Domestic noir. It’s great, right? All those twists and turns, secrets, and multi-layered plots and characters. No wonder it’s huge. So, it’s a great thrill to welcome Sara Foster to the blog today – Australia’s (via the UK) own Queen of domestic noir. Her new book – All That is Lost Between Us – is a work of psychological suspense, set in England’s beautiful Lake district.
‘The lies we tell for love are the most dangerous of all.’
It’s a terrific hook, isn’t it? And the story itself really backs it up, focusing on a family in crisis, driven apart by the secrets they are withholding from one another. Here, Sara talks about the inspirations behind, and her processes for, writing the book.
‘All that Is Lost Between Us’ covers a range of issues and themes – from the dangers of social media, to the challenges of parenting, with its potential to impact on marital relationships – but I’m wondering, what was the particular ‘spark’ for the book?
Well, I often have one or two images that come to me very strongly at the beginning and propel the whole story into being. With All That is Lost Between Us, it was a combination of Georgia and her dangerous secret, and the image of her running through the wooded landscape of the Lake District, which came at the same time as I imagined Anya, Georgia’s mother, with her desperate desire to reach her daughter and fix everything for her. I’m sure this evolved from my own consideration of motherhood: trying to do the best for my children, with the ultimate aim that they become fully independent adults who can stand on their own two feet without me, and the many dilemmas and emotional challenges that arise within that process.
The book is set in England’s Lake District, which most of us would consider to be a very pretty, but fairly benign kind of place. But the book presents quite a different aspect to it, where the landscape is at times quite menacing and dangerous. What made you veer away from the ‘postcard’ depictions and explore this different aspect. Did you go there for research?
I did go to the Lake District for research – and walked the Spirit Road and saw the Corpse Stone for myself. The book was called The Spirit Road for a long time, because for me it represented what the story was about – this long, hard, selfless walk because of a belief in the importance of loved ones reaching consecrated ground. I knew about mountain rescue before I began researching the area, and I thought it would be an interesting occupation for Georgia’s father, and keep the landscape heavily involved in the story. However, I didn’t know so much of the detail before the research – or just how often the teams of mountain rescue volunteers are called upon.
From my work on Beneath the Shadows, set on the North Yorkshire moors, I was already well aware that these open, deserted, benign-looking landscapes are anything but empty – there’s rich detail to be found in everything from the natural world to the history and myths and legends. I discovered fell-running while visiting a private school on which I based my own Fellbridge, and it fitted perfectly into the story. The sport is fascinating, the older runners are real characters, and there are some incredible stories of endurance running.
The story is told from four different perspectives – three of them use a third person POV. But one of the characters – Anya, the mother – tells her story in first person. What drove that choice? Are you trying to align the reader with Anya’s POV?
Not necessarily to align the reader with her point of view – but perhaps promote this mother’s story, because so often when there’s a teenage protagonist the mother somehow gets sidelined, and Anya’s experiences and her perspective are critical to her daughter’s wellbeing. It also has the effect of isolating her within the narrative, because her position within the family is central but also very lonely, and that’s an interesting juxtaposition, which I think may resonate for other mothers reading the book.
‘All that is Lost Between Us’ takes a hard look at the dangers of social media. As a mother of two youngish daughters, how will you guide their social media use as they mature?
Now that is a very good, very interesting and very scary question! My daughters are 6 and 2 at the moment, so who knows what will be available for them when they reach their teenage years and really begin to engage online. I will limit their involvement in social media for as long as I can, because I think what might be the most grounding for them is to have their feet placed solidly in the real world, to have a life that’s busy with real things, so that by the time they come to social media they have a good understanding that while it may have a place and function in their lives (and sometimes that can be really positive), it should never be allowed to dominate their lives. And I want them to know that it is never somewhere you should go to look for deeper truths about yourself or anyone else.
What is your writing process? Fast first drafts or slow ones? Plotter or pantser?
I’m half and half – I plot till I get bored and then the writing takes over, and when I get stuck I go back to plotting again to see if I can figure out what has gone wrong. My first drafts aren’t as fast as some others I’ve heard of – it usually takes me at least six months – but I do like getting the story down as soon as I can and then fleshing it out.
How does your background as a book editor inform your work as an author? Does it make you more strategic in terms of your writing?
My background is mostly an asset, although sometimes it can cause me to overthink things. I clearly understand that a publisher is not only looking at the quality of your work, or how much it means to you. The bottom line is that they are thinking about whether they can sell it. In the book I am writing at the moment this led me to a period of ‘killing my darlings’ when I realized that all the writing I loved the most was holding the story back (although I’ve still saved it as I might use it elsewhere!). I don’t need to wait for an editor to tell me that – even though it’s still hard to start cutting.
I was always writing while I was editing, way before I was published – I wrote half of Beneath the Shadows in my twenties, then left it for a while when other things took over. It was when I was about to turn 30 that I pushed myself on to finish my first book, which was Come Back to Me. Completing a book is a writer’s first major goal, and it’s not easy!
Why breathing?! I don’t think I’m alone in saying I don’t always feel I chose this occupation, in many ways it seems to have chosen me. I often fantasise about what it would be like to have a 9-5 job where you switch off in the evening and get paid at the end of each week! However, the reality is that if I did have one of those jobs I’d still be writing in the small hours. The lure of communicating ideas and telling stories is just too seductive for me to resist.
Elizabeth Gilbert gave some good advice recently in Big Magic about not expecting your passion to pay. I might have another job alongside writing if I wasn’t looking after small children and doing a PhD. I was very fortunate to get a scholarship, which will help me write and research for another 3 years.
And lastly – the piece of ‘gold’ writing advice that sticks in your mind above all other little nuggets?
This Truman Capote quote keeps coming back to me, and it helps me relax about what I’m working on:
‘At one time I used to keep notebooks for outlines for stories. But I found doing this somehow deadened the idea in my imagination. If the notion is good enough, if it truly belongs to you, then you can’t forget it – it will haunt you until it is written.’
Thank you Sara – and all the best with the book!
Thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.
Sara Foster is the critically acclaimed author of three bestselling psychological suspense novels. Come Back to Me was published in Australia in 2010 and reached the Sydney Morning Herald top ten Australian bestsellers list. Her second book, Beneath the Shadows, reached No. 4 on the Australian Sunday Telegraph bestsellers list, and rights were sold in the USA and Germany. Shallow Breath featured in the Australian Women’s Weekly, was chosen as Book of the Week in the Sydney Morning Herald, and was longlisted for a Davitt Award. Sara lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and two young daughters. Connect with Sara at SaraFoster.com.au, Facebook.com/SaraFosterWriter, Twitter.com/SaraJFoster