After Our House, my favourite of my own novels (that sounds very self-regarding, as if I re-read them in constant rotation, but let's go with it) is probably The Disappearance of Emily Marr. It’s the story of a scandal that erupts when a lonely young woman has an affair with a married neighbour and sets in motion a chain of tragic events she could never have anticipated. In despair, she leaves her life in London and heads to France – to atone, to grieve, to hide.
Having researched extensively the outcomes of missing persons enquiries, I decided that this was a novel that might bear an open ending. More often than not we don't get an answer in reality, so why must we have one in fiction? Boy, did I come to regret this! In my clever nod to authenticity, I forgot that readers like a proper ending. It doesn’t have to be a happy one (and rarely is with me), just the right one for the characters. Before long, I’d received thousands of emails asking me what happens next – and I duly supplied notes. Many readers enjoyed the game, but others most assuredly did not: ‘I am disgusted!!! 'I HATE this author!’
In cutting a long story short, I had, it seemed, Ruined Lives.
So now, with this reissued version, there is an ending. It was a joy to write, because, by now, I’ve needed the closure as much as the next person. There’s also a new cover, which I absolutely love. So, if you enjoyed Our House, let me introduce you to Emily Marr – and I promise you’ll find out exactly what becomes of her.
These last few months, I’ve had many lovely invitations to book festivals and bookshops to meet readers and talk about OUR HOUSE, but one this week stands out as unique – and one of the most interesting experiences of my life. I visited the library book group at HMP Thameside, a remand prison in southeast London that houses 1,300 inmates. The library, led by the dynamic Neil Barclay, has earned serious book industry kudos – its roster of bestselling author events would rival the programme at Waterstones Piccadilly (among my predecessors: Adam Kay, Paula Hawkins, Fiona Barton, Louise Doughty).
I’d never been to a prison before and it was an unsettling prospect. In OUR HOUSE, Bram has a phobia of prisons (carcerophobia), which helps drive his appalling decision-making, and I identify closely with this fear. I imagined a Victorian facility with four men to a cell and grey food and menacing looks following me as I waited for door after door to be unlocked with a big set of keys. In fact, only the door-locking materialised (every single door you pass through; the staff, without exception, have a patient, methodical air about them). The prisoners were engaged, respectful and looked like people I see in my neighbourhood every day. The interviewer, a man with a fraud conviction, asked questions I’ve never had before: ‘Why would she be attracted to someone who looked “cadaverous”? Was that really the right word?’ Answer, from an inmate, not me: ‘It's about perception. He only looks cadaverous to the narrator, not to her.’ They all agreed Bram needed to ‘grow a pair’ and were upset by the passages when he says goodbye to his family.
Later, touring the prison, I was able to visit a cell (so shipshape it reminded me slightly of a Brittany Ferries cabin) and see the intranet system that allows inmates to book gym sessions and other activities. It was all too easy to think it wasn’t so bad - and my jovial tone here probably isn’t helping - but time and again I was reminded of what the central idea of prison is: a loss of liberty. Lockdown for most of the day and all of the night. I asked the prisoners what they missed most about the outside world, besides family, and many said, ‘Just picking up my car keys and driving wherever I like’.
Which was what I did a few hours later, stereo on, back home to my family and a large glass of something I didn’t brew illegally myself.
So, be assured, be very assured: the population of HMP Thameside may have TV and books and author visits, but they are definitely paying for their crimes. I wish them brighter, happier futures when they come back out and see the sky again.
Photo by Neil Barclay, HMP Thameside.
If you follow me on Twitter you will not have been able to escape the news that OUR HOUSE is now a Sunday Times bestseller! The trumpet-blowing and please-just-stop-now preening perhaps bear a little context. OUR HOUSE is my twelfth novel and among the other eleven there have been hits and misses. Translation and TV deals have come and gone. In the UK alone, I've had four publishers, two agents, nine editors and over a dozen publicists. But none of the books, until now, has made it into the hallowed Top Ten of the Sunday Times bestseller lists (the hardback of OUR HOUSE got stuck at number eleven - poor me). Meanwhile, I and my fellow old-timers have watched debut after debut swan straight up the charts, propelled not only by authorial talent but also by the love we all have of The New. So an overnight success I am not. When my first novel was published, I was 35 and my daughter was a baby. Now I am 50 and she is doing her GCSEs. No wonder I'm exhausted. Exhausted and very grateful to my agent, Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown, and the dream team at Simon & Schuster who did it. They really did it.
Many moons ago, when I was a student at UCL with big hair and unstraightened teeth, I worked evenings at Dillons bookstore on Gower Street. I still remember how sweet Tracey Thorn was when she came to my till with a copy of 'The Satanic Verses' (that dates it for you) and the thrill of making announcements over the PA system ('The store will be closing in fifteen minutes...'). Oh, and the dismay of being on Medical Books in the basement, which meant queues up the stairs and staying late to cash up the millions instead of escaping to the pub. Well, the site is now a Waterstones, a big, beautiful branch filled with staff and customers far better read than I ever was, and I returned yesterday as a Books of the Month author to sign copies of 'Our House' and coo over their displays. It felt good, really good. One of the special days. It also struck me as making the perfect yah boo sucks blog post to my enemies, but I've been wracking my brains and I can't think of a single enemy. So I guess the road from then to now has been smoother than I thought.
I have big news! OUR HOUSE is out in the UK in paperback today, earlier than planned, and is Waterstones’ Thriller Book of the Month for September! Over the years, I’ve really come to trust the Waterstones booksellers’ picks and often stopped to admire the beautiful and creative displays in their windows. And now mine is one of the chosen ones! I’m so proud that Waterstones have picked OUR HOUSE for September and very grateful for my brilliant publisher Simon & Schuster for making it happen. I can’t wait to hear what Waterstones customers think of Bram and Fi and the ungodly mess they get themselves (and their house) into…
I'm utterly thrilled that OUR HOUSE is a New York Post Book of the Week! Thank you, Mackenzie Dawson - check out her picks here!
When I got my first book deal many moons ago, I did what most first-time novelists are apt to do: assume the book is going to be wildly successful and published all over the world. A global bestseller. Overnight stardom. New York, New York. Fast forward fifteen years and I am, at last, being published in the US. It's absolutely lovely to be a debut, even if by now I'm more like Madonna cavorting on her gondola in Venice than I am any real ingenue. My publishing team at Berkley are, quite simply, The Best, and today is one I will never forget. So a huge, heartfelt welcome to OUR HOUSE, US and Canadian readers - I can't wait to hear what you think of it!
Being reviewed in the New York Times is up there with Pulitzer prizes and Sunday Times #1 bestsellers in authors' daydreams - and now it's come true... It's amazing to see my US debut in Marilyn Stasi's Crime reviews - this is one link I'll be wearing out!
The amazing adventures of OUR HOUSE continue with a spot on the New York Post's 25 Best Thrillers of the Summer!
US publication of OUR HOUSE is just two weeks away, so a perfect time to find it in heading this prestigious BuzzFeed list of 20 Thrillers That Will Keep You Reading Until The Sun Comes Up - compiled with Goodreads!