Note – I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. No affiliate links were used in this post.
From the Publisher: When the artist Marianne Glass falls to her death, everyone insists it was a tragic accident. Yet Rowan Winter, once her closest friend, suspects there is more to the story. Ever since she was young, Marianne had paralyzing vertigo. She would never have gone so close to the roof’s edge.
Marianne — and the whole Glass family — once meant everything to Rowan. For a teenage girl, motherless with a much-absent father, this lively, intellectual household represented a world of glamour and opportunity.
But since their estrangement, Rowan knows only what the papers reported about Marianne’s life: her swift ascent in the London art world, her much-scrutinized romance with her gallerist. If she wants to discover the truth about her death, Rowan needs to know more. Was Marianne in distress? In danger? And so she begins to seek clues — in Marianne’s latest work, her closest relationships, and her new friendship with an iconoclastic fellow artist.
But the deeper Rowan goes, the more sinister everything seems. And a secret in the past only she knows makes her worry about her own fate . . .
Released: May 3, 2016 by Bloomsbury USA
Q&A with Lucie Whitehouse
1 // Do you have a detailed outline when you write or do you wing it a bit? What kind of planning goes into a novel like this before you write?
My method has changed almost a hundred per cent, actually, since I wrote my first novel. I’d always known I wanted to write and when I made a real commitment to it in my mid-twenties and started what would become The House at Midnight, I sat down to write with just the kernel of an idea – a setting, a handful of characters and a sense of dread (theirs, not mine) and explored it by writing. That book took six years to write, not only because I had two jobs – one full-time in publishing and also a part-time waitressing gig in the evening – but because I was teaching myself as I went along and working out what the story was. The finished book was about 120,000 words in length but I think I must have written a million.
I used a similar though slightly more efficient process for my second novel, The Bed I Made, but when it came to Before We Met, my third, everything changed. I wrote two complete versions of that book in the manner to which I’d become accustomed and sold the second version to my lovely publisher, Bloomsbury. When I received my editor’s notes, however, I realised that the book was very far from what I wanted it to be and so – with my editor’s go-ahead – I jettisoned the entire thing and sat down to reimagine it, keeping only the central concept: a woman discovers that her new husband has a dark secret history.
I knew the concept was strong and I wanted the plot to match it so when I embarked on the third and final version, I approached it differently and gave myself licence to sit and stare out of the window for as long as it took to work out the details of a plot that would be as twisting and exciting as possible.
When it comes to writing advice, there’s a lot of emphasis on getting words down and that is vital but taking the time to plan in advance really helps to create a tight and exciting plot. A lot of writers start because they love words and writing but I think one of the best bits of writing advice I’ve ever come across is this from Sarah Waters: ‘Writing is not “self-expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.’
These days I can’t imagine not plotting before writing, and it makes me very happy when readers tell me how much they have enjoyed the twists. I must admit, I had a lot of fun with them in Keep You Close. The plotting took two months, and before I started the writing, I had an eighteen-page outline with every significant beat of the story. As a playwright friend of mine says, plotting doesn’t hamper creativity; it sets you free to create, safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to derail yourself.
2 // How much did the book change from what you originally thought would happen while writing?
After those two months of intensive thinking, I had the story I wanted to write quite firmly in mind but before then, I was working on Before We Met publicity and touring and Keep You Close was the exciting idea I thought about in every spare moment. When I first came up with the core idea – a woman comes back to her hometown, Oxford, after her former best friend is found dead in her snow-covered garden – I wondered if it might be the first in a series with Rowan, my narrator, a journalist for the local paper. I quickly realised, though, that it’s a standalone. The other big difference is that Rowan’s mother was going to be a major character but in the final version, she died when Rowan was just eighteen months old.
3 // How do you incorporate writing into your day-to-day life?
I’d like to know – any advice would be gratefully received! I have a three-year-old daughter and the time available for writing has shrunk dramatically since she was born. Sometimes I think longingly of more conventional jobs with fixed hours and bosses – if you let it, writing time becomes permeable, subject to every incursion. I have to exercise real self-discipline to ring-fence work time – my natural inclination is always to say yes to other people.
We have an excellent babysitter, though, and my husband, also a writer, is really great at sharing the domestic stuff so somehow, the writing gets done. These days I rent a desk at a space for women writers in Brooklyn, which I love, and I’m here whenever possible. In real terms, that works out at about three and a half days a week from about ten until five, and then every spare hour I can manage in the evenings, at weekends and on holiday. Left to my own devices, I’d work from ten in the morning until about one thirty, take a break to deal with everything practical and go for a walk, then write from about five until midnight. A glass of wine on the evening shift is a lovely thing.
That is very true! A big thank you to Lucie Whitehouse for answering my questions. I so loved reading the answers!
I’ve been eyeing a couple of Whitehouse’s books for a while, so when I had the opportunity to participate in the book tour for Keep You Close and ask the author a couple of questions, I was really excited. And this book did not disappoint! Psychological thrillers are quickly becoming one of my favorite types of books to read.
I read a majority of this book while sitting in a café in Colombia and I always had to find just the right moment where I was content to put the book down so that I could go back to the apartment. I loved the pacing of this novel. There was a slow build throughout the book, but Whitehouse dropped bits of information along the way to keep the reader interested. While there were a few moments where I thought the story started to drag a bit, they just gave me opportunities to leave the café and return home. They also didn’t detract from the overall storyline.
I connected to the characters right away. I loved that most–if not all–of the characters were sympathetic. I also liked that I could see all of the characters being involved in Marianne’s death, but none of them stuck out as an obvious suspect. Since I always assume the obvious suspect was not involved, I wasn’t able to eliminate anyone from my list of suspects, so it kept me on my toes. And then there was The Twist. I did not see that one coming!
Whitehouse’s writing is beautiful and engaging. I loved the focus on Marianne as an artist, although it might be that part of the reason I was so drawn into it is that the way the characters described Marianne’s process is exactly what I’ve been telling myself I need to do (and have been doing) in my own artistic process.
That was how she worked: she drew things again and again and again until she was satisfied, until what was on the paper reflected her mental concept in every detail.
I enjoyed reading this book and am looking forward to reading more from Lucie Whitehouse in the future.