Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional Publishing

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Author interview: Rebecca Whitney
Rebecca Whitney ,akandrew.com, A.K.Andrew

Rebecca Whitney

Readers are being treated this winter to a new wave of thrillers coming mostly from the UK. One of these exciting new writers is Rebecca Whitney, whose debut novel The Liar’s Chair, was published by Mantle, an imprint of Macmillan, on January 15th. The novel was featured in the prestigious Sunday Times and The Observer just prior to it’s launch, and Whitney herself has recently had articles published in The Independent, Telegraph, Hunger and Buzzfeed. So I’m totally thrilled she has agreed to do an interview for Writer’s Notebook.

1. Congratulations on the publication of The Liar’s Chair Rebecca! Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

The story follows Rachel Teller, an affluent and successful women who is going off the rails, but she has no idea why. After spending the night at her lover’s house, and still drunk from the night before, she drives to the luxury home she shares with her controlling husband David. The weather is terrible and she drives too fast, and she knocks over and kills a homeless man on a country lane. In her panic she decides to hide the body. Later her husband coerces her into telling him the truth, and he convinces her to return to life as normal. But guilt begins to unravel her, and she seeks out old addictive habits, and self-destructive behaviour, which tips her marriage into the danger zone as she tries to atone for the crime she has committed. In the process she begins to have insights into her forgotten past, revealing some of the reasons she has made so many mistakes.

2.Rachel, the main protagonist is a rather dark character, some might say unlikeable. I ultimately found her to be sympathetic. Did you intend to make her as dark as she is, or did the plot force your hand on the way you portrayed her character ?

It’s up to the reader to make up their own mind about who and what is excusable, but I didn’t intend Rachel to be so ‘un-liked’. I did however intend her to be deeply flawed and difficult to empathise with at the beginning of the book. The point being that, towards the end, as you understand more of how she came to be the person she is, the reader gains some sympathy and connection with her as we see her strength in making it as far as she has. It’s about reassessing the judgements we all make about people when we first meet them; everyone has junk in their past, and much of that baggage goes towards the decisions and actions they make in the present.

The plot did very much force my hand as I wanted to show a person unravelling, who chose the most damaging path possible with her warped and personal idea of justice. Some of the decisions she makes are extremely questionable, and they create a character who has ruffled a few of my reader’s feathers. But I am happy that she inspired big reactions rather than none at all. Ultimately she is interesting, and it is compelling to watch her descend to the depths she does, and hopefully that hooks the reader into the story, so it shouldn’t matter if a character is liked to make the book readable.

The Liars Chair, Rebecca Whitney,akandrew.com,A.K. Andrew

3. I liked that you included the issue of domestic abuse into the thriller genre, which is very unusual and gives the novel much more depth. Why did you choose to include this issue and what in general triggered the novel?

The issue of domestic abuse is very important to me as I think it’s still a vastly understood area. Many people question why a woman (or indeed a man) would stay in a relationship where he or she is being subjected to such coercion and often violence. I was keen to demonstrate the mental manipulation and self-esteem bashing that goes towards stopping the victim from leaving. Many women who are subjected to this kind of abuse fear for their safety and they cannot get away without serious protection, but it is very hard to translate this torment to the outside world without people thinking the victims are somehow colluding in the abuse simply by remaining in the relationship. Often these women are very strong as they are battling constant assaults on their psyche.

What inspired the novel was the idea of how a single tragic event can change the course of someone’s life completely. I was interested in how an external force can compel us to take a good look at ourselves, to address issues we’ve been avoiding, and how sometimes that event can feel quiet random, but strangely timely. My thinking is that often we play a part in the process, even if we don’t know it. In Rachel’s case, she didn’t have any idea that the man would be walking the road that day or that the weather would be so bad, but she chased the disaster by her reckless and extreme behaviour. She is the kind of person who has to reach rock bottom before she can make the changes she needs, and on a subconscious level, that is what she is seeking.

4.How does it feel to have your work published and in the hands of your readers?

It’s great and also terrifying. When people talk to me about the characters in the book, it can feel very strange as I’ve lived with these beings in my head for such a long time now, and suddenly they are out in the world and open to critique. But it’s also very satisfying when readers connect with the characters or the mood or the plot or the prose. It makes all those tortured hours at my computer worth it!

5. Many writers consciously choose the route of self-publishing, but you decided to go with traditional publishing. What made you decide to go that route, and was it hard to find an agent?

