Apple Tree Yard is English novelist, Louise Doughty’s, seventh novel. It has sold more copies than Gillian Flynn’s, Gone Girl, (hardback) and rights have sold in twenty-one territories worldwide. It has been shortlisted for the Specsavers Crime & Thriller of the Year Official Mumsnet Book Club selection for January 2014 and has also been selected as a 2014 Richard & Judy Book Club choice.
Understandably, my expectations were high as I read the first line and I’m delighted to reveal that Apple Tree Yard didn’t disappoint. It’s a slightly different thriller than the norm, with plenty of twists and turns, but that’s what makes it so utterly compelling . . .
Doughty pulls you straight into the privileged world of Yvonne Carmichael: one minute her life is ticking along at a steady pace, the next – a chance encounter, an impetuous decision and an obsession is born which changes her world forever. The consequence of that one action takes you on a shocking, roller-coaster ride that leaves you reeling long after the last page.
Our interview took place over the phone, and after our initial introductions were out of the way, I was keen for Doughty to divulge some of her writing secrets. She explains her writing process, which involves letting her characters develop as she writes, “I think if you try to plan a character too far in advance they become too rigid. One of the great joys of writing, for me, is when a character takes you by surprise. You’ve got to allow them to do things ‘out of character’ I think, which is definitely what I did with Yvonne in Apple Tree Yard. You know, she’s been a sort of rational woman all her life, and then,” Doughty pauses for a moment, “she does one rash thing and her whole life spirals out of control.”
I am curious to know if any of Doughty’s characters may have inherited some of her own personality traits. But if that is the case, she is quick to point out, then it is purely accidental. She tries very hard, especially with female characters, not to let that happen, “that’s one reason why Yvonne in Apple Tree Yard is a scientist, because I wanted to make her somebody quite different from me. But I think it’s unavoidable that your own thoughts and feelings leak in. I mean, even with male characters, I just think, you know, you’re in everything you write really.” She laughs as she tells me, “I guess the issue is to try and disguise it as well as possible.”
Yvonne in Apple Tree Yard is a character that Doughty is particularly fond of, “because, I think, she’s probably the character I’ve put through quite a lot.” She is also very attached to characters in Stone Cradle, who are based on grandparents she has never met. “They died many years before I was born,” she tells me, but, she “feels a kind of ancestral pull towards those characters.”
I was delighted to hear that the TV rights for Apple Tree Yard have been sold. Doughty explains that Kudos Productions are, “the people who made Broadchurch which was a really, really big drama here last year.” Although she is trying not to get too excited, just yet, everything appears to be moving along and apparently “they’ve got a top script writer on board who’s done a first episode and now we’re just in conversation with broadcasters so, with any luck, it’s going to make it to the screen.”
In her bestseller, How To Write A Novel in A Year, Doughty addresses the most common problems that new writers come across and offers practical advice. I wanted to know what she thought was the best piece of advice she could offer to writers struggling with their first novel and I was a little surprised with the answer. “I think, okay, it’s really weird – keep your nerve! I think you’ve just got to have an almost psychotic level of self-belief. There’s so many knocks you get when you’re a writer and when you’re an unpublished writer then knocks come in the form of rejection or discouragement from family and friends. But even when you’re published,” she confides, “you still get it. You get bad reviews; you get criticism; your novel doesn’t do as well as you want and you’ve just got to be really, really tough, I think, and you’ve got to believe in your own work.” She stresses that, regardless of commercial success, you still need to hold on to that self-belief and carry on writing regardless. Her voice rises, “so yeah, that’s my main piece of advice, keep your nerve!”
Another tip from Doughty is to enter short story competitions. “I think anything that makes you write is fantastic and I entered loads of competitions when I was a new writer. I think for a start; they give you an artificial deadline which is a really good thing. You know if you say you’ve got to get something done by a deadline, I just think that’s really helpful and also, you know, even if you just get a runner-up prize they’re a really good calling card for agents and publishers. It’s a good way of introducing yourself.” She continues, “even if you don’t win, the story you’ve written can be used elsewhere. Who knows, maybe it might even get developed into a novel . . .”
For me, the best piece of advice from Doughty has to be her writing routine of putting on her lipstick, grabbing her laptop and leaving the house! “I can’t work in the domestic space,” Doughty admits, “if I’m at home then I start thinking of all the jobs I have to do,” for her the act of, “just leaving the house is a really, really important part of writing. I go to a café where I live and I just need to be away from the domestic remit to concentrate. I think that’s true for a lot of women writers actually because our duties in the home are so full-on.”
With regard to reviews, Doughty tells me not to believe any writer who says they don’t read them, “they’re lying – they’re lying through their teeth,” she laughs heartily as she admits to skimming through them herself pretty quickly so that she can “get the general gist of whether they’re good or bad. Obviously nowadays, you know, you’ve got to fillet them for quotes to go on your website or on your paperback. Maybe at a later date I might read them a bit more carefully, but when the book is fresh out I flick through them and that’s about it.” For Doughty, a successful novel “allows you to carry on writing. That’s the most exciting thing about success and that’s what I want to do really – just carry on writing.”
A novel idea was the number of Tweets selected from the hundreds on-line and published on the inside cover of Apple Tree Yard. As well as Marian Keyes and John Boyne, I was surprised to find one from my crime writer friend, Dave Gogan, who wrote:
‘Apple Tree Yard by @DoughtyLouise is one of the best books I’ve read all year. Nightmarish and affecting. It won’t fade from memory.’
I couldn’t have said it better myself . . .
(c) Susan Condon
About Apple Tree Yard
Yvonne Carmichael has worked hard to achieve the life she always wanted: a high-flying career in genetics, a beautiful home, a good relationship with her husband and their two grown-up children.
Then one day she meets a stranger at the Houses of Parliament and, on impulse, begins a passionate affair with him – a decision that will put everything she values at risk.
At first she believes she can keep the relationship separate from the rest of her life, but she can’t control what happens next. All of her careful plans spiral into greater deceit and, eventually, a life-changing act of violence.
Apple Tree Yard is a psychological thriller about one woman’s adultery and an insightful examination of the values we live by and the choices we make, from an acclaimed writer at the height of her powers.
Pick up your copy here!
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, has completed her debut crime fiction thriller set in New York City. Her short stories were awarded first prize in the Jonathan Swift Award, the Sport and Cultural Council (City of Dublin VEC) Competition and the Bealtaine Short Story Competition and she has also twice been long-listed for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. Publications include Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology 2012; South of the County: New Myths and Tales and www.fivestopstory.com Blog: www.susancondon.wordpress.com Twitter: @SusanCondon