Former magazine editor Lucy talks to Mary Hogarth about characters, lessons learned and inspiration for her latest novel, Everything You Told Me
Since her debut novel in 2008 Lucy has written five more books and is currently working on the seventh. Having read Psychology at Warwick she has an insight into human behavior, which is apparent in her work.
Her novels are dark, gritty and real – reflecting those personality traits many of us hope we never encounter for real.
What did you take from your experience as an editor of a children’s magazine?
That writing for children is something lots of people think is easy, and it’s actually incredibly hard. Give me psychological thrillers any day of the week.
You studied psychology at university, why didn’t you choose it as a career?
I wasn’t up for any more academic study, I only wanted to get out into the world and earn some money. It was absolutely the right decision. And I know that when I do go back to psychology (which I almost certainly will), I’ll be aiming for the specialism that is the best fit for me, which I’m certain I would have got wrong in my twenties.
How did your career as a novelist evolve?
I made the classic mistake of knowing I wanted to write, and getting into editing thinking it would lead to writing – and it didn’t. I had to make a conscious decision to career change, and re-trained as a Pilates instructor so I could teach morning and evening, then write during the day. I definitely used those editing skills and have no problem with viciously cutting my own work.
The only agent I sent His Other Lover to – because I really wanted her to represent me – offered to take me on straight away. It was sold very quickly to Sphere and they published it brilliantly.
It’s not always that easy, I was very lucky.
Your inspiration for Everything You Told Me?
I lost my phone and realized I had no idea how to contact anyone at all. I didn’t even know my husband’s number off by heart. So I imagined how it would feel to be miles away from home with no phone, no keys, no money . . . and no idea how you got there. It didn’t take long for that idea to snowball into a whole book.
When beginning a new book where do you start?
At the beginning with an opening scene. I don’t plan anything or make notes – I just sit down and write it from start to finish. I’ve never been someone who can write scenes out of sequence. For me discovering the story as I go along is the best bit about writing.
Which is more important character or plot?
Unless you have both – you’re doomed.
How do you develop your characters?
I don’t consciously develop characters. I usually have a start point scenario that begins each book – and a character somehow just seems to tag along as part of that. In Everything You Told Me – I knew Sally had to be a normal, far from perfect mum, but hugely resilient and able to withstand the situations I was going to put her in, while vulnerable enough that you’d worry for her. The more I threw at her, the more her character emerged. I also knew I needed a character who was going to be Sally’s nemesis – enter Kelly, her future sister-in-law . . . who seems hard as her polished nails, and yet has secrets of her own.
They were a LOT of fun to write, and when I put them together, I could see exactly where the story was going to go.
Has the degree helped you shape your characters?
My degree was very science based, rather than social psychology, which is the study of what motivates behavior, so it wasn’t hugely helpful. However, anyone who studies psychology has, I think, a good sense of empathy – which is crucial for developing characters. If I don’t understand what is motivating a character, they always wind up feeling 2d, which is useless.
The part of my degree that probably helped me the most was psychopathology, which put crudely, is the study of mental disorders, and their causes, development and treatment. I found that fascinating and it’s probably what has influenced my writing most – the very fine line between what is considered normal mental health, and what is not.
Having written five books to-date, which is your favourite?
My favourite is always the one I’m writing at the time, because I get such a kick out of seeing the story emerge. That said, I’ll always have a soft spot for His Other Lover, because I had no expectations, I just enjoyed every minute of writing it.
Are you working on a new book, if so can you give us a preview?
I’m just about to finish my seventh book. It’s about a woman’s 10-second encounter with a stranger, and the devastating consequences of their meeting. . .
Is it hard to make a good living from fiction?
The thing most people struggle with is the irregularity of income from writing. You can have really good years and really bad ones. If you like the security of a regular monthly salary, then writing isn’t for you.
The three most important lessons you’ve learned about writing?
- If you wait for the muse to strike you, you’ll be waiting a long time. It takes genuine discipline to be a writer.
- If it’s not fun to write, it won’t be fun to read.
- You can’t be precious about your writing if you want to be published. Be prepared to listen, and take advice. Editors and agents know what they’re talking about.
photo credit Roddy Paine