Susi Qs – Week 42 – Diane Jeffrey

This week’s guest is the very lovely Diane Jeffrey, who I got to know after it turned out that she lives near one of my childhood friends. In France! Diane has written four bestselling psychological thrillers, all published by HQ (HarperCollins). Those Who Lie (2017), He Will Find You (2018), The Guilty Mother (2019), a USA Today bestseller, and The Silent Friend (ebook 2020, paperback 9th Dec 2021). She is currently working on her fifth novel. When not teaching or writing, she runs (a little) and swims (a lot). Diane was born in Devon and now lives in Lyon with her husband, three children, black Labrador and cat. She was the first female lifeguard to work on UK beaches.

Hi, Diane!

Have you ever broken a bone?

Technically, no, but someone (he shall remain nameless) broke my little finger. I was early morning swimming training and a teammate going the other way in the next lane sort of took my little finger with him. I was taken to hospital wearing my bra with my school blazer around my shoulders. My little finger was sticking out and quite swollen, so that I couldn’t get my arm through the shirt and cardigan sleeves of my uniform.

Have you ever written a fan letter?

I’m not sure if this counts as a fan letter, but I wrote a letter to Lady Diana when she got married to Prince Charles. I was eight years old. I must have tried my hand at drawing something, too, because she thanked me for the picture when she wrote back! I cringe to imagine the quality of it as I’m really, really crap at drawing. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to the letter I received – I think it got lost when my parents moved house. It was typed – no doubt one by one of Diana’s staff –on thick cream stationery, embossed with the blazon of three ostrich feathers and a gold crown. But Lady Diana signed it!

How often do you change your sheets?

Quite often. At least once a fortnight, but usually once a week. If I were a rich A-list celeb, this would be my thing. I wouldn’t wash my face in Evian or demand rose-scented candles in my backstage dressing room, like some celebs are rumoured to do, but I’d want my sheets changed every day (by an employee, obvs).

Do you find it hard to take criticism?

I used to be very, very bad at taking criticism, but I’ve got much better. I can usually take constructive criticism on board and do something with it. I’m not good at dealing with catty criticism or bitchy jibes and tend to (over)react badly to that sort of thing.

Where was your best holiday?

It was in the Lake District in August 2012. It was a fantastic fortnight for many reasons. The kids got on so well that summer, the Lake District is incredibly beautiful and overall, we were lucky with the weather. The first week, it rained a bit, but we watched the swimming and athletics on the TV (it was the year the Olympics were held in London). The second week was a scorcher and we went on lots of hikes and did water activities in the lakes. My dog (a black Lab, Cookie) was welcome everywhere, which was wonderful. And the people were so kind and friendly!

I also got inspiration for a novel, which turned into my second book: He Will Find You, which is set partly in the Lake District.

We have plans to return there …

What’s your most treasured possession?

It’s a gold bracelet with the names of all of my children engraved around it. I had some gold jewellery melted down by a jeweller, who then made me that bracelet from the molten gold. I never take it off, not even to go through security at the airport.

Where’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

By sick, do you mean vomiting? I get migraines and have done since I was eight or nine. I take treatment every day to help with this and so I don’t throw up as much as I used to, but I have thrown up in several places when a migraine came on, including people’s houses and on public transport. Probably the worst place I have thrown up due to a migraine was in the theatre when I was quite young and my parents took my brother and me to London to see Evita.

I also got morning sickness with my pregnancies (like many women, not just in the mornings). One morning when I was about three months pregnant with my son, I went into school (I’m an English teacher) feeling nauseous. I threw up during my first lesson … I grabbed the wastepaper bin and sprinted out of the classroom, but my pupils all heard me puking in the corridor. It was very embarrassing! They were worried about me, which was sweet, so I had to tell them then that I was pregnant. They bought a teddy bear for my son when he was born!

What is your most unrealistic ambition?

