Today I’m pleased to welcome back J.S. Monroe to the blog. Last time he was here to discuss his book Find Me, this time he’s answering more questions, including the inspiration behind his new book Forget My Name, published by Head of Zeus on 1 October 2018.
1. Tell us a little about Forget My Name
Forget My Name begins with a woman arriving on a train in a rural village, unable to remember her own name. She has lost her phone and all forms of ID is suffering from psychogenic amnesia – brought on by acute stress. All she knows is that she lives in the village and thinks she knows which house. But when she walks up to her front door and rings the door bell, a young couple answer the door, saying they live there. One of them is lying.
I like to dig myself a big hole at the beginning of a book and then get myself out of it. Why’s this woman come to this village? Who is she? A number of villagers have their theories. The local GP thinks she’s a former psychiatric patient who murdered someone 12 years earlier. The resident pub conspiracy theorist reckons she’s a Russian sleeper. And a local journalist is stunned by how similar the woman looks to his first girlfriend at school. The truth could be any of these theories – or something else far more sinister.
2. What inspired the story?
I used to work in London, editing the Telegraph’s Weekend lifestyle section, and spent a lot of time commuting from a village in Wiltshire to London. Sometimes, when I returned late from work, I’d walk up to my house and wonder what it would be like if I peered in through the window and didn’t see my young family at the dinner table. What if completely people were living in my house? Reality would fracture into two at that point and it’s then a question of which narrative to believe.
3. J.S. Monroe is a pseudonym. Does you have trouble keeping your identity a secret?
I actually decided not to make big secrecy thing of my real identity although when my agent submitted my first J.S.Monroe thriller, Find Me, publishers weren’t told that it’s me. I’ve written six spy thrillers under my real name, Jon Stock, and I chose to use J.S.Monroe for my psychological thrillers simply because I wanted to differentiate the books. A question of branding, really. Having said that, my J.S.Monroe publisher, Head of Zeus, has just re-issued my first two books, The Riot Act and The India Spy. Both are spy thrillers, published under the name “J.S.Monroe, writing as Jon Stock”, which induced a mild identity crisis when I first saw it!
4. The Icelandic have a tradition of Jolabokaflod, where they spend Christmas eve reading. Which books would keep you company whilst waiting for Santa?
I love this tradition. Sitting by the fire, I’d have a quick sharpener of A Christmas Carol, followed by a long cool draft of Under the Ice by Rachael Blok. It’s a terrific, twisty book, set in snowbound St Albans at Christmas, and the weather isn’t the only thing that’s chilling. Finally, I’d have a nightcap of PG Wodehouse, something to make me fall asleep with a smile on my face.
5. What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Funnily enough, it’s was a re-read. I first read The Magus by John Fowles when I was a student traveling around Greece. I was back in Greece this summer and devoured it again. The book’s sheer delight in Scheherazade-style storytelling – tales within tales – is infectious, as layer upon layer of falsehoods are peeled back to reveal ‘truths’ that prove to be anything but. I realise now that this is the book that made me want to write.
6. Do you have any writer routines or superstitions you have to keep?
When I’m at the writing stage of a new book, following a few months of thinking and planning, I must write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes that happens by lunchtime. On other days, it can take until dinner. I try to avoid superstitions but another routine I now adhere to is emailing myself a copy of the Word manuscript every night. That way, if my computer is stolen or destroyed, I know that my book is sitting safely on Gmail’s servers. (I used to keep a memory stick in my sock drawer…)
You can read the first Q&A here.
About the book
How do you know who to trust…
…when you don’t even know who you are?
You are outside your front door.
There are strangers in your house.
Then you realise. You can’t remember your name.
She arrived at the train station after a difficult week at work. Her bag had been stolen, and with it, her identity. Her whole life was in there – passport, wallet, house key. When she tried to report the theft, she couldn’t remember her own name. All she knew was her own address.
Now she’s outside Tony and Laura’s front door. She says she lives in their home. They say they have never met her before.
One of them is lying.
About the author
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of eight novels, including the international bestsellers, Find Me and Forget My Name, both published by Head of Zeus. He also writes under the name Jon Stock.