Author Interview: Lucy Atkins

Friday, 5 June 2015
The Other Child is the latest novel from Lucy Atkins and it is a really great book. It is available to buy now and you can read my review here. In the meantime I hope you enjoy reading this Q&A with Lucy.

Can you introduce The Other Child for readers who don't know what it is about?

The Other Child is a story about a catastrophic marital secret. Tess, is a photographer and single mother, falls in love with Greg, a paediatric heart surgeon. He’s American, and when he’s offered his dream job back in Boston they relocate from London, along with Tess’s little boy Joe. But Tess has fallen unexpectedly pregnant, and life in the affluent Boston suburb isn’t straightforward: creepy things start happening in the big rented house – Tess knows she is being watched, the neighbours are behaving oddly, Joe is distressed and homesick, the pregnancy feels fragile - and then, in the basement, Tess finds something that threatens to destroy everything she loves.

What - if anything - would you like readers to take from The Other Child? I think it's one of those books that could definitely provoke a lively discussion amongst book clubs.

I hope so! I wanted to write about whether love is something separate from our ‘social’ identities – something powerful and instinctive. I also wanted to write about that feeling of ex-pat alienation, aloneness in a suburb, and the power of motherhood – how we react when our babies are threatened.

Which character - if any - did you enjoy creating and writing about the most?

I loved writing Tess and Greg, but Helena, the glamourous Boston ‘health guru’ doctor who lives next door, really intrigued me. She almost needs a book of her own (maybe one day)

I had a number of theories as to what was going on as I read The Other Child. NONE of which were right! Did you set out to have readers second-guessing and coming up with different ideas as they read before ultimately letting them in on what was actually happening?

I think it’s vital, as a reader, to have unanswered questions popping up, and twists that make you go ‘what…??’ Ideally, I want my reader to be engaged, curious, puzzled - and increasingly worried.

Similar question: did YOU know what was going to happen from start to finish or did things change as you wrote? I definitely think there's a couple of different ways the plot and finale could have played out so was the ending always the same? 

Yes you’re right to pick up on this because no, I didn’t know myself what was going to happen. I don’t plan things out – I just see how they go. For instance, for most of the writing I didn’t know myself if Greg was a dangerous psychopath or not. The plot just took shape. I also like some ambivalence in an ending – I didn’t want it all to feel neat because love/marriage is never neat.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? And do you have your own writing 'space' or can you write anywhere and everywhere?

I have just built a writer’s shed in the back garden and my new routine involves getting the kids off to school, making a double espresso, and heading to the end of my (very small, urban) backyard. I realized I needed two locked doors between me and my teenagers (!) if I was going to get things done. I try to write until lunchtime, then in the afternoons I do other work things – journalism, book reviews, publicity etc. Then when my youngest gets home (he’s 11) it all falls apart. I can’t work in the evenings at all as I’m a zombie. So – those mornings are sacrosanct.

What has been your favourite thing about being a published fiction author and how did it feel when your debut novel, The Missing One, was so well-received? Does it add to or reduce any pressure for the release of The Other Child?

Obviously, it felt amazing to get my first two book deal, and now to have signed another deal with Quercus gives me enormous freedom – not having to worry about finding a publisher for my next two as well. But this also comes with time-pressures, because publishers want you to ‘build’ your profile (and I just want to sit around for years tweaking my sentences). And also, yes, in a strange way, when your first book sells a lot, there’s a pressure to do it again – and produce something even better – I don’t want to let my readers down. But these are good problems to have, and I try never to lose sight of how lucky I am to be in this position (a big part of this business, I truly believe, is luck).

What do you like to do when you aren't writing/working? And what sorts of books do you enjoy reading yourself?

I’m a mother of three, so basically, when not writing I’m doing packed lunches, laundry, GCSE revision etc. But to stay sane I try to do yoga, and I walk my dog a lot. I’m a big reader – I think all writers are – and I’m also lucky that I get to review books for The Sunday Times so often I’m reading what they've commissioned me to read. This is actually brilliant as it forces me out of my comfort zone (I am naturally very intellectually lazy). I don’t have a ‘type’ of book, I just read anything that sounds good. My most recent discovery is Elena Ferrante – an Italian writer. Amazing.

How will you be celebrating the release of The Other Child?

With a big sigh of relief? No – I’m also having a big book launch party here in Oxford, at the weekend, and will be cracking open a bottle of champagne on Thursday night at home with the family and a couple of good friends.

Thanks to Lucy Atkins for answering these questions! And it's not just me that loved the book:


About Lucy Atkins

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning feature journalist and author, as well as a Sunday Times book critic. She has written for many newspapers, including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Telegraph, as well as magazines such as Psychologies, Red, Woman and Home and Grazia. She lives in Oxford.

You can find her on Twitter @lucyatkins and find out more on her website: http://www.lucyatkins.com/

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