By Terri Nolan
Sarah Simpson has a decade of experience within the mental health field working with vulnerable people at difficult times. As a private psychological therapist and a consultant for a regional group of family solicitors, she has supported families through times of relationship breakdown and divorce.
It’s natural then, that her debut novel draws from this practice. HER GREATEST MISTAKE is a domestic thriller filled with psychological tension and twitchy, nerve-ending emotion.
Eve and Gregg are the perfect couple. Or so it seems. But when the shades are drawn, their relationship is a study in how a seemingly perfect marriage can be toxic. She is held prisoner in a world of abuse by a truth known only to her. Eve had made detrimental choices in life based on misunderstandings; hindsight cruelly judged her. This perceptual outlook almost seals her fate. Eve’s plight and her need to protect her son drives her resolve to escape by any means.
What was Eve’s greatest mistake? Marrying Gregg? Leaving him? Or leaving him alive? Simpson took time out of her schedule to share some insight about HER GREATEST MISTAKE with readers of The Big Thrill.
How was Eve born?
In the making of Eve, I wanted to build a character, an intelligent, strong woman and show how she could fall prey to an abusive partner and, despite the odds, how she demonstrates a powerful need to survive, protect, and prevail.
In my psychology undergraduate days, a professor told me that everyone has it in them to kill, given the right circumstances. I questioned this at the time—as does Eve—but then given the right or wrong coming together, it makes perfect sense. No one is exempt from this.
HER GREATEST MISTAKE is written in both first and second point-of-view. Did you explore different POVs or was this approach organic?
When I began to write HGM, I did so in third, but only managed a few chapters before realizing how wrong it felt. I then opted for first person because it enabled me to get closer to Eve’s feelings. It felt important to write from her perspective, her voice, not only to give her depth, but to offer some justice to those who have suffered in any way similar.
I understand the reference to the use of second person. It is a highly personal story and Eve had many bounded emotions. It felt more personal to talk to her antagonist, almost as if she could sit him down, and in a controlled, deliberate manner, say all the things she wished she had. This was always going to be Eve’s story and I wanted her to tell it in the most heartfelt, raw way she could.
What was the most difficult thing you encountered in writing HER GREATEST MISTAKE?
Sadly, many of us will know, or know of, someone who has trodden similar, delicate paths as Eve. I found the writing of Eve’s story an extremely emotional one. This was exhausting at times. I can admit some of the scenes made me cry for her. I felt quite a lot of responsibility in getting it right.
We always think we know how we would respond in given circumstances, but the reality is, we never do know. I know from personal experience how damaging judgmental voices—How could she have been so stupid? Why didn’t she ask for help? Go to the police? Leave sooner?—can harm those who are in an abusive relationship. In the end, I wanted to show strength and hope.
In writing, there is always a learning curve. What would you do differently next time?
The novel has past and present chapters interspersed throughout. I did this to show how the past seeps into the present. I wrote the past half first then weaved through the present, breaking it up into relevant sections. I think if I were to write it now, I would simply allow it to grow organically between chapters.
Do you have a special place to write? Are you an outliner or pantser?
I can write anywhere but mostly I write from home. I am lucky enough to have beautiful views down and across the valley towards the coast and every day I am appreciative of it. I don’t set word limits, I go with it. Some days I can write 5,000 words, and some I can’t find the thread and decide to edit what I have already written. Some days I don’t get to write, and others, I can be writing until the early hours of the morning.
I am most definitely a pantser. I write best when I just let my mind flow. I never really know what is going to happen in each chapter until I am fully submerged in it—other than understanding what I need to achieve for the reader. Ideas come to me, especially in the early hours of the morning. I run with them, seeing the images roll about before me.
HER GREATEST MISTAKE is set in your hometown of Cornwall. If we were to go there, where would you recommend we go?
Cornwall is a diverse, beautiful country, sitting at the bottom of England. We have the sailing waters of the English Channel along one coast which collides with the surfing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Lands End is quite a surreal spot, once believed to be the end of the world. Inland, we have beautiful mystical wooded areas, but also vast areas of austere yet magnificent moor lands with roaming wild ponies. Where I live, the coastline is dramatic and rugged with several miles of white sand beaches. There are many tourist attractions but it is these natural, magical, relatively unchanged spots I always recommend.
Always a deep thinking child, Sarah supposed that one day – she’d become a writer. So many hours consumed by reading, lost in the fantasy worlds of Enid Blyton. Always a people watcher, wondering what is ensuing behind the eyes. But as is often the case, life gripped her hand, and led her along a different path. She graduated first with a business degree and then with a psychology degree. After completing post-graduate studies, Sarah worked as a therapist within the varied field of mental health. This path has gifted her an invaluable understanding of life and of people. Now a writer; she could never have been without these experiences.
She wanted to write about life and as with her debut novel, HER GREATEST MISTAKE – perhaps travel the darker aspects of life and relationships.
HER GREATEST MISTAKE is a story of how life can so easily take a wrong turn, twisting and spinning in a nightmare fashion. It is told through the eyes of the main female protagonist, Eve, who is a psychologist. It explores how it is not always what we see, what we know, but more perhaps – what we don’t see and what maybe we don’t know. The reader’s journey with Eve will involve moments of sadness, darkness, happiness, guilt, hate, fear, but above all, love.
HER GREATEST MISTAKE also reflects on the relationship between truth and lies and how really, there is very little absolute truth, only ever perspective. A perspective coloured by life and personal experiences in a moment of time.
When writing, Sarah is able to temporarily evaporate into another world, completely losing herself to the imagination. She becomes so engulfed by the story, hours slip away in the guise of minutes and the environment fades somewhere in to the distance. Even when she’s not writing, she is never far removed from the evolving story of her characters, and the wonderings of their motives.
Sarah now lives in Cornwall (UK) with her husband and three children, German Shepherd and cat.
Sarah’s second novel will be released later this year. To learn more, follow her on Facebook.