Gilly Macmillan is the internationally bestselling author of seven novels including What She Knew and The Nanny. To Tell You The Truth is her 2020 release. A former art historian and photographer, Gilly studied at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She lives in Bristol, UK, with her husband and three children. Gilly’s novels have appeared on the New York Times, Sunday Times, Globe & Mail and Der Spiegel bestseller lists, and have been translated into over 20 languages.
To Tell You The Truth
Lucy Harper is a successful thriller author with a talent for invention that has given her fame, fortune, and an army of adoring readers. But she also has a dark past – her little brother Teddy went missing after she took him out in the woods for a Solstice festival when she was nine. Now her husband, Dan, has also gone missing. And with the whole world watching, the past and present begin to converge. But is Lucy – an expert at red herrings and hidden clues – telling all she knows about both disappearances?
A dazzling thriller with a compelling and unreliable narrator, To Tell You The Truth is fresh, bold and ferociously smart.
Author’s Corner – Interview with Gilly Macmillan
Thanks so much for being on Author’s Corner again! Where do you get your writing ideas from? Do you keep notes throughout the day, or just start at the beginning and go?
Thanks so much for having me back! I get ideas from all sorts of places that could include a news reporting or a story someone has told me. I chat to my agent about ideas a lot and we often develop them together. Before I start a book, I like to have a strong idea and a couple of characters in mind, plus a sense of an ending. Then I’ll dive in and see where it takes me.
As a thriller author, what scares you? Do you ever find yourself scared by what you’ve written?
I’m extremely good at catastrophising the most normal of situations, which is excellent for my job but can make me a little jumpy in real life. Mostly what scares me is the idea of harm befalling my family. And, yes, I’ve occasionally written a scene that’s made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Usually, it’s a moment where you learn something shocking or a favourite character is in peril.
What was the very first thing—ever—that you remember writing?
I have a terrible memory. As a child I was obsessed with books and I know I wrote lots of stories. I just can’t remember them. In school a friend and I co-wrote a fiction project for an English assignment. It was a comedy. We tried to do satire but as we were probably only about twelve years old, I’m not sure how successful it was!
If you could be a character in a book for a day, who would you be?
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.
What are some of the book(s) that you’ve read and loved recently?
The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova, a non-fiction novel about trying to learn to play professional poker in one year. It’s brilliant. I’m recommending it to everyone.
If you could invite five people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Tove Jansson, Olga Tokarczuk, Agatha Christie, Hilary Mantel and Patricia Highsmith. They’re all female writers I admire beyond words, all extraordinary. I would love to offer them good food and good liquor and listen to them talk.
When I write, I hear my characters speak to me (although I don’t see them, like Lucy does, thank goodness! Lol) Do you hear your characters?
Not really. Not consciously, anyhow. Their voices just seem to land on the page when I start typing. I’m not sure where they come from.
Writing To Tell You The Truth
Let’s talk about your book To Tell You The Truth. Can you tell my readers a little about it? Where the idea for it came from?
There are two story strands in To Tell You the Truth. In the present, we meet bestselling crime writer Lucy Harper whose creation, Detective Sergeant Eliza Grey is based on an imaginary childhood friend.
In the past, we meet 9-year-old Lucy, who takes her very little brother out one night to see a Summer solstice celebration. Lucy comes home in the early hours. Teddy doesn’t and nobody knows what happened to him.
I wanted to have a cold case type mystery in Lucy’s past, because I’m intrigued by unsolved mysteries. Fast forward to the present and Lucy is in trouble because her publisher has rejected her new book because of something she’s done in secret, and her husband, Dan is upset about it, and especially about the loss of income it means. When Dan disappears, police suspect Lucy. But Lucy doesn’t know what to think. Can she rely on her memory? Or on what Eliza, still present in her mind, is telling her?
Describe To Tell You The Truth in three words.
Secretive. Slippery. Scary.
What do you think readers will love about To Tell You The Truth?
Hopefully they’ll love Lucy, my unreliable narrator, the insights into the publishing world, the sense of never quite knowing what is real and what is not, and the fact that it’s a crime book about a crime writer.
I think Lucy is one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever read. She’s complex and intriguing and I loved her! It was difficult to tell when she was telling the truth. How did you go about building a character like Lucy?
Lucy is one of those glorious characters who came to me fully formed, and she didn’t come alone. Eliza, her imaginary friend who has morphed into the starring character in Lucy’s bestselling crime novels, arrived simultaneously. Both of them were an absolute gift.
I found it intriguing having a protagonist who is a successful author. Did you add any of your own experience as a published author to Lucy’s experiences?
Absolutely! The demands of writing a book a year are punishing. Though hopefully they haven’t yet driven me to quite the level of distraction and despair that they have Lucy. Because Lucy is a crime writer, many of the professional details in the book are based on things I’ve experienced or heard about within the industry. The personal challenge was to take a close look at what I do and how it affects me and ask myself, how can I tease out and twist this stuff to make it horribly, compellingly sinister?
To Tell You The Truth has so many layers of deception and lies in both the past and the present, and I loved the book within a book aspect. Was this planned from the beginning or did the story develop as you wrote?
It was planned. I was thinking about those elements as I conceived the story, and as Lucy was arriving as a character, and they are the what that drew me to this book most strongly right from the outset.
I thought a novelist would be a perfect unreliable narrator, because if things went awry, would she be able to tell the difference between truth and fiction, or would those two things have got a little mixed up for her? Lucy inhabits the worlds of reality and unreality, and has done since she was a child, when her best friend was imaginary. To me, that was a fascinating character and allowed all sorts of scope to play with ideas about truth and fiction.
What’s next for Gilly Macmillan?
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc? Where did you get the idea?
I am! There’s no blurb yet as these are early days, but current plans are that it’ll be out in North America in September 2021 and in the UK in early 2022. This book is a total thrill to write. I’m loving it. It’s got three strong female characters as leads, and a ton of terrifying intrigue. I was inspired to write it by a 1940s movie. More to come…
Get In Touch
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