Article published on July 12, 2016.
Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you’d think.
For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again.
But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them.
Which is how it all spirals out of control…
Jade Craddock reviewed Liane’s electrifying new novel and had the opportunity to put some questions to her:
JC: In your new novel, Truly Madly Guilty, you take three ordinary couples and an ordinary gathering that transforms into an occasion that will have repercussions for them all, and there’s a very real sense in which life can so easily turn on its axis, was this something that you’d considered much before writing the story and how did writing about it impact on you personally?
LM: I’ve always been so fascinated and appalled by stories where ordinary people suddenly find themselves in extraordinary situations with tragic consequences. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a moment’s inattention, a tiny mistake that any of us could so easily make – suddenly your life swerves off course. I think it’s something that’s always at the back of my mind.
You write these closely drawn domestic dramas superbly well, what is it about them that so appeals both to you as a writer and, do you think, to readers?
I find it easier to relate to my characters and their lives if I put them in ordinary domestic settings and perhaps my readers do too. Having said that, I still love to read books with unusual, exotic settings that are like nothing I’ve ever encountered in my day to day life. It’s just that when I sit down to write I seem to gravitate towards the ordinary. (Although I did enjoy writing a series of intergalactic adventures for children!)
I loved the relationships in the novel, not least between Clementine and Erika, it was refreshing to see female friendship explored differently as you do in the novel, and I wondered why you think Clementine and Erika’s relationship survives for as long as it does and what the two women gain from it?
I think long-term friendships often become like family relationships. You might not have anything in common anymore, but you’ll always have a shared history that binds you together.
There were also some interesting parental figures in the story, Erika’s mum, most notably, but also Oliver’s dad is touched on, and I wondered when you create these additional characters who clearly have their own stories to tell outside of the main narrative, whether there’s ever any temptation to want to dip into their stories more?
No, there is no temptation because that would take away from the momentum of the story. I tend to have too many characters as it is, and readers would become frustrated with me if I started delving into the back stories of minor characters as well.
Similarly, I loved the way Harry was brought into the story and wondered at what point he came into being for you. Was he there from the outset or did he only enter the scene later?
Thank you! Harry was there from the beginning, but I was well into the novel before I decided he would have such a pivotal role.
There’s a sense in the novel of however close you are to your friends and neighbours of there always being some parts of oneself and one’s life that are kept back, is this something do you think that is particular to the characters in this novel and their relationships or is general to all relationships?
I think it’s possibly general to all relationships, but as this is fiction, these characters probably have more to hide than a random sample of the general population!
The question of parenting is very much engrained in the fabric of this novel, how did you feel towards Clementine and Sam over what happens? There’s a sense that accidents do happen, but it did make me think whether the same would have happened to any children Erika and Oliver might have, on their watch, is there some point at which parental blame can come in to it at all, do you think?
Sam and Clementine had a responsibility to watch their children, as do all parents, so of course there is an element of blame. In a perfect world no parent would take their eyes off their child for a second. I think theirs was an understandable, forgivable mistake that could happen to anyone, and in 99% of cases there would have been no price to pay at all.
There’s a section in the novel which questions whether what happened would have been avoided if Clementine was less concerned with being a cellist and instead was purely a mother. As a creative mother yourself, I wondered whether you had struggled with this dilemma of your writing versus parenting or whether you felt any pressure to put motherhood first or for writing to take a back seat? And what having the outlet to write gives you?
Every working mother struggles with this, whether they’re in creative field or not. My work fulfils me and pays the bills, but I have at times felt guilty when I’m on deadline and my children say, Why are you always at your computer? However, most of the time, writing is actually the ideal job for balancing career and motherhood, and I’m also very lucky to have a partner who is a stay-at-home Dad, so I’m hardly in a position to complain.
As someone from a nation obsessed with weather, it’s nice to see others in the novel – be they fictional – becoming overzealous about meteorology, but there is a very acute sense of the weather in the novel and I wondered what role this plays in the wider narrative? Would the situation/novel have been different if the weather was different?
The point of the rain was to help make it easier for the reader to go back and forth between the day of the barbeque and the present day. Weather can definitely have an impact on your mood – whether it’s relentless rain or relentless heat – and in Australia we’re not used to long stretches of rainy days, so it absolutely made sense that my characters were all going a bit crazy with it.
This is your seventh adult novel, how easy (or not) is it to keep coming up with ideas, and when do you know you’ve struck on the idea for a new novel?
So far it has been easy, although I will admit I don’t have an idea for my eighth novel. I know I have the right idea when I can’t stop thinking about it.
Your novels have been rightly well-received across the globe, and a TV series of Big Little Lies is currently in production, with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, have you had much involvement in this process and what are you most looking forward to about seeing your novel transformed onto the screen?
I didn’t have any desire to write the screen adaptation of Big Little Lies and I was thrilled when the great David E. Kelley agreed to write it. It was wonderful to be involved from the sidelines, to visit the set and to meet the actors (especially the children) (and the celebrities!) playing my characters. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in the final product.
Given these successes, it seems as if you’ve achieved most things an author hopes for, so I wondered what motivates you to keep writing and if you have any other writing goals you want to achieve?
I’m motivated by my readers – their comments, their reviews, the nice things they say to me at events – and I’m motivated by the writing itself. It makes me happy and I always end up with a vaguely unsettled, dissatisfied feeling if I go for too long without writing. My goals are to continue to keeping my readers happy, and to write better books. My favourite comment of all is, “I think this one is your best one yet.” That’s my goal – to keep hearing that.
Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, published by Michael Joseph on 28 July, 2016 in hardback at £12.99
I’M A WRITER . . . and an optimist with a vivid imagination.