Dorothy Koomson on her new Brighton-based thriller book

PUBLISHED: 15:40 21 October 2019

Dorothy Koomson (Photo by Niall McDiarmid)

Niall McDiarmid

A killer is on the loose in Brighton in Dorothy Koomson’s latest thriller. Simone Hellyer speaks to the bestselling author to find out what it means to be a perfect victim

We’ve all seen the news about the drop in sexual assault convictions: only one in 65 rape cases reported to police results in suspects being summonsed or charged, according to the Guardian. The low chances of getting justice and fear of being believed, it’s argued, are some of the biggest factors preventing victims coming forward.

All of this is explored in bestselling Brighton-based author Dorothy Koomson’s latest novel, Tell Me Your Secret. The emotional thriller is an exploration of what it means to be a victim and survivor in today’s world, as well as how doing the right thing can have devastating consequences.

“I wanted to question whether you have to be perfect to be a victim in today’s society,” Dorothy says. “There are a lot of things that suggest that if you’re not perfect – if you are promiscuous, drink or take drugs – you are judged for that before being seen as the victim of something awful. There was a whole thing recently in the news about victims of sexual assault and rape having their phones taken by the police to check their history.

“None of the women in the book are perfect, the things that happen to them are awful and one of the reasons they keep it to themselves is because they don’t think they’ll be believed or worse, that they’ll be blamed,” she adds.

The novel centres on Pieta Rawlings, a Brighton journalist who is constantly having to correct the pronunciation of her name with the refrain “It’s Peter, like the boy’s name.” It quickly transpires that her name is the least of her problems: she has the boss from hell who has just given her a make or break assignment – to win an exclusive interview with the latest victim of a man called The Blindfolder. The problem is, Pieta has a secret – ten years ago she too was kidnapped by The Blindfolder, a man who said he wouldn’t kill her if she kept her eyes closed for 48 hours. She never told anyone what happened to her, vowing instead to move on with her life.

The detective on the case, Jody Foster, is a woman with a secret or two of her own, but a willingness to help victims get the justice they deserve. “In this novel I really wanted to show a police officer who not only believed what happened to the women, but also saw them as people. She wanted everyone to feel that the women were people before victims and not just bodies to be investigated,” explains Dorothy.

Now 14 novels down, Dorothy has spoken to a lot of victims of trauma while researching her books. She also spoke to two police officers to make sure that she got the procedures right, as this is the first time she has written from a police officer’s point of view. On whether she ever gets fazed by writing about sensitive topics, Dorothy says: “I always have a voice in my head telling me that I have to deal with it authentically and make sure that I do justice to the people I’m writing about by not reducing them to a stereotype.

“We’re constantly thrown stereotypes about what domestic violence, rape and racism victims look like and I want to make sure that people’s stories are reflected realistically, so that when people pick up my books they think about those subjects differently going forward.”

In all of her novels Dorothy likes to give her characters – and the readers – a bit of head space from all the drama by introducing them to a different hobby – be it cocktail and jewellery-making or knitting. In Tell Me Your Secret Pieta takes up pottery to help her switch off the part of her brain that brings up her traumatic past. It’s also a great excuse for Dorothy to try out a new hobby in the name of research. “I like giving my characters a specific hobby because I think it makes them feel like a real person with a more rounded personality. I love trying them out myself too and I’m trying to convince my husband to build a shed in the garden so I can keep up with the jewellery-making,” she says.

More light relief comes in the form of Pieta’s son Kobi, who is convinced that Brighton’s seagulls are plotting a takeover. Happily settled in Brighton, Dorothy loves to feature the city heavily to give her novels a real sense of place, saying “It’s almost become one of the characters.”

Dorothy’s 16th novel is already in the works, but she was keeping a secret of her own when Sussex Life spoke to her by giving nothing away.

Tell Me Your Secret is published by Headline, RRP £12.99 (hardback)


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