must not give up on her. We must not let this turn into an unsolved mystery of our lifetime.

A well-overdue update!

Sunday, May 15th, 2011


I must apologise – again – for such a lengthy absence from my blog. I know only too well how frustrating it is to follow someone and then they stop posting and disappear off the radar. However it’s probably better that I haven’t been posting because the reason for my absence is that I simply have nothing to say! I’m in the final stages of completing my second manuscript and so my attention is very firmly focussed there at the moment. I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take me to complete it but now feels like the correct point in the writing to start on the concluding threads of the plot. This involves a lot of emotionally intense writing and concentration as I bring my characters to where they need to be, which can be quite draining at times.

And the other thing which has diverted my attention rather drastically is simply being a mother. I had a glance through the school calendar the other day and counted twenty-three separate occasions when I need to be present at the girls’ school this term. And that does not include drop off or pick up or any away matches. I was absolutely staggered; it is swiftly becoming not really an exaggeration to say that I spend as much time at that school as they do. Which of course I am enormously fortunate to be able to do, I love watching the swimming competitions and sports matches and music al performances. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the recent ‘Mothers into Woodland Day’ that the nursery department organised in celebration of Mother’s Day. Every Friday the nursery class spend the day in the woods in the school grounds, come rain or shine, they go out there and explore, paint things on trees, use clay, eat worms, etc. and that’s fine by me. I wholly support the idea. Or at least I did until they invited me to go along with them. And not only that, but presented the whole idea as a treat! I don’t generally spend an awful lot of time in woods, I don’t have suitable woodland hair or clothing, and I was not looking forward to it. I had to go of course, every other mother in the class was attending and I couldn’t let my younger daughter down (though I would have done if I thought I could get away with it) but I dutifully went along in the drizzle and painted pictures with mud and poster paint, collected twigs, hunted for beetles and I actually had a good time. I was very surprised.  The range of activities that had been organised for us was good; the only one that disturbed me slightly was where the children were encouraged to use a full-size lump hammer to whack nails into a tree stump. I watched that one with trepidation. There are limits obviously, and I left after an hour and a half, but I did enjoy myself.

I also try and run three miles every day – with the idea that if I aim for every day I might actually do it two or three times a week. It’s amazingly easy to provide yourself with reasons why you shouldn’t/don’t need to run three miles. However, sadly I am getting fitter which means that I need to run further to achieve the same effect which doesn’t please me. I do enjoy it when I’m out there and there’s no doubt that my health benefits but essentially I only run so that I can eat – drink – more.

I’ve been reading quite a lot too, I find it soothing to immerse myself in someone else’s creation for a while and let my own characters drift to the very back of my mind. I’ve re-read a few Penny Vincenzi novels which are just great, I love them. Real Aga-Sagas, I adore the way she creates complicated families and engrossing storylines, they’re easy to sink into and I’m always slightly sad when I finish reading one. I’ve also read Adele Parks’ ‘Men I’ve Loved Before’ and Catherine Alliott’s ‘One Day in May’ which was absolutely tremendous. I have always loved her writing, she is clever, witty and engaging and her books never fail to make me laugh out loud – which sounds clichéd but its true – and this one was no exception. There’s a twist to the story that I did not see coming which gave the whole book a far greater depth than it otherwise would have had and made it a fantastic read. I definitely recommend it. And now I’m reading ‘Kiss and Tell’ by Fiona Walker, another favourite author of mine, and enjoying it very much.

I also received a lovely review on Friday through Twitter, which you can read here: It was a particularly nice review, not just because it praised the book, but because it was truly in-depth and well thought out. Whilst writing Things He Never Knew I was keen to make sure that the blame did not fall solely on Steph, it was important to me that she wasn’t vilified for her actions, but understood, and the reviewer picked up on this. I’m still always amazed when people tell me how much they enjoyed the book, it’s a strange feeling to know that something I created entertains others. It’s a wonderful feeling though and I hope it never goes away.

So I shall leave it there and hopefully not such a long time will elapse between posts again. But if it does you will all now know why……I shall be found in the woods.