Liz in a top ten list with John Le Carre, Lee Child and Stephen King

Liz finds herself on a top ten list with John Le Carre, Lee Child and Stephen King in Publishers Weekly.


Unraveling Oliver
Liz Nugent. S&S/Scout, Aug. 22

A #1 bestseller in the author’s native Ireland and winner of the Irish Book Award’s Crime Novel of the Year, Nugent’s debut will remind many of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Publishers Weekly

Liz got a starred and boxed review in Publishers Weekly

Liz got a starred and boxed review in Publishers Weekly – ‘outstanding first novel’


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

NEW YORK POST – Debut novels create a frenzy at BookExpo

A rugby-like scrum for advance copies of six debut novels at the end of the presentation on Buzz Books was so frenzied that one bookseller wondered, “Is this a fire hazard?”

Editors are betting that, based on word of mouth, these under-promoted “sleepers” catch fire and climb best-seller lists.

Among the Buzz Books, Liz Nugent’s “Unraveling Oliver” was already a No. 1 best-seller in her native Ireland — and Jackie Cantor, a senior editor at Simon & Schuster/Scout Press, hopes the book takes off following its August US release.



Nugent’s main character is a “sociopath” who knocks his wife into a coma.

Says Cantor: “Nugent somehow manages to make her male antagonist into someone readers can care about.”

The BookExpo for the trade ends Friday as BookCon, also at the Javits Center, opens its doors to the general public on Saturday and Sunday.

KEITH J. KELLY – New York Post

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY – BookExpo 2017: A Secret Life: Liz Nugent

BookExpo 2017: A Secret Life: Liz Nugent

“Every person has a secret interior life that’s unknowable to their spouse, parents, siblings, friends,” says Liz Nugent. “You may think you know your mother, but you can be sure she has a whole side to her you’ll never know anything about. Most peoples’ interior selves are pretty mundane, but occasionally, you’ll find some people have a very dark seam inside that’s only unleashed when they’re trapped, or forced into an extreme situation.”

A dark secret life is at the center of Nugent’s debut novel, Unraveling Oliver (Scout, Aug.), her first book to be published in the U.S. and a BookExpo Adult Buzz book. When it was originally published in Ireland in 2014, it became a #1 bestseller and won Best Crime Fiction at the Irish Book Awards. The novel has been translated into seven languages.

The Oliver of the title is a handsome, charismatic children’s book author. He lives a privileged life in a Dublin suburb until the evening he beats his wife so viciously that she’s left in a coma. In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of the attack, Oliver begins to tell his story, as do those he’s come in contact with over the past five decades.

Nugent admits to being fascinated by very flawed men. She finds her inspiration for these bad figures in the obituary sections of the Irish Times, Daily Telegraph, and New York Times. “Obituaries are incredibly useful,” she says. “The whole Nazi element in the book, as well as a pivotal character, came about after I read the obituary of the man who’d been prefect general of Vichy France.”

“Novelist” is Nugent’s third career. In her first, as stage manager for the Irish dance company Riverdance, she toured the world for 15 years. In 2003, she became an associate writer on the longest-running Irish TV soap opera Fair City. In writing for soaps, says Nugent, “you need to make sure people will tune in the next day, so you have to leave each episode on a knife edge. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with each chapter in Unraveling Oliver.”

Nugent took a two-year leave of absence to write the novel. Even after its success, she returned to Fair City, but she lasted only four months. “It felt like every day was a day away from [book] writing,” she says. Writing days are precious to Nugent, as she can type with only one hand. A childhood accident left her with dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable and painful muscle spasms. As a result she could no longer use her right hand to write. “That’s why I’m such a slow writer and why my novels are short. It costs me physically to write. But it’s certainly not right to complain considering all the writers like Shakespeare and Jane Austen who wrote with one hand and a feather,” she says.

Nugent may be used to spending her life behind the scenes. But she’ll be in the foreground for the foreseeable future. Scout will publish her second novel, Lying in Wait, which was also a #1 bestseller in Ireland, in May 2018.

Today, 10–10:45 a.m. Liz Nugent will participate in the Adult Author’s Buzz Panel at the Uptown Stage.

Today, 11–11:45 a.m. Nugent will sign at the S&S booth (1420).