By Leslie Lindsay
A chilling and twisty murder mystery about two murder cases twenty years apart, a present-day podcast, in this framed tale, I KNOW YOU KNOW (William Morrow/HarperCollins, September 18). Gilly is always a pleasure and she’s here chatting about how as individuals we’re always evolving; plus studying historical photos to get things ‘just right,’ and tapping into childhood imagination.
In just three short years, New York Times bestselling author Gilly Macmillan has made quite a name for herself in suspense fiction. I was most captured for WHAT SHE KNEW (2015) but her subsequent books have been just as good—what’s more, they are wholly original and don’t seem to follow the same path. I love the literary risks she takes to remain unique, while consistently producing top-writing and thought-provoking narratives.
Cody Swift lost his two best friends twenty years ago, when he was eleven. Now, a filmmaker, he wants to get to the bottom of the truth and so has begun recording and airing a podcast, ‘Time To Tell,’ about the grim murders. But there’s new evidence brought to light: a long-dead body has been discovered in the same location as the boys were left decades before. The new discovery launches a new investigation. Now, John Fletcher, the original investigator reopens the case from twenty years ago. Could the two murders be linked? How?
I KNOW YOU KNOW is told in a frame-style of storytelling; that is, we weave in and out of past and present via Cody Swift’s present-day podcast, backstory of the detectives, present-day story of the detectives, and a present-day telling of one of the mothers of the deceased boys (Jessica Paige) who had moved on, remarried, and had another child.
Overall, I found I KNOW YOU KNOW a complex, multilayered tale about failed humanity, a miscarriage of justice, and how we cope with tragedy.
Please join me in welcoming Gilly Macmillan back to the author interview series.
Gilly, it’s always, always a pleasure. I was so intrigued with those first few chapters. Your writing comes across gorgeous and effortless (though it is a grim scene). Can you talk about your initial inspiration for I KNOW YOU KNOW?
It’s such a pleasure for me, too, and thank you for your kind words. Two things inspired the book. The first was an historic case I read an article about. The murders of two young boys had ripped apart a tight community similar to the one in I KNOW YOU KNOW. When I researched the case further, I came across an interview with the boys’ mothers which was very moving. These two women were still mourning their children and looking for answers twenty years after the boys’ deaths.
The second thing to inspire me was my love of true crime podcasts. Very often the most powerful voices you hear on these podcasts are the families of the victims, which fed my growing interest in how families move forward after they have been shattered by an appalling crime, something I’ve explored in Jess’s character in I KNOW YOU KNOW. Additionally, the first series of Someone Knows Something, a superb Canadian podcast, was written and narrated by a man who returns to his home town to look into an unsolved case. It was very powerful hearing him revisit his childhood home after many years away and inspired me to put Cody Swift in the same situation.
You typically set your stories in the town you live, Bristol. Do the places you mention in the book—the dog track, the IKEA, the Medieval town centre really exist? And what is it like to set a story where you reside? Does it bring the narrative more to life for you?
The Glenfrome Estate is fictional but everything else in I KNOW YOU KNOW is, or was, real. Bristol’s city center was badly bombed during WWII and much of its medieval heart was lost, but small pockets remain and some extraordinary buildings were saved. I live very centrally so all of these places are part of my daily landscape and it absolutely helps bring the narrative to life. I visit all the locations I write about as I’m writing to look for detail. For I KNOW YOU KNOW I also studied historic photographs to help imagine the dog track and its surroundings. For the sake of the story, some of the details of the locations might not be 100% percent accurate by the time they appear in the book, but I try to keep changes to a minimum and recreate the atmosphere of the places as closely as possible.
Oh, and these characters! They are so multilayered. I found myself wanting to know more about Jess Paige, Charlie’s mother. She has quite a backstory! And John Fletcher, the detective seemed to have quite a presence. 1) Did you find yourself more intrigued or aligned with a particular character and 2) Do you ever think maybe one of them will show up in a future book?
I related to Jess’s character because of how she struggles to be a good mother. I haven’t faced the challenges she has (thank goodness!) but I think a lot about how I parent, what I get wrong, what I get right and how to do better. Exploring that struggle through Jess’s eyes, with all the hardship she’s endured, was fascinating and challenging. John Fletcher was a favorite, too. He is complex and surprising and appeared on the page almost fully formed. He intrigued me from the start. I loved writing each and every one of the characters but I haven’t imagined them beyond the covers of I KNOW YOU KNOW yet. Never say never, though!
I KNOW YOU KNOW seems to be the most complex narrative you’ve written to date. What’s your process like?
I think you’re right. The complexity was a huge challenge. My process is more chaotic than I would like. I start my books with the setup and a few of the characters in mind, but I don’t have much more than a broad idea of where they will end and I work out how I’m going to get there along the way. This was a particular challenge in I KNOW YOU KNOW because of the complexities of the timelines and the way the characters relate in the past and the present. I didn’t quite tear my hair out during edits but I came close at times!
“Gilly Macmillan digs in deep and gets right to the heart of her characters in this rich and engrossing novel. Vivid, smart, and propulsive, I KNOW YOU KNOW [is a] thoroughly immersive thriller of the first order.”
— Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of UNDER MY SKIN
As I read, a few themes came to mind: how we cope with tragedy, a miscarriage of justice, how everyone always has something to hide, and how we often seek to keep things perfect and pristine. After all, who really wants their dirty laundry aired? What do you hope your readers take away from I KNOW YOU KNOW?
One thing I thought about as I was writing was how our lives change so much over the years and how many alternate possibilities there might have been for us along the way. In any one moment we are driven by a specific set of impulses: our moral compass at that time, the assumptions we make about our own lives and the lives of others and the things we have already done or had done to us. A decision we make in one instant could be very different on another day and that’s intriguing.
That pristine and perfect veneer you mention – often so painfully exaggerated by social media – tends to smooth life out in unrealistic ways. In I KNOW YOU KNOW I’ve tried to get beneath that. I wanted to challenge myself and my readers to consider how we feel about people once we get beyond our first impression of them and learn their secrets and motivations. People change and our views about them can change depending on what we know and where we are at in our own lives. This fascinates me and I hope it fascinates my readers, too.
Cody Swift wanted his childhood best friends back. Is there anything from your childhood you wish for, perhaps even little?
Freedom from responsibility! I love my family and my career and I can’t imagine life without either, but the responsibility of managing both takes up so much of my time that I sometimes long for my childhood days where time seemed to stretch out forever and your imagination could roam without the daily anxieties that plague us as adults.
Gilly, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but may have forgotten?
It’s been a pleasure for me, too! Thank you so much for having me. I am binge-watching Mad Men currently. I know I am very late to the game, but I’m enjoying it very much. Ozark Season 2 is next on my list. In other news, I’m very excited to be launching I KNOW YOU KNOW this fall and I’m currently editing my next novel, THE NANNY, which is a chilling psychological thriller set in an English country house with a cast of characters I absolutely adore. THE NANNY will be out in 2019!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of I KNOW YOU KNOW, please visit:
- Crime Reads conversation between Gilly Macmillan and Mary Kubica
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl. She trained as an art historian and worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. Image of Bristol rooftops as seen from library from G. Macmillian’s personal archives via website. Special thanks to WilliamMorris/HarperCollins]