By Leslie Lindsay
A neuro-atypical librarian decides to have a baby for her (fraternal) twin sister, but the story is so gorgeous, perceptive, and multi-faceted.
The Most Anticipated Book of 2021:
CNN.com • E!Online • Bustle • Goodreads • PopSugar • SheReads • Parade.com • Bookish
~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
April Spotlight: Siblings
I have been a fan of Sally Hepworth’s writing since the beginning, so when I discovered her new book, THE GOOD SISTER (St. Martin’s Press, April 13), I knew I had to get my hands on it–not only does it deal with adult fraternal twin sisters, but it also touches on mental health issues, family dysfunction, and mystery.
Rose and Fern Castle are fraternal twins, and as different as night and day. Rose is the ‘responsible one,’ and rounder, called “Rosie Round,” by their mother, a nickname she detests (understandably). Rose marries, is an interior decorator. Fern, tall and willowy, slightly quirky, she hasn’t been formally diagnosed, but is likely on the spectrum, with sensory issues and an almost very literal interpretation of the world. What’s more, their mother is narcissistic and the girls experienced an unconventional childhood involving homelessness and some emotional and psychological abuse. One summer, when the girls are 12, a traumatic event colors the rest of their life.
Now, Fern lives a very structured life as a librarian, doing yoga and karate, avoiding crowds, people, noises. She and Rose have a very enmeshed relationship. All works well until Rose can’t seem to become pregnant. Fern decides she’ll help her sister out and carry the baby for her. But things shift and while readers may guess where this is going, I assure you, there are many twists and turns, unexpected darker sides that come to light.
THE GOOD SISTER is told almost exclusively through Fern, and I found her perspective completely relatable and charming, sometimes even amusing. Sally Hepworth writes these characters with such style, such compassion. The only real glimpses of Rose are shown through a diary she keeps at the request of her therapist, detailing the girls’ childhood. Through this diary, we are able to witness the traumatic event that occurred when the girls were 12.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Sally Hepworth back to the author interview series.
Sally! I loved this book. It’s smart and propulsive, told with heart and capturing someone on the Autism spectrum wonderfully. Each character is very multifaceted, combining elements of domestic fiction with mystery, psychology, and more. I know you were inspired, in part, by your own daughters, their sometimes hot-and-cold relationship. Can you tell us a little more about how some of the other elements came into play?
First of all, thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
The inspiration, as you say, came from my daughters. As someone without a sister, I’ll admit it has been very eye-opening watching my little girls’ relationship at play over the past few years – basically a series of ups and downs, warm hugs and strategic eye-gouges. So, a couple of years ago, when I heard a sudden, intense shriek of pain in the backyard, it wasn’t a complete shock. Closer inspection found my 6-year-old with a ring of teeth marks on her arm, and my 2-year-old wearing a very bad poker face. As I mother, I understood that my role in this situation was to reprimand the biter – but I’d barely opened my mouth when my older daughter (the injured party) stepped in between us and said “Don’t you yell at my baby sister!” Now, as someone with brothers, I was confused by this, because when I was a child, nothing gave me greater joy than my brothers getting into trouble. But my 6-year-old, teeth marks in her arm, was adamant that I not reprimand her sister. That was interesting. But just as I was thinking how sweet she was, she added “Don’t worry, Mummy, I’ll get her back later, when she least expects it.”
Ah, the complicated relationship of sisters. There is definitely a great love there, and a fierce loyalty. But there is something else too. A kind of ownership that says that while they can hurt their sister, no one else can. I took this little piece of the relationship and that became the cornerstone of THE GOOD SISTER.
I am so taken with Fern’s character. I loved her. She is quirky and charming and truly a delight. But she’s probably, most definitely, on the spectrum. We don’ t often experience characters like Fern in literature, but that’s changing. Can you tell us a little about her inspiration, perhaps if you received a sensitivity read of her character, research that went into her development?
I’m so glad you loved Fern. She is truly the character of my heart.
In terms of her inspiration, I am lucky enough to be part of a neurodiverse family – something I am grateful for every day. I have family members with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, so in a way, I feel like I’ve been researching for this book my whole life.
