Lisa Jewell is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels, including The Family Upstairs and Then She Was Gone, as well as Invisible Girl and Watching You. Her novels have sold over 5 million copies internationally, and her work has also been translated into twenty-eight languages.
Q. For your hit, Invisible Girl, you’ve talked before about how an unhappy guy at a children’s snowball fight inspired the story. Do you have any similar genesis story for The Night She Disappeared?
Lisa: There was a genesis for this book, but it didn’t pack quite the same memorable punch as the genesis of some of my previous books. I was listening to a fellow author discussing one of her early books at an event where we were sharing a panel. She said something about ‘boarding school’ and I felt my mind go off on a tangent as I realised, quite suddenly and acutely that I really wanted my next book to be set in a boarding school. As it happened, because I don’t plan and I let my books meander their way to the ending, the boarding school motif petered out as I wrote and it became much more about the village in which the school was located. Originally the ‘dig here’ sign was going to uncover some bones, but when I got to the point of writing that scene, I realised I wasn’t sure if anyone had died yet! So, to leave myself more flexibility I randomly put an engagement ring in there and let that guide the story instead.
Q. Despite a level of success that puts you with few peers, you’ve spoken out about lack of confidence, especially around meeting expectations. With each successive storytelling triumph, do those expectations increase?
Lisa: I do think that having a solid run of books that have hit the spot with my readers, that have been well received and sold in good numbers has rebuilt my confidence a lot. My publishers are happy, my readers are happy, and that definitely feeds into my psychology as I begin each new book. It doesn’t feel like so much of a ‘fluke’ anymore, it doesn’t feel like it’s a streak of crazy good luck that could run out if I put one foot wrong. If anything, I’m finding now that I have to pull myself back from being too gung-ho about creating my novels, too much ‘oh, I don’t need to worry because whatever I do it always works out fine’. There’s a perfect balance between both states of mind, and I need to make sure I keep striking it.
Q. Your characters are often filled with moral ambiguity. What draws you to these kinds of characters?
Lisa: Twice in recent months I have come upon a person in real life who has utterly confounded me. My reaction to both people was to interrogate them, corner them, try to find out what made them tick, who they really were, what their back story was, what their true intentions might be. And I found myself thinking that this is what I’m drawn to when I’m writing characters. I like them to confound me, I like them to wrongfoot me. I like to unpeel them and keep finding things that surprise me. And I assume that my readers like this as well. Not all my characters are filled with moral ambiguity, obviously, but the ones that are, are the ones that bring my books to life and are certainly the ones I enjoy writing the most.
Q. You’ve previously mentioned your preference for blockbuster books, over classics and obscure stories. What are some of your favorite titles of all time?
Lisa: Yes, I am very much drawn to the big, hyped up books; if everyone’s talking about it, I want to read it! And I’m rarely let down when I let hype lead my choices. But I’ve also enjoyed a lot of niche and obscure books over the years. Some of my favourite books of all-time are books that nobody’s ever heard of. But of the ‘big books’ I’ve loved Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), Girl on a Train (Paula Hawkins), You (Caroline Kepnes), I Let You Go (Clare Mackintosh) and The Woman in the Window (AJ Finn). Of the less well-known books, my favourites include The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson, Alys Always by Harriet Lane and The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar. The book that I think tipped me from writing romance and family drama into writing darker thrillers, was After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, and the best book I’ve read in 2021, by far, was The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean.
Q. What are you most excited for this year?
Lisa: I’m really excited to read Where The Truth Lies by Anna Bailey, a story about a missing girl in a small town which sounds pretty much like my favourite premise for a book. I’m also looking forward to Rock, Paper, Scissors, by the amazing Alice Feiney, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty and the new Sally Rooney novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You?.
Lisa Jewell's Latest
The Night She Disappeared
2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.
Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.
The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah’s friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.
She never returns.
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