5 things that inspired WATCHING YOU

watchingyouIt was only after I finished writing WATCHING YOU that I thought about what might have inspired the story. I don’t plot my psychological thrillers in advance, so I didn’t know what was going to happen when I created the character of Marnie Logan. The hook was simply this: what if a woman had been stalked her entire life?


When I came up with the name Marnie (short for Marnella) I wasn’t thinking about the classic Hitchock film of the same name or the 1961 novel by Winston Graham. I don’t remember seeing or reading either of them, but perhaps subconsciously they played a part. Both young women are extremely troubled, but rather than being a compulsive liar, thief and helpless sociopath, my Marnie is a mother of two, whose husband has vanished leaving behind nothing but gambling debts and questions. She suffers ‘gaps’ in her memory that she can’t explain and has always had a sense that someone is watching her.

Alfred Hitchcock can take the credit for being honest about the fact that we are a race of peeping toms. The great man once said: ‘I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undressing for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look; no one turns away and says, “It’s none of my business.” They could pull down their blinds, but they never do; they stand there and look out.’
I don’t think we need an excuse to be fascinated by other lives. That’s why we read novels. It’s why we look at paparazzi photographs in magazines, or watch the latest celebrity trial, or follow the Kardashians, or look at stranger’s photographs on Facebook, or laugh at Judge Judy, or pause when we see a silhouette in a lighted window.
We love to see how the other half lives…and dies. We love to watch.

A dozen years ago I was staying with a friend in London – in the same mansion block where I set WATCHING YOU. It was the middle of summer and the bedroom was small and airless. I opened the window and glimpsed a woman sitting at the identical window opposite, twenty feet away. She was examining her face in mirror with a bright light in her eyes so she couldn’t see me. The look of sadness on her face was haunting. She began to cry and I wondered what had happened. Had her husband left her? Had a parent died? Had she been jilted?
This woman was fully clothed, but it wouldn’t have mattered because her emotion was as naked and stark as anything I had ever seen. Yes, I should have turned away. But I didn’t. I kept watching and imagining what sort of life she lived.

This is a 1973 book by Flora Rheta Schreiber revealed the existence of Sybil Dorsett, a young woman with multiple personality disorder, who doctors believed had sixteen different ‘alters’. The book has twice been made into films in 1976 (Sally Field) and 2007 (Tammy Blanchard), but in 2011 the basis of the story was questioned by an exposé called Sybil Exposed, which claimed the entire case was a fraud manufactured by a psychiatrist and journalist to make money.

Although extremely rare, multiple personalities do exist, and continue to fascinate people because each of us has a dark side that we try to deny or pretend doesn’t exist. We are all capable of killing someone if pushed hard enough..


Many years ago when I worked as a feature writer for a The Mail on Sunday in London, I was sent to Sydney, Australia, to cover a story about a man who had allegedly stalked a woman who lived across the road. The story was unusual for several reasons (one of which I can’t tell you without giving away a plot twist in WATCHING YOU) and it showed how perceptions can differ between victim and perpetrator. The police didn’t know which of them to believe. Was the woman paranoid or vexatious? Was she a fantasist? Exactly who was stalking whom?

RobothamMichael Robotham’s latest novel, WATCHING YOU is published by Mulholland Books on March 11, 2014