I have always been passionate about diversity in fiction – diversity in skin colour, ethnic background, sexual orientation and (especially) diversity in cognitive strengths and abilities. If they exist in the world, they should exist in books. Books are richer for including diverse characters, and we are wiser for reading them.
In writing this book I was driven to include a neurodivergent character not as a sidekick, but as the heroine, and not because she was neurodiverse, but in spite of it. What I mean is … this is not a book about autism. It’s not even a book about an autistic character. This is a book about sisters, families, secrets – and one of the characters happens to be neurodiverse. A small but important distinction. I’d love to see more of this in fiction.
Shifting gears to the mother character. My own mother had myriad mental health issues, one of which was narcissistic personality disorder and possibly borderline, too. I completely related to those elements of the mother-daughter dyad, how cruel and insensitive that behavior can be toward growing, vulnerable children, particularly teens and pre-teen daughters. What advice might you give to someone who is caught in the web of such a challenging individual?
My advice is definitely to seek professional advice. I did a lot of research about narcissism and Borderline Personality Disorder for this book, and that has taught me that you cannot apply conventional behaviours and techniques when dealing with these individuals. You need to take care of yourself, under the assistance of a trained professional psychologist.
What type of writer are you? Do you know the story well ahead of time, before setting pen to paper, or do you let it flow sort of unconsciously?
I’m a planner for sure. In fact, I have been known to use Excel Spreadsheets to plan my books which is very un-authorly of me! But despite extensive planning, I always end up doing dozens of drafts, and my process ends up being chaotic. Six books into my career, I think I’ve realised that chaos = my process.
A stunningly clever thriller made doubly suspenseful by not one, but two unreliable narrators.
People magazine, Book of the Week
You’ve lived all around the world. How has that experience influenced your writing, but formally and in context?
I hope it’s added a layer of empathy to my writing, but then, it’s a chicken and egg thing, isn’t it? The reason I always wanted to travel is that I grew up in a family that encouraged looking at everything from all angles. And how could you possibly see things from all angles if you’ve only ever lived in one place? Of course, you can’t possibly live everywhere, but travel affords you the opportunity to expand your world-view in extraordinary ways. I hope it has made me a more empathetic person and writer.
With all of this said, I can’t answer this question without pointing out the extraordinary privilege I have had being able to travel. I have had the freedom, physical ability, financial ability and physical ability to be able to experience travel, and sadly, this is not a reality for many people. And one of the things I love so much about books is the fact that it is an opportunity to travel from right where you are. As such, I would say it’s no coincidence that books and travel are two of my favourite things.
Sally, this has been so great. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I think you should ask me what book I am most excited about right now, and it is Kelly Rimmer’s THE WARSAW ORPHAN. Kelly Rimmer is a favourite author of mine (her novel, The Things We Cannot Say, is in my top 3 books of all time) but THE WARSAW ORPHAN has just surpassed it. It is going to be the book of 2021. You heard it here first.
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading
For more information, to connect with Sally Hepworth, or to purchase a copy of THE GOOD SISTER, please visit:
- Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
- This title may also be available through other online sellers.
- See all books in the April 2021 author interview series on siblings HERE.
YOU MIGHT LIKE:
THE GOOD SISTER reminded me, in part, of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER (Hazel Prior), ELEANOR OLIPHANT (Gail Honeyman) meets OTHER PEOPLE’S PETS (R.L. Maizes) with a touch of the twisty vibe of something akin to Gillian Flynn’s work.
See all books in the April 2021 author interview series on siblings HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sally Hepworth is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, most recently The Good Sister (2021), which was an instant bestseller. Her novel, Mother In Law (2019) has been optioned for a TV series by Hollywood actress and producer, Amy Poehler.
Drawing on the good, the bad and the downright odd of human behaviour, Sally writes incisively about family, relationships and identity. Her domestic thriller novels are laced with quirky humour, sass and a darkly charming tone.
Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 20 languages.
Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management.
Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission.
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Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Author photo credit: Mrs. Smart Photography. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading #bookstagram