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Flora Collins on the inspiration behind Nanny Dearest

Flora Collins on the inspiration behind Nanny Dearest

When I began dreaming up Nanny Dearest, I knew I wanted to create an atmosphere that was constrictive. I set out to write a novel with few characters, few domestic settings, and slowly rising tension. I utilized two different timelines with two different perspectives so that Annie, the nanny, and Sue, her charge could each share their side of the story. I established New York as the setting because that is where I was born and raised and live now. New York has a strange way of bringing people together. I’ve found that since it’s a landing strip for so many, with people coming and going all the time, once a person falls out of my life, they’re bound to bounce right back in just by the virtue of my staying in New York. This is why I thought Manhattan would be the perfect place for Annie and Sue to reconnect, decades later.

My own family had fraught experiences with nannies when I was a child. While I had a host of incredible caregivers–some going as far as devouring any child psychology book they could get their hands on and creating intricate lists and schedules about my favorite foods and bedtime routines—there were a few who relished spreading spiteful rumors about my parents among the nursery school mothers. Though these nannies were nowhere near as diabolical as Annie in Nanny Dearest, their behavior acted as a genesis for the book. In the care of whom are we actually leaving our children? And for the nanny stepping into a strange family’s house for the first time, what secrets will unfurl?

The nanny-child relationship is an odd one; parents are leaving their children under the guidance of someone they may know virtually nothing about, expecting them to perform the most important labor of all: keeping their darlings safe and nurtured. On the flip side, a nanny is expected to care for her charges like they’re her own, while also being paid, in some cases, meager wages and dismissed as the lowly ‘help.’ Isn’t it a paradox that the person tasked with such great responsibility is diminished to such low stature in society? This conceit optimized creep for me. There is so much tension that can stew between mothers and mother-surrogates and children. If a child has a nanny with whom they spend more time than their own parents, which caregiver will really have a lasting imprint?

I’ve always been drawn to the darker sides of the human psyche; what sort of deceit and horror are we, as a species, capable of? And what sort of relationships spur this type of deceit and horror? I wanted to explore all these ideas and more in Nanny Dearest, while also staying true to the thriller genre.

Nanny Dearest was published by Quercus on 15 September 2022

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