The story be­hind BBC’s big new thriller, The Cry

He­len FitzGer­ald’s ex­pe­ri­ence of post-natal de­pres­sion while a young mother in Glas­gow is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind BBC1’s new Sun­day night drama se­ries

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Ann Fother­ing­ham

THERE is a mo­ment in the first episode of new Sun­day night drama The Cry when Jenna Cole­man’s char­ac­ter, a washed-out new mother weighed down with baby, buggy and bags, strug­gles up the steps of her ten­e­ment flat. “I watched it think­ing – my God, that was my life,” mar­vels Glas­gow au­thor He­len FitzGer­ald, upon whose novel the new se­ries is based. “My daugh­ter was born in No­vem­ber, we lived in a top floor flat, and that scene just took me back to when I was ex­hausted, not get­ting any sleep, be­ing afraid of my new baby.”

The Cry, which was filmed in Glas­gow and be­gins on BBC1 tonight, is the story of Joanna (Cole­man) and Alis­tair (Top of the Lake’s Ewan Les­lie), a young cou­ple from Glas­gow who travel to Aus­tralia to fight for cus­tody of Alis­tair’s daugh­ter from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship.

Af­ter an ex­cru­ci­at­ing flight – an un­com­fort­able scene which will strike a chord with any­one who has ever trav­elled any dis­tance with a frac­tious new­born – the un­think­able hap­pens, and the baby is ab­ducted.

What fol­lows is a grip­ping and de­cid­edly un­set­tling story of a young mother in cri­sis, try­ing to cope with ev­ery par­ent’s worst night­mare.

Aus­tralian-born FitzGer­ald, au­thor of a string of suc­cess­ful thrillers, is cer­tain the roots of her novel – which has been adapted by screen­writer Jacque­line Perske – lie in her ex­pe­ri­ence of new moth­er­hood.

“When I look back on that time now, I know what it was,” she says. “I’ve just been through a pe­riod of se­ri­ous anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, so now I un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing to me then.

“I never coped very well with Scot­tish win­ters, so I al­ways booked a flight to Aus­tralia in Jan­uary.

“Be­tween hav­ing Anna and go­ing to Aus­tralia, I was hav­ing prob­lems breast­feed­ing, we weren’t sleep­ing

– I’d see other moth­ers, women I’d met at my an­te­na­tal classes and think, how is she do­ing that? How did she get that baby into the car and park in a multi-storey and get the pram into the shops?”

She pauses. “It’s a com­mon sign of post-natal de­pres­sion, the feel­ing that ev­ery­one else is cop­ing. I was ob­sessed with child-rear­ing books too, des­per­ate to get it right.”

The turn­ing point for FitzGer­ald came, she says, when Anna – who is now 21 – was nine months old.

“We were in the back seat of the car, and I was do­ing that thing of – don’t look at the baby, in case she starts to cry again,” she re­calls. “And then I turned around and looked at her and she was just sit­ting there, smil­ing at me. That was the mo­ment – the one that hap­pens for most moth­ers at the birth? It hap­pened to me right then.”

The Cry, which was pub­lished in 2013, was also in­flu­enced by FitzGer­ald’s in­ter­est in two high pro­file child ab­duc­tion cases of re­cent times.

FitzGer­ald, now 52, was a teenager in Aus­tralia in 1980 when Lindy Cham­ber­lain was wrong­fully con­victed of mur­der­ing her nine-week-old daugh­ter. She claimed she saw a dingo leave the tent where Azaria was sleep­ing, dur­ing a fam­ily camp­ing hol­i­day. The case was highly pub­li­cised, and Cham­ber­lain was con­victed and jailed. Af­ter new ev­i­dence was dis­cov­ered, she was re­leased and her con­vic­tion was quashed in 1988.

In 2007, four-year-old Madeleine McCann van­ished from a hol­i­day apart­ment in Por­tu­gal’s Praia da Luz, spark­ing an­other high pro­file me­dia cam­paign in which ac­cu­sa­tions were lev­elled at Madeleine’s par­ents, Kate and Gerry.

“I saw Lindy speak­ing on tele­vi­sion to the McCanns, giv­ing them sup­port and I thought – what a ter­ri­ble com­mu­nity this is, what an aw­ful thing by which to be bound to­gether.”

