By Leslie Lindsay
Gilly Macmillan is back with a chilling tale set in the Stoke Woods of England about a writer, and a missing child.
~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
I’ve read and loved ALL of Gilly Macmillan’s troubling and twisty domestic thrillers–and TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH (WilliamMorrow September 22, 2020) is another serpentine thriller that delivers a potent blend of atmosphere, tarnished memories, and stunning family secrets.
In TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, bestselling mystery writer Lucy Harper’s talent for invention has given her fame, fortune, and an army of adoring readers. But her private life isn’t all that it seems. Her hapless husband Dan has unfulfilled writing ambitions of his own creating tension in the marriage. When he surprises Lucy with a home near the Stoke Woods, the wood where she once played as a child, she is undone by a dark foreboding. What could have happened at that spot to evoke such a strong reaction in her so many years later?
When Dan suddenly goes missing, Lucy can no longer suppress her memories of the past. His disappearance forces her to confront dark memories that take her back more than thirty years to the day her three-year-old brother Teddy vanished without a trace. The police investigation into her brother’s disappearance revealed few confirmed details, so young Lucy began conjuring stories—creating scenarios to fill in the gaps to explain what happened that day—when as a little, nine-year-old, she was the only witness.
Now, under intense media glare, Lucy’s past and present collide. A bestselling author skilled in telling stories is losing control of her own narrative while coming under increasing scrutiny about the disappearance of her husband. With the entire world seemingly watching, guided by her omnipresent alter ego, Eliza, Lucy fights to solve the mystery surrounding her brother and clear her name regarding her husband—knowing there’ll be no redemption for her until she does.
Is Lucy, the brilliant mystery writer—an expert in devising red herrings and hidden clues—revealing all she knows about both disappearances? Even with Eliza’s guidance, can she trust her own memory?
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Gilly Macmillan back to the author interview series.
Gilly! Welcome back. I always feel we are sort of haunted into our stories—that there is something (or someone?) sort of tugging at us to put pen to paper. What were the initial origins for TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH?
Thank you for having me on again! I’m so pleased to be back. TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH was born out of an urge to write a story with an unreliable narrator at its heart. When I began to think about the type of person who might make a good unreliable narrator, I kept circling back to fiction writers, because we spend so much of our time escaping reality and creating other worlds. I wondered what it would be like for a writer for whom the boundaries between reality and fiction became blurred and I realized it could get them into a lot of trouble.
Your stories are always so atmospheric and I believe they are all set in Bristol, where you live, which I love. I think this might help bring the story to life because you are intimately familiar with the details around you, but also does it ever get tiresome? Do the houses of Charlotte Close exist? How about the bigger homes where Dan and Lucy Harper move?
Setting my novels in Bristol began mostly as a practical choice because it saves me time in research, but it was also something I wanted to do because I believe some of the best crime writing successfully treats location as a character in its own right and Bristol is a fascinating and diverse place. It’s been interesting to set the novels in different areas of the city and consider what it means to the characters who live contrasting lives within it. To make a story work, I’ll take liberties with Bristol’s geography if I have to, though I keep it within the realms of believability. There are some mansions just across the Clifton Suspension Bridge where Dan and Lucy live, and also some smaller streets with more modest homes, but Charlotte Close doesn’t exist exactly as I wrote it. I based it on a street that’s situated somewhere else in Bristol and airlifted the location to the woods for the book. I wouldn’t say that I get tired of writing about my city, because it is endlessly fascinating to me, but the novel I’m currently working on is partly set in Northumbria, a wild and remote area of the UK, which is making a nice change.
“TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH is a spellbinding book about a missing child, and about the life of a writer. Bold, suspenseful, and impossible to put down. This one will stay with me for a long time.”
Samantha Downing, Sunday Times and USA Today bestselling author of My Lovely Wife
Of course, there’s the WWII connection with the bunkers, which I know exist. I think for children, this would have ignited such fantasy. Because don’t we all dream of discovering hidden passages? It’s about obscuring and revealing, a theme which seems to run through the narrative. Can you talk more about those bunkers, please?
The bunker in the novel is based on a secret network of bunkers built for what were known as Auxiliary Units, which were formed during WWII in Britain. Effectively, they were part of what would have been an organized British resistance unit, should the country have been occupied by the Nazis. The units were teams of just six men who would base themselves in their hidden bunkers, which also stored explosives, and they would operate independently, with the goal of disrupting enemy occupation. Their life expectancy was very short, projected to be just twelve days. It’s a fascinating and little-known aspect of Britain’s WWII history. More here.
There’s this beautiful epigraph in TO TELL THE TRUTH, written by your character, Lucy Harper, who is a thriller writer. It’s about fiction not being just in books, but about the lies we tell ourselves. And sometimes, they aren’t exactly lies, but the truth as we believe it. Is there really anything to this concept of ‘truth?’
I’m no philosopher, but as I wrote TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH and my previous novel, THE NANNY, I thought a lot about how we understand ‘truth’. I’m intrigued by the unreliability of memory, how it can be massaged by photographs, and other people’s recollections or assertions. I’m also fascinated by the bias people can bring to situations and how that might affect their memory of them. Even something as simple as a conversation can be recalled after the fact very differently by the individuals involved. I wanted to draw attention to that: how fluid truth can be, both our own and other people’s, how our version of ‘truth’ might unknowingly more resemble fiction than reality.
Gilly, this has been so lovely, as always. Thank you! Before we go, one last question: What three things are keeping you awake at night? And what’s propelling you from bed in the morning? It doesn’t have to be literary.
There is so much to keep people awake at night currently. I’m sure I’m not alone in worrying about the health of my friends and family, in thinking about all of those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic and all the frontline workers who have done so much to save lives. If that’s not on my mind, climate change and the horrific loss of wildlife globally are both gnawing issues for me.
The cup of tea my husband brings me gets me out of bed in the morning – once I’ve drunk it. It’s a simple pleasure that reminds me that I’m loved and that it’s time to get up and make the best of my day and my life.
Thank you again for having me. It’s always such a pleasure.
Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #alwayswithabook #bookstagrammer.
For more information, to connect with Gilly Macmillan via social media, or to purchase a copy of TO TELL THE TRUTH, please visit:
I was so enthralled with the setting of TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, and so what came to mind is a bit of a hodgepodge of titles. For the houses and homes connection, particularly the Charlotte Close descriptions, I was reminded of Carrianne Leung’s THAT TIME I LOVED YOU (although this is a different type of story). ALso, the work of Lisa Unger came to mind, particularly UNDER MY SKIN and also IN THE BLOOD. Of course, all of Gilly’s other books will entice as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gilly Macmillan is the internationally bestselling author of six novels including WHAT SHE KNEW, THE PERFECT GIRL, ODD CHILD OUT, I KNOW YOU KNOW and THE NANNY. TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH is available now.
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.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir, about growing up with a mentally ill interior decorator mother and her devolve into psychosis. Leslie’s writing & prose poetry has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Author photo cred: Céline Nieszawer. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #alwayswithabook #bookstagrammer].