By Leslie Lindsay
A twisty, compelling novel about the fragile bonds of women–particularly the wife and mother-in-law dynamic–ending, or rather, beginning, in a mysterious death.
I am so intrigued with Sally Hepworth’s ‘darker’ women’s fiction and I think THE MOTHER-IN-LAW (St. Martin’s Press, April 23 2019) might be her best yet. From the moment Lucy met her mother-in-law, Diana, things had been rocky at best. Diana told her friends (and son) after that first meeting that Lucy was “just fine,” and well…Lucy wasn’t all that taken with Diane, either. She was polite and properly friendly, but guarded, cold. Having lost her own mother at a young age, Lucy was expecting a bit more…still, she wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.
That was a few years ago. Now, Lucy is mother to three and a stay-at-home mom. Things with Diana haven’t exactly been unicorns and rainbows, but Lucy has managed just fine.
But, now, Diana is found dead in her home. There’s a suicide note near her body. Diana claimed she no longer wanted to live because she had breast cancer. But the autopsy finds no cancer. And there are other, more alarming findings, too. Could someone have wanted Diana dead? Who? Lucy?
I found the writing unputdownable, twisty, and compelling. There’s a sort of simple urgency to Hepworth’s writing that is at once authentic and jarring. The relationship between Lucy and Diana is dark, insidious, lacking boundaries, and filled with shocking secrets…but THE MOTHER-IN-LAW is also about family dynamics in general. There’s husband-wife relationships, business partners, mothers and young children, mothers and adult children, grandparents and grandchildren, and so much more.
“Women’s fiction at its finest.”
# 1 New York Times Bestselling author,
Hepworth does a beautiful job of layering in backstory while simultaneously showing readers multifaceted sides of love, anger, pain, new motherhood, and so much more.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely Sally Hepworth to the author interview series.
Sally, I loved this book. It seems like your stories are getting darker and darker. And because I loved it…well, what does that say about me?! I always want to know what propelled THE MOTHER-IN-LAW? Was it a relationship you were looking to explore? A situation? A question niggling at you?
I don’t know what it says about you, but I love the dark stuff too. Why is that? I’m always watching True Crime documentaries (my husband calls them my ‘nasty shows.’) As for THE MOTHER-IN-LAW, the idea came to me during a visit from my in-laws, but perhaps unexpectedly, it was my father-in-law who sparked the idea. He’d been pestering me to come up with a new book idea, and finally I said, “Fine. I’ll write about a woman who murders her father-in-law.” (My father-in-law was actually delighted about this, and thought he was going to get his 15 minutes of fame). It was a throwaway comment, but when I mused on it, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea, especially if I were to replace father-in-law with mother-in-law. After all, there’s nothing more controversial than a mother-in-law is there? I’m sure there have been a lot of murder plans thought up over the years…
And so I think we have to get this out of the way: what is your relationship like with your mother-in-law? And why do you think this relationship is so delicate?
Actually, I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law. (It may help that she lives on the other side of the world.) Just kidding, she’s great. But a lot of women seem to struggle on the mother-in-law front, don’t they? I think one of the reasons the relationship is delicate is because these women don’t choose each other. Unlike the son and daughter-in-law, they didn’t fall in love, and if it doesn’t work out, there is very little recourse for them–they’re stuck with one another! They may never like each other, but if they want to have a functional family, it is in their interests to try.
For me, what really made THE MOTHER-IN-LAW come alive was your careful attention to Diana’s backstory, as well as her work with refugees. I found this so compelling and unique, plus it gave Diana a secret, which I think is the key to good fiction. Can you talk about, without giving too much away?
In a general sense, it is people’s backstory that makes them who they are. I always make sure I understand each character’s backstory–it’s what really brings them to life for me. The challenge in this book was that Diana and Lucy’s backstory drove them in opposite directions. Lucy, having lost her own mother at the age of 13, was desperate to connect to a mother figure, whereas Diana–having become disconnected from her mother at the age of 20–found it difficult to connect. Sadly, it was the two women’s backstories which caused them so much trouble, when it may have otherwise been possible for them to have a good relationship.
The refugees…is that an actual concern in your part of Australia?
There are several problems with refugees in Australia, the biggest one being that we don’t take enough in. We are a huge country with so many resources, we should be doing more to help people. But once they arrive in the country, there’s a huge need. There are charities in place (like Diana’s) and people who volunteer their time, but there is always more that can be done to help people.
There are so many other things going on in THE MOTHER-IN-LAW, and I am afraid that if I mention them, I might spoil something! Let’s just say you seem to hone in on some of the hot topics in the news—and in the stage of life you tend to write about: motherhood, marriage, work-life balance. I think much of your writing really resonates with your audience—which is exactly what you want! How do you keep the saw sharp?
I write about issues I care about, and that are right in front of me, so you’ll always find a lot of me in my books. I do listen to a lot of podcasts and keep up to date with things happening in the world, and I am also (obviously) a keen reader. I love seeing my life / my struggles / my thoughts reflected in the pages of the book I’m reading, so I guess I try to do that for my readers too.
Is anything haunting you? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Like everyone else in the world, the Michael Jackson Neverland Story is haunting me, as well as Archbishop Pell going to prison. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. This has been such an important time for victims being able to be heard, which is wonderful, but my heart breaks for these victims, as well as the many other victims who haven’t been heard, or have been heard but not believed. It is hard not to be haunted by that.
Sally, it’s been a delight, as always. What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
I think we’ve covered everything, but I’d like to thank you for having me (again!).
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE MOTHER-IN-LAW, please visit:
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
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram.]