Today I am VERY pleased to welcome Beth Miller to the blog answering some questions about her psychological thriller come family drama – The Good Neighour.
My standard opening question as it is always fascinating – what originally inspired the story told in the novel?
This is a story that doesn’t reflect well on me. I had been reading in the local paper about a woman whose child was ill, and she (the mum) was doing lots of amazing fund-raising activities. And I thought, what if she’s pretending, to get attention, and her kid’s not really ill at all? I know, I’m not a nice person, right? Anyway that gave me the initial idea for the story. I do often go round thinking badly of people, I can’t help it.
Cath is an extremely intriguing character – but she gets away with a lot, especially with the medical profession – in reality do you think she would have been stopped earlier?
Possibly. But you hear enough crazy stories to make you think that if you have enough confidence and chutzpah, you can get away with a lot before the questions start. I remember when I was at university the local hospital had a scandal when it turned out that one of its doctors wasn’t medically trained at all! It was just some guy who wandered in, put on a white coat, and no-one dared to challenge him. Rather worrying, but I reckon these sort of things happen more often than we know. Cath, being clued in to how the medical profession works, would have a good chance of manipulating various situations without being spotted.
There are two very different women taking front and centre here – tell me a little about developing Minette – she is very accepting at first of Cath’s oddities.
Minette is young, and rather vulnerable. Having been treated badly by the previous neighbours, she is ready to be over-friendly with whoever moves in, as long as they have a nice word for her. So when Cath’s so kind, Minette falls head-over-heels into friendship with her. I know that when my children were very little, I was quite fragile. Someone looking at me the wrong way could upset me for days, whereas someone being vaguely nice would make my week. I was as sensitive as if I had lost a layer of skin, and my judgement wasn’t exactly razor-sharp. That’s what I think is going on with Minette. If you then add in that she’s a bit isolated, and sleep-deprived, then you’ve got someone who isn’t going to be that quick at noticing warning signs.
Did you have more than one possible ending in mind? If so what made you go with the ultimate “resolution”?
The original ending was completely different from the final one. It was not a particularly pleasant ending, and when I read the whole thing through, just before sending it off to the publishers, I felt miserable. I knew it was too depressing to work. I didn’t want to punish a character who had really only been guilty of lust. What sort of message would that send our lusty young people, eh? It was too harsh. Though funnily enough, only today a reader contacted me to say they wished it had a less happy ending! I might send them the original last few pages.
Do you have one novel that you recommend to everyone?
I often recommend Laurie Colwin’s Another Marvelous Thing; everyone who reads it loves it. I think it’s an amazing, original and wonderfully-written book. It’s also super-readable, and has my favourite first line:
My wife is precise, elegant, and well-dressed, but the sloppiness of my mistress knows few bounds.
What is next for you? (If you are allowed to say)
Yes, I have no secrets from you, Liz! I am writing my third novel (working title, The Privacy Room), which is a love story about a woman who leads a double life. I’m doing a lot of teaching and book coaching, which I really enjoy. And I’m looking forward to the publication in October of my non-fiction book, For The Love of The Archers, which was such fun to write.
No, thank YOU!
Publication Date: Available Now from Randomhouse/Ebury
Everyone has secrets. How far will you go to protect yours?
After living next to the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed when Cath and her two children move in next door. Cath soon becomes her confidante, a kindred spirit, even her daughter’s babysitter.
But Cath keeps herself unusually guarded and is reluctant to speak of her past. And when Minette witnesses something unspeakable, she begins to question whether she really knows her new friend at all…
The Good Neighbour is a multi layered family drama with a dark underbelly, looking at one little street community and focusing on the new arrival and her relationship with those around her.
Minette is extraordinarily happy to have a new next door neighbour – her relationship with the previous occupants had been fraught and confrontational and as a new Mum, Minette already had enough on her plate. At first Cath seems like the perfect replacement, friendly, willing to help with the baby and someone Minette can rely on. But as time goes on, she realises that something is not QUITE right about Cath…
It was very easy to get drawn in to this story – two equally fascinating but very different women, both of whom annoyed the heck out of me at times, Minette especially in the beginning when she is accepting everything Cath says and does at face value. At the same time she is drawn into a situation that could destroy her own family, seriously there were times when I wanted to slap her.
We hear from both Cath and Minette and it quickly becomes clear that Cath is, well to put it mildly, a bit odd and definitely hiding secrets. In the midst of all this we also hear from Davey, Cath’ s son who is disabled – he too knows that there is something wrong with his Mum and his situation but struggles to know what to do as he is so young. This made up some of the most compelling parts of the tale, especially the relationship he has with both his Mum and his younger sister.
As things come to a head this is very addictive reading – I loved how Beth Miller managed the layers of the story especially the friendship between Min and Cath as it begins to break down, Min realising that there really is something very wrong here. There is a lovely depth to the characters and some terrific writing that puts you right on the spot.
The ultimate resolution is one that opens up debate – and whilst some suspension of disbelief is required in the things that Cath gets away with, it is a very authentic look at mental disorder and the masking of true character – how well after all do we really know those closest to us. A very enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Find out more here: http://www.bethmiller.co.uk/
Follow Beth on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/drbethmiller
Happy Reading Folks!