What can you tell our readers about your new novel The Secret Keeper?
The Secret Keeper opens in 1961 on a sweltering summer’s day. A teenage girl called Laurel is sitting up the top of her childhood tree-house while her family hosts a birthday party picnic on the stream that runs through their Suffolk farm. Laurel’s dreaming about a boy called Billy, a move she wants to make to London, and a future she can’t wait to seize . . . but, by the time the idyllic afternoon is over, she will have looked through the tree-house window and witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.
The Novel is set between the time periods of 1960s and 1930s, so how much research did you have to put into the past?
A lot, but for me research is one of the best parts of writing. I get to read about the times and places and people I’m most interested in and call it work! Strangely enough, I had to do as much research for the first chapter, set in 1961, as I did for all the chapters set during world war two put together.
How difficult is it to write whilst darting between different eras?
For me it’s a very natural way to tell a story. It lends a rhythm and helps to pull the plot along – and, most importantly, keeps me interested in what I’m writing.
How did you come to capture the voice of sixteen-year-old Laurel so effectively?
Although Laurel’s a teenager in the early 60s, I think the essential experience of being sixteen—of feeling oneself on the cusp of a better, faster, more exciting adult life—remains unchanged. I vividly remember being a teenager, and my life, growing up in a small, rural village in the early 1990s, an hour’s bus ride from my high school, wasn’t so very different, in terms of isolation and yearning, from Laurel’s experience of country England in the early 60s.
The novel is set in Suffolk in the 1960s time frame, why is this?
My family and I spent a holiday in Suffolk some years ago. We stayed in a converted granary on a farm and I found the location so incredibly beautiful that when I needed a setting, almost too idyllic to be true, for Laurel’s childhood and the events of chapter one, it was the first place I thought of.
You studied Dramatic Art and English Literature at University, so how much did this inspire your own writing?
It honed both my desire and ability to tell stories, and I think reading great literature is the best way to learn how to write.
When was it that you knew you would be an author?
From the day I started work on my first manuscript I knew that writing was the thing I wanted to do more than anything else. That was thirteen years ago, and although my first two manuscripts weren’t picked up and I gave up all expectation for a time that I’d ever be published, I never doubted that I’d keep on writing.
You have sold 7 million copies of your books worldwide, so you have a massive following, but who do you most like to read?
I read lots and lots of non-fiction—for research but also for pleasure—and have just started the new Judith Flanders book, The Victorian City: Everyday life in Dickens’s London. I adore most titles published by Persephone Books in Bloomsbury: wonderful authors, tremendous stories, and, oh, those beautiful, beautiful dove-grey covers and decorative endpapers! I’m also reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the moment, because my nine-year-old son is obsessed with Harry Potter and we agreed to read them in tandem. I’ve rather a lot of catching up to do though—while I was finishing The Secret Keeper he managed to devour the first five!
Who have been the main influences in your writing?
More than anything else, I was influenced as a writer by the reading I did as a child. Not so much in terms of content or style as for the way it made me feel to be stolen away by the world of the story—I’m still striving to recapture that magic of complete immersion.
Female First Lucy Walton