Lucy Foley: 'I never know the murderer when I start writing my books' – iNews

Lucy Foley’s hit crime novels are always set in glamorous places – a New Year’s Eve getaway at a highland lodge, a wedding at a remote Irish island, a beautiful Parisian apartment – but she usually writes them from somewhere completely different. “I wrote The Hunting Party in Iran, where it was really hot. I was finishing The Guest List [the Irish island] in an Airbnb in Paris when I came up with the idea for The Paris Apartment.” She likes to travel when she’s writing, and when we speak she has recently returned from six weeks in Northern Spain, where she rented an apartment with her toddler and got to work on a new book. Which is set, naturally, in the West Country.   
Doesn’t it put her off, visiting wonderful new locations and then trying to immerse herself in entirely different ones while she’s writing? “It’s probably a bit w**ky to invoke Hemingway, but he said that to write properly about a place you have to have left it. And I do think there’s an element of that for me. It means you have to imagine somewhere more vividly.”   
Foley, 36, is a cheery writer but also an extremely hard-working one. “I do try to do a 9 to 5; I get dressed properly, I brush my hair before I sit down at the computer.” After an undergraduate degree in English at Durham (where she met her now husband) and an MA in English literature at UCL, she worked in publishing before writing three historical fiction novels in her twenties. “I hadn’t always dreamt of writing, and certainly not historical fiction. It just happened to be what I was reading a lot of at the time and then I thought I’d have a go at it.” Her books sold well enough that she quit publishing to write full time, but it wasn’t until her first crime novel, The Hunting Party, published in 2019, that her career really took off.   
A modern take on an Agatha Christie house party whodunnit, The Hunting Party revolves around a group of friends who gather in a remote house in the Scottish highlands for New Year’s Eve, only for one of them to get murdered. It was a global bestseller, as were its two follow-ups, The Guest List and The Paris Apartment, all of which are also being made into television shows and films. The Guest List was chosen as a pick by Reese Witherspoon’s influential online book club (the one that also propelled Where the Crawdads Sing to fame) and spent months on the New York Times bestseller list. “It was amazing but so surreal. I was waking up to emails from my editor saying: “Reese is calling.”   
The books are all twisty closed circle whodunnits (not quite locked room, but with claustrophobic locations and a limited number of suspects) that play with themes of class, family fall-outs and damaged friendships. The Paris Apartment, her most recent, is about a resident who goes missing from a grand but spooky apartment block in the French capital. Does she remember when she decided to switch to crime? “It’s hard to remember exactly. I’ve always loved my Agatha Christies and Dorothy Sayers, those golden age murder mysteries. And I think it was in the back of my mind that I’d like to write something contemporary, and maybe darker. But when I had the idea for The Hunting Party, visiting a remote Highlands lodge myself, I’m not sure I even necessarily realised it was going to be one of those sorts of books until I started writing. I had this really strong image of a body in the snow, but not much else at the start.”  
She didn’t know who the murderer was? “No, I haven’t known the murderer for any of my books when I start writing. I’ve thought I knew who it was but with every one it has changed. And that’s quite exciting because it really feels like the book is alive. As a writer, I live for the moments when something happens that I wasn’t expecting, even though writing in that way can sometimes be quite stressful. It means a lot of drafts!”   
So, she doesn’t plot? “No, I do, a lot in fact, but I do it as I go along, and of course I go back and change things to make them fit afterwards. With a murder mystery the reader has certain expectations, that this is going to be a specific type of puzzle, with breadcrumbs that they can follow, so there does have to be a strict structure. In fact, as a reader, the thing I find really satisfying about reading a crime novel is that contract between the reader and the writer, the rigidity, the fact that after a great ride you know everything will be resolved in a certain way. So, I try to make sure that happens.”   
Crime writing has been thriving for a long time (Foley is about to appear at the Capital Crime Festival, which was set up in 2019 to celebrate the success of the genre) but has also benefited from the pandemic, with crime and thriller sales up 18 per cent in volume from March to October 2021 compared with 2019, according to Nielsen BookScan UK (comparison with 2019 not with 2020 because of skewed sales due to lockdown’s bookshop closure). Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series has dominated bestseller lists, but editors and readers have made it clear they are hungry for more. “During the pandemic there was a lot of dark stuff happening but none of us knew how it was going to end. There’s a real safety and satisfaction in reading something where you know the darkness will be properly resolved,” says Foley.   
“And,” she adds, with a glint in her eye “as a writer, I do think it’s fun to see the bad people get their just deserts.”   
Foley has just written the next book when we speak – the one set in the West Country, which she describes as “engaging with that rich, pagan history combined with the down from London crowd coming up against the locals.” Does she think she will ever change genres again? “I don’t know. I’m still having so much fun with this one. Of course, the more you do in this format the more you find you have to do things differently. I often think of something now and then realise, dammit, I’ve used that kind of thing before. But I think I’ve still got so much to say in this genre. It’s such a fun way of looking at contemporary society, plus those timeless upstairs downstairs dynamics.”   
I say that it would put me off holidays, constantly finding murder ideas in every location I visited and Foley laughs. “I mean, it does get creepy. When I was in Paris, I was staying in the most beautiful Airbnb, with these big, beautiful windows, overlooking a central courtyard, parquet flooring, all this old furniture preserved in aspic. And then I started hearing these strange sounds from the apartment above me late at night, like something really heavy being dragged across the floorboards. God, maybe I should have investigated further! But no, I still like holidays, even though I suppose I am always working, thinking of new ideas.”   
So, perhaps a novel set in northern Spain soon? Or maybe Belgium, where she and her husband and child lived for several years (they have recently moved back to the UK and are staying with family in Sussex while house hunting in Hampshire)? “Yes, maybe. They’re fascinating places. I’ve got to finish this one first though!”   
And then she is off, smartly dressed, hair brushed, to sit at her desk and write.  

What I’m reading now    
The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the third in his Hawthorne series and it is brilliant.  
What I’m reading next   
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. I’ve heard great things about this.  
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley is published in paperback by Harper Collins on 29 September, at £8.99. She will appear at Capital Crime on 1 October  
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