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From the global number one bestselling author: a missing woman, an abandoned mansion, family trauma, and deep buried secrets. It can only be Lisa Jewell! Read an extract below and find out more about The Night She Disappeared from Lisa herself, including the lightbulb moment the story came to her, having an author as a narrator, and exploring abusive and controlling relationships.

I remember you saying that you'd had a light-bulb moment at the beginning of The Family Upstairs when you saw a woman in the South of France and knew you wanted to write about her. Did you have a similar moment with The Night She Disappeared? What made you think - this is it, my new book?

LJ: There was a lightbulb moment, but it wasn’t quite as picturesque as the moment I found my ‘Lucy’ in Nice! I was doing a panel event with two other authors and was listening to one of them talking about her first novel, which had been set in a boarding school. As she said the words ‘boarding school’ I felt the seed for the next novel land in my head. I had this notion of a kind of Secret History homage, a bunch of privileged children and a murder. I created my boarding school, Maypole House, but as the story evolved it became less about the boarding school and more about the whole community, less about a murder and more about a missing girl.


I'm always interested in how authors plot their novels - especially crime novels as there is such a visible cause and effect process going on in these novels. Can you tell us something about how you approach a novel? Do you do lots of prep - or do you just turn on your computer and start writing?

LJ: I do just turn my computer on and start writing, yes. Sometimes I start a novel with a good idea of where I think it’s going, and sometimes I start with barely any idea at all. I usually have one person I want to write about, I usually have a sense of a location or a house, and I have an idea about the time of year and the feeling I want the book to have. My last novel, Invisible Girl, was set in January so it was very dark, very cold, the days were short and the nights were long. This novel is set in June, so the feeling is very different; the season was important to the development of the plot because it allowed for things like the pool party etc. I don’t do any research or prep. The more time I spend researching and planning things, the less time I have to write, and since I’m the sort of person that leaves everything to the last minute, I really do need to just crack on and get into it!


Houses! Almost all my favourite novels of yours have houses at their centres. And this new novel of yours is no exception. Tell me about Dark Place!

LJ: I had not expected this house to be a part of the story, at all. At first the story revolved around the boarding school and Tallulah’s pebble-dashed house on a cul de sac. Then I decided that Tallulah was not going to go missing in the grounds of the boarding school, as I’d originally imagined, but she was going to go missing after a pool party. I envisaged an extraordinary ancient house, tucked away off a country lane, down a mile long driveway, owned by the sorts of people who have added a glass box conservatory at the back, put Sonos speakers in every room and arranged piles of fluffy towels in the pool house. I became so fascinated by this beautiful house that I even gave it a fictional Wiki entry with a detailed history!

  Lisa Jewell
 Lisa Jewell   

One of the things that people admire about your novels is the depth of characterisation. You really care about Lisa Jewell characters, no matter how flawed. You have an author, Sophie, as one of the narrators of The Night She Disappeared. What was it like writing about her?

LJ: Sophie was something of an afterthought. I started writing the boarding school chapters from the point of view of the Sophie’s boyfriend Shaun, the new headteacher. But as I wrote his first chapter, I realised that actually his girlfriend’s perspective might be more interesting. She’s younger than him and a city girl at heart, and she has made a major upheaval to her life to follow him here. She needed a job that she didn’t have to stay in London to do and that would give her plenty of free time to investigate the mystery of missing Tallulah, so I thought, maybe she could be a detective novelist! Her job was not really fundamental to the plot in the first draft, which struck me as a waste, so in the second draft I brought her books right into the heart of the story.


Which brings me to Tallulah, who in so many ways is at the heart of The Night She Disappeared. And she is in an abusive, controlling relationship that we only find out about as the novel develops. I wondered whether you could talk me through this, and why you decided to write about it.

LJ: Again, I had not set out to write about coercive control. I knew from the outset that Tallulah was a teenage mum and at first I assumed that she would be a single mum the whole way through the book. But then I found that I kept mentioning her ex, Zach - it was almost as if he was begging to be brought into the story! Finally, Tallulah agrees to have him back and he moves in with Tallulah and her mum. From there it seemed almost inevitable that their relationship would break down and as I wrote, Zach started showing more and more signs of coercive control, behaviour that I am familiar with myself after having been in a five year marriage to a coercive controller in my 20’s. I was never sure how far as I was going to go with this aspect of the story and I certainly didn’t realise at the outset what an important part it would play in the unfolding of Tallulah’s disappearance.


You've already decided on the subject of your next novel. Care to tell us a bit about it here?

LJ: When I finished my novel The Family Upstairs in January 2019 I had a feeling that I’ve never had before when I’ve typed ‘The End’ on a novel, the feeling that as I closed the door to that novel, another door had opened to another novel. Not a sequel as such, but some kind of extended world involving some of the same people. After publication I kept getting messages from readers saying that they wanted more, that they wanted a sequel and I began tentatively replying that I was thinking about it. As the months went by it became more and more clear to me that I was going to write this second book and I started replying to readers in the affirmative! I’m now 20k words into it and it will be published in July 2022. I’m still waiting for a title to come to me though!  

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell is available in store and online now.
The Night She Disappeared
Lisa Jewell

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