Sue Wallman has released her sixth young adult thriller Such A Good Liar today, with the novel recently being described as ‘taut, full of twists and turns and weirdly joyful’, and the story follows 17-year old Shannon Jones. Having released her debut novel Lying About Last Summer in 2016, Sue has since gone on to write See How They Lie, Your Turn to Die, Dead Popular and I Know You Did It and her work has been nominated for and won awards including the Highgate Wood and Maidstone Area Book Awards. In the lead-up to the publication of her new novel, Sue answered our questions about Such A Good Liar, writing for lead character Shannon Jones and her previous releases.
Can you tell us about your new novel Such A Good Liar?
It’s the story of 17-year-old Shannon Jones who assumes the identity of Lydia Cornwallis and goes to an exclusive island for revenge.
Where did you get the inspiration from for the storyline and how would you describe the main characters?
My editor and I are fascinated by Anna Sorokin/Delvey – the fraudster who inspired the Netflix show Inventing Anna. While writing my book the show hadn’t come out yet but I’d read articles and the book her ex best friend wrote. The interesting part was how Anna was able to keep up her fraud for so long – and how it came tumbling down. That was the jumping off point for me into Such A Good Liar.
My main character Shannon is obsessed with avenging the death of her mum. She is out to kill sisters Emily and Annabel Harrington who were responsible.
What were the characters like to write and what did you enjoy most about writing Such A Good Liar?
I loved working out the character of Shannon Jones, and seeing how I could make her relatable, even likeable, even though she is hellbent on murdering two people. It was the first time I’d written from the point of view of the villain, and it was a good challenge.
When did you start work on the book and was there a part of the storyline you found most challenging to write?
I started writing the book about a year before publication. My deadlines are quite full-on, especially as I also work as a school librarian.
The nastiness from some characters was hard to write. I wrote the scenes, and then rewrote them, forcing myself to go further.
How do you feel on the release day of one of your new books and why would you recommend reading Such a Good Liar?
I feel relief on publication day – I put my all into writing and editing the book and it’s a massive project. I often have times when I’m not sure I’ll manage it so reaching publication feels like exhaling. Then there’s the question of whether readers will like it but I have to remember I’ve done my best.
Someone recently described Such A Good Liar as taut, full of twists and turns and weirdly joyful. I really liked that description.
Your novel I Know You Did It was released last year, what was this book like to work on?
I wrote most of I Know You Did It in lockdown. It’s set in a school so it was odd writing it when I was going into school on a rota system and not interacting with many students. The biggest challenge with that book was writing a double twist at the end.
What was it like releasing your debut novel Lying About Last Summer in 2016 and how was it seeing the success to the release?
Being published was what I’d dreamed about for so long (Lying About Last Summer was the fifth young adult book I’d attempted). I was grateful it did well.
Over the years, you’ve released a number of other books – Dead Popular, Your Turn to Die and See How They Lie – can you tell us about them?
They are all about secrets, murder and lies! Dead Popular is set in a boarding school. Students start revealing other people’s secrets, using a piece of artwork as a noticeboard, and Kate Jordan Ferreira has more to lose than most. Your Turn to Die is about three families who always spend new year together in a house in the middle of nowhere. A body from long ago has been discovered in the garden, and as the teenagers make a mini documentary, terrible things start happening in the house. In See How They Lie, Mae thinks the reason she’s growing up in a luxurious wellness facility is because her dad is the head doctor and owner. It’s not.
Your books have been nominated for and won a number of awards, including I Know You Did It being nominated for the 2022 Carnegie Award and Your Turn to Die winning the Highgate Wood and Maidstone Area Book Awards in 2019, how is this?
It is always thrilling! These things – and hearing from readers – is what spurs me on during times when writing isn’t going so well.
What is your writing process and do you always know the outcome of the characters/storyline before starting work on the novel?
I start work knowing what’s going to happen at the end – where I’m headed, basically. Not to know this would waste me too much time. I have a few key scenes in my head and I’ve worked out my main character’s motivation. And off I go! I love writing the first chapter – and then it gets tricky.
We understand you’ve done school visits, what are these like to do?
I found them hard at first, but now I enjoy them. It’s all about practise and remembering that I’ve learned a few things about thrillers while writing the last six books. I love going to different schools – pinching ideas from other libraries (sorry, “seeing best practice”) and meeting the students.
Where does your love of writing come from and how did you start?
I’ve just always liked thinking about characters, and I used to love reading, although I hated being told what to read. Happily my parents never interfered with what I was reading. Writing always felt natural to me in a way that other things definitely didn’t.
Do you have any favourite authors or books to read and have you read anything recently that you would recommend?
I usually have two or three books on the go at once. I recently loved YA thrillers Ready or Not by Tracy Darnton, and Every Line of You by Naomi Gibson. And there’s a new book coming out in August by debut author Louise Finch called The Eternal Return of Clara Hart which had me sucked right in.
What advice would you give a new author starting out?
Do your best – and understand that there’s a lot you can’t control.
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