How My Trip From Hell Inspired Follow You Home

Like my previous novels, The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, Follow You Home was inspired by something that happened to me when I was younger, an experience that I took and turned into something much scarier in order to entertain my readers.

When I was nineteen, my then-girlfriend and I scraped together our pennies so we could go Inter-Railing around Europe. We spent months planning our itinerary, intending to head on a whistle-stop tour of the continent that would last the entire summer. The budget was tight but we were going to have the time of our lives.

After spending a day in Brussels, we headed to Paris. From there, we took a night train south to Avignon. We went into a private compartment and shut the door. Exhausted after a day trudging around Paris and a sleepless night on a noisy campsite, we fell asleep.

When we woke up, the pouches we wore around our necks, which contained our Inter-Rail tickets, passports and money, had been stolen. We ran up and down the train but, of course, the thieves were long gone. The reality of the situation sunk in as we arrived in Avignon at dawn. Inter-Rail tickets are not replaceable. Our ‘grand tour’ was over before it had begun.

After struggling to overcome the language barrier, we reported the incident to some gendarmes and headed back to Avignon station. Fortunately, we had travellers’ cheques from Thomas Cook, who told us what we needed to do: we had to get to Marseille, where the British Consulate would give us a document that would allow us to travel home.

We hitch-hiked to Marseille, arriving late in the evening, the strong hot winds of the mistral swirling around us. We spent the night lying on the floor of the train station, drinking water from the taps in the public toilets, with no food… (I hope you have your violins out.) At one point, a shifty man approached and asked us if we would like him to buy us a hot meal. We refused and hid.

The next day, we got our documents from the Consulate and replaced our travellers’ cheques. We couldn’t leave France, except to go home, so decided to make the best of the situation. We hitch-hiked home, Marseille to Calais, 663 miles. It took two weeks. And apart from the nights spent lying beside the highway, the rides with men who fortunately didn’t turn out to be serial killers, and an unfortunate incident with a packet of laxatives on a campsite near Dijon, we had a pretty good time.

When we got home, the English papers were full of stories about French bandits gassing tourists on night trains, sending them to sleep so they could steal the passengers’ possessions at their leisure. Though this may have been typical British paranoia about the French.

Years later, when my publisher asked me jokily if I had any other disasters from my past, I immediately thought about that night on a train out of Paris. And an image came into my head: a couple on a night train, falling asleep and waking up to realise that something awful has happened – but with no idea that the worst, the absolute worst, is yet to come…

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