CLAIRE Askew was 10 when the Dunblane massacre happened. Then a primary school pupil herself in the Scottish Borders town of Kelso, the horrific events of March 13, 1996 – when Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 children and their teacher – left an indelible mark on her formative psyche.

A little over a decade later, Askew spent five years working in a further education college where students as young as 14 and 15 were enrolled. "I realised there isn't the security that there is in primary schools and high schools," she says.

"The thoughts about the Dunblane incident that had been haunting me since I was a child started to seep back in. I remember thinking: 'Someone could just walk in here and these kids are quite vulnerable.'"

It was these experiences that sowed the seed of her debut crime novel All The Hidden Truths, a searing, heart-breaking thriller which begins when lone shooter Ryan Summers walks into a fictional Edinburgh college and kills 13 women before turning the gun on himself.

At its core is a shrewd examination of the human condition and our need to seek answers or find meaning when often there is none. There's the grief-stricken disbelief that engulfs the loved ones of the victims. The public blaming of the killer's mother. A fruitless quest for retribution.

Askew, 32, delves into the muddied waters of a technology-driven age where we can often be bombarded with information from the swirling vortex of social media commentary ("13 new angels got their wings") to the conspiracy theorists who cry foul play ("false flag event!").

"One of the things I was interested in was how news breaks now," she says. "When I was 10 and Dunblane happened, programming on the TV was interrupted and there was a news broadcast. That was how we found out about it. Now, when these events happen, the news is broken by people who are in the building while it is happening.

"I wanted to get across how much closer, oddly, we have got to these events. We are not just getting a version from someone sitting behind a TV news desk. We are seeing tweets, sometimes from students who are hiding under desks while the gunman is still at large."

Not long after Askew began writing the book in 2014, 22-year-old British-born gunman Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 others near the campus of University of California. "He was the first of these 'incel' shooters where his intention was to specifically go after women," she says.

Incel, meaning "involuntary celibate", is a term adopted by an online community of men who are unable to find a romantic or sexual partner. They use internet forums to express their anger-fuelled misogyny and violent hatred for women.

Askew says she had already submitted All The Hidden Truths to her publisher when the #MeToo and Time's Up women's rights movements began gathering momentum last autumn. There is part of her uncomfortable about hearing the book described as timely.

"It is a difficult and delicate thing because on the one hand I'm glad the #MeToo movement is happening and we are finally having a discussion about these things that have gone on under the surface," she says.

"But, at the same time, I can see there is a correlation between women – especially younger women – coming forward to say: 'I'm not going to stay silent about the micro aggressions that I suffer every day' and some young men finding that so difficult that they need to almost retaliate.

"Probably the hardest thing about writing this book is the fact everyone says: 'God, it's so topical' and I really wish that it wasn't."

Askew doesn't shy away from discussing the murky topic of so-called men's rights activists. "What I try to point out in the book is that a lot of the underlying social catalysts for these events can be related back to toxic masculinity," she says.

"The character Ryan is an angry young man who has developed a warped set of feelings around women. I think things like the #MeToo movement show that Ryan and men like him are not outliers. It is actually disturbingly common."

The unfolding narrative is told through eyes of three women: DI Helen Birch, who is leading the police investigation; Ishbel Hodgekiss, the mother of the first victim; and Moira Summers, the mother of the shooter. Was it important for Askew to have their voices at the heart of the story?

"What I really didn't want to do was centre [it on] Ryan," she says. "I wanted him to be a character without being a character, if that makes sense? I didn't want in any way to rehabilitate the image of someone who commits an act like this.

"I wanted to complicate people's ideas about why these events happen because I think we, as consumers of media, have a tendency to jump to easy conclusions such as: 'Oh well, the people who commit these acts are obviously all mentally ill.'

"Which is a problematic view when it comes to the many people with mental health problems who don't go out and do these sorts of things. I also started to think about how it seems to be women who pick up the pieces in the wake of massive tragedies like this. I wanted to reflect that."

One of the most jarring themes is the character Moira being blamed for the actions of her son. "I think it is natural for people to see a terrible event like this happen and think: 'Who raised that person?'" says Askew.

"When something very senseless happens we – as individuals and communities – cast around for some way to find closure. When the perpetrator has dispatched themselves and can't be brought to justice in any sort of meaningful way, people then ask: 'Well, who can be punished for this?'"

As part of her research, Askew read A Mother's Reckoning, the memoir of Sue Klebold who was the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the gunmen in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

"For some reason people were like: 'You're his mother. You must have known about this. We want to have justice by proxy.' I was fascinated by that almost quite understandable impulse."

It may be her debut crime novel, but this isn't Askew's first foray into writing: she has already carved a successful career as poet. Her debut collection, This Changes Things, was published in 2016 and her work features in several anthologies.

Based in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, she is in a relationship with fellow poet Dominic Stevenson. Askew's many hats include writer-in-residence at Edinburgh University, founder of poetry blog One Night Stanzas and working as a tutor for women's writing initiatives Write Like A Grrrl! and #GrrrlCon.

The eldest of two children, Askew was born in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and moved to Kelso when she was eight. Her father John works in public relations and her mother Chris in childcare, while younger brother Nick is an artist and illustrator.

Askew was five when she wrote her first poem about a carrot, "which my mum still has in a frame and is very embarrassing". She credits hearing poetry from an early age for stoking her passion for words and language.

Her father would read poems instead of bedtime stories and Askew has vivid memories of listening to Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear's Nonsense Verse and Ogden Nash's animal poems.

It is perhaps also in her blood. Askew discovered a few years ago that she is a likely descendant of Protestant martyr and poet Anne Askew who in 1546 was tortured and burned at the stake as a heretic.

"She was an amazing woman and I find her incredibly inspiring. She was the only woman to ever be tortured in the Tower of London – and she was also one of the very few people tortured there who did not give anything away.

"There are accounts written of her time in the Tower of London and the big, terrifying executioners were in awe of her strength – this is noted in the records. She is an incredible person to have as an ancestor and it is quite the legacy to leave for a fellow poet like me."

Askew is rather impressive herself. All The Hidden Truths was subject to a hotly contested four-way auction within the publishing world before Hodder and Stoughton snapped up the rights for a two-book deal. She also has a third novel in the pipeline.

"That is also going to be a DI Helen Birch book and it's starting to take shape in the distance as well. There is no big end goal: I just want to keep writing."

All The Hidden Truths by Claire Askew is published by Hodder and Stoughton. The author will appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 17 and 19. Visit