Lauren’s ‘psychological suspense’ thriller is set in Suffolk
- Credit: Archant
The Perfect Betrayal features a widow whose son goes missing, and a beautiful grief counsellor. ‘I’ve always had an active imagination,’ says writer
It's like being jump-started, reading the first few lines. Tess is in hospital. She's been stabbed. Son Jamie is missing. After that, you're never quite sure what's true and what isn't.
The last time I heard from Laurie Ellingham, she'd written a novel about a 32-year-old who transformed her life after realising her lazy boyfriend was never going to pop the question. Laurie's focus has since shifted to psychological suspense - and set locally, too.
Perhaps it's not surprising, as the author has a restless mind - always wondering, for instance, about the worst thing that could happen in any given situation.
"My dark imagination has been with me for as long as I can remember. I've always had an active imagination, which was fed by Nancy Drew books and make-believe.
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"Luckily I've always managed to keep a handle on reality - although my husband might disagree - but it is something I battle to keep in check sometimes.
"If the kids go on a school trip, for instance, I will spend a lot of the day imagining all the worst scenarios that could happen to them. I distract myself with working on my books or exercising."
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Laurie thinks it wasn't until she completed The Perfect Betrayal, her debut psychological suspense drama, that she realised how all-consuming and draining it had been to weave the story.
The novel focuses on Tess, her overwhelming grief after the sudden death of her husband, and what happens to her and Jamie when beautiful grief counsellor Shelley enters their lives.
"I rewrote the first half of the book three times before I felt I was capturing Tess's story how I wanted it to be told.
"I felt very lucky to be able to switch off and spend time with my children to lighten the mood and relax after a challenging writing session."
So why the change of authorial name?
"I wrote women's fiction and romance under my real name - Laurie Ellingham. When it came to moving to darker fiction, it felt as though a new name would help to differentiate my work.
"On a day to day level, writing under a different name makes no difference to me. I'm not so much in the head of my author name as I am in the head of my characters."
Remind us about those "Laurie Ellingham" books, would you, please?
"My first two novels were romances, released in 2015 and 2016. My second two novels were women's fiction, focusing on friendship and life, rather than relationships. These were published in 2017 and 2018 by HQ, an imprint at HarperCollins."
So why the switch to a more edgy genre?
"Moving to psychological suspense was not a conscious choice but a natural progression of my writing journey. My last two novels as Laurie Ellingham had some dark themes within them and so when a new darker novel started to grow in my thoughts I embraced it fully."
Now, it looks to me as if your two new books - one on each side of the Atlantic - are the same story but with different names.
"Yes. The Perfect Betrayal is the UK title and The Perfect Son is the US title. It's not uncommon to have a different title for each market. The difference comes down to how the two publishers plan to market the book."
There must be a good personal story here, as you've gone from self-publishing to a deal with Penguin.
"YES! This has been my dream for well over a decade. I've had countless rejections along the way, countless knocks to my confidence, but I've always managed to pick myself up and keep going, because I love what I do and can't imagine doing anything else.
"If someone had told me back in 2015 that I'd be where I am now, just four years later, I would have laughed them out of the room."
How did it happen?
"Both Lauren North deals have been life changing. As is often the way in this industry, things happened slowly.
"I'd spoken to both editors (separately - the deals are not connected) and my agent told me she was expecting an offer from the US first, but with the time difference it wouldn't be until quite late at night.
"I didn't want to wait up in case nothing came through, so I went to bed. I woke up at 4am and checked my emails before promptly bursting into tears.
"I waited another hour before waking my husband (Andrew). I get teary even thinking about that moment now.
"The UK deal came later the same week, and was just as thrilling as Transworld have always been my dream publisher."
For how long are you locked in? One novel? Two?
"Two books. I'm currently working on the second, which will be out in 2020."
I expect it meant you could buy the Porsche and country mansion…
"Funnily enough, we did get a new car but it's nothing fancy!!"
It's 10 years since you quit your full-time job in PR, I think. Any regrets? Do you miss it… even a teeny-weeny bit?
"Nope! I get to do what I love and be at home for the children. I do have to make sure I see friends and talk to people, though; otherwise I end up talking the ear off of the checkout assistant at Tesco."
You're on the Suffolk/Essex border. How's country life after Rayleigh (near Southend), London and Chelmsford? Too quiet?
"We've been in Stratford St Mary for five and a half years. It's where The Perfect Betrayal is based, so I feel like I get a lot of inspiration from where I live. We are all loving the rural life."
How is the family?
"Tommy is nine. He's also a keen runner now (when he's not playing football) and I'm struggling to keep up with him. Lottie is eight and just as active with dancing and gymnastics. Most nights of the week we're out at clubs, and my laptop comes too.
"Rodney (Cockerpoo) is just as fluffy and smelly as always. He makes sure I take plenty of breaks from my writing."
By the way, how did you pick the new writerly name?
"Lauren North came about quite organically as a name option. I didn't want to get myself or others confused at events or forget to answer a question, so Lauren felt like a good first name because I was christened Lauren.
"I've been called Laurie for my entire adult life so it's strange going back to Lauren. I still feel like I'm in trouble when someone uses my real name. North felt like an easy-to-pronounce-and-spell surname and I've got to say I love it."
What made you want to study psychology to degree level when you were younger?
"I originally wanted to study medicine. The human body has always fascinated me.
"When I was 18 I went to a special 'what's it like to be a doctor?' day and met a patient with kidney failure. Whilst everyone else was asking about his symptoms and prognosis, I asked 'How did that make you feel?'
"From that point on, I knew I was more interested in the mind than the body, and swapped to study psychology at university.
"Sometimes I regret not taking my degree further, but after three years and lots of studying I was ready to get out of education and into work."
Do you have ambitions?
"Of course I have ambitions to see a book of mine translated into 20 languages and made into a Hollywood blockbuster, but all of this is completely out of my control, so I focus on what is: which is writing the best books I can write, challenging myself every day to write better and develop characters and stories that will relate to my readers."
Do you think you'll ever go back to the funny, romantic stories?
"Maybe one day. Life is pretty busy with my darker fiction right now, but who knows what the future holds. I've currently had offers to translate The Perfect Betrayal into five other languages, including Russian, Chinese and French.
"So much has changed for me in the last three years, so I'd never say never to writing as Laurie Ellingham again, but for now I'm focused on my Lauren North books. I've found my home writing psychological suspense and love where I am right now."
The Perfect Betrayal is published as an ebook by Transworld Digital and in paperback by Corgi. Both are £7.99. The author is in conversation with thriller writer Jack Jordan on Monday, July 1 at Waterstones, Colchester High Street (7pm to 8pm). Tickets (£2, including wine and nibbles) 01206 561307.