Up Close: Alice Feeney

The Lies That Bind

By K. L. Romo

There are at least two sides to every story, maybe more. But the truth usually hovers somewhere in between.

In her darkly tantalizing psychological thriller HIS & HERS, bestselling author Alice Feeney explores that theory and takes readers into the lives of damaged characters Anna Andrews and Jack Harper, the lies we tell others, and our own self-deceptions.

Lies told often enough can start to sound true, and we all sometimes hear a voice inside our heads, saying something so shocking, we pretend it is not our own.

BBC newscaster and journalist Anna suffers through every day with the grief of losing her husband and infant daughter. She’s reinvented herself in London. But when she loses her beloved newscaster position, she travels back to her sleepy hometown of Blackdown as a journalist to report on a woman’s murder.

Jack Harper was a homicide detective in London but moved to Blackdown to escape frenzied city life. The call in the middle of the night shocks him—someone murdered a woman in his quiet town, and he must investigate.

The crime scene stuns both Anna and Jack. They have not only a lengthy history with the victim, but they each saw her the night of the murder.

Clues implicate both of them. And as each works through the investigation, someone murders more women in their wake—the girls who appeared in an old high-school photo. The murderer could be either Anna or Jack, and each tries to cover up their involvement. They both have secrets they’ve hidden since childhood, and the murders all point to high school friendships that went terribly wrong.

Feeney signs books on publication day at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York in 2019.

Painfully aware that the past can come back to haunt them, can Anna and Jack find the killer before one of them ends up dead?

Written in alternating chapters narrated by Anna and Jack, perspectives shift and undulate in the minds of each. Readers must continually analyze the viewpoints and insights of these untrustworthy narrators as they try to guess the truth—and will be shocked by the ultimate conclusion.

Former-journalist-and-news-producer-turned-author Alice Feeney routinely scares herself with her own books. Here she chats with The Big Thrill about her inspiration for the novel and how the fast pace of the story and unique perspectives keep readers on their toes.

Feeney speaks about her books on the BBC in 2019.

What inspired you to write such a twisty-turny psychological thriller, told in alternating points of view?

I enjoy reading all genres, but books with a good twist are my favorites. I think that’s why I enjoy writing twisty thrillers so much—I find them addictive to write as well as to read. Like the challenge of trying to solve a tricky puzzle, or the thrill of a rollercoaster with all the unexpected turns. I can’t imagine I’ll ever write a story without a twist.

How our memories can make liars of us all has always fascinated me. People rarely remember or recount life in the same way, and I wanted to explore that in HIS & HERS. Jack and Anna both believed their own versions of events, so I thought it would be fun to give both of them the chance to tell their side of the story. It’s up to readers to choose who they believe.

Did your own experience as a journalist and news producer make its way into the novel?

Alice Feeney

A little bit of me finds its way into every novel. I worked for the BBC for 15 years, both in the newsroom and in the field, so those aspects of the story should feel authentic. Despite my experience as a journalist, I promise all the characters are fictional. It was fun for me to revisit that world for a little while though, if only in my imagination.

As a journalist, you can be exposed to a lot of the horror in the world on a daily basis. It can be difficult to switch off and even harder to forget. The things I’ve seen people do to each other in actual life will always be more terrifying and horrific than anything my imagination could conjure up. Some things I saw because of my job will always haunt me, but I’m also very grateful for all the incredible experiences I had.

What about your fascination with lies? Do you think believing that lies are truth hinges on sociopathy, or do we all twist our thinking to alter our reality?

Lying is a language we are all fluent in. We lie to fit in, or to stand out. We lie about our age, our weight, our feelings. We lie online, on the phone, and in person. Ironically, perhaps, we often lie to be polite. But when people lie to themselves—which we are all guilty of from time to time—I hear the tinkle of alarm bells.

For me, the reasons why a person lies are far more interesting than the lie itself. Someone who believes their own lies isn’t necessarily a sociopath. We’re living in a lonely world. Sometimes people believe what they need to in order to survive. That’s true of some characters in HIS & HERS.

It’s always tempting to add a little color to the tales we tell each other, to unpick and re-stitch the stories of our lives into something we’d rather wear. The stage that social media built has made actors of us all, perhaps because the truth is rarely as fun or as kind as fiction. Lying is a bad habit we’ve all become rather good at.

Recording the audiobook for Sometimes I Lie.

What is the secret to your superpower of having so many undependable narrators tell the story?

I love the idea of having a superpower. And I love a good (sometimes bad) unreliable narrator. Just the suspicion that a character might be unreliable always adds to the suspense for me.

Real life is full of unreliable narrators, so it’s easy to find inspiration. There is a line in HIS & HERS I’m rather fond of: “Sometimes I think I am the unreliable narrator of my own life. Sometimes I think we all are.” I like that it’s hard to know who to trust in my novels, because sometimes it’s hard to know who to trust in the real world, too.

Feeney struggled to believe her books were really being published until the UK book launch for her 2018 debut Sometimes I Lie. This photo was taken the first time she saw her novel in the window of Daunt Books in London.

Do you have advice for other writers, especially those trying to create such extreme suspense?

I’m a planner. I consider a story for a very long time before I commit to writing it, and I plot everything out on a giant board before I start. There is no right or wrong way to write, but for me, starting a novel without a plan would be like going on a big walk with the dog without a map—I’d spend the entire time worrying about getting lost instead of enjoying the journey.

Suspense is about choosing what information to withhold and what clues to share. Books that are too predictable are no fun at all. It’s crucial not to give the game away too soon, but it’s also important (and only fair) for the reader to know that were they to turn back the pages, the clues were all there.

Tell us something about yourself your fans might not already know.

A lot of readers know that I write in my shed with my dog. But they might not know that the dark scares me, and that my own novels sometimes give me nightmares, including HIS & HERS!

 

K. L. Romo
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