The Irish Times – Not everyone murders people in their sleep

Liz: ‘I find it relatively easy to get into the mindset of sociopathic characters’

Crime has become a really broad genre in recent years, and whereas it used to mean police/ detective procedural, now it encompasses so much more. Thrillers, psychological suspense, spy novels, domestic noir, cosy crime, mystery, courtroom drama and the “whydunnit” are all sub-genres within crime. The spectrum is very broad and the standard varies hugely.
I have always been interested in the psychology of killers. What makes them tick and how they deal with the horror of what they have done. Three books which were hugely influential were John Banville’s The Book of Evidence, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby. All three books delved into the personality of the killers, their motivations and their coping mechanisms.

I used to work on RTÉ’s Fair City and one day in a story meeting, we were discussing a character who had just killed somebody and I insisted that he must be extremely distressed and I said aloud “You know the way when you dream you’ve murdered somebody and you wake up in the horrors?” Everyone just stared at me and that was when I realised that not everyone murders people in their sleep. I regularly have dreams in which I have to deal with the emotion of having killed somebody, though funnily enough, I never dream of the action of the murder, just the guilt and the fear in the aftermath. The relief when I wake from those nightmares is immense. So when I’m writing from the point of view of a murderer, I almost feel like it’s from personal experience. Har har.

In real life, I am a pacifist and actively avoid confrontation, so I’m not sure from where this murderous side of my psyche comes, but I hope it has given me an edge when writing psychopaths and sociopaths. I feel that committing these horrendous acts must strip one of an element of one’s humanity. I believe that killing another human being out of anger or frustration or jealousy must cause a fracture in one’s emotional structure.

Character always comes first for me. I must know my protagonist inside out before I write a single word. I will know their accent, tone, political opinions, fears, hopes, vulnerabilities and what they like to watch on TV. I don’t necessarily have to put any of these details in the book, but they are very useful background.

I find it relatively easy to get into the mindset of sociopathic characters like Oliver in Unravelling Oliver and Lydia in Lying in Wait. There is something quite liberating about writing from a point of view that is entirely selfish and without emotional connections, because they can say what they think without filtering it to see what might be acceptable to society. They are talking to themselves (and the reader). I do also try to tell the story from the point of view of those surrounding these characters, because while the killers try to justify their behaviour, I need to contrast it with the devastation caused.

I am constantly intrigued by the nature vs nurture argument. I prefer not to believe that people are born evil and so in the case of each of these characters, I gave them a background or childhood incident which could explain the emotional fractures within.

A lot of people have traumatic events in their early lives. The vast majority of them manage to overcome these obstacles and move on to live fulfilling lives. What separates Oliver and Lydia from us is that, when faced with decisions, they make terrible, terrible choices whether on the spur of the moment, or as part of a grand plan. These choices are made out of desperation and have far-reaching and devastating consequences for those around them.

I think the timeline and the setting of a book are vitally important elements of storytelling. Both Lying in Wait, and my forthcoming novel Skin Deep are mostly set in the 1980s. I grew up in that decade and it was a time of great threat. The rise in popularity of the far-right is scary now, but in the 1980s, there was the constant threat of nuclear war, both the Pope and Ronald Reagan survived assassination attempts and John Lennon was shot dead on a New York street. Malcolm MacArthur murdered a nurse Bridie Gargan, who was innocently sunbathing in the middle of the day in the Phoenix Park. Ann Lovett, a 14-year-old girl, died alone giving birth in a grotto, presumably because she was too afraid to tell anybody. I was a few months older than her.

On a personal level, we had a creepy neighbour who used to climb over our back wall and steal clothes from the washing line. He also held my brothers and sisters at knifepoint one night, so I grew up with a general feeling of insecurity, as if nobody could really be safe. I was pretty much scared the whole time. I thought I was going to be killed.

I am often asked about the rise of Irish female crime writers in recent years. Maybe Tana French and Alex Barclay opened the doors for the rest of us, and as writer Jane Casey says, women are more attuned to threat. We are the ones looking over our shoulders, making sure that we have our keys in our hands, texting each other to make sure we got home safely.

If there is a difference between the way men and women write, I’m afraid I don’t see it. Writing is not and never has been a competition between the sexes. All genders are capable of great work and terrible work. Our approach is as diverse as the human race allows. Tall people don’t write differently to short people and so it is with men and women. We each apply our imagination to the page and some of us are lucky enough to get published. What a wonderful world.

The Irish Times

Liz at Listowel Writer’s Week

Liz loved being part of Listowel Writer’s Week, being interviewed by Rick O’Shea alongside fellow writers Sinéad Crowley and William Ryan, bumping into writer and actor Alan Cumming and signing books for reader Claire Bridle.

Liz wins the Reader’s Vote

The Richard and Judy Spring 2017 Book Club has come to an end, and after delving into eight compelling novels by some truly talented authors, our followers have voted for their winner; Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent!

