Article published on October 6, 2016.
Sarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie.
When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant.
After Sophie disappears, it s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust.
But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?
Never Alone is the new novel from Elizabeth Haynes and we gave reviewer Dorothy Flaxman the opportunity to read an early copy and to come up with some questions for Elizabeth…
Dorothy Flaxman: Was the wild desolation of the Yorkshire moors and a creaky menacing house a deliberate ploy to heighten the tension of the book?
Elizabeth Haynes: The setting was the starting point for me – I saw a house on a property website whilst looking for our new home. It looked lovely, but then I found myself wondering what it would be like after a heavy snowfall… and why you would bother to have curtains when there aren’t any neighbours. The plot came out of that. Lovely as the house was, and the beautiful view over the valley, there’s still something a little terrifying about being somewhere so remote.
DF: There is a fair amount of eroticism in the book and an exploration of a different side of the sex industry i.e. male prostitution. What did this add to the story?
EH: I’m not sure Aiden believes he is part of the sex industry – he thinks he is a therapist, of sorts. He is a bit in denial about the nature of what he does but he’s only been able to do that because he doesn’t have any close attachments to anyone. Despite being constantly intimate, he’s really quite alone. I think it’s a peculiar sort of alone-ness, something all the characters are experiencing in different ways.
DF: The anonymous voice the reader hears between chapters is terrifying and confusing for the reader as it could have belonged to more than one of the characters. What made you decide to use this sort of narrative in the book?
EH: When I’m writing, I’m always trying to find the best way of telling the story, the most intriguing viewpoint. In the earlier drafts, one particular voice was missing, and I wanted to hear what it had to say. Every character is the hero of their own story, don’t forget.
DF: Why does the main character in your books always appear to be a fragile woman?
EH: I don’t think Sarah is fragile at all; I’m not even sure she appears that way to the other characters. In some ways it appears that others take advantage of her, but that is less about her vulnerability and more about their own weaknesses and insecurities. She has dealt with a lot, but she is stronger than she seems, and she gets stronger the tougher things get for her. I didn’t want her to be rescued, I wanted her to be able to find her own way out of every dangerous situation, even if some of those were terrifying. Without giving too much away, it’s the men in this book who are fragile, not the women.
DF: Never Alone is a tale of love, jealousy and obsession. Did you always have the guilty party in mind as you wrote the book or did you change your mind as the book evolved?
EH: I change my mind about a lot of things through various edits and rewrites. I almost have to wait for the real story to reveal itself, by exploring all the different possibilities. In this case, the guilty party was always there, and the last third of the book when everything gets very scary and fraught for Sarah didn’t change very much at all.
DF: How difficult is it to write subsequent novels after having such a successful debut novel?
EH: Creating anything at all is an intensely personal thing, and it can be difficult to stay motivated when your work is thrust into this falsely competitive sphere of bestseller lists and rankings; how do you compare one book with another? We all like different things, after all. Talking about books and writers in terms of success or failure produces this rollercoaster effect that makes it hard to be creative. Writers end up feeling the pressure to write the same sort of book over and over again, just because it did well for you or for someone else. For me, the only thing to do is to write for enjoyment, because trying to second-guess the industry is a bit soul-destroying. Other people read the market really well and have a great writing career as a result; I’m not that skilled, or that brave. I’ve had one bestseller – that’s more than most writers get, and I’m phenomenally grateful for it.
DF: What is the hardest thing about writing?
EH: Editing. For me first drafts are easy, and great fun, but you wouldn’t want anyone to read them except you. That’s when the work really begins.
DF: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
EH: I write the first draft of each book during November, for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Last year I wrote two. The aim is always to carry on into December and January until the first draft is finished, but often Christmas intervenes and I leave things unfinished. Writing outside of November, with the momentum gone, is harder to do – so I always try to make the most of it.
DF: Do you think reviews, whether good or bad, are useful?
EH: I think a review is a gift, good or bad. I read all of them. If someone has taken the trouble to write their opinion in a review, then it feels disrespectful to them for me not to bother reading it. I don’t always agree with them (good and bad), but I always listen – taking what’s useful, leaving what isn’t. I’m still learning my craft as a writer and I have changed some aspects of the way I write because of things people have said in reviews.
Dorothy said she read Never Alone in almost one sitting and awarded it 4 stars – read her review in full here.
Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes, published by Myriad Editions on 6 October, 2016 in paperback at £8.99