Author Interview: Laura Wilson

Tuesday 2 June 2015
Today I am sharing a Q&A with Laura Wilson whose latest book The Wrong Girl is released on the 4th June. It comes very highly recommended by me and you can read my review here. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the Q&A!

Can you introduce The Wrong Girl for readers who might not have read what it is about?

In 2006, 3-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing during a family holiday. Despite massive publicity and a long investigation, no trace of her was ever found. Seven years later, Molly Armitage, aged ten and recently uprooted from London to a Norfolk village, finds her great uncle Dan dead in his bed. Although she remembers nothing of her early years or abduction, Molly has been sure for some time that she is Phoebe. Everything in her life points to it, and now she has the proof she’s been searching for: Dan’s cryptic final note.

News of Dan’s death brings his wealthy hippie sister Janice back to Norfolk where, for the first time, she is re-united with Molly’s mother Suzie, the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1970. It’s not the joyous occasion Janice hoped for – Suzie is angry and resentful – but she is intrigued to learn that a conquest from her days as a groupie lives nearby. He is Joe Vincent, a rock star who, forty years earlier and at the height of his fame, turned his back on public life.

As she is drawn back into the past, Janice begins to wonder if Dan’s death and Joe’s reputation as a reclusive acid casualty are quite what they appear... And then Molly disappears.

The Wrong Girl is a compelling tale of the dark side of celebrity obsession, of how we choose the guilt we can live with, and how, despite our best efforts, the past comes back to haunt us all.

The Wrong Girl is a brilliant mystery packed with twists, turns and some really well-drawn characters. Did you have the entire story mapped out when you started writing, or did things change – for the story, or for the characters – as you wrote?

I got the idea for The Wrong Girl from a short newspaper article about the age-progressed images of Madeleine McCann and other missing children. Obviously, this is done for a good reason (it may lead to the recovery of the child), but the cumulative effect is quite eerie. Then I started to wonder what might happen if there was a child who happened to look exactly like the age-progressed photographs of a missing girl... In The Wrong Girl, it is ten-year-old Molly, who, being rather lonely and neglected, wants validation and attention. To balance her, I decided that I needed a character who had had both of these things in spades, but chose to walk away from them – at which point I remembered an article I’d read about Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), and I used him as a springboard for the reclusive rock star Joe Vincent. Molly’s grandmother, Janice, who is reunited with her long-lost daughter Suzie, is the bridge between Molly and Joe. Once these characters were firmly in place inside my head, I started to plot the book. I like to have things fairly well planned before I begin writing, but inevitably there are things that change, mainly because, no matter how strong I consider the original plot, it always requires thickening, and more ideas get thrown up during the process of writing.

The Wrong Girl features a lot of characters. Did you have a particular favourite or one you enjoyed writing about most?

I try to be on everybody’s side as much as possible, but Molly was the character I empathised with the most. I was concerned about getting her voice right – it can be quite difficult to write ‘downwards’ in age – but drawing on my own memories of childhood (although mine was nothing like Molly’s) helped a lot.

What – if anything – do you want readers to take from the story?

One of the things I was trying to write about – besides the nature of celebrity obsession – was how the generations impact on each other: in this case, how the social repressions of Janice’s parents generation affected her, and how, in turn, the values of the ‘Me’ generation (as represented by Janice) morphed fairly seamlessly into deregulation, self-interest and the like. I was also trying to convey how hard it is to explain what the past was like to someone who wasn’t there – hence the repetition of the desperate (but fairly lame) refrain of ‘but things were different then’ from various characters as they try to justify decisions made many years before.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? And how long did it take you to write The Wrong Girl?

I have three different jobs (reviewing, teaching and writing), so I am usually working to several deadlines at once and don’t have as many typical ‘writing days’ as I’d like. However, when I do, I start at 9am and work straight through until lunch, which I try and make as late as possible (3 or even 4pm) because my concentration is never as good in the afternoon. I can pick it up again in the early evening, though – with a break at 7pm for The Archers, if I remember. There are always interruptions – dogs, phone, doorbell – and I use these as an excuse to make cups of coffee in the morning, and tea in the afternoon.

As to how long it took to write The Wrong Girl – too long! So long, in fact, that I’d decided on the title before ‘Gone Girl’ was published... This was partly because I’d just written five historical novels in the DI Stratton series back-to-back over the previous six years, and, even though the idea for The Wrong Girl came when I was half way through the fifth Stratton novel, it did take some time to get used to a completely new cast of characters and to remind myself how to deal with the particular problems that arise with a contemporary novel, rather than one set fifty or so years ago.

Your books are mostly crime/psychological themed and sometimes based on true events. As a crime reviewer and teacher what do you like to do to take your mind OFF crime? And could you ever see yourself writing in another genre?

For me, crime fiction is work and, while I love my work, I tend to read other sorts of books in my leisure time (usually literary fiction, history or memoirs). I’d love to be able to say that I play a musical instrument and run marathons and so on, but unfortunately I can’t – I sometimes worry that I don’t have enough of what the late Edna Healey described as ‘hinterland’. I do enjoy walking the dogs, though – ‘switch-off time’ – and I go to the theatre a lot.

I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be in another genre. I did have an idea recently that I thought would make a great YA novel, but whether I can actually flesh it out enough to write it remains to be seen... At the moment, it’s just a few pages of scribble in my notebook. I’m waiting to see if it continues to engage my attention – some things, I think, require more mental ‘composting’ than others.

Writing, reading and working crime fiction – do you also watch it on TV? If so, what are some of the shows you have enjoyed recently?

I don’t watch very much television – not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t really have enough time (and we still haven’t worked out how to record stuff). I’ve missed so many brilliant crime TV shows that it’s embarrassing – I watched Breaking Bad, though, and I enjoyed that. I liked the first series of Broadchurch, too.

The Wrong Girl was my first time reading one of your books. If I was to read another, which one would you recommend?

If you like reading historical novels, I’d say the DI Stratton series – the books are set in and after the Second World War – but if you prefer a contemporary setting, then A Thousand Lies.

Do you experience publication day nerves? And what do you do to celebrate once the day finally arrives?

Nerves, definitely – I think most writers feel a bit apprehensive when publication day arrives. You've put in so much time and effort, and you worry that people won’t like the result. I don’t have any particular ritual, but we usually raise a glass or two.

What can we expect next from you?

I tend to feel a bit nervous talking about work-in-progress – superstition because I might jinx it or something – but at the moment I’m working on a plot that revolves around just how difficult it is for someone who lives in a busy household in a privileged environment which involves a lot of surveillance of one sort or another (live-in staff, mobile phones, laptops, cars with built-in Sat Navs, CCTV and the like) to murder somebody and get away with it.

About Laura Wilson

British author Laura Wilson was brought up in London and has degrees in English literature from Somerville College, Oxford, and UCL, London.

She lives in Islington, London. She is the crime fiction reviewer for the Guardian newspaper, and teaches on the City University Crime Thriller Novel Creative Writing MA course.

Find out more about Laura and her books on her website:

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