She adds: “I have al­ways be­lieved both of them. But think­ing about their cases made me won­der – what kind of cou­ple would get away with some­thing like this? What would have to be go­ing on be­hind the scenes in that re­la­tion­ship?”

In both cases, says Fitzger­ald, me­dia in­ter­est fo­cussed on the mother.

“Does any­one re­mem­ber Mr Cham­ber­lain’s name?” she says, wryly. “Lindy was in­cred­i­bly naïve and open and just had no clue, and she got slaugh­tered by the me­dia. Her case was re­ally the first ex­am­ple of trial by tele­vi­sion.

“Women are al­ways the tar­get, es­pe­cially when ba­bies are in­volved. No mat­ter how much we talk about parental or gen­der equal­ity, that’s what hap­pens.”

FITZGER­ALD’S orig­i­nal am­bi­tion was to write for film and tele­vi­sion, so to see her work fi­nally on screen has been hugely sat­is­fy­ing. “I tried scriptwrit­ing and got nowhere, did some books in­stead, and that worked out quite well,” she laughs, un­der­stat­ing hugely the suc­cess of her best­selling books, thrilling and of­ten chill­ing con­tem­po­rary tales which in­clude Dead Lovely, Vi­ral, My Last Con­fes­sion and The Donor.

FitzGer­ald wrote The Cry in 2013 and it was sub­se­quently longlisted for the Theak­stons Old Pe­culier Crime Novel of the Year.

Fin­ish­ing the book it was a re­lief, she re­calls.

“Joanna’s head was a tough place to be,” she says. “Orig­i­nally I planned to write the whole thing from her point of view but I couldn’t do it.

“I was over­whelmed with hap­pi­ness when I saw the first episode. I was shak­ing for what felt like days.”

She adds: “It was hard to let it go, but Jacque­line was fan­tas­tic. We spoke about what we both liked about the story, and then I un­der­stood she needed to get on with the process with­out my in­ter­fer­ence, and that was fine.”

The idea may have taken root years be­fore, but the themes of The Cry are con­tem­po­rary –trial by me­dia and so­cial me­dia; pres­sure on women; the myths and truths of moth­er­hood.

“Thre is a great deal of pres­sure on young moth­ers,” says FitzGer­ald, sim­ply. “Ev­ery­thing they do is un­der the spot­light. Lindy had it hard enough, but ev­ery­thing is so cap­turable now.”

FitzGer­ald de­scribes her­self as a “sick kid who read a lot”, 12th child in a fam­ily of 13, grow­ing up in Vic­to­ria in a house built by her en­gi­neer dad.

“My mum was a lit­er­a­ture teacher,

Women are al­ways the tar­get, es­pe­cially when ba­bies are in­volved. No mat­ter how much we talk about parental or gen­der equal­ity, that’s what hap­pens

and she al­ways en­cour­aged me to read,” she says. “I wrote di­aries –ter­ri­ble di­aries – and sto­ries from a young age.

“I was very glad to marry a writer, who un­der­stands what it’s like.”

Fitzger­ald lives on Glas­gow’s south side with her hus­band, screen­writer Ser­gio Casci and their two chil­dren, Anna and Joe.

When she moved to Scot­land at first, she got a job work­ing in a unit for high risk of­fend­ers in Ed­in­burgh, be­fore mov­ing to Glas­gow, where she worked at Bar­lin­nie.

For the last 10 years, she has been a crim­i­nal jus­tice so­cial worker, based lat­terly in the com­mu­nity in Pais­ley, although she has re­cently taken a step back from her day job.

“A friend said to me re­cently my writ­ing and so­cial work are ac­tu­ally quite sim­i­lar – you get to know some­body, work out why they have prob­lems and fix them – or make them worse,” she says. “Peo­ple in cri­sis, moral dilem­mas…she has a point.

“Spend­ing a day in­side Joanna’s head was some­times as emo­tion­ally de­mand­ing as spend­ing a day in­side a prison.”

Last year, FitzGer­ald left her job, she says, to “calm down”.

“I felt like I was liv­ing my life at 40 mil­lion miles an hour,” she says. “When I looked back at life be­fore 40, it was all about go­ing out ev­ery Fri­day and Sat­ur­day night and if you weren’t do­ing that, it was point­less.

“I had to change and I am chang­ing my ways.”

