Dear Reader: a letter from Simon Lelic
As every crime and thriller writer will tell you, ideas for prospective stories are two a penny.
When you are constantly on the look-out for inspiration, almost everything – and everyone – you come across has the potential to find its way on to the page. Why isn’t a loved one answering the telephone? What might have happened if that driver hadn’t spotted that red light in time? And why did that woman shrug off that man when he tried to wrap an arm around her shoulder?
There are plotlines everywhere. The problem most of the time, for me at least, is that the vast majority of these ideas remain just that: fuzzy, malformed suggestions of possibility that close in on themselves just as rapidly as they open up.
The real treasures, conversely, are those ideas that immediately give rise to new ones; that grab hold of you and then refuse to let go until somehow you’ve wrestled them on to the page. Those are the ideas that writers dream of (or not, more’s the pity), and that have more than a fleeting chance of becoming a fully fledged novel.
I recall exactly the moment the idea for The Liar’s Room first sank its teeth into me. My wife and I were sitting at the dinner table, and we were discussing her decision to begin training to become a counsellor. After working as a journalist, and then spending ten years as a full-time mother, she was eager to do something new, something challenging, and something that might help other people.
I think it’s a great idea, I told her. You’d be terrific at it. And I can definitely see how rewarding it would be. How demanding, too. But… er… hold that thought, will you? I’m just going to get a pencil and a piece of paper. There’s something I need to jot down…
When you are constantly on the look-out for inspiration, almost everything – and everyone – you come across has the potential to find its way on to the page.
Because that’s the other thing about us writers: behind every supportive husband (or wife) lurks a greedy, inspiration-hungry obsessive. We exhibit the most appalling traits, most notably with our loved ones, of blanking out completely when they are talking to us, or even wandering off midway through a conversation, only to reappear looking haggard several hours later.
But on that occasion, I simply couldn’t help myself. A counsellor, you say. So just you and a stranger in a room. A stranger with a past. A shameful past, perhaps? And what if you – the counsellor – had a secret past, too? What if you were afraid of your client, and they, in turn, couldn’t trust you. What if the stakes were higher than you could have possibly realised – and (this was the clincher) only one of you would make it out of the room alive…
Talk about sinking its teeth into me.
I started writing The Liar’s Room the very next day. As things turned out, the next twelve months didn’t pan out in quite the way either my wife or I had envisaged – if you read the acknowledgements in this book, you’ll understand why – but all things considered, the novel came together almost as swiftly and ferociously as that initial idea. Truth be told, during a very difficult period, I had enormous fun writing it. If you enjoy reading it even half as much, I’ll consider it a year well spent.