The Girl in the Van by Helen Matthews: published 17th March 2022…find out all about it here.
Please welcome my guest author, Helen Matthews, whose latest psychological suspense novel, The Girl in the Van, was published on 17th March 2022 by Darkstroke Books.
I’ve been privileged to have read The Girl in the Van, already, and trust me when I tell you that a drink of something strong, and a cosy, quiet, place to read is advised when you settle down with Helen’s enthralling and absorbing novel. I loved it.
Congratulations upon the publication of your wonderful novel, Helen.
Take a deep breath…
A tormented mother. An abandoned girl. A deadly game of survival.
What happened to Ellie?
I’ve invited Helen to tell us about her book and herself.
Traumatised by events, Ellie’s mother, Laura, can’t bear to stay in the Welsh seaside town where she lives with her partner, Gareth. She escapes to London, breaking all ties with him, and refusing to tell anyone her new address.
After two years of living alone and working in a mundane job, Laura buys an old campervan and joins a singles holiday. Here, she meets Miriana, a teenage girl who bears a chilling resemblance to Ellie. As Laura uncovers Miriana’s story, she’s shocked by the parallels to her own life.
But stories can be dangerous, and someone out there will stop at nothing to prevent the truth about Ellie from coming out…
Authors often get asked to supply unique extracts from their novel to help reviewers and bloggers publicise their book. This always gives me a dilemma – what about plot spoilers? Luckily, The Girl in the Van has multiple sub-plots with three main characters (Laura, Miriana, and Ellie), each of whom has a story to tell.
One of the sub-plots of The Girl in the Van turns on a vicious contemporary crime that I want to expose and bring to greater public awareness. For this reason, I’m relaxed about it being a (small) plot spoiler. ‘County lines’, as it’s known in the UK, is a form of modern slavery where vulnerable children and teens are groomed by criminal gangs and used to carry drugs from cities out to smaller towns or rural areas, often far from their home.
Once lured into ‘county lines’ gangs, it can be very hard for victims to break free.
I’ve chosen this extract because it shows both the vulnerability and the bravery of the character, Miriana, who is around sixteen to seventeen years old at this time. She has been sent to deliver drugs to an address in South Wales and ordered by the London-based gang leader, Liam, to stay at this house as part of the gang’s plan to establish a new base. This is a crime known as ‘cuckooing’ where gangs target vulnerable people with mental health or addiction problems and take over their homes to store or deal drugs. Miriana is powerless but intelligent. She knows she’s in grave danger whatever action she takes and decides to escape.
At the mouth of an underpass she paused, swaying with exhaustion and indecision. Small heaps of glass on the ground suggested lights on the approach to the tunnel had been purposely smashed; the dark heart of the underpass seemed unfathomable. What if someone was lying in wait in the underbelly of the main road? For several minutes she watched and waited, but not a single car drove past, so she climbed over a barrier and ran across several lanes of major road. As she clambered up a grassy embankment on the other side her chest was burning, but she could see a bright light ahead. That must be the bus station. She’d find a place, out of the wind, hunker down and catch the first bus out in the morning.
But where would she go? Croydon was the obvious place. She’d never lived anywhere else, had hardly ever travelled, except on school trips to the theatre in London and once to Chessington, where she and her classmates were made to stare at caged wild creatures but forbidden to visit the theme park. Returning to Croydon and a vengeful Liam would be impossible – he’d been working for weeks on this plan to expand his territory. She was his emissary – his angel – and she’d bottled it…
She hadn’t had to collect any money from Tinker. She’d assumed that delivery was a sweetener to build loyalty, as Liam had told her: “They’ll pay me back in shedloads.” But if Tinker was already part of Liam’s crew, what did that mean exactly? She had the money Liam had called ‘subsistence allowance’ – around fifty pounds to cover food for up to four weeks and her return bus journey. Liam had told her not to return to Croydon for at least a fortnight, and she was meant to phone him every day and report back on her research: who was living at the house, local dealers, volumes, and prices.
She crossed another road and headed towards the beam of light, but when she arrived it looked unfamiliar. Then it struck her – she’d walked to the railway station, not the bus station. Ice had settled on the windscreens of parked cars and the ground was slick with damp frost. She hunched her shoulders and looked for somewhere to wait out the rest of the night. She paced, turned, and retraced her steps as a swirl of snowflakes fluttered in the air.
Next to the station entrance were some wide steps and a metal handrail leading to an office called Swyddfa Eiddo Coll. She squinted to make out the English translation – Lost Property Office. An overhanging porch offered some shelter from the next flurry of sleet.
She put the sleeping bag down on the top step and sat on it, the frozen concrete biting through her jeans. She rooted around inside her backpack for the wallet containing five ten-pound notes, then tipped everything out onto the sleeping bag and organised it into piles. Her phone was there, and a small wash bag with toothbrush, comb, and lipstick, underwear, and two changes of clothes. But no wallet. She emptied her pockets: sweet wrappers, tissues, her outbound bus ticket. She shuffled everything again. Still no wallet. Someone at the house must have stolen it. Her money was gone.
Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her latest novel The Girl in the Van was published on 17 March by Darkstroke Books.
Previous novels include suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, which won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was published by Darkstroke Books in 2020.
Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium, and Love Sunday magazine.
She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France.
Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.
You can discover more about Unseen here:
Thanks, Helen, for sharing your latest novel with us. I am sure new readers will be keen to discover more about you and your books, so here are the links:
You can download The Girl in the Van or buy the paperback at: