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Write On, Wednesday: Edgar-Nominated Lisa Ballantyne talks about EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, memory, PTSD, and Falling in love with character before plot

By Leslie Lindsay 

International bestselling author and Edgar Nominee Lisa Ballantyne leapt onto the scene in 2013 with her gorgeous and chilling debut THE GUILTY ONE. Now she returns with stunning follow up EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, a tale that alternates between a kidnapping in 1985 and a present day accident that sends one woman down a path of discovery that will leave her forever changed.

Set in Scotland and England, EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is a compelling read about a cast of characters who don’t seem to be related at all in the beginning, but of course, they’re all there for a reason. When Deputy Director/Teacher of a nearby school is rear-ended in a crash near the holidays, she is struck with shards of memory that propel her back to 1985 and a haunting event that has left her fragile since. She feels she’s losing her mind, but could it just be the stress of raising kids, working, and the holidays?EveryThingSheForgot PB C.JPG

EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT explores PTSD, family connections, and is beautifully executed in a page-turning read.

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Lisa Ballantyne to the blog couch to chat about her work.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it is such an honor to have you pop by today. Can you give us a little glimpse into your first inkling with EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Was there a situation or character that sort of “came to you?”

Lisa Ballantyne: Leslie, thanks so much for having me! It’s my honor! When I first began to work on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, I was interested in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first scene of the book – involving the car crash and the strange saviour – came to me quite quickly and I knew that the burned man who rescues Margaret would be the key to her past. In writing the 1980s scenes, I knew I wanted to write about a man who steals his daughter and for the journey they undertake to be a redemptive one, spanning the whole country. I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love. The father-daughter relationship was really center stage, but so was a sense of moral ambiguity.

L.L.: I have to say…at first I didn’t really like George, but oh my, I became a bit smitten with him as the story went on. You have quite a cast of characters in this story…is there one (or two) you felt particularly close to?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am so glad that you liked George! I admit I fell in love with him too! The greatest joy for me as a writer is creating characters – new consciousnesses – that readers, and myself, can believe in, fall in love with, hate, mourn. Publishing a book and sharing it with others, is like breathing life into these characters that started off in my head. For me it doesn’t get better than that! In each book, I usually have one character that I feel very close to – who I see as the ‘soul’ of the novel – and in EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT that character is George. I saw him as a typical, tragic questing hero, struggling to escape his circumstances and ultimately himself. George’s character also works in tandem with Angus, the religious journalist that chases him from coast to coast. I hoped these characters would make the reader question morality as good and evil is turned on its head. George is a murderer, a thief and a kidnapper, and yet, we grow to love him.

    “Ballantyne weaves a fine tale of family drama, dark secrets, and the past’s effect on the present. The threads seamlessly come together in a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, finale.”

Publishers Weekly

L.L.: If you’re like me, a story you’re working on often evolves, takes a life of its own…did anything of that sort happen as you were working on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Can you explain?

Lisa Ballantyne: Yes, just like you, this happens to me too, and it’s wonderful when that happens, right? The scene where the teenage George and his loan shark father visit a debtor on a building site was an interesting one to write. It was one of the rare occasions when a character takes over and I as the writer watched the scene I was writing unfold. I knew George intimately, and I knew that he couldn’t do what his father was demanding of him. The outcome of the scene was George’s only choice and so he made it for me. Its exciting but a little strange when that happens, and it only happens when I fully understand a character.

L.L.: Which begs this next question: are you a pantser, or a plotter? Do you follow the pen or is your work carefully outlined?

Lisa Ballantyne: I’m afraid, I am not a plotter. I always start with characters and I think that if I understand them well enough, then the story will flow through their motivation. I have a lot of respect for writers who work everything out beforehand. I am sure it is a better and quicker way to write, but as with most things in life, I like to feel my way…

L.L.: You effortlessly leap between past and present narratives highlighting your characters flaws in an honest and electrifying read. Yet there are serious implications for own’s identity and memory. Can you speak to that, please?

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you so much. As anyone who has ever been close to someone with memory problems knows, memory is at the heart of self; it is the structure that holds our personalities together. The central character in this book, Margaret has very specific memory loss related to a traumatic event but it has still unconsciously shaped her choices in life. Since EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT has been published, many people have written to me to say it has reminded them of their own past traumas and how confronting those avoided memories challenged them. ‘Selective memories’ can be protective but sometimes we need to understand why we chose to forget certain things.


L.L.:, Endings can be tricky. You want a little twist, yet something inevitable, still you want it memorable for your reader. How much effort did you put into the ending of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Or did it grow organically?

Lisa Ballantyne: The ending to this book came quite instinctively and at first I was uncertain that it was going to work. Ghosts are tricky to render if not infrequent in novels, but the ghost’s manifestation at the end of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is exactly how one of my aunts described her husband appearing to her, soon after he died. It was an image that had always stayed with me and so I chose it for the ending of my novel. It seemed right that the love between my main characters would survive in some tangible way.

L.L.: What might be obsessing you nowadays?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am on a deadline to finish my next novel and I am just completing a residency where I’ve been doing literacy work with juvenile offenders, so that has taught me a great deal.

 L.L.: So, can I ask what you’re working on?

 Lisa Ballantyne: I never like to talk about the novel I am working on (to anyone) until it is finished, but suffice to say it will be mining further subjects that continue to fascinate me, such as family, the past and the present, good and evil and the question of choice.

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Lisa Ballantyne: If you forgot something, possibly you CHOSE to forget, and we should leave it buried?

L.L.: Lisa, thank you so much for chatting with is. It was lovely having you!

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you SO much for having me. It was my greatest pleasure! Good luck with your own projects and my very best wishes.

Lisa Ballantyne ap1.JPGLisa Ballantyne is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated and internationally bestselling The Guilty One. She spent most of her twenties working and living in China, before returning to the UK in 2002. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland

Follow Lisa on her Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/lisaballantyneauthor/

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