A Psychological Thriller that
Plays on all Emotions
By Dawn Ius
U.K. author Louise Jensen became a little obsessed about surrogacy after reading a magazine article about a couple and their surrogate. Everything went well for the parents-to-be in the story, but Jensen’s creative brain took things in a different direction.
The article sparked the foundation for her latest psychological suspense, THE SURROGATE, a twisty, turny tale that asks the chilling question: What if the surrogate had an ulterior motive? Add in a seemingly perfect couple desperate to have children, a few dark secrets from the past, and voila—a page-turner was born.
“I didn’t know the plot before I began—I never do,” Jensen says. “But I always know my main character and what they want.”
For Kat, that’s a baby. Desperately. And after two failed attempts at adoption, Kat and her husband Nick are willing to do anything to make their baby-dreams come true. Their desire is palpable, due in part to Jensen’s command of the craft, but also because Jensen was able to tap deep into Kat’s emotions as they somewhat mirrored her own.
“I don’t generally talk about this, but I always wanted another child,” she says. “After I had a car accident, I was unable to carry a baby. I already have children, so I’m fortunate in that respect, but I still have that longing.”
That longing bleeds onto the page with the same authenticity in which Jensen writes about Nick and Kat’s marriage—imperfect, and rife with ups and downs, insecurities, and fears.
“I’m married,” she says. “Nothing is ever perfect, no one ever entirely one thing or the other. Everything has areas of dark and light; shades of gray in-between. I taught mindfulness for many years within mental health and I think I have a natural empathy with people. When I write, I tend to feel everything the characters feel, which isn’t always a good thing.”
Perhaps not for the writer, but it results in a deeply satisfying book for the reader. Jensen’s goal was to layer in surprises that not only prevent the story from becoming boring—as her sister predicted when Jensen first pitched the idea—but to also keep readers guessing.
Though not at the expense of accuracy.
In addition to reading about surrogacy in both the U.K. and the U.S. and conducting interviews with a number of couples who were going through or who had gone through surrogacy, Jensen consulted with a lawyer who draws up surrogacy agreements to discuss the legalities. She came across some uncomfortable truths.
“There is very little in place to protect the vulnerable from someone who may take advantage, from the surrogate to the prospective parents,” she says.
But for couples desperate to have a child, the statistics don’t appear to be a deterrent.
“It’s such a harrowing and draining process, pinning all your hopes on someone else, but so utterly joyful when it’s successful,” she says. “Almost everyone I spoke to would do it again.”
Of course, things don’t quite go so joyfully for Kat and Nick, even before they realize that their surrogate, Lisa, isn’t quite who the couple thinks she is. She isn’t even nice most of the time…but then, she isn’t meant to be. Jensen has little difficulty creating unlikable characters—or so she would trick the reader into believing.
“Kat and Lisa were definitely difficult to write,” she says. “As the novel progressed, I formed set ideas about who they were and how they should behave, but they wouldn’t. Neither of them turned out remotely how I imagined. In the book, I end up loving a character I initially thought I’d hate, and I have mixed feelings about one I really liked to start with.”
The reader experiences the same mix of emotions, including the ever-present and continuously growing sense of disquiet.
Suspense comes easily for Jensen, who says she’s always been drawn to stories that run a gamut of emotions—and commercial thrillers fit the bill.
“My stories are quite dark and unsettling, but there’s always an emotional sub-plot running through them,” she says. And love. Because, “we all need love.”
Jensen’s next book—The Family, slated for release in August of next year—focuses on a different kind of love, and represents the author’s first dual narrative story featuring Laura and her teenage daughter, Tilly.
“Tilly and Laura’s troubled mother/daughter relationship is equally heartbreaking and heartwarming,” she says. “And there’s a huge twist at the end which took both my agent and editor completely by surprise.”
If The Family is anything like THE SURROGATE, readers are likely to feel the same shock.