Sunday, 31 July 2016

Q&A with Cass Green author of "The Woman Next Door"




The Woman Next Door: A dark and twisty psychological thriller
A dark and twisty psychological thriller, perfect for fans of HER by Harriet Lane and IN A DARK DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware.
Two suburban women. Two dark secrets. The almost perfect murder.
Everybody needs good neighbours…
Melissa and Hester have lived next door to each other for years. When Melissa’s daughter was younger, Hester was almost like a grandmother to her. But recently they haven’t been so close.
Hester has plans to change all that. It’s obvious to her that despite Melissa’s outwardly glamorous and successful life, she needs Hester’s help.
But taking help from Hester might not be such a good idea for a woman with as many secrets as Melissa…
I loved this book and have rated it 5 Stars! I would highly recommend it and was thrilled to bits when Cass agreed to come on my blog and answer some questions about her book and her writing! So without any further delay, here's a huge welcome to Cass! 



“The Woman Next Door” is your first novel for adults following a successful number of Young Adult titles. What made you decide to write a story for adults? 

I have a really short attention span and I get bored easily! So even with my YA books I enjoyed mixing up genres a little. I decided to have a go at writing this type of book because I read so many of them in my spare time and I fancied a change. I think I will write more YA books in the future but have so enjoyed taking this sideways step into a different part of the book market. I think it’s important to keep adapting and changing as a writer, so you don’t get stale. I read so many different types of books that I think, well, why not try and write them too?



Was there any part of the process in writing for adults which was different from writing for children in any way?
I don’t think there was actually. But I do think writing YA helped me with the process of crafting an adult thriller. There is an emphasis on having a tight plot in younger people’s fiction and I think (hope!) that I took those lessons learned and used them in writing THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR.



How has marketing this novel been different? Have you been more anxious about the reviews or hearing what your friends thought? 
I confess I did worry more about what friends and family would think than I have with my other books! Because this one is quite dark in tone, it feels a bit like I have shown the world a glimpse of the shadowy workings of my mind! I kept that better hidden before, perhaps! So yes, I have found this quite nerve wracking. 


 The characters of Hester and Melissa are very convincing but both have strong voices. What challenges did you find writing from the perspectives of the two women and which character did you find easier to write?

 Thank you! I started with Hester and she sort of strolled into my mind, fully formed (yes, I know…worrying!) But as I continued writing, Melissa began to become very real to me too. I think you have to love your characters a bit – the good and the bad in them – to make them real to the reader. I do love both of them, for all their flaws!


Do you have any favourite female characters in literature? Or any favourite female authors?

 Gosh, too many characters to name but I was blown away by Amy in GONE GIRL when I first read the book. What a character! I read it very early on because I came across it on an American book podcast and then raved about it to everyone I met for about six months! I also loved the main character in WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler.
I think my two favourite authors in the world would have to be Donna Tartt and Sarah Waters. I don’t think either have ever struck a bad note in their writing.


Parts of the book reminded me of “An Inspector Calls “ and “A Casual Vacancy” when everyone’s actions have some direct impact on the outcome – a complex web of secrets and responsibilities. Can you tell me a bit about what you wanted to achieve with the story line and what thoughts you wanted the reader to come away with?

Wow, thank you. I love both those works. I am fascinated by the boundaries of people’s morality and how they can convince themselves that they are doing the right thing, even when it is something terrible. I also love stories with unreliable narrators. I wanted readers to keep shifting their sympathies between the characters more than anything. I hope I managed to pull that off.


 For me, this was a highly unsettling thriller where ordinary people find themselves in an extraordinary situations and the one person who seems unthreatening and innocent is the one person you need to be wary of. This is the kind of thing that really “creeps me out”! What’s the best thriller you’ve ever read? What “creeps you out” in a story?

 I’m wondering whether A SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt can be considered a thriller? Because for me, that combination of page-turning addictiveness and great writing is perfection. I like to be unsettled. I recently read THINGS WE HAVE IN COMMON by Tasha Kavanagh and it really captured the deliciously uncomfortable feeling. The idea of outsiders always grips me because I think all of us have felt that way at some point. We just (hopefully) don’t have such dark impulses as some of these characters!


Are you planning another novel? Can you tell me anything about it?

 I’m almost finished the first draft of another thriller. It’s about a young woman who meets a strange woman on a bridge at 3am one night just before Christmas and what happens there changes her life forever.


You have a really interesting CV and are involved in lots of exciting projects. Can you tell me a little bit about your life as an author?

 I think you have to be adaptable to survive in the book world and as I mentioned above, this appeals to the bored child still trapped inside me! I do try to do lots of different things and the teaching side is something I enjoy very much, both at City University, where I teach adults, and in schools.


I notice that you are a Writer in Residence at a Secondary School in London. Could you explain a bit more about this role and how it has supported your writing? 

It is the highlight of my week. I have the best group of young people in my creative writing club and every week they surprise me, impress me and make me laugh!


What advice to you give to aspiring young (or old!!) writers? 

Read. Read all the time. Read in the genre you are trying to write most of all. And don’t wait for the perfect afternoon, the perfect notebook and the arrival of the Muse to get started. Write all the time. Allow yourself to write bad stuff you can throw away. It’s only by having the freedom to write badly that the good stuff will start to emerge.


What are you currently reading or looking forward to reading soon?
I’m reading and very much enjoying WATCHING EDIE by Camilla Wray and listening to YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott on audiobook. Also excellent!

Thanks so much Cass for a fantastic interview - your answers are so interesting and there is a whole ton of reading suggestions in there to look up too! I love Donna Tartt SECRET HISTORY too and will be checking out Tasha Kavanagh! Thanks so much for your time and great answers! Good luck with THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR and keep us posted with the progress of your next thriller - I can't wait!! 
Thanks for having me over to the blog, Katherine!