I want to swim the English Channel and break a record. If I did some serious training, I could probably do the swim. It’s the breaking a record part that’s tricky! There’s no way I could ever beat the fastest woman’s time. So, I thought about setting a record for a family relay. We’re an Anglo-French family – I thought it was a great idea! My husband used to be a competitive swimmer, too (he was my coach, actually), and my son and two daughters are all competitive swimmers (they all swim far faster than I do), but I just can’t seem to get them on board with this plan! So, I think my best bet is to wait until I can break the record for the oldest woman / person to swim the Channel. The current record holder was almost 72 years old when she broke her own record.

Which actor do you fancy the most?

Matthew Goode. He’s from Devon, like me. I think he’s lovely!

I also have a soft spot for Jason Bateman. In fact, I based the physical appearance of my character Jonathan Hunt in The Guilty Mother on Jason Bateman, which was a great excuse to have an A4 print-out of his face sellotaped over my desk for ten months. Very inspirational!

Do you pair your socks?

God, yes! Doesn’t everyone? I even peg them on the washing line separately, but next to the matching sock – and the clothes pegs have to match, too! Is this too much? OCD?

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If you want to know more about Diane, you can find her on twitter @dianefjeffrey. Her books can be found HERE.


Chatting to Diane Jeffrey

Today, I’m very excited to be sharing an interview with the lovely Diane Jeffrey, whose debut psychological thriller THOSE WHO LIE is out now! I met Diane online via one of my oldest friends, and I’m thrilled to see her published. Diane lives in Lyon, France and her book is set in Oxfordshire and Devon – and let me just say, it will keep you on your toes! Before you rush off to download it, read on for a bit more info about the book and the author.

Hi Diane! Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut novel. How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels really good. Also a bit scary. There are little bits of my soul between those electronic pages! It took me so long to get the book into a presentable state (two years) and after that it all happened so quickly (just under five months) that I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet.

Enjoy the moment! It’s the most exciting time 🙂 Can you tell me what it’s about in a couple of sentences – an elevator pitch…

Emily only realises she is responsible for her husband’s death on the day of his funeral. But then she starts to receive disturbing messages from him on Facebook, messages that will force her to question her reality and face up to her past…

A very creepy premise! What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I wrote a novel years ago when my son was a baby. It was RomCom / ChickLit and it didn’t get published, which I now find completely understandable! I have quite wide tastes in books, but my favourite genre is crime and mystery, so I tried my hand at that.

And who are your influences, favourite authors, books…

I think Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner was the book that got me hooked on psychological thrillers.

In the genre of crime and thrillers, Dennis Lehane is hard to beat, IMHO.

My favourite book ever is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, but more recently I have been blown away by The Hundred Year Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Cloud Atlas, The Rosie Project, The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Into The Darkest Corner is a masterclass in psychological terror. I would love to see it as a film. You set your book in Oxfordshire and the setting is very authentic – did you spend time there doing research?

Ah, now you’re making me spill my secrets! I spent a lot of time virtually exploring Oxford with Google Earth. Emily’s home is based on a description of a real house that I found on an online Oxford estate agency. When I started writing the novel, I hadn’t actually visited Oxford at all (shhhush), but I went there with my pupils on a school trip and recognised Emily’s road as we drove along it in the bus! That was a big moment for me! It had to be Oxford because of the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on my main character.

The past scenes are set in Devon, where I grew up, so that setting was easier!

Ha. It’s not that unusual though – Stef Penney wrote The Tenderness of Wolves without ever visiting Canada 🙂 Those past scenes are quite dark, covering elements of abuse and addiction – did you find these difficult to write?

No. Tbh, I find it harder to write romantic or raunchy sex scenes!!!

In the main abuse scene, which takes place near the beginning of the book, Emily concentrates on her favourite childhood memory, and she takes us there with her so the reader is spared the more disturbing details of the rape and I was spared from writing them! In fact, it is probably more shocking to have an ellipsis than the graphic description in that episode.

There was a scene in the middle of the book that I found difficult to write, simply because elements of it were close to my own experience, but it had nothing to do with abuse or addiction.

I know what you mean – if you can distance yourself from these things, then they can be easier to write. It’s funny how most crime writers are able to write darkness more easily than a bit of sex! Another thing that I’m intrigued about, as a fellow writer, is how you choose your character names – I always spend far too long faffing around on those. How do you pick yours?

