By Leslie Lindsay
Grief and despair wrapped under the guise of a psychological thriller fraught with emotions, disbelief, and empathy.
When Tess Clarke wakes in a hospital room she knows three things:
1) She’s been stabbed
2) Her husband is dead
3) Her son is missing.
But the rest of it is buried under the fog of Tess’s mind.
THE PERFECT SON (Berkley August 13) starts with Tess in the hospital and sort of works backward in time, allowing readers to piece together their own theories. I am so impressed that this is a debut for author Lauren North.
A bit about the plot: After Tess’s husband, Mark dies suddenly in a tragic accident, a few months earlier, the only thing keeping her together is their son, Jamie. And now he’s missing. To save him, Tess must piece together what happened between Mark’s death and Jamie’s disappearance. Plus, there are some ‘shady’ characters with ulterior motives Tess must grapple with.
The structure of the story is what I found especially compelling. There’s a bit of a countdown to Tess’s son’s birthday, and we get the sense that this is a triggering event–in his disappearance, her grief, her memories, all of the above. Other pieces of the narrative are peppered with reports and interviews between Tess and other characters, which I found fascinating.
“[An] emotionally harrowing debut…an intimate, unbalancing mix of grief, paranoia, gaslighting, maternal protectiveness, and profound compassion.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
I had a good deal of theories as I was reading, and absolutely saw how the story could have gone in a number of directions. North does a fine job of generating empathy in the reader and compassion for Tess and her expertise in psychology is evident. I felt worried and suspicious of several characters and was almost always siding with Tess.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely Lauren North to the author interview series.
Lauren—so glad to connect! I always, always want to know the jumping off point for a book. What propelled you to write THE PERFECT SON?
Hi Leslie, thanks so much for having me. I’m so pleased you enjoyed THE PERFECT SON. This is a great question! For me, one of the key themes in THE PERFECT SON is isolation, which came from my own experience. Around six years ago, I was living in a busy town with my husband, and two children (a toddler and a baby at the time). I had a really active mum-social life, lots of friends, and lots of support. And then we moved to a very quiet village where I didn’t know anyone and my husband started working away, and I began to feel very isolated. I remember thinking to myself in those moments, if the worst should happen, how would I cope? And that question planted a seed in my mind which eventually became THE PERFECT SON.
There’s a good deal of grief in the THE PERFECT SON. Tess is devastated, understandably so. Was this the main theme you wanted to explore, or was it something else? Also, Shelley, the grief counselor, comes with her own set of grief experiences. But hers manifests a bit differently. Can you speak to that?
It took me three goes at writing the first half of this novel before I felt as though I was telling the story I wanted to tell. I never intended to make grief such a key part of the story, but then I started writing Tess’s character and found that she was really struggling to move on from her husband’s death. I realized that in order to write Tess’s story, I needed to accept that her grief was going to be this huge thing, at which point it became really important to me to portray her emotions as honestly and realistically as I could. It wasn’t easy at times, especially when I wanted the plot to move forward and Tess wouldn’t get out of bed.
Shelley’s story for me was just as tragic as Tess’s. In trying to cope with her own grief she became fixated on helping others in similar situations. Shelley was a bubbly and proactive woman and handled her emotions very differently to Tess, but equally they both felt so lost in the grief they had.
I’m always intrigued with houses and homes. I understand the house where Tess lives with her son is an old home, has been in the family for some time. At one point, I read that she was getting the locks changed and the locksmith indicated the home was built in the 16th century and re-keying the house would be difficult. Can you tell us more about the house you visualized? And also—it speaks to the isolation them and feeling of the narrative.
The house I set Tess and Jamie’s story in is a real house on the outskirts of the village where I live. It’s a beautiful 16th century property with huge fireplaces and dusty, dark rooms.
It looks a lot like this image from Flickr (Photo credit: Brian Ritchie Bayleaf: Wealden house from Chiddingstone, Kent)
It felt like the perfect house to set Tess and Jamie’s story in. Especially moving from a cosy new house in a big estate where Tess had lots of friends. The fact that it needed some modernizing and was filled with her dead mother-in-law’s belongings really added to Tess’s despair. It really is an isolated property and I liked the fact that Tess wouldn’t have a kind neighbor popping in or be overlooked by anyone.
You previously studied psychology—and it shows. Same here. I think it helps us become better, more perceptive writers. Can you tell us a bit about your former career and how it informs your writing?
I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind. When I was young (about 8) I would write quizzes for all of my family and friends and try to understand what they liked and disliked. Studying psychology was a natural step for me to take. After studying at University I was really keen to get out into the real world and find a job so I took a job in Public Relations. I enjoyed the work but a part of me regrets not staying on to continue my studies. I’m not sure my former career has much impact on my writing, but my love of psychology and my desire to understand human nature most certainly does.
I love learning about debut author’s publication journey. What can you tell us about agents, editors, and early attempts? What do you think you did ‘right’ and what drove you batty?
I’ve been writing for around 12 years (although there were a good few years when I wrote nothing at all when the children were babies). I think I started taking myself more seriously when my children went to pre-school, which was almost six years ago now. I actually started writing romance books, and then I moved to women’s fiction novels about friendships. Each book I wrote was darker than the one before, until I found myself writing psychological suspense, which is where I feel most at home. Writing, like everything else, takes practice and more practice, and then more practice. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning new things with each book.
What three things can you not stop talking—or thinking—about? It doesn’t have to be literary.
The first thing is definitely books. I absolutely love reading and when I read a book I love I spend a lot of time talking to people about it, both online and to my friends and family.
I’m really passionate about children’s literacy, so that’s something I talk a lot about. My own childhood memories are entwined with the books I read as a child (Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, and Nancy Drew, to name but a few). Reading opens a whole new and exciting world to children and teaches them about emotions and empathy. I volunteer at the local school to listen and help children with their reading, and I love hearing week on week what they think of the book they’re reading. In today’s technology and streaming world, it’s hard to encourage kids to pick up a book when there are so many other entertainments for them, but with my own kids I hope my passion for reading will rub off and even if they don’t always choose books over technology, books will always be there for them.
And finally, something not book related – my dog, Rodney. He’s a smelly but loveable 5-year-old cockerpoo who keeps me company when I’m writing and loves to go for long walks and runs with me. He is forever getting into mischief and making me laugh. His favorite thing to do at the moment is to wait until I’ve just got back from a run and I’m stretching in the garden on my knees. He sneaks up when I’m not looking and jumps up, toppling me over.
Photo by It’s me, Marrie on Pexels.com
Lauren, this has been so enlightening. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
No–thank you so much for having me, Leslie, and for asking such interesting questions.
For more information, to connect with Lauren North via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE PERFECT SON, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauren North studied psychology before moving to London, where she lived and worked for many years. She now lives with her family in the Suffolk countryside. The Perfect Son is her first novel, and she’s working on her second
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. For more like this, please follow on Instagram].