You chose a remote cottage in the snow as a setting for your latest book No Longer Safe. Despite the vast space outside the characters are largely prohibited from moving around freely due to the bad weather so the atmosphere in the cottage was quite claustrophobic. Was that your intention or did that just happen during writing?
I definitely had a confined space in mind, in order to create a ‘hotbed of volatility’ between the characters. I think different aspects of our personalities emerge when we are not only taken out of our familiar environment, but placed in an uncomfortable situation that is hard to escape from. I also wanted to write about snow – how, on the one hand, it’s magical and reveals things and on the other it’s menacing and hides things…
The main characters are old friends from Uni that haven’t seen each other for a long time. Also, it becomes clear that while some people have changed others are stuck in their routine from Uni days and never grew up. Did you keep in touch with many friends from school/Uni? Do you think not wanting to change/being afraid of change is an essential character trait of humanity?
You’ve picked up an interesting underlying theme in the book, here! I’ve spent many years being a student (I loved it!) and yes, I’ve managed to keep in touch with some key people from my early days, going back to Junior school (aged nine). I think ‘change’ is one of those aspects of life that people tend to want only if they can control it, but, unfortunately change can be something that unexpectedly happens to you, as well as something that you invite. I think both versions crop up in No Longer Safe: many of the changes are secret and hidden between the characters and others are even hidden from the reader…
What do you think of people who are convinced the days at school and/or Uni were the best of their lives?
I think it’s tempting to use rose-tinted glasses when reflecting on the past, but having said that, I loved my student days, because I love learning and [ahem], being in a position where I don’t have to take much responsibility. If people make this kind of declaration, I like to ask them ‘why’. All in all, I think ‘now’ should be the best time of our lives and one of the reasons I became a psychotherapist was to try to help unhappy people discover what is currently missing in their lives.
The three main female characters couldn’t be more different. You tell the story from the perspective of Alice, who was the wallflower at Uni but who tries to turn her life around. Karen was the super cool girl but hasn’t exactly met the high expectations set in her back then. Jodie is stuck with the arsehole she dated back then and who treats her like shit. I think the narration works so well because we all know very similar people. May I ask what kind of person you were at school/Uni?
I really like your overview of the characters! And, I have to admit, I probably identify most with Alice! I suffered from low self-esteem in my late teens and twenties – another reason for becoming a therapist! I did a lot of work on myself to understand and conquer it and in the end, I wrote a book about it (you can get hold of it in bookshops – The Self-Esteem Journal, under Alison Waines).
Jodie is all pretty exterior but when it comes to cleaning up her shit she is a super slut, leaving used waxing strips and other personal waste lying around. I wonder if you knew/know such a person and/or modelled that character after her? I had the feeling you described that mess deliberately because you are someone who despises such behaviour?
Well – you’re right, in that I don’t like mess! Thankfully, I don’t think I know anyone like Jodie – someone who is so self-absorbed and obsessed with how she looks all the time. I’m not OCD (because I can be extremely lazy with housework), but I do like things to be neat and organised.
No Longer Safe leads the reader to an ending with more than one unexpected turn, how much of that did you initially plan and what changed when you neared on writing the end? Do you think some readers will be mad at you for ending the story like you did?
You’re right – advance reviews are indicating that the ending really does knock readers sideways and I imagine some people will want to throw things at me! I had both big twists in mind at the start, but when the book is in progress, I’m never quite sure how the ending will play out. One of the joys of writing is to have that feeling of ‘I wonder what’s going to happen next?’
Can you already give a hint on what you are working on next?
I’m halfway through writing a new book, but I have a Trilogy – a series of three psychological thrillers coming out next! They all feature an intrepid (fictional) Clinical Psychologist, Samantha Willerby, who is based at a hospital in London. She faces extraordinary crimes hidden inside chilling mysteries that test her to the limit. The first book is called Inside the Whispers and is about several passengers who come to Sam recounting scenes from a Tube disaster – an incident, she discovers, that they were never involved in. It’s due out in Autumn 2016!