Before We Met was another thrilling novel about one woman’s quest for the truth. Hannah, independent, headstrong, and determined not to follow in the footsteps of her bitterly divorced mother, has always avoided commitment. But one hot New York summer she meets Mark Reilly, a fellow Brit, and is swept up in a love affair that changes all her ideas about what marriage might mean. When Mark does not return from a business trip to the U.S. and when the hours of waiting for him stretch into days, the foundations of Hannah’s certainty begin to crack. Hannah begins to dig into her husband’s life, uncovering revelations that throw into doubt everything she has ever believed about him.
I loved the strong writing and quick story filled with unexpected twists. I’m so pleased Lucie Whitehouse agreed to an interview! Hope you enjoy delving into her mind as much as I did.
Lucie- Thanks for sharing your writing experience with me. Let’s get to the interview.
What inspired you to write Before We Met?
The first seed for the book came from a police incident sign that I saw at the end of a quiet and very well-to-do street in Fulham, a wealthy area in West London. The sign said that just after midnight about a week previously, armed men had broken into a house in the street, pulled the owner from his bed, pushed him into a car and driven him away. I was startled: how could something like that happen in this ultra-respectable street? What would you have to be involved in for something like that to happen? I started wondering what it would be like if it happened to me. I imagined being a new wife in a happy marriage and finding out that my husband had a terrible secret that he’d managed to conceal completely, and how terrifying that would be. As usual – it’s happened with all three of my books so far – the story evolved a great deal from the initial idea. I’m not particularly interested in guns and armed men; my interests are more personal. I’m intrigued by the psychology of people who can live lies, and the effects on those closest to them when the lies eventually come to light.
Did you know how it would end when you started writing?
With this draft, I did, yes. In my earlier drafts of the story, I didn’t; I used those to explore the story and all the various possibilities. By the time I wrote the outline for this final draft, I knew there was only one way it could end.
Did you give Hannah any of your traits?
People often ask me whether I base my characters on real people and the truth is, I don’t. I observe traits and mannerisms, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes people act as they do but I would never base a character on someone I know. The exception is myself. I doubt that anyone would want to read a book in which I was a whole character – I spend too much time procrastinating and eating biscuits to make good fiction – but I use myself and my responses to things as a guide to how my central characters might react in a situation. I can write honestly about my own fears and insecurities in a way that I couldn’t with anyone else I know, both because I would hate to expose anyone I love in that way, and because I know myself better than I know anyone else. In terms of specific traits, I have Hannah’s fear of being dependent and I have her curiosity: once a question has arisen in my mind, I have to answer it. I’m close to my sisters in the way that Hannah is close to her brother, Tom, and I’m impulsive like she is, too.
Were any of the scenes especially difficult to write?
Some of the scenes with the lies were difficult from the point of view of keeping track of what was true and what wasn’t! I also found the end scenes hard to write – you live with a novel for so long that it’s a wrench when you realise the writing is coming to an end. Before my first book was published, I was a literary agent, and one of my clients was a very talented thriller writer called Patrick Lennon. He once described finishing a book as closing the door on a house that you’ve lived in for a long time and will never live in again. What makes it even more painful is that all the people who lived there with you will stay. You can go back to visit occasionally but things will never be the same.
What’s the best book you read lately?
I suspect it will be the one I’m reading now, The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. I’m only about 150 pages in but it’s full of ideas and fabulous characters. It’s funny but also very wise – I have the impression that Hustvedt really understands people, or at least me. I’m a big fan of the Scottish crime writer Denise Mina and I’ve just read the latest in her Alex Morrow series, The Red Road. Her novels can be incredibly dark but they’re fantastic. Her characterisation is wonderful, and I’m fascinated by her portrait of Glasgow as a post-industrial city in which corruption is endemic. I’ve just been sent a proof of Maggie Shipstead’s new novel, Astonish Me, which I’m excited to read because I loved her first, Seating Arrangements. In a similar vein to Before We Met – in its theme, at least, of secrets in marriage – I really enjoyed You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
What books are on your bookshelf?
I read pretty widely and so the books on my shelves are quite varied. My favourite writers are Graham Greene and Dickens and so there’s a lot of both. If there’s a book I wish I’d written, it’s either Brighton Rock or Heart of Darkness; both are on my shelf. Jane Eyre is there, one of my all-time favourites, and I’m a big Jane Austen fan. Besides Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion is my favourite of hers; I like novels of second chances. I love The Great Gatsby. In terms of more recent things, one of my favourites is Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott, a mystery set in Cambridge, England, with a compelling, real-feeling love story, rich atmosphere and a series of real murders back in Isaac Newton’s Cambridge of the 17th century. Martin Amis always makes me laugh and I loved Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. My favourite crime and thriller writers are Jo Nesbo, Denise Mina and Tana French; all are well represented.
Lucie Whitehouse was born in 1975 in Gloucestershire, England, and grew up near Stratford-on-Avon. She studied classics at Oxford University and then moved to London where she worked in journalism and then as a literary agent before publishing her own first novel, The House at Midnight. She now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and young daughter. She is on Twitter @LWhitehouse5.