I am delighted to welcome to the blog
|Cutting Edge Press|
Elizabeth ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions about your latest book
What can you tell us about Who Are You? which won’t give too much away?
Meet Alex and Juliet Miller and their five year-old son Ben. They’re a year into their new life post Alex’s retirement from the Army. For all of their married life Juliet has longed to be able to live in the way that she wants to live, like other – normal – families. She’s sick of being posted away every two years, or having to wait at home in Army quarters with all the other wives, terrified that Alex is going to be wounded or killed. Now at last she’s got what she wants: a house in a smart London suburb, her husband safely away from a war zone, and like-minded people around her to make friends with. But is Alex really OK? And are they really OK together? Or are they just pretending? And if they are pretending, just how much are they trying to hide – both from each other and from themselves?
Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for the story?
I was intrigued by the idea of sock puppets, people who use fake identities on the web in order to pretend to be someone they’re not. And there’s so much sophisticated spy equipment available over mail order that it seems impossible to ever know not only who you can trust on line, but to know that even your own computer is safe. But that was just one aspect of the story. I was also struck by how much we expect from the men and women in our armed forces, what we are prepared to expose them to ‘in our name’ and what the long-term effects of such experiences will have on them. I was privileged to sit in on a lecture at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst which was all about the morality of killing. I remember listening to the padre explaining how he’d felt when he’d gone on his first tour; about seeing the horrifically wounded men; trying to comfort the dying, and witnessing the dead. He said something that I’ll never forget: ‘You will wish to get back to the person you used to be before… but you never can…’ These experiences change people forever, and not only is it hard for them, it’s also really tough on their loved ones.
Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ in your novels and how much research did you need to do in order to bring Who Are You? to life?
What a lovely thing to say, thank you.
I think Who Are You? has quite a claustrophobic feel about it because most of the action takes place within the home over a relatively short period of time, and there are very few characters. Hopefully this serves to intensify the focus on Alex and Juliet’s consciousness, letting the reader inhabit their minds more fully – uncomfortable as that might be. I am fascinated by the dangers which can lurk in a supposedly safe domestic environment, and marriage and close relationships which are going wrong are very claustrophobic places to be, aren't they? I think the other thing which comes out in the novel is maybe the sense of isolation and loneliness and the tension lurking just below the surface.
I read lots of accounts of soldiers in the front line, and books by people who have suffered from combat stress. I talked to psychotherapists and psychologists about the effects of trauma, and I read a lot of reports about the latest theories on why some people are more susceptible than others. I was particularly inspired by Jake Wood who wrote the amazing Among You: The Extraordinary True Story of a Soldier Broken by War. He is one of my major inspirations for the book – although as I keep stressing, Jake is nothing like Alex.
But Who Are You? is not just about Combat Stress, it’s also about PTSD generally, and how people attempt to employ their own coping mechanisms when things go haywire. People can try so hard to cover things up, to pretend that they’re all right when they’re really falling apart, and sometimes I think that you can pretend so much that you lose sight of the person you really are. The real person has got lost somewhere. I imagine if you are with a very secure and nurturing partner then you might stand a chance of rediscovering yourself, but imagine if you’ve chosen someone just as damaged as yourself? Someone who’s also trying to cope with their own demons and past; what then? Everything just gets more and more knotted up.
What Scares You About Writing Books?
What a great question! Everything scares me about writing books. I jokingly tell people it’s a really horrible job – you shut yourself away for months at a time, you never know whether or not all the work will see the light of day, and if it does you don’t know what kind of reception it will get. There’s the agony of getting the words right, the sentences… not to mention the characters and the plot. The worry of who you might offend… honestly if anyone was to ask me if they should take up writing I’d probably say ‘no’, get a proper job. But when it’s going well it’s bliss, and when it goes out into the world and people start giving you nice feedback then all the pain and angst – like childbirth – are forgotten. And besides, if I didn’t write I’d definitely go insane.
What Books do you Like to Read?
It depends on what mood I’m in and I generally have about four or five books on the go. I love psychological suspense, the darker the better. I thought Alex by Pierre Lemaitre was particularly good. Our local book club have just read The Rosie Project which I enjoyed because the voice was so original and very funny. I’m reading The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst at the moment. One of my favourite writers is J. M. Coetzee because his writing is sublime, and I also admire Ian McEwan. Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a favourite because it fits so beautifully into the mad woman in the attic domestic-gothic ‘conversation’ which stretches back through Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Rebecca, The Yellow Wallpaper and Jane Eyre – all of which are particular favourites.
I’m about to start work on the number three. I have the overall theme, but the detail of it and the characters are all a bit blurry at the moment. I wish I could tell you more, but all I can say is it might focus on a struggle over sexual identity, and the psychological cost of conformity.
Thanks so much for inviting me on to your blog and for posing such interesting and challenging questions.
Elizabeth ~ it's been a real pleasure to host this interview , Jaffa and I wish you continued success and look forward to reading book three.
Elizabeth's books are available from all good book shops
My thanks to Harriet Ash at Cutting Edge Press for her help with this interview and for generously providing a giveaway copy of Who Are you?
Enter this fabulous giveaway to win a copy of Who Are You ? ( UK only )
My review is here