Having recently reviewed and absolutely loved Liz Nugent’s latest novel Lying in Wait I am thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations. Lying in Wait will be published by Penguin Ireland, an imprint of Penguin Random House, on 14th July 2016 and is available for purchase from Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and from all good bookshops.
Lying in Wait
‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’
The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don’t plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.
Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.
While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.
But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl’s family may be the undoing of his own.
An Interview with Liz Nugent
Hi Liz. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your second novel, Lying in Wait.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and bred in Dublin, Ireland where I now live. I’m 48 years old, married to Richard. In my late teens, I lived in London for a few years. Novel writing is about my third career. In previous decades, I was a theatre stage manager (12 years) and then a Story Associate on a TV soap opera (11 years). I might see about Formula 1 driving when I get bored with novel writing!
(Promise not to do that any time soon – we need more books like Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait first!)
There’s a strong Irish presence in writing at the moment. Why is this do you think?
I think Irish women in particular have finally found their voice. For years there was Maeve Binchy and then Marian Keyes and Sheila Flanagan who flew the flag for us amazingly well with top class popular fiction. They made it possible, and then Anne Enright won the Booker Prize and opened the floodgates for all of us who wanted to write in all kinds of genres or no genre at all. The current Bailey’s prize winner, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies is fantastic, and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was groundbreaking in its originality. Nearly all of the current crop of Irish crime writers are women and the really wonderful thing is that we all know each other and are genuinely delighted for each other’s success. Irish writers are very supportive of each other. The book biz here is small and there is no point in being petty or jealous.
How different was the experience of writing Lying in Wait from writing Unravelling Oliver?
It might have been easier if Unravelling Oliver was less successful. I felt a huge weight of expectation for the second novel. I don’t think that’s going to go away! When you write your first novel, you don’t have a deadline and you don’t have to conform to a genre. On your second novel, you are more limited. On the upside, I would never have dreamed of submitting anything that wasn’t edited to death first time round but on my second novel, I had the luxury of being able to submit a first draft that was as rough and unpolished as it gets. I learned a huge amount from the editing process of Unravelling Oliver and that really helped when it came to structure, in particular.
Your three first person narrators, Lydia, Laurence and Karen, have very distinct voices. How difficult was it to achieve that effect?
Maybe it’s because I had some training as an actor back in the day and my teachers always said I had great imagination (code for massive liar!) but I find it relatively easy to get into the mind-set of all types of characters and write from their point of view. Laurence and his mother Lydia are both very middle class, but while they may have the same kind of vocabulary, their thought processes are very different. Laurence is naïve while Lydia is incredibly manipulative. Karen is a working class character who is fiercely determined and brave, so I just pretend I have all of those qualities depending on which character I’m writing.
Many of your characters are essentially flawed. How far do you think this is a characteristic of human nature in general?
I think we are probably all flawed. The difference lies in the decisions we make in the spur of the moment. A casual lie to get you out of a small problem can cause major repercussions down the line. When my characters make really bad decisions- that’s where the drama is.
I couldn’t decide if Lydia was evil, insane or merely damaged by her own experiences. What’s your view (without spoiling the plot please!)
I think her big childhood incident (!) two years after the departure of her mother damaged her irreparably, but if she hadn’t been sent away, she might not have become so desperately insecure later. Leaving her home became a punishment. I don’t think she is evil. I think she has spent her whole life being terrified of what she is capable of. She is undoubtedly a monster, but I feel very sorry for her.
I know you have written drama and led drama workshops. How do those skills transfer into writing a novel?
With all fiction writing, there are five main principles: plot, structure, characterisation, dialogue and the awareness of the medium in which you are writing. The last of these is the tricky one. I judged a radio play competition recently and you would be shocked by how many people entered the competition who had never bothered to look at a play script to see how it was formatted even though there were samples in the guidelines accompanying the entry form. In order to write a novel, you have to have read them, a lot of them! You need to be fully aware of what else is being published. The other principles are the same. They must sound authentic: dialogue. They must be believable and consistent: characterisation. You must try to keep the reader engaged in the way you construct your plot: structure. You should try to defy the reader’s expectations and build tension: plot.
So, when did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I think I always knew. It was just a question of when I was going to get round to writing anything(!), and then of course, whether it would be published. I took the scenic route.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
A childhood brain haemorrhage meant that I pretty much lost the use of my right hand and I limp with my right leg. In an ideal world, I would love to play the piano, or any musical instrument. I love the clarinet and cello too but you need both hands. I type with one hand.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
To my shame, I do very little research. I write the story first and then try to make sure it can work. There’s a certain element of genetic inheritance in Unravelling Oliver. After I had written the story, I set out to check whether it could happen and I eventually tracked down a Professor of Anthropology in Pennsylvania State University who said that the scenario I described was highly unlikely, but possible. All I need is ‘possible’. I’m writing fiction, not documentary. When I have done research, I’m really tempted to put it all in as if to prove to the reader that I know my stuff but then my editor takes it out and points out that I’m just showing off.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
The most difficult is actually starting every day. I will find a million things to do around the house before I actually open the document. I could easily win the Procrastination Olympics.
The easiest part for me is the cliff hangers at the end of each chapter. I love to leave the reader on such a knife-edge that hopefully, they won’t want to put the book down. That’s from my soap opera training I guess.
(You certainly manage those chapter cliff hangers. I had to read Lying in Wait in one full day – I was in danger of developing DVT as I didn’t move for hours!)
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I do my first draft plotting in my local library and then second drafts at home with occasional forays away to a writers retreat called the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan. I aim for at least 1000 words per day.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I read very broadly from contemporary lit fiction to romantic fiction, classics, historical fiction, crime, young adult etc. but it is nearly always fiction.
The cover of Lying in Wait is essentially grey making me think that, despite the events that happen, there are no clear-cut black and white interpretations. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
I had absolutely no influence whatsoever on the cover design but I think it is incredibly beautiful and atmospheric. It is the work of designer Leo Nickells, a man who I have never met. If I ever do, I’ll be buying him a large whiskey. I live in Dublin and a lot of the book production work like cover design, marketing, proof reading and copy editing is done by a team of geniuses in London that I have never met but to whom I am very grateful. All I do is write the words.
If you could choose to be a character from Lying in Wait, who would you be and why?
I’d be Helen. She is foul-mouthed and kind of ruthless but sometimes she’s the only one who talks common sense. I used her like a Greek chorus. She tells Laurence uncomfortable truths. The only reason I want to be her is because she’s funny. I love funny people. I’ll forgive anyone if they can make me laugh.
If Lying in Wait became a film, who would you like to play Laurence, Karen and Lydia?
Saoirse Ronan (see more here) would be an amazing Karen (I met her a few weeks ago in New York. She was adorable. I didn’t mention that I had mentally cast her in a non-existent film). There is an Irish actress called Cathy Belton (see here) who would be an ideal Lydia. She has all of the fragility and steel that the part demands. Laurence needs to be a solid looking guy with chameleon qualities. Briain Gleeson (see here) would be super.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Lying in Wait should be their next read, what would you say?
‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle but the lying tramp deserved it.’ (my opening line is exactly 15 words!)
(And what an opening line it is – the novel doesn’t let up after it either! – My 15 word persuasion to readers!)
Thank you so much, Liz. for your time in answering my questions.
Thank you so much Linda. I really appreciate it! x