By Leslie Lindsay
Chilling tale of psychological suspense hinging on one woman’s past, her attempt at reinvention, and so much more. Plus, Thailand, finding the time to read, books to obsess over and more.
Libby Hall wants a vacation. She’s newly married, a teacher, and has just suffered a miscarriage. She and her husband, Jamie are living in a basement flat in Bath when a leaflet flits through her door offering a house swap in Cornwall. The note indicates the couple selected their home/flat because of its close proximity to the hospital; they have an ailing daughter who needs a specialist at that particular hospital. In exchange, Libby and Jamie can live in their glorious home in Cornwall. For a week.
If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.
But Libby is desperate. And so they make arrangements. The isolated seaside mansion is everything they hoped for–and more. Panoramic views! A fully stocked fridge! Plenty of sightseeing nearby! But strange things start happening. A sheep’s skull in a tree? A strange man who seems to be lurking everywhere they go? Is Libby just being paranoid, or is it something else?
“Just finished LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . it’s so twisty, turning and grippy. Highly recommend it!
– Gilly Macmillan, the bestselling author of WHAT SHE KNEW
And then Jamie gets ill. They rush to the Cornwall hospital and Libby must endure a night alone at the Cornwall house.
Told in a bifurcated narrative, the first half of LAST SEEN ALIVE (HarperCollins, June 26 2018) is all ‘front story,’ and there are plenty of twists and turns, dark moments, and page-turning reading. The second half is back story, taking readers into the past and to Thailand, where a group of young twenty-something travelers are finding their way in the world–or escaping it. How these two pieces are tied together will shock and surprise you.
There’s murder, secrets, lies, and plenty of twists in LAST SEEN ALIVE, which alternates between psychological thriller with a dash of horror and a bit domestic suspense.
I’m so thrilled to welcome Claire Douglas to the author interview series. Please join us in conversation.
Leslie Lindsay: Claire, welcome! I raced through LAST SEEN ALIVE because I simply had to find out what was going on. I’m curious what inspired this tale? Was it a situation, a character, a theme?
Claire Douglas: Hi Leslie. Thank you for having me on your blog. It was the house swap idea that first inspired me. I read a newspaper article about a house swap going wrong – nothing too sinister, just a family who left the house in a mess – but it got me thinking about what would happen if you were in someone’s home and that family were in your home and you began to realize that they weren’t all that they had seemed. Years ago my husband and I rented a house by the sea. It was beautiful but very remote, and on the last day we found a sheep’s skull in the tree outside our front door. It really spooked us and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! That was the inspiration for ‘The Hideaway.’
L.L.: Secrets and lies are a pivotal piece to the story. Were all of these something you carefully mapped out or did they reveal themselves to you as you wrote? Did you have a method to keep track of all the lies, twists, and so forth? Did you ever ‘write yourself into a corner?’
Claire Douglas: It was definitely the most complicated book I’ve ever written. I had to plan the plot out quite meticulously. At one stage I had all these post-it notes with scenes written on them because my brain felt like it might explode with all the information. But I still made sure there was room for the characters to breathe and to tell their own story. For example, I knew the main plot points and the twist, but I wasn’t quite sure of the exact ending. In fact I changed the ending at the editing stages. I also wasn’t sure of how best to structure the story, and in the end decided on the twist being in the middle and the story being split into three parts.
L.L.: About the half-way point, the reader is thrust into the past and an entirely different place: Thailand. I recall traveling after college. It was a bit magical. In LAST SEEN ALIVE, you mention sleeping cars on the train, how traveling companions ‘find’ one another, how there’s an intimacy with traveling with someone that you don’t often get in other forms—after all, you’re eating, sleeping, sightseeing, essentially doing everything together. Can you talk more about this, please?
Claire Douglas: The Thailand part of the story was inspired by my own experiences of travelling to that part of the world. My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I did the same journey on the sleeper train, and we island hopped. We met lots of fascinating people and even though we only traveled with them for a few weeks we built up close friendships. I think it’s fascinating that when you’re travelling – especially if you’re travelling alone and meet people along the way – you can be anything or anyone you want to be. You’re not constrained by how people perceive you at home. And everything is intensified; friendships, relationships. You’re literally spending 24/7 with strangers, and as a result you end up putting your trust in them; it’s quite fascinating if something goes wrong – or that person ends up being a sociopath.
L.L.: I think a major theme in LAST SEEN ALIVE is identity and reinvention. The other pieces of the narrative mirror this quite well: newlyweds and travel. Do you believe our sense of self is being tested and formulated, or is it more static?
Claire Douglas: I think we are constantly being tested by different situations that life throws at us, good and bad, and as a result that shapes us and makes us the person we are. I hope so anyway; I don’t like the thought of our personalities being static. I like to think we grow and change as we age; get wiser, or calmer, or stronger.
L.L.: I understand you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a child. Whom—or what—has most inspired your writing?
Claire Douglas: I remember being in school when I was about seven and the teacher telling the class about the role of the Author, and I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do. I loved books from an early age, a trait that was passed on from my mum, who reads a huge number of books. I was definitely inspired by authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. I was obsessed with Roald Dahl’s autobiography BOY for a few years.
L.L.: I can’t imagine going through the day without reading something–even for a few minutes. But sometimes it’s hard to find the time. When do you read? What’s on your summer list?
Claire Douglas: I can’t wait to read Lisa Jewell’s new book – WATCHING YOU. I’ve read and loved all of hers since RALPH’S PARTY in the late 1990s. I do read a lot, even when I’m writing. I try to read every night and always have to have a book on the go.
L.L.: Claire, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?
Claire Douglas: No, you’ve been great. Thank you so much for having me.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of LAST SEEN ALIVE, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Douglas has worked as a journalist for fifteen years writing features for women’s magazines and national newspapers, but she’s dreamed of being a novelist since the age of seven. She finally got her wish after winning the Marie Claire Debut Novel Award, with her first novel, The Sisters. She lives in Bath with her husband and two children.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission]