I’ve always known that my great-grandmother perished in a concentration camp. When my grandparents escaped Czechoslovakia for England in 1940, she refused to go with them. In her last letter to my grandmother, she wrote: ‘So my dear, may God give you more happiness in life than I have had.’ Although she lived in a beautiful house in Prague (before it was confiscated by the Nazis), she had lost her beloved husband only a few years earlier, followed by the tragic death of her 23-year-old son who perished from tuberculosis after swimming in the Vltava River. She had also given birth to quads, all of whom died shortly after birth. My great grandmother was taken to Lodz and murdered at Chelmno extermination camp in 1944.
At the beginning of this year, the Jewish Museum in Prague uploaded onto their website details of confiscated Nazi art stored in their vaults. In this collection was a portrait of my great-grandmother. A portrait that we had no idea existed. The museum has a team of researchers who work doggedly to establish the provenance of the art. Fortunately for us, the artist’s family had a record of what he painted and consequently were able to put names to the portraits. Although the painting has little intrinsic value, the sentimental value is incalculable.
Yet this wasn’t the sole thing that inspired me to write my latest psychological thriller, What She Knew. Last year we were contacted by a charming couple who are spending their retirement tracking down items at auction or on eBay that they think should be returned to the relatives of the original owners. They use their own money to purchase these items and get simple joy by giving them to the people they’ve tracked down. They found a sketch that my paternal grandfather had commissioned in the 1920s and, last summer, came over to give it to us.
I knew that I needed to incorporate both of these experiences into my next book. But I write psychological thrillers, not feel-good fiction! Something else that fascinates me is our obsession with true crime and the impact that true crime television programmes must have on the families of survivors. So I combined the two and What She Knew tells the story of Stephanie, married to History of Art professor Oliver, and the chain of events that unfolds when a true crime researcher starts investigating what happened to Alison, Stephanie’s best friend who vanished nine years earlier. Fortunately, I seem to find it easy to invent horrible characters, so all I needed to do was set the story in the art world – helped by my brother-in-law who is an auctioneer. While the novel is all make-believe, I hope that drawing upon real life experiences brings that elusive element of authenticity.
What She Knew was released in eBook and paperback on 18 July by Inkubator Books. You can read more about Miranda here