She pauses. “Will it change what I write? I don’t know,” she says, slowly. “I have cer­tainly changed how I write. I used to sit down and write 3000 words a day, eas­ily, but now it’s much more in­tense and par­tic­u­lar, like I don’t want to waste even one word.

“I know this comes from hav­ing had de­pres­sion. Some­one once said you can’t write your way through a ner­vous break­down, but I think I just have.”

The last 18 months have been dif­fi­cult, she ad­mits.

“I watched a lot of tele­vi­sion,” she says. “Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. The Sex and the City boxed set was my safe place. I watched it again, and again – it was med­i­ta­tive al­most, just on in the back­ground, re­as­sur­ing me.

“I felt like my bed was wet con­crete, that I could sink into it and dis­ap­pear.

“The door­bell ring­ing, or some­one shout­ing ‘mum!’ was like chisel on stone. Ours is a so­cia­ble house, with peo­ple com­ing and go­ing all the time, and it was tor­ture.

“Look­ing back, it’s like star­ing into a black hole.”

SHE is clear about the source of her de­pres­sion. “It was hor­monal, no ques­tion,” she states. “It was the menopause. The doc­tors gave me anti-de­pres­sants for nine months but I knew that wasn’t what I needed. Even my daugh­ter knew – she said to me one day, ‘mum, my friends and I have been talk­ing, and all of our moth­ers cried for a year when they were your age. You need to get HRT.’”

FitzGer­ald shakes her head. “They gave me an es­tro­gen pill and within two hours, the dif­fer­ence was in­cred­i­ble. Af­ter 18 months, it was a rev­e­la­tion.”

She adds, earnestly: “And I think it’s great that young women are open about it. They are talk­ing to each other about menopause, so hope­fully when they get to my age they will recog­nise the trig­gers for anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.”

Next up for FitzGer­ald is a seven-way auc­tion for the rights to film her next book Worst Case Sce­nario, set in­side the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem – “it will be Amer­i­can­ised, which is a shame for Pais­ley,” she smiles – and she has been com­mis­sioned to write the TV script for her novel Aus­tralia Day, which has been de­scribed as ‘do­mes­tic disas­ter noir’ in its ex­plo­ration of small-town se­crets set against a dev­as­tat­ing bush fire.

“Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in­ter­est me, they seem to be hap­pen­ing more and more,” she says. “I’m lov­ing writ­ing it.”

She ad­mits to a dose of ‘empty nest syn­drome’.

“Anna is al­ready at St An­drew’s Uni­ver­sity, and Joe is about to go too,” she says. “Anna is study­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, and Joe is study­ing com­puter science.”

She ap­plauds: “They both like writ­ing but hooray, they will get sen­si­ble jobs.

“We had a lovely sum­mer, ev­ery­one at home. Serge and I spent a lot of time hang­ing around the house like bad smells, fol­low­ing our chil­dren wher­ever they went.”

She ad­mits to hav­ing ‘gone off’ Aus­tralia. “For 18 years on the trot, we would travel to Aus­tralia in the win­ter and Italy in the sum­mer, and I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” she shrugs.

“I didn’t make it to Aus­tralia for the film­ing, be­cause I was un­well. But my mum was there, telling ev­ery­one who would lis­ten it was her daugh­ter who had writ­ten it, and I saw a photo of my brother-in-law hold­ing a cam­era, so they all got in­volved.”

She adds, in awe: “It re­ally is fan­tas­tic, see­ing what the team have done with the story. It’s what I’ve been wait­ing for.”

Be­fore we leave, He­len sug­gests the nearby Ne­crop­o­lis as a back­drop for pho­to­graphs to go along with the ar­ti­cle.

“It fits in with the feel of the show,” she ex­plains. “It is Gothic. It is pure hor­ror.”

The Cry, tonight, BBC1, 9pm

Pre­vi­ous page: au­thor He­len FitzGer­ald at Glas­gow Ne­crop­o­lis: ‘It fits with the feel of the show.’Pho­to­graph: Jamie Simp­son

These pages (clock­wise from top): Jenna Cole­man in a scene from The Cry; He­len FitzGer­ald; film­ing scenes for the BBC drama on Ar­gyle Street in Fin­nieston in Glas­gow (pho­to­graph by Jamie Simp­son); Jenna Cole­man and Ewan Les­lie play a cou­ple caught up in a night­mare in The Cry

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