By Leslie Lindsay
NYT Bestselling author, Gilly Macmillan is back with this dark, original, and diabolically clever tale of family secrets, set in a U.K. manor home.
I’ve read all of Gilly Macmillan’s books and I think THE NANNY (September 10 William Morrow) must be her darkest, most sinister tale yet. Each one just gets better and better.
Years ago, in 1988, 7-year old Jo’s (Jocelyn) nanny, Hannah, left without a trace. Jo was devastated. No one spoke of her again. Jo grew up bitter and distanced from her family; there was very little relationship between she and her mother Virginia (Ginny). Eventually, Jo leaves her aristocratic family and home–Lake Hall–behind for California. She marries and works in the art world–until her husband unexpectedly dies.
It’s been thirty years, and Jo must return home to Lake Hall. She’s dreading this. She and her mother are estranged and there’s a stuffiness to this upper class life she desperately wishes to avoid. While she and her daughter, Ruby, are kayaking in the lake, they discover a human skull. This couldn’t be her long-lost nanny, could it?
And then there’s an unexpected visitor. She looks stunningly like the old nanny. But the skull?
Told in alternating POVs, we get glimpses of Jo, Virginia, and the late 1970s, early 1980s from an unnamed narrator, which really brings the period to life. I loved the details about the fashion. But there are gaping holes in Jo’s memory, and everything she thought she knew about herself and her childhood comes into question. The entire reading experience is one of dark foreboding, a menacing appeal that that get under your skin and have you turning the pages at break-neck speed.
I absolutely had to discover the mystery of the skull. All in all, THE NANNY is a twisted tale of lies, deception, secrets, and more.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Gilly Macmillan back to the author interview series:
THE NANNY is devilishly wicked and sinister. I put this one down and thought, “oh, WOW.” So, what was the driving force for you? What inspired this one?
My agent and I were discussing how many thrillers use a missing person as a plot device. It’s something I’ve done myself, in my debut WHAT SHE KNEW. As we chatted, we wondered what you could do if you flipped that idea, making the reappearance of a person the main driver for the plot. We discussed family members reappearing, but we wanted a little uncertainty over whether the person was who they said or not, and family links can be easily proved or disproved by DNA. So then we thought of a nanny. Somebody not blood related but who lives at the very heart of a family and knows most, if not all, of their secrets. That conversation launched the book! It wasn’t difficult to come up with the idea for an English country house setting and an aristocratic family after that and the rest followed.
“Exploding with secrets, The Nanny by master storyteller Gilly Macmillan has everything you dream for in a thriller: expertly drawn and complex characters, a terrifying premise and the best villain I’ve encountered on the page in a long time…Macmillan skilfully reveals long dormant family secrets in this atmospheric stunner…you won’t be able to rest until the final, spine-tingling conclusion.”
–Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight Of Silence and Before She Was Found
As with any thriller there must be lies, deception, twists—but there’s also memory and childhood and strained mother-daughter relationships—this adds extra layers to the narrative, which make it even more compulsive. I am most interested in the childhood memory piece. Because, we often think we remember something one way, only to have it mis-remembered. What can you add to that?
I am obsessed with the slippery nature of memory, possibly because I have a poor memory myself and often have to rely on people to remind me of things, especially events that happened in my deep past. It alarms me how easily I can remember something wrongly, or could be misinformed about what happened. In a thriller scenario, you could really take advantage of someone like me, and I think that we are all susceptible to misremembering to an extent. It’s the reason three witnesses to a crime can give three different accounts of what they saw. Even if we do remember an event, we all home in on different details that can lead to different interpretations. I think it’s something we all need to be aware of when we are revisiting our past via our own memories or those of other people.
There’s a lot of masquerading from all characters in THE NANNY. Jo pretends to ‘make nice’ with the other school mums, and Ruby wants to be friends with Stan but his mother forbids it, and the obvious: ‘hiding’ behind the façade of Lake Hall, the high-end couture, and more. Can you talk about how we find comfort and safety in, well, concealing?
Masquerading is so interesting, because I think many of us are engaged in it a great deal of the time, even if it’s to a small extent. We chose how to present ourselves to the world and we often gloss over the parts of our lives that hurt, or which we feel insecure about. Social media is a terrific example of that. I think it’s quite a basic human urge, a survival mechanism, if you like. I also think we sometimes display different parts of ourselves in different situations, and while we might not be masquerading in the sense that there is no deception intended, we certainly slip from one persona to another at times. I show a different side of myself in a professional meeting than I do at home. I believe we find comfort and safety in this because it allows us to operate as effectively as possible in different environments, to join tribes that might not have us otherwise, and function in all the different areas of our lives. The challenge is to maintain a sense of self along the way.
Oh, and then there’s the art world! That’s a big sub-theme to THE NANNY. I understand you have a bit of a background in art and photography. Can you talk about how you worked that into the narrative?
I studied art history as an undergraduate and postgraduate and worked in the art world for a few years afterwards, firstly for a commercial gallery and then for an academic magazine. Photography was something I took up later once we’d move away from London to raise our family. It was so much fun to delve back into the art world for this book. It’s a colorful, fascinating world, and the financial and emotional stakes can be high. Dipping into that world brought a ton of new locations and new characters into THE NANNY, taking some of the action into the heart of London. I thought it would make a fantastic contrast to Lake Hall’s classic English countryside setting, and also add some spice to day to day life for my character Jo.
Who or what influences you? It doesn’t have to be literary.
My family influences me every moment of every day. I want to set a good example to my kids. I’m also influenced by every good book I’ve ever read.
What does a perfect writing day look like to you?
I would get to my office with a cup of coffee at 8.30am and sink right into the book I’m working on. The prose would flow, and I would have a sense of exactly what the book needs at this point. That would be magical. On a good day like that – and they don’t happen as often as I’d like! – I’ll usually have finished writing by lunchtime, so I can take the rest of the day to tend to admin, social media, household stuff, walk my dogs and let my brain recharge before I write again the following morning.
Gilly, this has been delightful, as always. Is there anything I might have asked about but forgot?
It’s been a delight for me, too! Thank you so much for having me on the blog again and for your kind words about THE NANNY. I suppose the only thing I might add is that I’m working hard on my sixth novel. The central character is a crime writer, and it’s been interesting, and a little alarming, to turn the lens onto my own profession!
[Above image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]
For more information, to connect wtih Gilly Macmillian via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NANNY, please visit:
A former art historian and photographer, Gilly studied at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She lives in Bristol, UK, with her husband and three children.
Her first novel, WHAT SHE KNEW, was a Target pick, a LibraryReads pick, an Indie Next pick, an Edgar award nominee, and an International Thriller Writers award finalist.
Gilly’s novels have appeared on the New York Times, Sunday Times, Globe & Mail and Der Spiegel bestseller lists, been translated into over 20 languages and sold over one million copies worldwide. She’s been described as ‘one heck of a good writer’ (Wall Street Journal) and her novels have been praised as ‘nuanced, completely addictive’ (People), ‘riveting’ (Publishers Weekly), and ‘visceral, emotionally charged…heart-wrenchingly well told’ (The Daily Mail).
She is currently working on her sixth novel.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this]