I hadn’t considered the self-publishing route, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have gone down that road if I felt that the traditional route wasn’t open to me. I was very keen to have professional input on my work, as for me it was validation that I was doing it right. Also, since I received representation, the book has gone through a couple of big edits with my agent – Sue Armstrong at Conville and Walsh – and then my editor – Sophie Orme at Mantle – and it has definitely improved. I’m obviously extremely lucky to be working with professionals who’s judgement I trust, but I do think having an outside opinion can build on what you already have and make it much more marketable.

I found an agent on my first round of submissions which was really wonderful, and part of that I believe was making the manuscript as polished as it could possibly be at that point. There really was very little else I could have done without professional input. Also my agent said that the title caught her attention, and that’s why she picked it off the pile.

6.It’s early days, but can you tell us what support you have had in going the more traditional route that you would not have had if you were self published? Perhaps you can tell us from the point at which you found an agent.

Being guided through rewrites by supportive and clever people – my agent and editor – was brilliant. My agent knew which publishing houses to approach, and which editors were keen to look at the kind of work I had produced. Both agent and publisher are always available for any questions, and have been very helpful in placing my book in the genre it’s in, guiding me through that process. Having a marketing and press department behind me has also been invaluable, without which my novel wouldn’t have received a fraction of the coverage it has. My publicist – Sam Eades – has set up lots of events as well as sending the book out to reviewers and contacting press to commission the features I have written. I wouldn’t have known where to begin doing it on my own.

7.What are a couple of favorite authors you enjoy reading?

I love Helen Dunmore, Cormac McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Donna Tartt, Alice Monroe, Richard Yates to name just a few.

8.Who do you feel was your biggest influence in writing The Liar’s Chair?

That’s such a difficult question, as it’s been such an eclectic process. I love films, theatre and music as well as literature, and because the time it took to write the book was quite long, many of these things came in to play at various points as an influence over the whole.

9.What are you working on at the moment? When can we expect to see your next novel?

I’m working on another contemporary psychological thriller but it’s not a sequel to The Liar’s Chair. It’s about a new mother who is struggling with PND, and she thinks she witnesses a serious crime. She has to make the decision between not bringing any more questions upon her sanity and ability to care for her child, or whether to discover what she has seen is real, and attempt to bring the crime out into the open. Realistically it will be out late 2016 or ’17.

10.Where can readers connect with you or where can they find The Liar’s Chair?

You can  contact me through my own website http://www.rebeccawhitney.co.uk/and I have an Amazon Author page, and I’m on Goodreads . For social media sites you’ll find me on: FacebookTwitter @RebeccaJWhitneyPinterestSpotify and Pan Macmillan Author Page.  I’m hoping soon to have a US publisher, but in the meantime, you can buy the book from Amazon. (see link below). UK customers only can also buy the The Liar’s Chair on Kindle.

What’s your opinion of traditional publishing v. self-publishing? Which would you choose? What do you think of using a psychological thriller to raise the issue of domestic violence?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

Connect with A.K. Andrew:

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Comments

  1. What a great interview, A.K.! I thoroughly enjoyed your Q & A with Rebecca and appreciate meeting her and learning about a new (to me) writer. It was also very interesting to hear of her experience thus far with traditional publishing. The support she describes is something we all want, but I don’t know if the traditional publishing industry always provides such support to all authors. But I hope she continues to enjoy the support of her editors, agent and publisher with her next book. I also think that a psychological thriller is a perfect genre for studying domestic violence. I’ve worked with victims of domestic violence and much of what they experience is psychological, a kind of “gaslighting” in particular. They’re not only made to feel that they deserve being abused, but often their own sanity is put into question when they try to reason their way out of the abuse. The abuser can present himself (or herself) as the perfect spouse, confounding the victim’s efforts to get support. Life becomes a psychological horror story.
    Marie Ann Bailey recently posted..Reblog: Top Ten Things Not to Do at the Oscar Ceremony #MondayBlogsMy Profile

    • Thank you so much Marie. I was also blown away by the amount of support she’s received, and makes me want to try for that platform. Thanks also for sharing your experience with victims of domestic abuse. Many women really are in a position both psychologically as well as practically that makes it extremely difficult to extricate themes elves from the situation. I really appreciate your insightful comment:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Hi Marie, thanks so much for your comments, and really pleased you enjoyed the interview. I know I have been very lucky with my publishing experience, and I hope it will continue, but I guess you are only as good as the next book you write – so we’ll see! I have to say though that everyone I have met so far has been truly enthusiastic and genuine, and I think that if you are lucky enough find the right home for your work then that will be mirrored by the people you work with. Very interesting comments about domestic abuse too. ‘Gaslighting’ is something my protagonist experiences, and I think it is a very common contribution to why so many victims find it hard to leave.

  2. Liars Chair sounds like an interesting thriller. Checked out if they had it at the library but unfortunately they don’t have anything written by her. It seems her books are not translated to Swedish (the library has a lot of books in English and a multitude of other languages). Love reading thrillers and may read it when I have time.
    Catarina recently posted..Rising inequality – the main risk facing the world?My Profile

  3. A.K. — As you may know I’m a sucker for thrillers. This book sounds really intriguing. I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creative process and her take on the character. Wasn’t she lucky to get a publisher right out of the box! The envy of all new writers. It just shows the importance of having a title that is grabber — not only for agents and publishers but also for potential readers.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Social Media as a Tool for Character AssassinationMy Profile

    • It is a really interesting novel , I have to say Jeannette, and so great that Rebbecca mangled to get an agent. I think you’re spot on about the title. A good title always makes me look twice, and I’m sue it really grabs an agents attention too. Thanks for stopping by.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

      • Thanks for your comments Janette, and very pleased you found the interview informative. I was very lucky to get a publisher so quickly, but prior to that there had been years of doubt and personal failure. I think it’s important for every writer to just keep going and have faith in themselves, and do their best to make their work as good as it can be,

    • It is a really interesting novel , I have to say Jeannette, and so great that Rebbecca mangled to get an agent. I think you’re spot on about the title. A good title always makes me look twice, and I’m sure it really grabs an agents attention too. Thanks for stopping by.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

  4. I do love a good thriller from time to time Kathy. This one sounds particularly good, worth check out for sure. I found it interesting about her choice between self and traditional publishing. You just never know what can happen unless you try huh. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Mark West Winery – Pinot Noir For The People: #WineMy Profile

  5. Rebecca’s book sounds ripe for a movie treatment! I’m with a hybrid publisher which means they line up editors, etc., but I do most of the marketing which I’m very poor at! Patience is my mantra. Patience!
    Jan recently posted..Please lock me away; but not with a mini-barMy Profile

  6. I’m not normally a reader of thriller but this novel sounds interesting. It takes an insightful author create sympathy in his or her readers for a character who is on the surface unlikeable.
    Ken Dpwell recently posted..Snow Belt: On the Shores of Lake Erie in FebruaryMy Profile

  7. This is one of the best author interviews that I have read AK. Stellar and thanks for introducing me to both the book and the author. This is one I will buy…right now:) I personally am in tune with the very real social issues addressed and I happen to adore the unreliable narrator:) I don’t have to love a protagonist…only relate to her in some small way, even in the dark side way! Because even then, it’s a matter of caring abut the character…it’s not always so warm and fuzzy.
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted..Exam… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • WoW Jacquie- I am so happy to hear you say that. Thank you SO much. I love thrillers that just take you on a thrill ride so to speak, but I always value books more when they can seamlessly weave in important issues into the plot. And as you say, you don’t have to like the protagonist, but there has to be some empathy there in the end, for the character to be convincing. Thank you So much for this comment. It’s made my day!
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thanks Jacqueline, so pleased you enjoyed the piece. I too like writing that reflects my experiences, and not everyone I meet is likable, but I still may find them fascinating and magnetic. Hope you enjoy the book!

  8. Awesome interview. Two thumbs up – one for each of you AK and Rebecca. It sounds like a terrific read and a mutually supportive relationship between your agent and the publisher. I get freaked out and don’t even watch many psychological thriller movies. You’ve both made The Liar’s Chair sound so enticing, I might have to give the read a try. Thank you both.
    Patricia Weber recently posted..Charge Up Your Introvert Voice: interview with Donna PriceMy Profile

    • That is so great of you to say Pat- it means a lot. Psychological thrillers can really be overly creepy these days, especially when they combine psychological torture with blood & gore. Rest assured, The Liar’s Chair is not like that. It really was interesting to hear about the behind the scenes look at traditional publishing, and what a team effort it all is. Maybe one day I’ll be on the receiving end of this interview.:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thanks Patricia, glad you enjoyed the interview. I know what you mean about those really scary movies, but I’ve been careful in The Liar’s Chair not to make the story violently explicit as I very much wanted the threat to be a constant background noise – much more menacing that way – and the violence to be psychological. Hope you enjoy the book. I’m very interested in the sound of your book on Introversion. Would love to know more.

  9. I always appreciate the courage of writers to pursue their subject matter, with or without the support of traditional publishing company. Nowadays, like Amazon are challenging the norm of publishing as they get more focused of increasing the talent and get into the hands of readers.
    Mahal Hudson recently posted..Is this YOU?!My Profile

    • I have great admiration for writers who mange to get them selves published in whatever way they can. We don’t all have the choice , but many others choose the path that is best for them. And as you say, as readers we know have even more choices, which can only be a good thing. Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thanks Mahal, it can be risky to pursue subject matter that you don’t know will appeal as a book is a big investment of time. My feeling are you should write what you are passionate about, and then the words will make more sense. Also, I think some publishers are looking for new slants on subjects, something that will be at the beginning of a new trend. They don’t all want to follow what’s already been, but that does happen a lot.

  10. First, Congratulations to Rebecca for such great success with a first novel. Must be an absolutely thrilling feeling. Secondly, AK, thanks for this interview and for introducing us to Rebecca, so nice to get a behind the scenes view. Finally, there have been blog posts by members of our own BHB group who have written books and the big issue seems to be the correct title. Since Rebecca’s agent picked her book out of the pile because of the title it really does illustrate how important that one aspect is. Thanks so much, both of you.
    Lenie recently posted..WD-40: Product with a Fan ClubMy Profile

    • I really appreciate your comment Lenie, as I too enjoyed the behind the scenes look, and was very happy to introduce you all to Rebecca. She really is an exceptional writer. Finding an agent is really tough these days, and though I know Rebecca’s work deserves the attention it has, how astonishing that simply the title would have had such an influence. A lesson for us all ther that’s for sure. Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thank you for your comments Lenie, glad you enjoyed the interview. Titles are so important, but it’s not always possible to latch on to something that appeals. I chose this title as it was an image in the book, a motif if you like, and not an attempt at the summary of the whole story. That seemed to work best for me – to find an unusual angle.

  11. Very nice interview. My husband is working on a comic book which he plans to self-publish, but I imagine he would much much prefer to have a publisher. Self-publishing is a great opportunity for someone who is new to the field. Having feedback from others is always valuable.
    Erica recently posted..How to Bring Out the Allicin in Garlic and Other Garlic TipsMy Profile

    • Self publishing really is a fantastic opportunity for so many writers these days. But then there are the few that get picked up by an agent, so I think if that’s what you would prefer to do then why not give it a shot. Self publishing will still be there if you decide to go back to it! Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Hi Erica, yes I totally agree with what AK says; it’s great to have options. Equally, some people have self-published and then gone on to be picked up by a publishing house. Good luck to your husband with his book.

  12. This is a great interview. The Liar’s Chair sounds like a good read, with lots of layers in it. Rebecca’s comment about the plot forcing her hand a bit resonated with me. Each genre has its own structure to deal with. In thriller and mysteries, the influence of character on plot and vice versa is what makes the story. I think a thriller is a good place to raise the issue of domestic violence. Woven into the plot, it can raise awareness without hitting the reader over the head but still have significant impact.

    • thank so much for persevering to leave a comment Donna. Sorry you had problems. I like your note about plot & character. I think that’s really the case for all novels. Knowing how to follow their lead as it were of course is the hard part. I always enjoy a novel that can bring in social issues but the writer really does have to be careful not to bash the reader over the head with their agenda. I think Rebecca succeeded I getting a good balance. Thanks for your insightful comment
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thanks Donna, and so pleased you found the interview informative. It can be a challenge when writing not to over-do certain issues. I find when I want a scene to be really hard-hitting, it can enough to show only the facts, rather than try to explain or add too much emotion. That way the reader will be able to judge and fill in the gravity of the situation for themselves.

  13. What a wonderful interview. I enjoy reading interviews of other authors; they always give me an insight about the ones I have done. I learn so much from these interviews, thanks for sharing.
    William Rusho recently posted..Illustrations and your Novel: A How to GuideMy Profile

  14. Rebecca Whitney sounds like a very insightful writer. About Rachel, her protagonist, she says: “She is the kind of person who has to reach rock bottom before she can make the changes she needs, and on a subconscious level, that is what she is seeking.”

    Not all of us are as “messed up” as Rachel; not all of us “has to reach rock bottom.” Still, it seems to me that all of us are represented, to some degree or other, in Rachel. I believe that all people “on a subconscious level” seek to make needed changes in order to heal.

    We draw into our lives (orchestrate even) occurrences that will drive certain issues to the surface so we are forced to see them and address them. The more we avoid, the worse it can get. Illness and accidents may well be examples.

    I don’t like to quote such a long passage, but I see the essence of these words of Rebecca’s as supporting what I just wrote above: “What inspired the novel was the idea of how a single tragic event can change the course of someone’s life completely. I was interested in how an external force can compel us to take a good look at ourselves, to address issues we’ve been avoiding, and how sometimes that event can feel quite random, but strangely timely. My thinking is that often we play a part in the process, even if we don’t know it.”

    We are all incredibly complex, more than many of us realize. We’ve all been affected deeply by external forces either conscious to us or not. I have not read her book, granted. This interview leads me to believe, however, that Rebecca Whitney’s highly dramatic story may help some of us to reflect more clearly on our own lives.
    Ramona McKean recently posted..Chinese Spring Festival SymbolsMy Profile

    • Thank you Ramona for such a thoughtful and insightful comment. Life can certainly turn on a dome, but along the way we do also have other changes that make us realize that we need to adjust our lives to give us more of a sense of balance. Hopefully for most of us this will be the case rather than an earth shattering experience, that haunts the protagonist in Rebecca’s book. I hope you get a chance to read it at some point. good to see you here:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

    • Thank you Ramona, and I’m very pleased you found the interview insightful. I agree that there are aspects of Rachel in many of us, but thankfully to a much lesser degree. How many of us are able to make the changes we need on a daily basis – sometimes it’s just not practical, and the change has to happen more slowly. I hope you are able to read the book one day, and that you enjoy it. Best wishes.

  15. Wow very nice interview. Well done AK Andrew and the novel sounds interesting! I will check it out in Waterstones.
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  16. Great interview on both sides 🙂 I’m sure this would be a book for me so I’ll add it to my reading list. Good to hear too that Rebecca picked the traditional publishing route. White it is possible for an indie author to churn out good work with the right team, I don’t think there can really be a substitute for working with a team of experienced professionals.
    Jeri recently posted..Ten Great Things That Can Happen in Your First Year as a Published Author by Gerald FreemanMy Profile

  17. I love the concept of the story and as with your agent I love the title; it could lead the reader anywhere. Titles and book cover really do make a huge difference; maybe not in the content but certainly in how many times people begin the journey. As with Geri I will add this to my list on Amazon. All the best to you on your second novel.
    Tim recently posted..Oasis of the DesertMy Profile

  18. A.K. I’m curious how you found the novel in the first place in order to set up an interview with Rebecca. Rebecca, love the fact that the title is what pulled your manuscript from the pile to the center of the desk.
    Kire Sdyor recently posted..This is JAMESPARDY!My Profile

    • I wonder why you would be more curious about how I got the book rather than any of the other more serious issues such as domestic violence as discussed? I know Rebecca, and I approached her when I knew her book would be coming out. I’m very excited she took the time in the midst of her busy post launch schedule and I read the book as soon as it was published.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

  19. What an insightful interview AK . Knowing the back story directly from the author is so engaging. I’ll definitely read this book. I love what Rebecca said about, “one tragic event” changing the course of our lives; it’s so true. Waking up one day and you’re totally caught up in life you never could have imagined. Acting in ways you never thought possible. Thank-you.
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  20. What an interesting interview. The book sounds really intriguing and one that I would enjoy.
    Mina Joshi recently posted..Pav Bhaji (Spicy blend of vegetables served with bread)My Profile

  21. Thanks for the introduction to Rebecca Whitney A.K. I have to confess that I don’t spend much time reading fiction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it because I do. It’s just lately, I’ve been wrapped up learning about ways to grow my business.

    A nice thriller sounds enticing though. I’ll keep an eye out for it. (Everyone needs a break now and then right?) 🙂
    Sherryl Perry recently posted..What Blogging Tips Are You Missing?My Profile

    • I completely know where you’re coming from Sheryl and you certainly spend a lot if time in your business. It certainly shows in your blog. But it is good to treat oneself at times. I also find that with short attention SM,it becomes harder to keep our focus on something that is slower and longer. We almost get rusty. Hope you get a break soon Sheryl:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair & Traditional PublishingMy Profile

  22. Keep this going please, great job!

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