Please welcome Louise Millar, author of the domestic suspense thriller PLAYDATE
Photograph by Stephen Millar
New Mystery Reader: First off, these are 3 very different women; can you give us a brief synopsis of these characters and from what you drew upon to make these characters come so alive?
Louise Millar: Callie came to London from a Lincolnshire farm in her twenties to break into the world of TV and film sound design, but due to a twist of fate, finds herself, in her thirties, living a lonely life in the London suburbs, as an unemployed, single mother. Uncomfortably dependent on her neighbour Suzy, Callie tries to restart her career after a five-year break. But with no family to rely on, she is concerned about who will look after her fragile daughter Rae when she is at work.
Suzy is an American, stay-at-home mother-of-three in her thirties who lives opposite Callie. She is bright and cheerful, and does everything she can to help Callie, including offering to look after Rae. Yet, her own marriage to Jez, an often-absent English businessman, is not all it seems, and now her best friend Callie is returning to work, Suzy has her own issues to deal with.
Debs, in her late forties, has just moved in to Callie and Suzyís street. Debsí behaviour is odd and anxious, and points to a dark secret she has moved here to escape. In an attempt to break her dependency on Suzy, Callie tries to befriend Debs, taking Rae with her. The thing is, if you knew Debsí background, you wouldnít take your child anywhere near herÖ
For Callie, I drew on my own experience of moving to London to work in magazines in Soho, and then giving up my job to start a family in the London suburbs. I wanted to explore, through Callie, the theme of what happens when you uproot yourself for a career to a new place, then find yourself bringing up children in that transient city community, far from your family and home.
Debs represents, for me, the tension of living in a city: the way we live at such close quarters with other people. Through Suzy, I wanted to explore the complexities of making friends in an anonymous new city. How do you choose which stranger to befriend and which not to befriend?
NMR: Was it difficult to transition from one characterís story to the next, or did you enjoy the challenge of writing from different viewpoints?
LM: I really enjoyed it. As a magazine journalist, my favourite interviews were the ones where two people told their story to me separately about a shared experience, and yet their perspectives were completely different. I like the way it leaves you wondering whose perspective is the correct one? Who is telling the truth? Who can you trust?
NMR: Which of these characters did you feel closest to, and perhaps empathize the most with? Which one would you most like to have as a neighbor?
LM: Callie, because her background story is, in some ways, like mine. She wants to have a fulfilling career and be a good mother, yet finds it a struggle Ė as many working parents I know do Ė to manage it all while coping with the financial, social and practical challenges of living in a big city. What do you do, for instance, when you need emergency childcare and you have no close friends or family nearby? Does that influence the new friendships that you make?
NMR: None of these women were quite as they seemed; was there one that you took special delight in creating and then revealing the truth about?
LM: Yes! I canít say much without giving anything away, but I really enjoyed the scenes where readers tell me that what they were seeing was not what they were expecting, and their perspective kept shifting. There is one scene, in particular, where many people tell me they have gone back a few pages to check they havenít made a mistake. Itís a relief because you know that element of the story has worked.
NMR: Along the same lines, did you know how these characters would all turn out when you started or did they evolve slowly?
LM: I knew how the story would end, and the womenís characters were very clear to me from the start. However, the journey took many twists and turns on the way there. It was a complicated story to write as the three womenís stories are so closely entwined, and sometimes what I had planned for them didnít work within the plot, so I had to change their characterís motivations or actions to make the thriller element work.
NMR: Iím guessing this is a stand alone novel; is it difficult putting these characters to rest, or are they still hanging around in your head?
LM: No, Iíve put them to rest. I felt that this was a story about the worlds of three very different women in a city colliding during a period of a week or two one summer, with explosive consequences. By the end of this short time, so much has changed, that nothing will ever be the same for any of them. Their futures have all been altered.
NMR: Just curious, but there seems to be many reality shows on T.V. featuring women and friendships that donít appear to be very attractive; what do you think of this trend in television and do you think it reflects the status of female friendships in real life?
LM: I donít know about those particular shows, but I do know that the idea of traditional, loyal, female support groups Ė like my mother had with her mother, sisters and best friends from school and college Ė has probably been challenged in recent times. More of us than ever before are moving away from our communities, to new cities for opportunities. Many women Ė and men Ė I know who live in cities are quite stretched, trying to work and juggle childcare and be good parents. So perhaps itís tricky for women in that situation to be as supportive for each other as they used to be.
NMR: Have you ever considered a series? And if so, what type of character would you most likely want to focus on?
LM: Although I love detective novels, Iím not interested enough in police procedure to write a detective series. Iíd be more interesting in writing a recurring character who is a psychologist or a journalist. Right now, however, Iím enjoying writing domestic thrillers that explore the kind of anxieties many of us experience in our daily lives, and Iím not sure it would be very credible for these anxieties to become a reality more than once in an ordinary personís life!
NMR: What type of mysteries do you like to read, and are there any that have been especially influential in your writing?
LM: I grew up reading Agatha Christie, and as an adult, have read lots of detective novels, by writers such as James Ellroy, Don Wimslow and Arnuludur Indridason. I particularly like the mood and sense of place you find in Nordic thrillers, and how thereís often a social or political issue at the heart. I am trying to catch up on British psychological thrillers right now, and recently loved The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly. Sophie Hannahís been a big influence on me too. Her plots are incredibly imaginative and clever.
NMR: And finally, is there another book in the works, and if so, can you give us a teaser of what itís about?
LM: Itís called Accidents Happen, and is a psychological thriller set in Oxford. It tells the story of a young widow who has become so anxious about bad things happening to her and her son, that she can no longer function properly. She meets a rather maverick Oxford professor who helps her using unorthodox methods that take her into some very unexpected places...
NMR: Thanks Louise, we look forward to reading more from you in the future!
Louise Millar is an author and a freelance journalist. She began her journalism career working for Kerrang!, Smash Hits, the NME and Empire. She later moved into features, working as a commissioning editor on womenís magazines. She has written for Marie Claire, Red, Psychologies, Stella, the Independent, the Observer, Glamour and Stylist. Louise lives in North London with her husband and daughters. You can follow her on twitter @l_millarwriter