The Story Behind the Story – Part Seven – The Vanishing Patient
Believe it or not, I wrote book seven, The Vanishing Patient, before beginning work on books five and six! But I wasn’t happy with it and because of the events that occur in it, I knew it had to come last in the series, or at least very late on. I stored it away and to meet my publication schedule, got on with writing the other books. It was only when I came back to it that I realised how eerily topical the themes are.
When I began the Dr Cathy Moreland Mystery series, I was keen to explore the use of multiple viewpoints within a narrative. This was partly to move the story along with a different voice other than just Cathy’s but also to see the case with fresh eyes. Cathy, for obvious reasons, makes for an unreliable narrator when she is unwell and I’ve always been clear with my audience that I don’t want to play any clever tricks. The mysteries should be possible to solve by anyone reading the books and the clues, when you go back, are all there. When you mess about with defective narratives, I feel you break this trust with your readers. I didn’t want to do this – ever.
But, I had made the decision early on in the series that I would dedicate an entire book to Cathy’s voice alone. It was actually quite a challenge when it came down to it. As a rule, I’ve kept some distance between Cathy and the reader deliberately but in the final book, I felt that this had to lessen. I also very much wanted to reveal a full-blown manic episode in one of the stories. In Death By Appointment, when Cathy’s character is introduced, I give a short chapter detailing her psychiatric stay and treatment on initial diagnosis but thereafter, I’ve steered clear of labouring the mental health issues too much, preferring to demonstrate how normal a life someone with bipolar can lead.
But the truth is, I’ve written the series in the hope of helping other people with bipolar, by educating how the illness can manifest. It was time to show how debilitating and frightening the paranoia and overvalued ideas can be. I’ll admit, writing these scenes was both painful and incredibly fulfilling. When Cathy, at her height of hypomania, runs across the fields on an ill-judged mission, I was genuinely rooting but exhausted for her!
I hope I have managed to achieve what I set out to do with Cathy. I always promise my audience a neat and just ending. In the final book, Cathy gets this, albeit a less happy one than she might deserve.