One photo couldn’t hurt, could it?
Social media regularly gets a kicking, but doesn’t it have a good side too?
Author and freelance writer Andrea Mara thinks so - here, she talks about the inspiration behind One Click, and what’s brilliant about social media.
One Click, the new psychological thriller from the author of The Other Side of the Wall, is about a woman who takes a photo of a stranger on a beach and posts it on social media, with no idea of the unintended consequences to follow.
It's a disturbing tale of cyber-stalking and trolling, blogging and social media, but it's also about real-life - a marriage break-up, trouble with children and work, and some good old-fashioned murder.
The author, a blogger and self-confessed social media addict, drew on her own experiences when writing the book – though she’s quick to point out, she generally has a much more positive time online than her main character does.
On social media, cyber-stalking, and One Click:
The idea for One Click came when I was on a beach one morning and saw a woman on a deckchair in the shallow waves -a book hanging from her hand, her face turned to the sun. I’d been taking photos of the sea, and for a second, I considered taking the woman’s photo. I could see the Instagram caption in my mind – “how I wish I’d spent my twenties”. Then my mind went into overdrive – what if I shared her photo and something happened? What if she was hiding from an ex or on the run? What if someone saw my photo and became obsessed with her? All quite unlikely in real-life, but of course in fiction, anything is possible. So I didn’t take the photo that morning – I put the woman in a book instead.
Lauren, my fictional alter-ego, takes the photo and puts it online, then starts to get anonymous messages from a troll, asking about the woman on the beach.
The book is about cyber-stalking and over-sharing – so is social media the “bad guy” in the story?
One Click is about unintended consequences and cyber-stalking, and some readers will certainly feel that Lauren, the main character, shares too much online – I suspect others will relate to her and see her behaviour as fairly normal by today’s standards!
But the book is not a denouncement of social media. It depicts what can go wrong online, but also celebrates what’s great about the internet.
We read so much about the ills of social media, and we’re being told we should #DeleteFacebook, that Twitter is a viper pit, and Instagram makes us all feel bad about ourselves. But a little like mainstream news, the ills of social media are what make headlines, whereas the good stuff often goes unnoticed.
In One Click, Lauren has just split up with her husband, and relies heavily on Twitter friends for company when she’s sitting in her too-quiet house alone at night. I think this reflects real life for many people - parents at home with small children, carers, work-at-home parents, elderly people, small business owners, and anyone who wants to engage in discussions that just aren’t taking place in their own kitchens.
So what’s good about social media?
Take the loneliness of maternity leave for starters, which was how I first discovered social media. Not everyone is lonely, not everyone struggles, and even with those who do, many have real-life support networks in place, and don’t need to switch on a smart-phone for company.
But for those who do need it, Facebook and Instagram are saving sanity up and down the country on any given morning, especially at 6am when the baby is awake and everyone else is still fast asleep.
I remember how lonely I found maternity leave until I discovered parenting groups on Facebook – I still remember clicking in for the first time and realising there were hundreds and hundreds of women like me, at home with small babies, doubting our abilities, wondering why it wasn’t always the joyous time we were led to expected. Sometimes we talked about the practical baby stuff – feeding and sleeping – but we talked about everything else too; books, politics, the thing that was on TV last night. It was a window to a wider world at a time when I needed it most.
But surely the internet can’t replace real-life friends?
I don’t think social media replaces real life, but it can complement it. None of my real friends would have appreciated a 6am phone-call to tell them my baby had been up half the night, but Facebook was always open – there was always a listening ear.
I’ve gone on to meet up with many of my Facebook group buddies in real life, and some of them are now firm friends – but they haven’t replaced my real-life friends.
Okay, so aside from parents of small children, who else benefits from social media?
I know carers whose only outlet during their 24-hour-a-day always-on job is social media. I know elderly people in rural areas for whom the internet is a window to the wider world. I know work-at-home parents, like me, who rely on social media chatto take the place of the real-life office conversations we can’t have. Stay-at-home parents can literally set up kitchen table businesses and spread the word through Facebook – there’s no longer a need for an expensive ecommerce website. And anyone at all who doesn’t necessarily have
someone to talk to when they sit down at the end of the day can log on and join in with a wider conversation.
In One Click, Lauren turns to Twitter for that reason – a wish to be part of a wider conversation - even before her marriage breaks down. And then she makes the mistake that triggers the story – she shares a photo of a stranger, and starts to get messages from an anonymous troll.
Ah yes, the troll – isn’t that a good reason to steer clear of social media?
For sure, many people wisely steer clear of social media and avoid the associated negativity. If you don’t need or want social media in your life, there’s absolutely no reason to go there. But the negativity is also largely avoidable. The nice thing about social media is that you can create your own bubble – only follow people who share the good stuff and or the interesting stuff or enrich your life in some way. Just like real life – if someone is draining your energy, then steer clear.
For all the negativity we see online, there are some amazing positives too. The #MeToo and#MarchForOurLives movements are two giant, global examples, and there are smaller, local initiatives too – like the campaign to raise money for charity and get the late Emma Hannigan’s book Letters to My Daughters to the top of the bestseller lists. To me, Twitter is also a place where women support women, and yes, like Lauren’s experience, it’s company when there’s nobody else to talk to.
Of course in fiction, things tend to go wrong (the story wouldn’t last long if they didn’t) but in real life, the good so often outweighs the evil – even in the viper pit.
About One Click
When Lauren takes a photo of a stranger on a beach and shares it online, she has no idea what will come of that single click.
Her daughters are surprised that she posted a photo without consent, but it’s only when she starts to get anonymous messages about the woman on the beach that she deletes the photo. It’s too little too late, and the messages escalate, prompting Lauren to confess to the woman. The woman has her own dark story, one that might explain the messages, but Lauren isn’t convinced. Then her ex-husband begins to harass her, telling her she shares too much online and brought this on herself.
She’s also dealing with other problems. A difficult client at work – one who starts to show up in places he shouldn’t be. Her younger daughter is behaving out of character and Lauren can’t work out what’s wrong. And the cracks are literally beginning to show in her old South Dublin house, mirroring the cracks in her carefully curated life.
Meanwhile, the messages from the internet troll become more personal and more vindictive. Her friends feel she should stand up to her stalker, but Lauren isn’t so sure. And then she makes one small mistake that brings everything tumbling down.
Praise for One Click
"One Click pulls you in and won't let go - be prepared to read in one sitting. It's a page-turner that will hook you from page one, and will make you stop and think before you make one click online again." - Patricia Gibney, author of No Safe Place
"One Click is menacing from the start, surprising to the end. Makes you think - hard - about what we share and reveal, and who might be watching." - Emily Hourican, author of White Villa
“A cracking read!” - Stella O’Malley, author of Bully-Proof Kids
“Gripping - it will keep you guessing until the last page” – Sarah Breen, co-author of Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling
About Andrea Mara
Andrea Mara is a freelance writer, author, and blogger, who lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. She writes lifestyle features for Irish newspapers and magazines, and has won a number of awards for blogging. She attempts – often badly - to balance work, family, and writing, then lets off steam on her blog, OfficeMum.ie.
Her first book, The Other Side of the Wall (Poolbeg Press) and was published in 2017 and shortlisted for the Kate O’Brien Award in 2018.
One Click is out May 1st and Andrea Mara is available for interview.