MY REVIEW OF "THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR"

This is the story of two women and how their neighbourly friendship develops into a much more sinister relationship as they become entangled in each other's lives.

Glamorous and seemingly successful Melissa is married to Mark with a teenage daughter Tilly who Hester, the neighbour, had often looked after when she was much younger. Things have drifted recently and Hester is desperate to become part of Melissa's life again. When she sees an opportunity to come to Melissa's rescue, she grabs it. And from then on, things begin to lead the two women on a much more sinister and dangerous path revealing deep secrets and cracks in their carefully staged outward images.

We meet Hester first; a prickly character. Neither warm nor particularly friendly, she complains about the other women on the computer course she is currently attending, criticising them as the sort of "women entirely defined by the workings of their womb". But Hester's offence at the "intrusive" question about whether she has children or not immediately indicates an issue and offers some explanation for her bitterness and reserve. She is a proud woman. When invited to join the group for a drink afterwards her reaction is "I'd rather stare at my uneaten cake and find out what's on Radio 4", yet she is annoyed that the invitation is offered as an after thought. She knows she is not popular and already alienated from most women her age through her childlessness. She's a really interesting character as I did not really take to her, but did enjoy her wry asides, comments and observations. I think it's a bold decision of Green's to open the novel with someone who is not that likeable as it may alienate some readers but you must continue! Hester is intriguing, and her lively narrative moves along full of dry wit, eye rolling judgements and also with some sadness and sympathy. Green's characterisation is fluent, flawless and convincing.

Hester's chapters are narrated in first person which allows the reader to hear her caustic internal monologue and fully appreciate her judgmental attitude and sense of superiority. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Hester is not always a reliable narrator as her perception of people is tainted and always negative. Green certainly knows how to use her unreliable narrator to create tension and plenty of opportunities for revelations and twists.

Hester is actually quite loathsome and unlikable but there is something captivating about her unpleasantness. Her observations and comments are so acidic and cutting that Hester becomes the character you love to hate. She constantly refers to her dead husband's physiological cruelty towards her which makes the reader prone to feeling sympathy towards her (his continual mocking of her must have eroded her self confidence) and this cleverly misleads us and makes the subsequent events even more shocking. Her lines "it is fair to say I am not a woman with many skills. But I can bake. I am very good with small children. And I have an excellent memory" are so chilling...... Be afraid!

Melissa is not that likeable at first either! Fixated with her appearance, she herself confesses that she can no longer remember "what % of her is now artificial". She also seems full of resentment - particularly towards her husband as she happily runs up a huge bill at the hairdressers justifying it with the comment, "if he's going to behave like on of those husbands, then she will behave like one of those wives." However there is something else going on here; something foreboding and a hint of something more sinister chasing Melissa. She comments on the "uneasy ripple in atmosphere .....the tiny fizzy charge deep in the primeval part of her brain.." She repeats the statements "no one is looking at her. .....no one is following her......no one knows." I liked the description that when she walks out of the salon it is like "everything on the contrast button on the TV is too high". Melissa is haunted by something, hiding something and the brilliant simile of her world being like a snow globe that could shatter at the "slightest push of a finger tip into a million lethal pieces" is so effective in building suspense and incredibly suggestive that I was completely gripped.

When Melissa's foster brother turns up on unannounced on her doorstep, events start to spiral out of control. Melissa has a past she has worked hard to eradicate and there is no way she wants to be reminded of it now. The viciousness that Jamie's arrival provokes within her hints of a deep, dark past- something more than just wanting to forget her humble beginnings now that she is a woman of wealth and comfort with a privately educated daughter living in a huge, immaculate house. What happens next will affect everyone and change their lives so dramatically that none of them can possibly foresee the devastating road of self destruction on which they are now firmly set.

The second part of the novel shows the increasing power and control Hester feels as she helps Melissa deal with Jamie. Her "euphoria" at "saving" Melissa and her calm, rational manner are unnerving, creepy and eerie. Melissa is caught between needing some help and despite hating herself for letting Hester see her vulnerability and for getting so involved, she needs someone to guide her out of the mess she has created. It is a fascinating psychological study of the two characters and a really interesting dynamic. I was hooked.

This book is quietly unsettling. The characters are ordinary people and could be describing any of our neighbours. The situations are not so far fetched that they couldn't happen to any of us - what makes them more interesting is the decision made in the heat of the moment and how this triggers behaviour that had so far been suppressed. It is an unsuspectingly gripping novel and very dark. It's not a page turner in the most obvious way but I certainly didn't want to put it down and read in almost one sitting. I was really quite captivated by Hester and also Melissa was a very complex character. Green effectively manipulated my sympathy and empathy, catching me out with twists, revelations and a sudden reassessment of who was really the most dangerous character.

It has definitely stayed with me.

There have been very mixed reviews about this book. Some readers claim it is too far fetched and that several things push the realms of reality and believability but for me, the story worked and the behaviour of the characters did feel authentic enough not to distract me or stop me from getting caught up in the plot. After all, this is a work of fiction and to be honest, I'm happy to excuse some slightly contrived events if they create a gripping and exciting climax which is definitely the case in "The Woman Next Door". I still think it's worth reading as there is some excellent writing and clever characterisation. This is Green's debut adult novel (she has published several YA titles) and I think she is a writer to watch out for in the future.

I liked the title - it seems as if "woman" is replacing "girl" in the latest psychological thrillers! This would definitely be enjoyed by fans of "Grip Lit". It also echoes Heller's "Notes on a Scandal". And today I will be looking at my neighbours in a rather different light!

My thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.

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