“To hear that my book has won the Richard and Judy Reader’s Vote is the icing on a very sweet cake because I’ve now read all of the other titles on the list and would have been very happy for any of them to win. What can I say? Richard and Judy have excellent taste! Huge thanks to the super team at WHSmith and of course, to Richard Madeley & Judy Finnigan, whose love of books has endeared them to readers and writers alike. The biggest thanks of all to the readers who took the time to read and vote. Your encouragement means everything.” – Liz Nugent

Lying in Wait is a compelling story with characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Respected judge Andrew Fitzsimons and his wife Lydia have murdered a young woman named Annie Doyle and buried her in their back garden. Andrew is falling apart in the aftermath of their crime, but Lydia is calm and focused on protecting their son Laurence from the consequences. Laurence is smarter than she thinks however, and he’s soon worked out what’s buried in his parent’s garden and who it is. What happens next is a complex and twisting story of deceit, manipulation and betrayal that will leave your head spinning by the end. Judy called it ‘so macabre that at times you (almost) want to laugh’ and Richard described it as ‘darker and murkier by the page’. Our book club readers loved it too…

rj-spring-2017-vote

“A very good book, loved the twist at the end, didn’t expect that, would recommend this book to everyone…love it xx” – Lorraine Tomlinson, Facebook

“Hey @LizzieNugent, I am so into #LyingInWait right now it has taken my weekend away from me! #SorryNotSorry #CrimeFiction #AmReading #WHSRJ” – Sian Dennis, Twitter

“Just finished this book, the ending was so good was not expecting that…Highly recommend #LizNugent #LyingInWait #RichardAndJudyBookClub” – Imem, Instagram

Congratulations to Liz, and thanks very much to everyone that voted!

The Richard and Judy Spring Book Club

Book Club questions for Lying in Wait

Lying in Wait is a dark and gripping story of obsessive love, flawed characters and the unnerving personality of a killer. While we learn from the very beginning who has killed Annie Doyle, the mystery is why did they do it? And as author Liz Nugent slowly unravels the chilling reasons behind the murder we learn just how sinister these characters truly are.

Lying in Wait is exactly the sort of book you press upon a friend after reading so that you can both discuss the twists and turns and the characters you love to hate. Print out our reading group questions and bring them along to your next book club night, or leave your answers in the comments box below to kick off the conversation online.

Liz Nugent is a radio and TV scriptwriter – do you think that affects the way that she writes her novels?

Discuss the way that the author uses 3 different narrators in the novel

Many of the characters in this novel are not particularly likeable. Do you need to be able to empathise with characters in a book to enjoy it?

Discuss how the author structures the novel to build the tension

WHSmith – Book Club

Richard & Judy podcast interview with Liz

After the incredible success of her crime debut – Unravelling Oliver – Liz Nugent’s second book – Lying in Wait – was met with high expectations and certainly did not disappoint. With phenomenal story-telling, dark humour and a cast of fascinating characters, Lying in Wait grips from the first page and keeps you on your toes until the very end.

In this exclusive interview for the Book Club, Richard and Judy ask Liz Nugent about the pressure of following up her hugely successful debut, her dark imagination and how she plots out her intricate stories. Read the full interview below to find out more.

You were crime novelist of the year in 2014. Does winning that sort of accolade give you confidence or does it make you terrified that the next one won’t be as good?

Definitely terrified! I didn’t really think of myself as a writer because I’d only written one book Unravelling Oliver. I know how crazy it sounds, but I had no expectations for it and hadn’t really thought about writing another novel until Penguin asked me. My second had to be as good if not better, and I thought I’d used up all my story ideas in one book. My pal Marian Keyes gave me great advice: she told me I had to allow time between books for the story well to fill up again. She assured me that the ideas would come and, sure enough, the character of Laurence just revealed himself to me one day and I started to write in his voice. . Originally it was a one-person narrative. It was my editor’s suggestion to make Lydia a character and when I started writing from her point of view, this deliciously cruel and callous villain emerged.

There was an awful lot of re-writing involved in Lying in Wait so that by the time I was finished, I had no idea whether it was any good or not. In fact a few weeks after I’d submitted the final draft, I emailed my editor to apologise for having disappointed her with such a terrible book. She reassured me that she was very happy with it. I guess I was just too close to it to be able to judge for myself. It was really hard work to wrestle the story to the page. Now that Lying in Wait is doing well, I’m terrified that the book I’m currently working on will be a massive flop!

You have a very dark imagination. Is it confined to your novel-writing or does a little thundercloud hover above your head wherever you go? Do you see the black side of any situation, all the bleak possibilities?

I’m actually very light-hearted in person. A lot of my friends ask why I don’t write a comic novel because I see hilarity in the darkest of situations. I don’t know where the darkness in my writing comes from, but I guess my own reading preferences would lean towards the sinister and macabre. I’m attracted to news stories about psychopaths and sociopaths – and I’ve worked for a few in my time! They fascinate me.

Your plotting is intricate and believable. Do you plan out your novels completely before starting to write them, or is there an element of ‘winging it’?

I wish I had some grand plan, but each novel is different. I usually start out with a broad outline but I think the broader the better, because you should not limit yourself as a writer. There are endless story possibilities and I prefer to leave the door open to them right up until the last page. I try not to write predictably, because I want to be surprised by my characters too, so often I will think about what is the next logical step for a character, and then find a way for that step not to be possible. When characters make really bad decisions, you get drama. So yes, there is definitely an element of winging it.

Psychological suspense is very much de jour. Which other writers of the genre do you admire, and are you influenced by any of them?

I’m heavily influenced by everything I read. The classical suspense writers like Henry James, Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith were high on my list and there are some amazing current writers I really love: SJ Watson, Claire Mackintosh, Paula Hawkins, Alex Marwood, Tammy Cohen, CL Taylor and Tana French. But I have a special place in my heart for Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, the original whydunnit.

WHSmith