24 June, 1994 – Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins runs from her father’s birthday party into the stormy night wearing her sister Stella’s long red coat. Some say she was crying, others swear they saw her get into a passing car. Nobody ever saw her again.
Present – This time every year, on the anniversary of that fateful night, Stella decorates the small seaside town she grew up in with pictures of her beautiful missing sister. But after twenty-five years, is it even worth hoping someone will come forward? Perhaps the upcoming documentary will spark people’s memories by reuniting all the guests who were there the night Leila went missing.
As old friends gather and long-buried secrets begin to surface, the last thing Stella ever expects is a direct response from someone claiming they took Leila. They want private details of Stella’s life in return for answers. But as the true events of the night of the party play out once again, who is lying? And who is next?
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF THE GIRL IN THE MISSING POSTER
Two years ago, I was watching a lot of true crime documentaries. A lot. Square eyes amounts. Six months prior to that I’d fallen ill, and the consequent chronic fatigue that struck was so profound I couldn’t walk sometimes; I didn’t have the strength to stand beneath the shower, I had to sit; I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book let alone write one. By February 2018, I’d improved enough to actually read! I could even watch TV that required more than two brain cells, and that’s how my true crime documentary addiction started. Right near the end of one about TV presenter Jill Dando’s murder, her brother, Nigel, said something that instantly hit a nerve with me:
‘I just wish someone could explain to me – or a judge and jury – and tell me why they killed her. It makes no sense to me. It will never make sense to me.’
I rewound it, grabbed a notebook and jotted it down. I was struck by the incredible sadness of never knowing and couldn’t help thinking: What if the killer is watching this programme too? What if s/he got in touch and tried to explain? What then? It was like someone had thrown open a window in my brain and scenes and scenarios flooded in…
I started writing immediately, even though all I could manage was a couple of paragraphs a day, at best. I got frustrated often, remembering the person I used to be and wishing I could work and think like before. Sometimes it felt like it would never be finished – yet somehow I reached the end, growing stronger with each month that passed. Now, pretty much two years to the day after I was first struck by the idea, The Other Twin has been published. There is a sort of symmetry to that which I think would please Stella Hawkins.
And that line from Nigel Dando? It’s been used in the book in full as a little tribute and thanks. I hope one day his sister’s mystery is solved.