Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lesley Kara

Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy “Writing a Novel” course. She lives on the North Essex coast. She is the author of The Rumor, a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller.

Her new novel is Who Did You Tell?

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Who Did You Tell? was one of the first titles I thought of and luckily, my agent and editor liked it too. Psychological thrillers nearly always have a question at their heart and this title hints at a secret - a secret that’s been shared. It ties in with one of the key themes in the book and that’s addiction. The main character, Astrid, is a recovering alcoholic, who is forced to move back home with her mother. She is reluctantly attending AA meetings which are, by their very nature, confessional, so the title plays on this. What happens if the thing you are most ashamed of has been shared with the wrong person?

What’s in a name?

I wanted a name that reflected the unconventional, spiky nature of my protagonist. It’s no spoiler to tell you that her real name is Hilary, but as a teenager she thought that was far too bland, so she renamed herself Astrid which is, as she’ll tell you in Chapter 2, ‘a rebellious, rock-and-roll kind of name that carries a hint of the stars, a wildness.’ I think names in fiction are incredibly important – names of characters and names of settings, too. Who Did You Tell? is set in a fictional seaside town called Flinstead, on the east coast of England. It’s loosely based on the very real town where I live, but I didn’t want to be constrained by the actual geography of the place. I wanted to be free to play around with the setting and make it work for the novel.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

As a teenager, I was a voracious reader. By the age of eleven, I’d already worked my way through the kind of books my parents kept on the top shelves. Didn’t they realise I could stand on a chair? Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws were two of my favourites, with certain chapters particularly well-thumbed, so as a teenager I was more or less reading anything and everything I could get my hands on, from literary classics to bonkbusters, and then I discovered crime (the genre, I mean). So I think my teenage self would be absolutely delighted to read about Astrid’s murky past!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always find it easier to write beginnings, and as soon as I discovered Astrid’s ‘voice’, the words just flowed. Astrid is a mass of contradictions: feisty and sarcastic on the one hand, but incredibly vulnerable on the other, and I hope the first chapter conveys that. I rewrote it countless times, because sometimes you have to find out what kind of story you’re writing before you know the exact place to start. The ending changed a few times as well, now I come to think of it.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Who Did You Tell? was loosely inspired by my experience of witnessing the effects of alcoholism in my own family, but as for writing in general, inspiration is everywhere. The germ for my first novel, The Rumor, was hearing a rumor myself. A notorious figure who’d committed a heinous crime as a young child was apparently living in my neighbourhood under a false identity. It probably wasn’t true, but it got me thinking about how rumors can escalate out of control and have all sorts of unintended consequences. The idea for my next novel, The Dare, which will be out next year, comes from a particular walk I used to go on with my best friend when were thirteen. In the novel, the walk ends badly, and one of the children dies. But thankfully, my friend and I are both still alive!
Visit Lesley Kara's website.

--Marshal Zeringue