By Leslie Lindsay
Searing secrets…riveting revelations, Sally Hepworth’s fourth book of domestic fiction, THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR (March 6 2018, St. Martin’s Press), is a jaw-dropping gut-punch.
This suburban-set story centers on the folks of Pleasant Court, where everything is picture-perfect, at least from the outside. We start the story with Essie, three years ago, when she did a horrible thing just following the birth of her first baby. She’s gotten help and has pretty much put that incident behind her.
But over on Pleasant Court, where Essie moves with her preschool daughter and hottie hubby, and new baby, she can’t help but feel a bit untethered. Her mother, Barbara, the quintessential grandmother moves in just doors away and helps with the little girls. We meet Ange and her boys, her suspicion that the photography client is perhaps a little ‘more’ to her husband than ‘just a client;’ and Fran…her obsessive running. Just what is she running from?
And then we meet Isabelle, childless and single and new to the neighborhood. Who is she and why is she there?
Questions and concerns all collide in a giant tangled web of curve balls and consequences, ones that will resonate with mothers everywhere, as the tie that brings all of these women together is the simple (or not-so-simple) fact that they are first and foremost, mothers.
So pull up a seat, grab a cup of coffee and join me and Sally Hepworth in conversation.
Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Sally! I know you wrote this book while pregnant and edited with a newborn at your side, so it’s no wonder your tale focuses on babies and motherhood. What inspired this one? Was there a particular moment or situation you were drawn to?
Sally Hepworth: The real spark for this book was probably my nosiness. Shamefully, I am the local busybody in my neighbourhood—I always have my nose in other people’s business and if they are not up to anything interesting, I’m imagining that they are. So it was a natural progression that I’d write a book about people who are a little too interested in their neighbours. As for the motherhood aspect, as you mentioned, this stemmed from the fact that I was pregnant as I wrote the book.
L.L.: It seems there’s a lot of books that focus on…well, voyeurism. I think we’re all curious what others are doing in their lives, in their homes, behind the perfect façade. Most of the time, it’s just ordinary stuff, but sometimes there’s a secret (or two) brewing under the surface. Why do you think we have that fascination? Is it normal?
Sally Hepworth: I don’t know if it’s normal, but it is certainly common. There is just something so interesting about other people’s lives, isn’t there? Particularly the idea that something untoward might be going on nearby. Perhaps it’s the fact that, on the whole, suburban life can feel so predictable. You do the same thing at the same time every day—you mow the lawn, drop off the kids, cook dinner. The idea that someone next door might be having an affair, keeping someone in the basement, have murdered their granny, allows the brain a vicarious thrill for a few moments.
L.L.: There are touches of mental instability in almost all of the characters in THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR, which I really like. That’s because I believe mental illness/instability are more common that we realize. Was having this part of the narrative your intention all along, or did it sort of evolve?
Sally Hepworth: All of my books explore an aspect of women’s health, and I have been keen to write about mental health for a while now, particularly postpartum mood disorders. But while I had an idea that this would be explored in the book, the way it played out was something that evolved as I wrote.
L.L.: I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s definitely a phenomenon in THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR I hadn’t heard of. I had to look it up and found myself intrigued and also a bit…disgusted. How did that present for you? Was this something you knew of before you started working on the manuscript?
Sally Hepworth: Yes, I’d heard about this particular phenomenon a couple of times … and unsurprisingly, it had played on my mind. Then, when I was writing the book it occurred to me that I could use it. It is definitely confronting, but to me, that was what made it interesting. I liked the idea that I hadn’t seen it in fiction before and it fit perfectly into my book.
L.L.: I found the crux of the story to be motherhood. In your opinion, why is motherhood so unifying?
Sally Hepworth: Ha! Motherhood can be unifying but also polarizing, right?
The unifying part, perhaps, comes from empathy. Regardless of the feelings we might have for another mother, we always have an understanding for them as mothers. It’s a link that transcends language, religion and culture.
L.L.: Speaking of, how are you balancing the writing life with the mom life?
Sally Hepworth: As working parents, my husband and I manage the balancing act together. At present I write four days a week from the library and have one day at home with my baby (the older two are both at school). If I get busy or am under deadline, my husband will take a day off and vice versa. If that’s not possible, we’ll call a babysitter (or Grandma!) We’re not perfect parents but we work hard during the day so we can get home to our kids.
L.L.: In THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR, Essie’s mother schedules time for Essie to get away to have her hair done, ‘maybe her nails and lunch out’…what do you always find time for?
Sally Hepworth: Hair! I really believe in the magical power of hair. If my life is in a shambles a good cut and color can sort me right out. I will go without a lot of things when I’m busy (bye bye leg waxes, gym workouts and eyebrow tinting) but by hook or by crook I’ll be at my quarterly hair appointments.
FL.L.: Sally, as always, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but forgot?
Sally Hepworth: No, but I’d like to thank you for having me once again!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016), The Mother’s Promise (2017), and The Family Next Door (Feb 2018). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publishers Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.
Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.
Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. All images retrieved on 2.26.18. Working from library from, Birds-eye view of suburbia from, sad momma from, brick houses from,]