Liz Nugent’s new novel Lying in Wait is due for paperback release in January. Her debut, the awesomely imaginative Unravelling Oliver, told the story of one man through multiple characters’ viewpoints. Lying in Wait similarly tells a dark story, again touching in very creative ways on social issues that plagued Ireland’s recent history. As part of her blog tour for the new novel, Liz answered some questions below.
10 QUESTIONS WITH LIZ NUGENT
1. Your Twitter handle is @LizzieNugent, but what do people call you when you’re at home, or – indeed – out and about? Why didn’t you choose “Elizabeth” as your author name?
I haven’t been called Elizabeth for a very long time, although it is officially on my birth cert and passport. My friends call me Liz and close family might call me Whizzer which is a shortened version of a nickname I had ‘Whizzbang’ because when I was six, I was sliding down the bannisters, fell off, landed on my head and suffered a brain haemmorhage. Yes, we all have a warped sense of humour!
2. Do you have a favourite author? Who inspired or inspires you to write? What compels you to write? Does an idea become so strong that you have to pursue it?
My favourite author changes all the time. It was definitely John Banville’s Book of Evidence that inspired me to write, but I admire the work of so many writers. I read broadly- all genres. Right now I am compelled to write in order to pay my mortgage, but also, I have a story to tell and it is rather jumbled in my mind so the only way to straighten out is on the page. I guess it’s like digging for diamonds. You know they’re there but it takes an awful lot of work to find them, and then they have to be polished over and over before they shine.
3. Your debut novel was fiercely imaginative. [DEEP BOW.] But c’mere: How much of it came from that beautiful noggin? And how much from your parents’ generation’s discussions of trips to vineyards, or your own Inter-railing experiences, or stories of the pale-skinned boy from the nearby boarding school whom the priests kept in the refectory scrubbing grease off the grill, when he wasn’t peering out the window at you while you played in the nearby field?
Ha! There were elements that came from my parents’ past. My father was sent to boarding school a stone’s throw away from his family home when he was ten years old after the sudden death of his mother. He was not allowed to come home for Christmas or summer holidays but was sent instead down the country to his maternal grandmother’s house. It was unbearably cruel.
The chateau is based on Chateau Lagorce, a place near Bordeaux my family rented for a week in 2005. Surrounded by vineyards and the history and beauty of the area, I knew it would end up in my book. I didn’t know how until I began to write it.
I never had the interrailing student experience of my siblings. My childhood accident meant that I was unfit for any kind of physical work so could not earn fees for university. After I left school, I went to London and worked in lots of different admin jobs, but the student travel stories of my friends and siblings became the stuff of legend and I was fiercely jealous, so finally in Unravelling Oliver, I got to make up my own version!
4. Your characters are often well-educated and occasionally sociopathic; successful professionals, or unsuccessful boho types who marry or inherit wealth. These are contrasted with the Joe Gargerys of the world; decent, genuine, working class gentlemen and ladies. Is this coinki-denk-al? Or do you just hate rich people?
I come from a fairly middle-class background so I’m writing about the type of people I know. But there is a huge chasm between how the different classes are
treated. It is extremely rare for a middle-class person to go to prison, regardless of their crime. Also I find snobbery in all its forms highly amusing. I explore it a lot more in Lying in Wait. A lot of middle-class people genuinely think that poor people are criminals, and working class people think that middle-class people are rich. Both terribly wrong. Upper class people don’t really care. I worked in theatre for a long time and the Arts is a great leveller. People in the Arts generally make it on merit rather than because of who they know. I love all kinds of people, but especially artists, writers, poets, actors, musicians and dancers -and they are both rich and poor. In Lying in Wait, Karen is a working-class character from an uneducated background. Her father doesn’t know how to read. But she is the bravest and most honest character in the book.
5. Why do you write multi-voice narratives, with a chapter told from each character’s viewpoint? Do you regard it as a feature of your style, broadly? It’s a great way to cheat the reader out of a revelation till later, and sustain tension! But are there any difficulties in capturing voice, or does the voice usually come first?
