The People At Number 9 by Felicity Everett.
When Gav and Lou move into the house next door, Sara spends days plucking up courage to say hello. The neighbours are glamorous, chaotic and just a little eccentric. They make the rest of Sara’s street seem dull by comparison.
When the hand of friendship is extended, Sara is delighted and flattered. Incredibly, Gav and Lou seem to see something in Sara and Neil that they admire too. In no time at all, the two couples are soulmates, sharing suppers, bottles of red wine and childcare, laughing and trading stories and secrets late into the night in one another’s houses.
And the more time Sara spends with Gav and Lou, the more she longs to make changes in her own life. But those changes will come at a price. Soon Gav and Lou will be asking things they’ve no right to ask of their neighbours, with shattering consequences for all of them…
Have you met The People at Number 9? A dark and delicious novel about envy, longing and betrayal in the suburbs…
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) I grew up in Manchester and studied English Literature at Sussex University when it was a hot bed of feminism and New Romantics (Duran Duran, not Wordsworth and Coleridge). I based my first novel ‘The Story of Us’ on some of the women I knew back then. One of the men I knew was a short funny socialist, also from Manchester. Seduced by his flat vowels and dry wit, I married him. We moved to London, I got a job in children’s publishing and proceeded to create, with my new husband, four new readers for the twenty-or-so books of fiction and non-fiction that I was to write while working there. Eventually the unfeasible childcare costs made freelance work seem a better prospect and I published another four children’s books before succumbing completely to domestic drudgery, aka drinking coffee with my neighbours. After a couple of years away from writing, I decided it was time to get back in the saddle and as I had always wanted to have a go at adult fiction, I enrolled in a creative writing course at Goldsmith’s University and cracked on. The first novel went in the bottom drawer, the above-mentioned second was published in 2011, just after we moved to Melbourne, Australia for what turned out to be a fantastic four-year stay. Not wanting to be the dreaded ‘trailing spouse’ of an ex-pat exec., I joined a writing group while I was there, where I workshopped my new novel The People at Number 9. Turns out you have to travel 10,000 miles to be able to make sense of where you have come from.
The People at Number 9 is an unrequited love story, not between individuals, but between two couples, one an ordinary, happy-enough suburban pair, The other (the eponymous number 9-ers) an impossibly glamorous and arty duo who not only befriend their new neighbours, but inspire them. But it turns out creativity and unorthodoxy come at a cost, at least for this foursome, as the down-to-earth pair are lured further and further away from their authentic selves, and into a lifestyle that at first seems irresistible, but which turns out to have consequences they hadn’t foreseen.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) The idea for the book came to me in Australia. I was a fish out of water, far away from the close-knit community I had relied on for a quarter of a century. The distance gave me the perspective to see the pluses and minuses of that very close, almost incestuous neighbourhood and I conceived a plot that would explore the best and worst of it – it was a sort of ‘what-if?’ story where I took the mundane idea of couples growing close and even co-dependent, which I think can be quite a common experience, and spun it off into a scenario that was way beyond anything I had encountered, in which one couple’s admiration of the other turns to an unhealthy obsession, with dire consequences.
Once I had the idea, it wasn’t too hard to come up with a plot-line that dramatised the trajectory of those characters. I wrote a few chapters and a synopsis and sent them to my agent, Sallyanne Sweeney and she was enthusiastic about the idea. After that it took me a good couple of years to write the book. I tend not to write many drafts, but to reshape one obsessively, as I’m working on it (feedback from my Melbourne writer’s group was invaluable here). Fortunately that meant that my first (which was actually my tenth) draft didn’t need too much revision before Sallyanne could send it out to prospective publishers. The book found a great champion in Kate Mills, who made it her first acquisition for HQ, the new imprint she was launching for Harper Collins. I was so lucky.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) My favourite authors at the moment are Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Strout, Anne Enright and Colm Toibin. I like books where the drama is in the heads and the hearts of the characters rather than in big plot twists. Toibin’s Nora Webster is like that – not much happens, but everything happens. I would also recommend Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, which was very touching and beautifully written. I read a lot of short stories, especially when I’m writing, as I find it hard to immerse myself in novels when I have my own on the go. I love the New Yorker short story podcasts in which a writer chooses a favourite story by another author and then discusses it afterwards with the fiction editor of the magazine. I’ve learned a lot listening to them.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) I was a very enthusiastic member of The Puffin Club as a child – Puffin published some fantastic authors – as well as the classics (Charlott’e Web being my favourite), I discovered authors like Jane Gardam, Ursula le Guin and Elizabeth Enright. As a teenager I loved The Catcher in the Rye (of course), and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and as I got a bit older I discovered Margaret Atwood – I especially loved Catseye and The Handmaid’s Tale. I also had a bit of a thing for Kingsley Amis – his books made me laugh and I was still a bit young to pick up on the shocking misogyny!
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) It was the moment when I introduced myself to someone as a writer, without feeling like a fraud!
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) I have been very well supported by the writers groups I have belonged to, both for the fantastic feedback they have given me and for the inspiration I have found in other members’ work. Two writing friends in particular – Claire Seeeber in London and Trish Bolton in Melbourne gave great support, encouragement and feedback. The key person for me though has been my husband Adam, who is my first reader and stalwart supporter. I can tell straight away if something’s not working by the look on his face. I get very cross, and then I change it.
*Thank you for taking part in the Q&A on my blog, I wish you every success with your writing career.