Follow Me Back

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“I’ve built myself too many identities and now they’re imploding,” remarks the main character of this gripping novel, encapsulating the main motif that runs through its veins.

Aiden Kendrick is a promising football prospect who trains with the Norwich youth team and lives with his mum and wealthy entrepreneur stepdad in an affluent area.
He finds out that a girl he “used to be close to” has gone missing when the police turn up to question him. Both the police and Lizzie’s friends, including Aiden and his best mate, Scobes, dig into Lizzie’s online life and it emerges that she’s been chatting to a bloke called ‘Hal Paterson’. Then, as Hal’s identity begins to look increasingly suspect, the truth behind Aiden and Lizzie’s falling-out also comes to light, and a succession of increasingly shocking twists take the tale to a jaw-dropping finale.

This riveting thriller explores many manifestations of deception, from digital duplicity and the forced fakery of the “Spoilt in the Suburbs” reality TV show that’s being filmed in town, to Lizzie’s love of drama, and secrets between friends. It will make you think twice about who you’re really befriending online, and what you think you know about real-life loved ones. ~ Joanne Owen, lovereading4kids.co.uk (full article here)

My debut YA novel, Follow Me Back, was published by Hot Key in February 2016. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Best Books of the Month, and by The Telegraph in their Best Young Adult Books of 2016:

[Aiden’s] first view of Lizzie is not great: he thinks she is “mousy”. He soon realises she is a girl who is “full of surprises”. As he tries to solve the mystery of her disappearance, we also get to see her through her online exchanges. They reveal an engaging and shrewd young woman. But has she been reckless?

The book deals with online madness and the risks it brings and although the subject matter is troubling, there is still lots to enjoy. Lizzie is a strong character, her reality TV star sister Cheska is amusing and there’s even a moment when someone eats a fried Nutella sandwich. That image will stay with you.

That may be my favourite closing paragraph of a review ever.

In the week leading up to publication, lovely Jen from Hot Key and I had a lot of fun putting together a Serial-style podcast, featuring interviews with some of the characters and a deeper look into the mystery surrounding Lizzie’s disappearance. Have a listen here:

And here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter:

I don’t hear about Lizzie until the police knock on the front door. I’m just in from training, caked in mud, and the shower is running, the bathroom full of steam. I’m about to peel off my soaked shirt when Mum calls up the stairs.

‘Aiden, can you come down here?’

There’s something weird about her voice – it’s sort of restrained and polite, kind of like her phone voice. That wouldn’t be that unusual; in the three years since we moved here, I’ve heard her use her phone voice a lot. Everyone uses phone voices in Abbots Grey. It’s a phone voice kind of place.

But this is not her phone voice at all. It’s a voice I haven’t heard for a long time.

She sounds scared.

I turn off the shower and go down. As I pass the mirror on the stairs, I catch a glimpse of myself – hair crusted with mud, face bruised from a collision with Wellsy, our left-back, last week. Rain bats at the window and the October sky is streaked with Halloween orange.

They’re in the living room, two of them: a guy and a woman. They’re both in uniform, and both looking uncomfortable on the edge of the sofa closest to the door. I can’t blame them – the sofas aren’t very welcoming; big white square things with hardly any cushioning. Kevin, my stepdad, has weird taste in furniture; in fact, the whole house is pretty devoid of soft edges.

Mum is standing by the window, chewing at the edge of one of her nails. She does this when she’s nervous and my heart starts to thump. The woman’s radio stutters and she flicks the volume right down to off.

‘Hi, Aiden,’ the guy says. He’s tall, blond and big; wide shoulders, massive hands. Eyes small and silverish. He looks at me and he doesn’t smile. ‘We need to talk to you about a friend of yours.’

‘Okay,’ I say. I don’t feel nervous, only curious. None of my friends are the type to get into trouble with the police – that’s why I like them. I look from the policewoman to Mum and back again. I want to sit down but I’m too filthy to go anywhere near the white sofa.

‘Aiden, I’m DS Mahama and this is DCI Hunter,’ the woman says to me. ‘We need to ask you if you’ve spoken to Lizzie Summersall today? Online or in person?’ She has smooth dark brown skin and short black hair tied back in a ponytail. Her eyes have purplish bags underneath them. ‘Or yesterday?’

I shake my head. ‘Lizzie? No.’

‘When was the last time you saw her?’

I have to think about this. ‘I think she was in assembly on Thursday.’ It’s now Sunday. ‘Is she okay?’

‘Lizzie’s missing,’ the bloke – Hunter – says. ‘We’ve been looking through her laptop and you two exchanged a lot of messages.’

‘We used to be close,’ I say, but I’m having trouble concentrating. Lizzie. Missing.

‘Used to be?’ Hunter cocks his head at me, like a dog. ‘Until when?’

‘I don’t know.’ Suddenly I don’t know what to do with my hands. ‘We had a lot of lessons together last year.’

‘But you’re not as friendly now?’ Mahama asks.

‘No.’ Why am I sweating? ‘We’re not in the same lessons any more. Not since we started A Levels.’

‘Aiden, do you have any idea where Lizzie might be?’ Mahama’s voice is soft, friendly. If it’s meant to reassure me, it doesn’t work.

‘No.’ My hands are doing weird things of their own accord now. I kind of want to sit on them. ‘Like I say, we’re not close or anything. It was just –’

‘Yes?’ Hunter pins me with his stare.

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘We were just flirting, I guess. For a while.’

‘Just flirting?’ Mahama frowns, like it’s not a word she’s heard before.

Mum gets up suddenly from her perch on the windowsill. ‘Excuse me, but is this an official interview?’

She’s still using her phone voice, but she’s got her arms folded and she is not smiling. In Abbots Grey, this is pretty much as hostile as it gets. Both the cops know it, and they aren’t smiling either.

‘Not at all, Mrs Kendrick,’ Hunter says. ‘We’re just making Aiden aware of the situation, is all. We’re letting all of Lizzie’s friends know, in case anyone’s heard anything from her.’ His eyes slide to me, and he gives a faint smirk. ‘There is a possibility we’ll request Aiden’s presence at the police station for a more formal chat. Just so we can get all the facts down on tape.’

‘Well, please do let us know if that’s the case,’ Mum says, moving towards the door. ‘As you can see, Aiden really needs to get in the shower, and I need to get dinner on.’

It’s an expert dismissal, totally polite and totally impossible to refuse, and I feel so grateful to my mum, so protected, like I’m five years old.

That feeling lasts until she shuts the front door behind them. We watch the panda car reversing down the drive. We watch Hunter watching the house the whole way. And then my mum turns to me, her eyes cold and hard.

‘What the hell have you got yourself into?’ she demands.

You can find out more and order from Waterstones here. OR read an even bigger sample here: Follow Me Back – Chapter Sampler