Andrea Mara: ‘Dark stories were always rattling around in my head’

The crime writer how her latest thriller was inspired by a real-life event from her own childhood

There’s something unnerving about reading a thriller about children who become separated from their parents while in a different country, when you happen to be, at that very moment in time, a parent who is away with her children in a different country. Throw in a fictional background and a high-profile gangland criminal court case involving two notorious families, as news of a particular high profile court case breaks at home, and you’d be forgiven for wondering if author Andrea Mara has a mysterious sort of 20/20 future vision that makes her publication timing impeccable.

Instead, she explains, as I detail the palpitations her book had given me while we chat over coffee a week later, the idea for the book stems from a real-life event from her own childhood. And the featured court case is purely coincidental. No One Saw A Thing, Mara’s latest novel, centres on busy journalist Sive, who pauses for a split second to check her phone while away with her family in London. As she bustles through a busy Tube station with her baby in the buggy, Sive’s two other young children push ahead and board the Tube. But before Sive manages to catch up with them, the doors of the Tube close and it departs without her.

“We were on holidays in London with my parents. We were in the London underground and myself and my sister, Elaine, got on the Tube. I was 12, she was six, and the doors closed and our parents and our other two sisters were still on the platform and the train took off,” Mara says, explaining the inspiration for the book. “We didn’t really know what to do, but the person beside us said ‘your dad was shouting Tower Bridge through the doors’. The person told us where Tower Bridge was and where to get off the train.

“All was fine, they found us. My dad reminded me of the story a couple of years ago and we were laughing, going to dad, ‘Why didn’t you just say next stop? Were you in such a rush to complete the day trip that you sent us to Tower Bridge rather than just next stop?” she laughs.


There are other similarities to Mara’s life identifiable throughout the novel. “‘Write what you know’ is a well-known adage, and while it doesn’t mean only criminals can write crime novels, it’s a wise piece of advice when it comes to fictional jobs, hobbies and settings,” she says. In No One Saw A Thing, Sive is a freelance writer, juggling her work with looking after her two small daughters and baby son. Mara has two daughters and one son, and prior to becoming an author, worked as a freelance writer after she was made redundant from her job in financial services in 2015.

Blogging changed my life. It is 100 per cent the reason I ended up writing books. The gateway drug

“When I was first made redundant, one of the ways we managed it financially was to forego childcare. So, I looked after the kids during the day and wrote at night and at weekends. It always felt like I was being pulled in every direction, with non-stop deadlines and huge overwhelm. It was far and away the busiest time of my life. So, I feel for Sive, who is doing something similar,” she says.

“In the book, some of the characters ask Sive what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mum – to not have to worry about work. This too is drawn from real life. I have clear memories of people telling me they envied me having so much free time, when I was working full-time hours with no childcare.”

With such clear comparisons, I ask Mara whether her husband inspires any of the characters in her book. “This is my sixth book and there’s a leading male in each one, and only one is somewhat like my husband – Mark, in Hide and Seek,” she replies. “This doesn’t stop his friends and work colleagues from slagging him off with each book though, saying things like ‘You didn’t come out great in that last book’. Luckily, unlike some of the characters, he has a good sense of humour,” she laughs.

What goes through the mind of a crime writer when creating a thriller?

“I think the ‘what ifs’ and dark stories were always rattling around in my head,” Mara says. She recalls an occasion when her youngest child was up crying each night, and she worried that they might be disturbing their neighbours. And then she remembered she hadn’t seen them in a while, and wondered what if something had happened and only she was aware of it because of the nocturnal wakings. As her mind went into overdrive, she asked her husband the next day if he had seen their neighbours, only to be told he’d been chatting to them the day before. But the idea for another novel was born.

Was becoming a writer and getting those “what ifs and dark stories” ideas down on paper something Mara always envisaged doing?

“I want to answer this question by saying I always dreamt of being a writer and have been trying to do it for 30 years – but it’s not true. I was really happy in financial services and I loved spreadsheets,” she admits.

“I wasn’t thinking about writing books at all. It was only when my third child was born and I was trying to balance working full-time and bringing up three children, and dropping them to creche, or whatever, that I started blogging.

“Blogging changed my life. It is 100 per cent the reason I ended up writing books. The gateway drug. I haven’t actually blogged in a couple of years though, which I think is probably the same for most of us who were writing multiple posts every month or even every week back in the blogging golden age of the mid-2010s.

“It was really just for therapy, to get it out of my system. To come home from work and let it all out on the laptop. I kind of became a bit obsessed with it. It was like discovering a new love.

I’m lucky in that my friends and I are all too busy trying to bring up our teenagers; we don’t have the headspace for comparison and one-upmanship

“Back when I started, my posts were about the joys of trying to get a five-year-old to focus on homework, or a three-year-old to eat anything other than beige food, or a one-year-old to sleep through the night. The very common stresses and strains that come with parenting small kids, and nothing too personal about the kids,” she says. “Now that those three kids are 10 years older and into their teenage and tween-age years, I’m not comfortable writing about what they deal with, [or] how I sometimes – okay, often, very often – struggle parenting teens. I miss the outlet that blogging about parenting small kids provided.”

Like Aaron in No One saw A Thing, Mara has friendships that span many years. But are any as competitive as the ones in her book? “No”, she says, but she understands how it can happen.

“I’m lucky in that my friends and I are all too busy trying to bring up our teenagers; we don’t have the headspace for comparison and one-upmanship. But I think it can happen to a degree when old friends meet up after a long break or at school reunions for example – not so much people trying to outdo one another, but rather something we do to ourselves: comparing internally with others and wondering if we come up short. Wondering if we’ve ticked enough boxes in life, like Nita in the book.

“This quiet comparison is something that happens a lot for authors, especially because authors’ achievements are so public, everything is on social media,” she continues. “So, you might get great news on Monday afternoon – TV interest in your book or a longlisting for an award – and you’re on an absolute high, but by Wednesday you could quite possibly be scrolling Twitter looking at news from other writers and worrying because you don’t have translations in 30 languages or a spot in Reese’s Book Club. Then you remember that comparison is the thief of joy and that writing for a living – literally making stuff up and getting paid for it and seeing your book on a bookshelf – is a huge privilege, and an incredibly fortunate position. I feel so lucky to get to do what I do, not least because it has obviated the need for any midlife crisis.”

No One Saw a Thing by Andrea Mara is published by Bantam