Somewhere, hiding among the pages of every book, there is a backstory, a story that happened to the characters before the book you read actually begins on the page. It’s the characters’ personal histories, if you like: things that happened to them, memories they have, people they’ve met, events that shaped them into the person you see on the page.
I want to share with you a small piece of the backstory for The Secrets That Haunt Us. It occurs right at the beginning of the book, and takes the shape of five letters, sent to two different members of the same family – mother, Emmeline, and daughter, Julia. These letters, sent months before the book ‘proper’ begins, gives the reader an inkling that all is not only not well at home as the book gets started, but that clearly there have been events in the past which have led to the letter-writing of Alex, a man who is a most unpleasant man indeed. Vengeance has been plotted with malice and a great deal of forethought, and he intends to execute his plans for betrayals and secrets long since past.
But is he the only villain of the piece? The Secrets That Haunt Us blurs the lines between what we would automatically consider ‘good’ and ‘bad, or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. When I wrote it, I often wondered what courses of action I would have taken, had I been in the various characters’ shoes. And the question will probably haunt me for a very long time.
I hope these five letters intrigue you into wanting to know what could have prompted Alex to plot and plan his own very particular type of vengeance – and what happens once his plans have been set in motion!
~ ~ ~
Tuesday 29th September, 1970
I have been watching. Waiting. I know your face like I know my own. I know your heart like I know mine. I know everything about you. Did you truly believe you could escape my soul? We are entwined, you and I. You live within me. And I live within you.
Anything you ever wanted I gave to you. A perfect life. Everything was perfection. But you spoiled it. You spoiled everything.
Did you really believe that I would remain dead? To you, of all people? You are my obsession. My every waking thought.
Do you remember our games of chess? How you moved your pieces around the board? You have moved many pieces in the last 30 years. It’s my turn, don’t you think?
You wanted to destroy all you should have loved. It will happen. The time is nearing. We always have to pay our debts to love, don’t we?
I am coming. You are forever my Cathy; I am forever your Heathcliff. You can never escape me. And I will not rest until our torment is over.
Friday 6th November, 1970
My lovely, dearest, darling Julia,
I have agonised over how to begin this letter. I have no idea how to explain, except to say that you have been in my thoughts since the second I last saw you. I watched your tears as I went away, and I need you to know that I have never got over that sight of you.
I wish more than anything that you can forgive the way I left. There were reasons, and they are very complex. I was unable to tell you about them then. I want to tell you everything now. The whole truth. But not in a letter.
I have never left you. I have kept watch over your life. Your troubles, which made me ache for you, my wonderful, darling girl; your marriage; your unhappiness. You ARE unhappy, aren’t you, my beautiful Julia?
I need you to know that the love I had for you then remains exactly as it was. It has never changed within me, not even through all the years we have been apart. Do you feel it? In the way you always said you could? I know you do. Every day when I awake, I reach out, only to find you are not there. Do you reach for me, too? For years, I have wanted to take your hand and stroke your face with my thumb – do you remember that?
I am back in the house. I had to. I know how much you loved it. And I want you here, beside me, in it once more.
Say you will return to me. Please. Even if it is just for one day, so that we can say goodbye. I don’t want to say goodbye ever again. Do you?
Please reply to me. And please destroy this letter. It is very important that you do, my darling girl.
You are in my dreams, always.
With all the love I have always had for you,
x – x – x
Saturday 6th November, 1970
My sweetest Julia,
I knew you would not fail me. I knew the moment I told you where I was that you would write. And write you did. Over and over!
You will never know what it means to me that you wrote just how much you still love me. Your forgiveness makes everything all right. I did not expect such a torrent of letters. Every one is held against my heart as I struggle with my daily life.
Please, do not cry. There were tears on your letters, darling girl. Please do not feel that your circumstances now mean that I would not want you back in my arms once more. I have always wanted a perfect baby. You can give me the chance. Please say you will.
There are reasons that I am unable to explain more clearly why I left as I did. If anyone found this letter with that explanation, then I would be in extreme danger of needing to vanish once more. I know you do not want that, do you, not now? Did you do as I asked? Did you burn the letter? Please say that you did. I don’t want to ever have to leave you, ever again. Every moment spent without you has been torture. You know how much I adore you. You belong to me. I need you with me. Without you here, my life is worth nothing.
I dreamed of us last night, lying here, your head on my chest while I read you poetry and that passage of Jane Eyre you love so much. The one about the invisible cord that fastens two hearts. There is an invisible bond between us, Julia. You have always known it, haven’t you? It cannot be broken and it pulls us together again now.
Please, my angel, say you will come. I need to see you. To hold you. I want to feel your lips on mine.
Write to me. Say you’ll come. And please burn this letter. Do not fail me.
With every drop of love and passion I have within me for you,
Your very own,
x – x – x
Sunday 28th February, 1971
Julia, my angel,
Such torrents of letters! You never need fear, I have not forgotten you, I have not changed my mind. I have been making preparations for your arrival, that is all.
It breaks my heart to know how much you have missed me. I am so, so sorry. I promise, I will tell you everything once we are together again. I think of you, and of that moment, endlessly.
Knowing you want to be with me is the greatest honour you could do me. You have no need to worry about money, my sweetest girl. The contents of the envelope inside this letter will cover all the costs of your travel. You will notice that the ticket is for next Saturday, and that it is one-way. Do not ever go back, my beautiful one. You will always be free to leave me, but I do not want you to. Oh, you have no idea how much I want you to end your days here.
My heart is ready to explode at the very thought of you on the train. Soon, my angel. Soon everything in our lives will fall into place. Only promise me you will be on the train. Promise me. If circumstances prevent me meeting you at the station, know that I am being very careful in case we are seen, and that I will not be far away. Ultimately, you know where to find me. I will be waiting. Tell no one you are coming. No one. Please. It is important.
Remember to destroy this letter.
I will see you on Saturday. I am counting the seconds until you are with me. Then I will truly show you what love means to me.
Until then, my darling girl,
x – x – x
Monday 1st March, 1971
The time is almost upon us. Our final battle will soon commence. It will be checkmate. Our story will end the way it was always fated that it would.
You really believed you had escaped me, didn’t you? You should have made sure I was dead. It will be your biggest regret. I promise.
Forever yours, just as you have always been forever mine,
~ ~ ~
If you’d like to know more about The Secrets That Haunt Us, you can visit my webpage for the book here.
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