J. S. MONROE
THE AUTHOR OF NEW NOVEL FORGET MY NAME TALKS MEMORY, AMNESIA AND HOW TO KEEP THE READER COMING BACK FOR MORE
The author of Forget My Name talks putting a new spin on the old twist
Forget My Name delves into memory as a theme. What was it about that subject that intrigued you?
For me, memory is tied up with identity, and I wanted the challenge of being able to write a character who has psychogenic amnesia – amnesia brought on by stress – and how that might define her character. I think memory has always interested me; the very first book I wrote, back in the early 1990s, was the World Memory Champions book on how to develop a perfect memory. I researched a lot of that on a guy called Dominic O’Brien, who went on to be a world memory champion, and I got really interested in how it defines someone’s character, what happens when you take that memory away and what you’re left with.
You mention the unreliable narrator trope. Were there any novels that inspired you in particular?
Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go. It opened my eyes to the possibility of what we can do with unreliable narration. When I got to the twist, I went back and checked all the wiring and plumbing to see if it all checked out. Of course, it does check out – she did a brilliant job, it really pulls the carpet from under your feet. I’m hoping to achieve a twist of some sort in Forget My Name.
Like Find Me, I Let You Go starts with a basic premise, then you have a slow- build of characters and plot twists. How do you balance this process while not overburdening the reader?
I like to dig myself a really big hole at the beginning. In the case of Forget My Name, a woman turns up in a village, she doesn’t know who she is, no one else knows who she is.
How did she get there, and why has she come to the village? I then have to work backwards. With
Find Me, this guy is convinced his girlfriend is alive, but is he suffering from bereavement hallucinations, or is she really alive? Then he gets an email, ostensibly from her, saying “Find Me”. So that’s how I try to start – it’s so important to draw the reader in at the beginning.
How much of what you wrote was informed by your own experiences and career to date?
People always say ‘ write about what you know’, but
I like to write about things I don’t know about to a certain extent. I’m getting increasingly interested in neuroscience – nothing too heavy. I like to have some new stuff there so I feel I’m learning something, and hopefully the reader’s learning something, but I also tether that to areas of my life I can draw on. Having worked in journalism for many years, I quite often have characters who are journalists or even writers, and similarly with India, I spent several years as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and that definitely has filtered through into a lot of my writing.
What is it about crime and mystery novels that appeal to you?
I used to write spy thrillers, so I was very interested in that because of the overlap with journalism. We are awash with good psychological thrillers. I think it was reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn that converted me to the genre of psychological or suspense thrillers. It allowed me to play with the form of the book much more, but I think everyone likes a good twist, and although in spy thrillers and literary fiction you can have twists, by the very nature of psychological/ suspense thrillers, there are certain expectations a reader has, and I really enjoy trying to fulfil them.
I LIKE TO DIG MYSELF A REALLY BIG HOLE AT THE BEGINNING
J. S. Monroe’s Forget MyName is published by Head of Zeus and is available tobuy now