An Interview With Lucy Foley

We were so excited to have you at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival this year! What’s your favourite thing about the festival?

For me it’s the wonderful sense of community. You can find all the biggest and best names in the genre in one place — both up on stage talking about their writing but then chatting with each other and with readers in the bar tent afterwards. Last year was my first attending the festival — I’d just made the switch to writing crime — and I was apprehensive as the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is THE crime festival and I felt something of an impostor. But I quickly discovered that crime writers and readers are an extremely welcoming bunch. I spent the whole weekend talking books non-stop while propping up the bar in the marquee — needless to say, I had a ball.

And very excitingly, we’ve heard you can now reveal some details about your next book, can you tell us a bit about it?

I can! It’s called The Guest List (you’d die to be on it…). Guests are called to a remote island off the Irish coast to celebrate the wedding of the year — the marriage of Jules and Will. Everything has been meticulously planned, the scene is set, old friends are back together: it should be the perfect day. Until, that is, the discovery of a body signals the perfect murder… There’s a groom with a secret, a bridesmaid with a grudge, a plus one with motive, a best man with a dark past — and more!

I so enjoyed writing this book, inviting the reader into the world of a rather glamorous wedding that then goes horribly — fatally — wrong. I felt a wedding was ripe for the murder mystery treatment — they’re wonderful occasions but also potentially times of heightened emotion and stress and people can behave very badly. It’s also a chance for old friends, new friends and family members to come together — people who would never normally meet — with potentially explosive consequences.

What is your writing process? What does your typical writing day look like?

I have a wordcount oriented goal, somewhere between 1500-2000 words. If I’ve met it, then sometimes I’ll give myself the afternoon “off” to do something that’s not directly writing but perhaps related — visiting an inspiring exhibition, doing some research, even going to the cinema, as I’m often inspired by film. In terms of the actual writing, for me it’s more about getting words down on the page at first — I don’t tinker a huge amount as I go. I write in a notebook first and then I type up everything later, which is when I begin to edit.

Have you always been a writer? Was novel-writing something you’d always known you would do?

I’m a reader turned writer. I studied English Lit at university then worked as a fiction editor at Hodder & Stoughton, so I really came to writing from my love of reading. The way I approach each new book is to try and write the book that I as a reader would like to discover. I didn’t plan to be a writer as I don’t think I ever saw writing as something you could do as a ‘real’ job!

Where do you draw inspiration from for your settings and characters?

My settings are inspired by places I’ve travelled to which have made a powerful impression on me. The setting for The Guest List was inspired by the islands off Ireland’s Connemara coast. They’re very wild and windswept and the deserted ones have a particularly uncanny feel to them, the ruins of former houses giving them a post-apocalyptic look. And it’s an eerie feeling standing there looking out to the Atlantic, knowing there’s nothing — just a great sweep of sea — until you get to North America.

My characters are never based on real people, and I like to think they emerge from the depths of my imagination, but I suppose by default they must each contain a little piece of me and my own character or perhaps those close to me (even the really unlikeable ones!). Writing can at times feel a little like listening to the voices in your head!

How do your characters develop? Do you find that your characters take on a life of their own when you are writing? Or are you always completely in control of what they say and do?

I live with my characters for long enough that they start to feel real to me and I have a strong understanding of who they are. I wouldn’t say they take on a life of their own so much as I suddenly find myself wanting to give a particular character more ‘screen time’, or realise that something I had planned for them when plotting the book would actually be out of character. Sometimes you can only feel the truth of that once you are well into the writing process.

When you are not writing, what do you do to relax?

Reading, of course. And I love travelling – often on my own. In my view you experience a place differently, perhaps more fully, on your own, because you’re constantly absorbing everything around you and you’re more likely to strike up conversations with other people. For a writer these sort of experiences are gold dust — as is any experience, really, that takes you slightly out of your comfort zone. I also love running and going on long walks — for relaxation but also great for when I’m in the middle of a plot dilemma. Actually, so many of these ‘relaxing’ activities come back to writing in some way — but I suppose that’s the thing about being an author… you never really stop looking for material or thinking about writing, even if only subconsciously!

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

So difficult to choose. But I’ve just finished Big Sky by Kate Atkinson and it was such a joy to step back into the world of Jackson Brodie (her private detective protagonist). What I love about her Jackson Brodie books is they absolutely refute the idea that crime writing is plot at the expense of character — hers have both in spades. When you care about the characters you care far more about the crime and its consequences — and you’re certainly more compelled to keep reading.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring writers?

I’d say think about the novel that you as a reader would like to discover and write that book. It worked for me! I think it makes sense — if you’re interested in reading it, hopefully there’s a chance that others will agree. And it’s also a good way to start thinking about your readers, remembering that you are, hopefully, creating something to compel and entertain others.

Thank you, Lucy!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is now available.