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Redemption, Betrayal, and Friendship

By Millie Naylor Hast

International bestseller Robyn Harding takes us on a wild ride with her sixth psychological thriller, THE DROWNING WOMAN. Failed restauranteur Lee Gulliver flees the ruins of her East Coast life for Seattle, with only her small Toyota for shelter. Parked at the beach one morning, not far from multi-million-dollar homes, she spots a woman trying to drown herself. Lee saves the woman, Hazel, who reacts angrily because she wanted to die to escape an abusive husband. Nevertheless, Hazel brings Lee food the next day. Over time they form an unlikely friendship, until Hazel asks Lee to help her disappear. Lee soon finds out that saving the drowning woman and herself will require more of her than she ever imagined.

We were thrilled to learn more about this edge-of-your-seat thriller and its author from Robyn Harding herself.

Robyn Harding
© Kyrani Kanavaros

What attracts you to the domestic psychological thriller genre, and what inspired THE DROWNING WOMAN?

I love digging into the psychological muck of characters, especially when they hide it under a façade of perfection and normalcy.

The path to this story was quite convoluted. One warm night, I was lying in bed with the windows open, and I heard a woman on the sidewalk having a phone conversation. Nothing juicy, but my thriller-writer brain wondered: what would you do if you overheard a complete stranger plotting a crime? A murder or a suicide? Then I thought, well, you’d pick up the phone and call the police…unless you couldn’t for some reason. That’s when I began to explore the idea of a homeless protagonist.

You take on intimate partner abuse, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and independence. Why do these themes resonate?

Robyn Harding signs books at the launch party for HER PRETTY FACE.
© Elvira Count

I always write to entertain, but I wanted to explore two women whose lives—and psyches—were changed by what they’d experienced.

Lee, the homeless woman at the center of this story, is strong, smart, and relatable, but ends up living in her car. I hope readers will see that it could happen to any of us, and that this story will help build compassion and understanding for the homeless.

How did the story unfold for you?

I wanted to structure this novel differently from my past books. I was inspired by the film The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook, based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, and by the early seasons of the TV show, The Affair. The same timeframe is told in different parts from a different perspective, and I love that storytelling device.

How did you come to be a writer, and what was your path to publication?

Robyn Harding with Husband: Robyn Harding and her husband, John, on a trip to Spain. Photo courtesy of the author.

Writing was always a natural outlet for me, even as a child. I studied journalism, but ended up working in advertising. I published my first novel, The Journal of Mortifying Moments, in 2004. (It was a rom-com, not a thriller.) I wrote six more books, before focusing on screenwriting for several years. Screenwriting taught me so much about structure, pacing, subtext, and dialogue.

After my film was made, I wanted to try something else, so a friend and I opened an ice cream shop. (Trust me, it is not as fun as it sounds.) But I had one last manuscript to submit, and that was The Party. My first domestic thriller launched a whole new career for me. We sold the ice cream shop, and I’ve been writing ever since.

What was the hardest part of writing this story?

The twists and turns were the hardest part! I twisted my brain into knots to do it. Instead of going the more “expected” route with the story, I had an idea for a jaw dropping twist. I had to rework the rest of the plot, but it was the right way to go.

Robyn Harding reads from THE ARRANGEMENT at her book launch party.
© Elvira Count

Tell us about your next novel.

My next novel, The Haters, is about an author/high school counselor who receives a vicious email accusing her of exploiting her students by writing about them. The abuse escalates, but can she find out who is behind these attacks before they destroy her?

Millie Naylor Hast