Today I welcome author Lauren North to Colloquium for the first time!
Lauren’s debut novel, The Perfect Son, is described as a “disturbing and shocking debut novel of psychological suspense.” She says that her constant worry about her children often “leads to little seedlings of ideas. A great example of this is when I wondered what if my husband travels away for work and dies and I’m left alone in a secluded house in a village where I know absolutely no one.” That was the genesis of The Perfect Son.
The story focuses on Tess Clarke, who wakes up in the hospital the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday. She’s sure she’s been stabbed, her son is missing, and her brother-in-law and her grief counselor are involved. But no one listens to her.
Her husband, Mark, died suddenly in a terrible accident a few months earlier. Since his death, Jamie has been the only thing holding Tess together. As they struggle to make sense of their new life without Mark, they find joy in brief moments of normalcy like walking to school and watching television together.
But now, in the hospital, Tess is confused and surrounded by people who won’t listen. To save her son, she must piece together what happened between Mark’s death and Jamie’s birthday.
The truth might be too much for Tess to bear.
Getting Out of Your Character’s Head
It wasn’t until after I’d finished writing The Perfect Son that I realized how emotionally draining the experience of writing it had been for me. In the novel, Tess is a distraught and grieving widow who is desperately trying to keep her son safe whilst also fighting depression.
It was so important to me that I represented the rawness of her emotions accurately. I wanted to show that losing a loved one is not something that a person can easily move forward from. There will be bad days, followed by glimmers of good days, followed by bad days again, and then worse days. I wanted to show the relentlessness of her grief and depression as she fought day after day to be a better mother, to care for her son, and to protect him when the whole world seemed to be against her.
Living in Tess’s head each day left me emotionally exhausted, and at the time I didn’t appreciate just how Tess’s emotions were affecting me. I would walk to collect my children from school after a day of writing and feel as though my thoughts were in a fog. Despite being a generally happy and positive person, I found myself sad for no reason and not sleeping well. Like Tess, I didn’t feel as though I was doing the best job I could as a mum, and found myself constantly thinking about Tess and her son Jamie.
Only when I’d finished writing The Perfect Son, and I felt my own fog lift, did I realize how important it is to step out of my character’s head in the same way I step into it each day. I’m now writing a new book, and while there are still days where I’m stuck inside my character’s head, I now make sure I have more time away from her, too.
Here are the five rules I’ve set myself to help me switch off:
1. Take regular breaks which involve leaving the house – whether it’s a walk with a friend, a trip to the library or the gym, I make sure I get out at least once a day.
2. Choose reading books in a different genre and read before going to sleep – reading is a great relaxer for me, and reading something light-hearted when I’m in a dark phase of a book resets my mind before bed and helps me sleep.
3. Set myself specific writing times and stick to them – I used to grab a spare twenty minutes of extra writing anytime I could – while the dinner was cooking or the kids were busy playing, but that meant that I was never switching off from it. Now I set myself specific times to write and if I find an extra few minutes in the day I exercise or read.
4. Talk to people every day – this is a really important one for me. A lot of my time is spent inside my own head, with my own characters, which doesn’t make switching off very easy. I make sure I pick up the phone and call a friend or family member at lunch time, or strike up a conversation with someone at the gym.
5. Take days off – this is something I used to be terrible at. Even at the weekend I would wake up early and write before anyone else got out of bed. Even if it was just for an hour in the morning, I found it meant I spent the entire day thinking more about my book. Now I make sure I take at least one whole day each week where I don’t turn on my computer or think (too much) about my book. It’s a great refresher and I often find the day after a break really productive.
Lauren North pens psychological suspense novels delving into the darker side of relationships and families. She has a lifelong passion for writing, reading, and everything having to do with books. Her love of psychological suspense has grown since childhood, and her dark imagination finds her always wondering about the worst thing that could happen . . . in any situation. As a writer, she enjoys “seeing how far you can push your characters before they break.”
Lauren studied psychology before moving to London, where she remained for many years. These days she resides with her husband, Andy, and her two children, Tommy and Lottie, in the Suffolk countryside. She strives to write whenever she’s not spending time with her kids. On school days, she relates that she’s at her desk by 9:00 a.m., writes for a few hours before taking a break, and resumes for another few hours in the afternoon. When her children are out of school, she begins writing by 6:00 a.m. and devotes two hours to her work, getting back to it in either the afternoon or evening, as their schedule permits. She says, “On a practical level, writing with children in the house means there is often a lot of stop and start, interruptions for snacks and board games and sometimes I’ll find I only write in ten minute bursts, so I’m not precious about what’s going on around me. I can write for any length of time, anywhere.”
Thank you, Lauren!