I tried many times to write a novel during my turbulent twenties. I simply didn’t have the resilience or patience, or ability to ignore the negative voice in my head. So I gave up. Ironic then, that those very same chaotic years ended up inspiring my debut novel, My Best Friend’s Secret. It took some time to get there. I had to make friends with myself again. Work out who I was, what I liked and disliked. How I felt about things. You know, the simple stuff I take for granted now. Getting sober you meet loads of different types of people. You hear the same fragments of information over and over as your brain is slowly rewired. I really wanted to write about it. I knew it would give me some sort of closure.
This book isn’t the first I wrote. My initial attempt was deeply impersonal and although it got me an agent it didn’t sell. ‘There is no USP’, ‘The market is saturated with psychological thrillers’ – ‘What will make this one stand-out?’ they cried. Aside from this, the positive feedback pushed me to continue, but I knew I had to dig deeper. Truth is, I was itching to somehow process what happened in my twenties in a way that my brain understood. I work in television and have always found processing information through some sort of narrative a good way of digesting concepts emotionally.
I want to say, that the specific events in the book are fictitious, as are the characters. But I wanted to use what I had experienced to colour someone else’s journey. It felt like rich fodder to explore being on the cusp of both being well and ill – because really, you are two separate people with completely different traits and ways of reacting to life and emotions. I thought it would be a fascinating thing to pull apart and work through.
People often say, write what you know. Initially I was scared of being vulnerable and putting myself out there. What if people didn’t like it? What if they thought it was silly? But as time went on, I realised that the distance of a character protects you. All of that pain, and the journey of recovery was a huge blob of a mess whizzing around inside. And being able to give it purpose using the format of a beginning, middle and end was incredibly comforting.
Writing a book isn’t an A to B process. You duck and dive, write and delete. Like a pinball in a machine hitting every corner before settling on a distinct route out. That way you really travel around inside the womb of a story before finding the truth within it. I love that about writing. It’s just you and a keyboard slowly processing what you want to say. That protective layer of the delete button, as you try things out. I feel much safer having that space than to have to quickly articulate what I mean about something.
The reason I was drawn to write psychological thrillers is that I love reading flawed characters dealing with extreme situations. Most probably because I can relate. Which is quite masochistic if you think about it. My main character Kate’s thoughts and feeling aren’t mine – they are hers. But they come from a place of knowledge that I feel close to. I could easily shape them to her specific situation. She is very different from me. Not just her personal situation, but her actions too. I am very attached to her – as though she is a sister or a very close friend. And watching someone you care about fall down a rabbit hole like that affected me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. You’d think I had control over it – but I’m not sure I do. I don’t plot – the story appears edit after edit. I relate to what Stephen King says about stories being discovered gradually, like dusting away at fossils. It is all very instinctive.
Being vulnerable used to be seen as a weakness but people are now realising it is the opposite of that. I hope that readers who have gone through similar experiences will think I have done the issue justice. I’ve had a few messages from women struggling, who’ve reached out after reading the book. I have told them what helped me and tried to point them in the right direction. It is nice to know that opening up about something so personal in this way may go on to help others find their way out and hopefully pay it forward a little bit.
(c) Emily Freud
About My Best Friend’s Secret:
How do you escape a past you can’t remember?
Kate Sullivan has a beautiful home, a job she loves and a handsome fiancé: all she’d ever dreamed of since getting sober and painstakingly piecing her life back together.
But a chance encounter with her old best friend Becky threatens Kate’s newfound and fragile happiness. Kate remembers nothing of their last drunken night out, the night Becky broke off their friendship without warning or explanation.
With Becky back in her life, Kate is desperate to make amends for the past. For the closure she craves, Kate needs to know what she did that ruined everything. But what if the truth is worse than Kate could have imagined?
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