I start every story with a character and the plot develops when those characters make bad decisions. I find the easiest way to access the various characters’ motivations is to enter their heads and speak from their point of view. I can’t imagine writing a story in the third person, it feels too removed from the emotional drive, so yes it is definitely my style. The voice comes first. I know what they all sound like: tone, accent and intention.
6. Do you look at your characters and say: “This isn’t actually him doing XYZ, it’s his faith / an attempt to avoid shame, etc”?
No, because I’m thinking from his point of view. If you are heavily influenced by something endemic in your society, you are probably not aware of it- like the way children who grow up in abnormal circumstances don’t realise it until they leave the family home and find out how others grew up. Both Oliver and Lydia justify all of their actions. They rationalise that they deserve better. That sense of entitlement again!
7. In Nazi Germany, they had Reichsmarks (not Deutschmarks). I was berated over that in a short story by a reader. And I’ve been reading the draft of a novel by a Derry-born gentleman called Harry Toye about the Troubles, and he insists there were microwave ovens all over Derry in the early 70s, and apparently it’s for true! We’re still arguing over whether it’s too anachronistic (or perhaps prochronistic). So how much work goes into your own historical research? Do you have to check your facts about what was possible, or who was in power, or whether answering-machines would have been around? Do you consciously avoid elements like that? Is there anything you’ve had to change? Do mobile phones (in fiction) curtail our ability to tell a good story? (And might I add that in my view, you convey period brilliantly, without it getting in the way of story.)
Most of Lying in Wait was set in the 1980s so I remember that period vividly but with Unravelling Oliver, I checked facts with people of my parents’ generation to ensure the veracity. And the question of genetic inheritance in that book caused me huge headaches but I tend not to research anything too deeply. For Lying in Wait, I had to look into Irish adoption procedures in the 1970s so I consulted a lady who had written her thesis on the subject. I also consulted with a friend who had done some modelling in Dublin in the 80s. It was very far removed and so much tamer than the London scene of the time and I needed to make that really clear.
I don’t avoid something because it’s too difficult to research, but story comes first. There is one thing in Lying in Wait that could not have happened, but it really suited the story so I left it in. Let’s see if any eagle-eyed reader picks up on it!
8. Where do you feel your work falls on the literary to popular fiction scale? Do you agree with the assessment that characterises literary fiction as “not much happens”?
A lot of lit fiction is very beautifully written and a lot of popular fiction has great plotting. But they really are stereotypes. I do my best to fall somewhere in the middle. I have been put firmly into the Crime category now and the standards and sub-genres within that are very broad. They are calling my work ‘domestic noir’. I like that!
9. Nature vs nurture: Did you research genetics for Unravelling Oliver? The title suggests an unravelling double helix or genome, on top of other meanings. Did you consider that?
That never crossed my mind, but I might claim it from now on!
I wrote the entire story first and then almost had a panic attack when I realised that it might not be feasible (I can’t say too much here without giving the story away). Eventually, I tracked down a Professor of Anthroplogy in Pennsylvania State University who assured me that the scenario I described was highly unlikely, but possible. Phew.
10. Please tell us (similarly) about the titleLying In Wait without giving too much away.
Penguin wanted a title for the book when I was only two thirds of the way through writing it. So my husband and I came up with four titles:
1 . Lying in Wait
2 . Unearthed
3 . Liars
4 . Desperate Measures
Liars was my preferred title but Penguin said no, so I conducted a straw poll on Facebook and got 148 responses. The majority went with Lying in Wait which was my husband’s idea (so was Unravelling Oliver!). Lying in Wait has a dual meaning and I’m not giving too much away when I say that a body is buried in the main protagonist’s garden in the first chapter. The question is when will it be discovered and by whom? And will everyone lie to cover it up?
You can catch more of Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait blog tour over the month of January. You can follow Liz on Twitter. The book – which is a great read and is reviewed on this blog here – is available from Amazon.