I am thrilled to be joined by the amazing Luana Lewis on Bookaholic Confessions, today. Luana’s second novel, Forget Me Not, came out this month and I can reveal that it is an absolute cracker of a psychological thriller. My review will follow later today, but for now it’s over to Luana as we chat about the story behind Forget Me Not, tackling research and book number three…
Hi Luana, welcome to Bookaholic Confessions! I’m thrilled to have you on the site, thank you so much for participating in this interview. Would you like to start by introducing yourself…?
Thank you so much for having me, I’m so pleased to have Forget Me Not featured on your blog.
I’ve worked as a clinical psychologist for around 20 years. I trained in South Africa, where I specialized in treating survivors of violence, and later I moved to the UK where I worked as an expert witness in cases of family breakdown. These experiences have a strong influence on the subjects I write about and my fascination with crime fiction and in particular, psychological suspense. I’m very interested in the way that trauma affects a person, and the strategies that can help in recovery.
I’ve always loved to read, but becoming a writer was a fantasy until I turned 40 and impulsively enrolled in a creative writing class through my local library. I now divide my time between my practice as a psychologist and writing fiction.
Can you tell us a bit about new novel, Forget Me Not (released 5th November 2015 by Transworld)?
Forget Me Not is a psychological thriller that begins with the apparent suicide of a woman with a seemingly perfect life, and then delves into the darker side of family relationships. While the novel focuses on the mystery behind an unexplained death, it’s also a psychological and emotional drama and a story about fractured relationships between mothers and daughters.
As soon as I read the synopsis for Forget Me Not I just KNEW it was going to be something special. What inspired you to come up with the storyline?
Thank you that’s wonderful for me to know! The mystery at the heart of Forget Me Not emerged from a few different ideas and issues that I feel strongly about. As a psychologist, an understanding of the dynamics of attachment between parents and children is central to my work. I believe – and research shows – that these early relationships have the power to define the way we feel about ourselves as well as the relationships we form with other people in later life. In Forget Me Not, I explore what happens when it all goes horribly wrong between the generations, and the bonds between parents and children are not as loving or as strong as they should be.
Rose, the main narrator in the book, is a working mother who is devoted first and foremost to her career. When her adult daughter Vivien dies suddenly, Rose’s experiences a powerful guilt because in some respects she has neglected her daughter in favour of her career. This strand in the book reflects my own sense of guilt as a working mother, and the pull I always feel between my children’s needs and my own passion for my career.
Rose is a neo-natal nurse, and my second son was born very prematurely and spent the first three months of his life on unit similar to the one where Rose works. For the sake of fiction, I added in some drama and changed aspects of this setting, but on some level this book is a tribute to the people who saved my son’s life and the incredible and at times very difficult work they do under extreme pressure.
How long did Forget Me Not take you to write?
The book took me about two years to complete. The central storyline was quite clear to me from the beginning, but I worked with my editors at Transworld to find the most compelling and gripping way to tell the story. I made several structural changes as I went along and the manuscript changed quite dramatically over the two years. I feel very lucky to have had brilliant editorial input, the result is a book I feel proud of.
Do you always know the outcome of your books before you start writing? If so, how difficult is it to keep the truth from coming out to the reader during the course of the book?
I’ve had a few different ideas for novels, and I’ve made a start on writing some of them, but not all of them work. The concepts that do seem to succeed are the ones where I am able to see the full story arc from the beginning. But although I can see how the book begins and ends, important aspects can change while writing it and what happens in the middle is a lot less clear.
In terms of keeping the truth from coming out, I don’t find this too difficult. Maybe this is because I’m writing from the perspective of the character who is unravelling the mystery, and I follow them step by step as they uncover more and more information and move toward deeper levels of understanding. I try to stick closely to the point of view of my main character and their experiences, and to see things through their eyes. I’m as interested in character development as I am in writing suspense, so I try to balance these two aspects. I do also go back after the first draft is written and check that there aren’t too few, or too many clues. I think on some level it’s only fair that the reader should look back and think it was possible to have guessed the ending, even though it hopefully comes as a surprise to some extent.
How did you go about doing any relevant research when writing Forget Me Not?
I talked to several different people while I was writing the novel, including police officers, GPs and nurses. It amazes me how generous people are in giving of their time, and how willing they are to answer my sinister questions.
For this novel, I needed to know how the police and coroner would go about discovering the cause of death in cases where there is no sign of serious injury, and how long it might take for forensic results to come back. I also needed to know how you could tell that a person has actually died, and that there is no chance of resuscitation.
In order to flesh out the character of Rose, I interviewed a senior nurse on a neo-natal unit. I wanted to understand what kind of person is drawn to this type of work, and how working long shifts and having to deal with life and death situations on a daily basis might impact on her personal life. I wanted to reflect both the joys and harsh realities of working with very sick, very tiny babies. My husband is an ex-journalist so I ended up interviewing him too, for the character of Isaac, to talk about the ways in which journalism has changed so dramatically over the past decades and what that’s like for someone who’s been in the field for thirty years.
As I wrote, I kept coming across points that needed clarifying – for example at the last minute, I ended up emailing a geneticist to check something about hair colour! Although a minor point, I didn’t want to get it wrong, or to annoy readers by making silly mistakes. So I was quite surprised at how much fact checking is involved in writing fiction.
What tips would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
The first thing I’d advise is to write regularly. I think about writing in the same way as learning to play an instrument, the more you practice, the better you get.
Joining a writing class was the first step for me in my path to publication. This doesn’t have to be something as formal (or expensive) as an MA in creative writing; the first class I joined was a local group I found out about via the adult education programme in my local library. If the idea of a formal class doesn’t appeal, then I’d suggest finding a supportive writing group so you have a forum where you can get feedback about your writing. This process can hurt, but it can also be crucial in improving. The input from a group of committed reader/writers was invaluable for me in developing self-editing skills and in understanding how my writing was coming across to readers.
And edit. A lot. When you feel you’ve finished, put your work away for a few weeks if possible. When you read it again, it will be with fresh eyes and you’ll see any remaining problems or changes that need to be made. Before submitting to an agent, I’d suggest reading your work out loud as this helps to finesse the sentences and dialogue and you’ll be able to hear it clearly if something isn’t working or doesn’t flow.
The route to publication inevitably involves rejection. I don’t think I’ve ever met a published author who didn’t experience failure somewhere along the way. So I think it’s important not to take rejection personally. My agent rejected the first manuscript I sent her but mentioned she’d be happy to read anything I wrote in the future. A year later I sent her another manuscript, she loved this one and signed me as a client within about 24 hours. This became my first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, though it wasn’t the first book I’d written.
What books do you enjoy reading and who are your favourite authors?
I read widely, across different genres. I’m happy to try anything where the writing is good and I can engage with the characters. Robert Harris’s Fatherland is probably my favourite crime novel. I also love The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is a brilliant example of psychological suspense. Here are a few other favourites that come to mind, they’re all quite different:
- Margaret Atwood, especially The Handmaid’s Tale)
- Charles Bukowski’s Post Office
- Mike Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts
- Liz Jensen – The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (and I’m about to start “The Uninvited”)
- Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a joy and great if you need your mood lifted
I also read a lot of translated fiction, and one of my recent favourites is Niccolo Ammaniti’s “I’m Not Scared.” I loved the Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re up to at the moment?
I’ve started working on an idea for a third psychological suspense novel and I’ve written the first few chapters. It’s in the very early stages but I have a good feeling about it. Fingers crossed!
A huge thank you to Luana Lewis and to Naomi at Transworld. Click here to get hold of your copy of Forget Me Not, released 5th November 2015 with Transworld.