Claire, what was the trigger for Local Girl Missing? I wondered if it was a newspaper story?
In the mid-1990s, (Sophie’s timeline in the book) I was going to similar clubs with my best friend. Around that time there was a spate of young girls going missing from nightclubs (there was two from the Bristol area and one from Bath) and it scared us and made us vow to always leave the club together. But then I began thinking, what if she had left the club without me and then she went missing. Would I be feeling guilty all these years later for letting her leave? The story began from that train of thought.
You’ve previously written psychological thrillers and even though Woman of the Hour is character based, like your first two novels, what made you change genre?
Yes Woman of the Hour is a change in direction for me. I was keen to write about the experience of a woman’s working life. I haven’t seen a lot of fiction exploring the pleasures and pressures of work but for most of us our work gives us a sense of identity and is very important. I had been a single mum and had worked in television when my daughter was young. Boy did I feel conflicted about the competing demands! So I pitched the idea to Head of Zeus, my publisher, and they were very supportive and said go for it. A TV station has a lot of dramatic potential and lots of larger than life characters to create dramatic tension. And in fact this is book one about Liz Lyon. There will be more.
The setting of Local Girl Missing is very real and I can see Oldcliffe-on-Sea so clearly. I grew up in a small seaside town, Sheringham. Did you? Or is this just the power of your imagination at work?
Yes, I also grew up in a small town in South Gloucestershire so wanted to write about that feeling of being young and feeling oppressed by a small town and wanting to spread your wings. We would also go to Weston-Super-Mare a lot so the old derelict pier and the boarded up lido was taken from there. In my early twenties my parents ran a guest house in Paignton and I would often go and stay with them out of season – which is one of my favourite times of year in a seaside town. It can be cold and empty but there is something exhilarating about walking on a deserted beach in wellies with the wind tugging at your clothes.
Woman of the Hour feels so authentic; you can tell you have experience of working at a TV station. Were the ideas for certain characters based on anyone you encountered in your job?
I worked in television for 15 years, rising from a researcher to become a producer and later Commissioning Editor so I did experience many of the scenes I write about. The feverish atmosphere you find in a TV station is something I knew only too well. And I had encountered the monster egos of some celebrities and the meanness of some publicists too! TV is always high tempo but when the programme is live, as the StoryWorld programme in my novel is, then the tension runs even higher as more things can go wrong in live TV.
The characters are in fact fictional and not based on any specific people though I did work with a TV astrologer, a chef, an agony aunt and several well-known presenters. Fizzy Wentworth, the star presenter and major character in my book, is a composite of character traits I came across. As you know all authors are magpies collecting shiny bits from here and there.
You create suspense brilliantly in Local Girl Missing. In fact your novel reminded me of watching a Hitchcock film. Did you find the plotting difficult and how did you set about keeping all those strands working?
Ah thank you. I love Hitchcock films! I already knew what the twists would be and how it was going to end before I started writing the story. I can’t just begin writing blind; I do need to have the major plot twists worked out already. There were several, more minor twists in the novel that just came out of the story as I was writing it. I do really enjoy plotting and I like to challenge the reader’s misconceptions so they start out thinking they know where the story is going and what kind of story it is but then turning it on its head.
I love the way the narrative was split into the “work” and “home” parts of Liz, it made us feel like we were getting to know Liz in all aspects of her life. What gave you the idea to write the story in this way?
I wanted to do that. I wanted to show the whole woman. Work-Liz is calm, controlled, very good at soothing egos and managing a difficult boss and home-Liz is far more emotional and reveals her real thoughts and feelings. So often at work Liz has to bite her tongue or censor what she says. It is what the job of Head of Features requires. At home Liz can let rip. And she fears that she is a better mother to her team than to her daughter Flo precisely because Flo presses her buttons and Liz loses the composure she exudes at work.
LOCAL GIRL MISSING is published by Penguin and is available here:
WOMAN OF THE HOUR is published by Head of Zeus and is available here: