It’s almost a year now since Don’t Stand So Close – a psychological thriller about a woman’s breakdown and the arrival of a stranger on her doorstep who may spell danger or may be the catalyst to her recovery – first hit the shelves in hardback. Having been released in paperback in September, we thought it was time to get in touch with author Luana Lewis to find out a bit more about the novel and of course, see what she’s working on next.
You’ve written factual books before but how much does your work as a clinical psychologist influence your fictional writing?
Luana: My background in psychology does influence my writing a great deal. The main character in my first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, is a clinical psychologist working as an expert witness in custody cases and the book gives an insight into the process by which a psychologist would go about assessing someone’s personality. And, for the sake of fiction, the things that can go wrong all do, so it becomes a story about a psychologist’s worst nightmare.
I think there’s a lot of overlap between psychologists and novelists – both are interested in how a personality is formed, and why people act the way they do.
I also like to write about characters who experience some form of mental disorder, such as addictions, delusions, schizophrenia, autism, depression etc. and so my experience working with these patients is key to what I’m writing about.
And in the same vein, does your favourite reading matter – fact or fiction – influence your writing?
Luana: I’d like to think I’m influenced in some way by many of the brilliant writers I read. There isn’t one influence in particular, but for example, when I think of a nail-biting plot and a character you really root for, Robert Harris’s Fatherland comes to mind, or when the character’s voice jumps off the page and comes to life, I adore Charles Bukowski. I love the dark, edgy characters in Gillian Flynn’s books.
Neither of the main male characters in this book are endearing for very different reasons, yet Max seemed as though he would be. Did you set out intending to write him this way or did it just happen as the story progressed?
Luana: I deliberately set out to write him that way. I wanted to explore a character who is charismatic and attractive, but who also falls victim to his own arrogance and puts his own ambitions above all else, and so is capable of doing harm. I loved writing his character and playing with these two aspects of his personality. I admit I could feel myself being drawn to him too just in the way Stella is…
Blue and Stella are both complex characters and very realistic but not always likeable. Did you have a favourite from the book?
Luana: Both of these characters have weaknesses they struggle with, and at times they act in self-destructive ways. I’m interested in writing about flawed characters because I’m keen to think about how we learn to live with or overcome our least attractive character traits, and even turn them to our own advantage.
Although I identify with Stella and her ambition as a psychologist, Blue is probably my favourite character. With her unpredictability, impulsivity and the intensity of her emotions, she was a delight to write about and she let me take the story into tense and bizarre territory.
When and where do you do most of your writing?
Luana: I write anywhere and any time I can: on the sofa, in bed, at Café Nero, or at my office desk. At the moment I split my working time between my psychology practice and writing. I sometimes end up writing for an hour or so late at night which I find unexpectedly productive even though I’m tired, maybe because my unconscious is freed up at that time and the story has been percolating in my mind all day.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Luana: I’m really happy to have discovered Elena Ferrante and I’m reading Troubling Love.
Do you have a favourite author?
Luana: I have so many…I’ve already mentioned Robert Harris, Gillian Flynn and Charles Bukowski. I’m a great admirer of Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson. I also love reading crime fiction in translation – to name a few, Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson and Niccolo Ammaniti.
And do you have a favourite fictional character?
Luana: Definitely. I would love to meet Henry Chinaski from Post Office and Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Publishers say that authors should write about what they know. So what can we expect you to write about next? Will it be something along the same lines as Don’t Stand so Close?
Luana: Yes there will be similarities in my next book – it’s also a psychological suspense novel. The story, which I’m working on at the moment, opens with the suicide of a North London woman who on the surface has it all: wealth, a loving husband and son, and a gorgeous home. The novel deals with obsession and delusion in the disturbed relationship between two childhood friends, and the way in which this plays out in their adult lives.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Luana: I try to write my first draft as though no-one’s ever going to read my work, so I don’t end up censoring myself. And I always read my work out loud before submitting it to my editor – it’s a very different experience to reading it on the page and it helps me to hear if the prose and dialogue is working.