Mary Rose, the 1920 stage play by J.M. Barrie was a story which Alfred Hitchcock always wanted to adapt. When researching my three books on Alfred Hitchcock, I discovered that it was the Master of Suspense’s favourite and he wanted to make it into a film. He thought about the challenges of creating Mary Rose as a ghost with neon lights, but unfortunately was never able to realize his passion project.
The story is about a woman who disappears on a Scottish island and reappears many years later in a ghostly form, while all her loved ones and those around her have grown old. Barrie is best known for writing Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1904, about a boy who has an overwhelming desire to remain young forever.
In my new novel The Haunting of Alice May, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice May Parker, moves to Pacific Grove, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Henry is my version of Mary Rose — someone who never grows old, doesn’t become an adult, is from a different era, and is tied to a mysterious island.
Taking this premise, I thought, wouldn’t it be fascinating and sad if the ghost never grew old, while those around him had died? When Henry falls in love with a human, the dilemma is that they are not only from two different times, but also from two different worlds. While Alice is a contemporary teenage girl with a romantic nostalgia for past literature, Henry’s values are from the turn of the 20th Century, and he is bound by a sense of old fashioned duty.
When writing a thriller it is important to distinguish between mystery and suspense. Many readers become confused by the two terms. Through my studies on Alfred Hitchcock, I learned that they are actually two very different processes. Mystery is an intellectual process like a riddle or a whodunit. The mystery of Henry, who saves Alice from drowning, is who is he really? Is he a ghost? Where does he come from? What secrets does this island hold on which he inhabits? These are all mysteries that run through the book.
Suspense on the other hand, is an emotional process, rather like a rollercoaster ride, or a trip to the haunted fun house. Good suspense should actively involve the audience in the storytelling. All suspense comes out of giving the audience information. If you tell the reader that there’s a bomb in the room and that it’s going to go off in five minutes, that’s suspense. The suspense in “The Haunting of Alice May”is what will happen when Alice finds out who Henry really is. How will she react? What will she do? What will happen when the other sailors come looking for her? This suspense drives the narrative core of the book and invites readers to keep turning pages.