My main character is called Emily Klein. She had to be either an ‘Emily’ or an ‘Emma’ because of the ambiguity of the diminutive ‘Em’ in the book, which spells ‘me’ backwards.

The novel was entitled Out Of The Blue to begin with, and Emily, who is an artist, is named after Yves Klein’s shade of blue. Emily is associated strongly with that colour as she struggles not to succumb to a bout of depression, and tries to come out of a dark blue time into something lighter and more hopeful.

For all the other first names, I’m letting you in on more secrets here!

I looked up popular baby names for the year of birth of that character on the Internet and tried to choose one beginning with a letter somewhere near the middle of the alphabet. At one point, I had a whole load of characters whose names began with the letter “J” until a friend of mine pointed out that it was confusing and I had to rechristen some of them! And my copy editor picked up that both Greg’s and Will’s sons were named “Luke”. That was a Star Wars thing and a huge mistake, obvs!!! One of them was renamed “Oliver” at the very last minute!!!

So, I don’t think my method is to be recommended really!

I’ve started using the names of people that I know, mixing up first names and surnames. I often name characters after people who are annoying me and then change them later. Haha! So, do you have a set writing routine, words per day etc or do you write in chunks?

I wrote Those Who Lie on a sabbatical. It took me the whole year. Then it took me another year to rewrite. There were days when I worked non-stop on it for 8-10 hours, and then weeks when I didn’t touch it, but scribbled down thoughts and ideas, usually in the middle of the night!

Well I know how hard you worked on it and it certainly paid off! There is a tendency, these days, for people to rush things, and I think that especially in the beginning, you really need to spend time honing your craft, getting feedback, and rewriting again and again! It’s hard, and I’m going to let you into a secret now – it doesn’t actually get any easier! Can you tell me what, for you, are the best and worst parts of the writing process?

The worst part is the self-doubt and feeling guilty because I always seemed to be inspired when my family needed me! The best bit, by far, was getting The Call after all the rejection emails. On the phone, my editor said so many lovely things about my novel that I was a blubbering mess.

Oh that is so lovely! Everyone remembers The Call. It’s exciting and it’s a relief that you’ve got there and it’s surreal, because then it hits you – you’re about to become a published author! So, did you have the story all planned out before you started writing, or did you wing it and fix it later?

I am a planner! I changed the plans frequently as I went along, but it was mapped out fairly thoroughly before I started typing. I even had a timeline on Excel! All very OCD!

I should probably try winging it more – when I teach and haven’t prepared my lessons, they often turn out better than the ones I have meticulously organised before going into the classroom!

I think there is a balance to be struck between the two – some people always plan, others always wing it (or plotting and ‘pantsing’ as it’s often referred to) – I tend to do a bit of both. Having a timeline mapped out is a great habit to get in to from the start – makes things a lot easier later on! Can you tell me what you’re working on now? Have you started the next one?

I have. I started it about three months ago, but then came Round One of edits for Those Who Lie, followed by Round Two, then Author Amends, then Christmas… I have written the prologue and about a third of Chapter One. BUT I have planned it in some detail…

Excellent! I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂 Assuming you find time to read, these days – what have you read recently that you would recommend to others?

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. Definitely 5 stars for both books!

Both currently on my teetering TBR pile! And finally, tells us something about you that will make people go ‘Ooooh!’

Mmmm. Most people are impressed by the fact that I have a bronze medal from the Surf Life Saving World Championships from 1989. I was 16. I’m not sure why that surprises people! Perhaps because I’ve kept the medal all this time or maybe because they work out that I’m not quite as old as I look!!!

I love that! My swimming claim-to-fame is that I have a photo of me with Olympic swimmer David Wilkie, from around 1986. I read recently that he’d been told off at his local health club for swimming too fast… 

Thanks Diane! Good luck with THOSE WHO LIE!

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Diane Jeffrey grew up in Devon. She lives in Lyon, France with her husband and their three children, mischievous Labrador and crazy kitten. THOSE WHO LIE is her debut psychological thriller. Diane is an English teacher. She hates marking and Mondays. When she’s not working or writing, she likes swimming, running and reading. She loves chocolate, beer and holidays.Above all, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. You can find Diane on Facebook and Twitter.