A A Chaudhuri is the author of The Scribe, The Abduction, The Final Party and She’s Mine. Her latest novel, The Loyal Friend, was published by Canelo on 23 June 2022.
She kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Loyal Friend.
The Loyal Friend is a dark and twisty psychological thriller set in and around Kingston, Surrey. It centres on the mysterious disappearance of young, vivacious fitness instructor, Jade Pascal, who fails to turn up to her yoga class one evening, and the ensuing police investigation to discover what happened to her. Suspicion soon falls on three of her regulars – Susan, Grace and Natalie – three very different women, all of whom have dark pasts and secrets they’ll do anything to keep buried. As the police investigate and details of their disturbing pasts start to emerge, the facades they each present to the world begin to crumble.
2. What inspired the book?
I began writing the book in July 2021, and wanted to base it in a setting I didn’t feel had been done before in the psychological thriller genre. With the health and fitness industry having become a key part of so many people’s lifestyles – largely owing to the stress we encounter on a daily basis, along with the push given by lockdown to keep ourselves fit and healthy – I also felt the setting would be widely relatable. Furthermore, I know from my own experience that unlike the gym, fitness classes attract a wide variety of attendees, of different ages, genders and fitness levels, and have become increasingly popular over the years. Having said all that, although the backdrop for the novel is a health club, the story centres on so much more than that, chiefly the interplay between three very different women and the things that are prompting them to act and live out their lives in the way they do. Natalie, Grace, and Susan are ostensibly three normal women tackling everyday issues so many women around the world, including myself, face these days. Body hang-ups, mental health, the advent of menopause, juggling work, family and elderly parents all feature in some way, along with other more delicate issues of child abuse and infidelity. I wanted to draw attention to such issues because I feel they’re important to address and that readers would be able to empathise on a global scale. Like Grace, I have struggled with my own mental health owing to the stress of caring for my elderly parents who have both been unwell (particularly with me being an only child) while managing a career and young family, while I have also come across women like Susan who appear to have the perfect life but are actually concealing a feeling of emptiness and despair behind the glamourous, happy veneer. The pressures on women to perform and ‘have it all’ can be intense these days, and it was therefore something of a cathartic experience to write this book, at a time when I was dealing with a lot of personal stress myself.
3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I don’t tend to plan a book in great detail before I start writing. I’m more of a panster than a plotter as the expression goes! Obviously, I’ll have a rough idea of the plot and how it might develop, but I never draft a detailed blow-by-blow, chapter-by-chapter account of what’s going to happen. I’ll make a note of each of the main characters and their chief characteristics/backstories before I started writing the book but that’s about it. With psychological thrillers, the main focus is on the motivations and mindsets of the characters, what’s driving them to do the things they do. Obviously, plot is crucial – you can’t have one without the other – but it’s the characters who are propelling it forward and dictating the way things pan out. I’ll therefore start with a rough idea in my head and see where it takes me. Often, new characters and ideas will occur to me as I write, along with red herrings, twists and turns that can often take me in a completely different direction from that which I’d originally envisaged, including the motivations and backstories of characters and even the identity of the culprit. It’s one of the most exciting, not to mention satisfying things about being a crime/thriller author: thinking up that new character, twist or red herring you hadn’t considered when you first started writing the novel, but which takes the story up a gear and adds a new dimension to it. I enjoy having the freedom to take the plot wherever I want it to go as I write, rather than having to stick to a rigid plan. Having said that, I really admire authors who are able to plot in advance in great detail. It’s probably a lot less risky too!
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?
Not anymore but I remember initially being quite surprised by how many stages a book goes through before it’s published, in terms of rounds of edits, along with the amount of people involved at various points in the process, not just from the production angle but also the retail and publicity side. It’s a mammoth operation, with a lot of hard work invested by everyone involved in the process, and so to finally hold my book in my hands once the book is published never gets old. It remains a very special feeling.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love to exercise, particularly Les Mills classes as well as running and doing weights. It’s my way of managing my stress and sets me up for the day. I also love going to the cinema, eating out, travelling, and obviously, reading thrillers!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That is unbelievably tough! Can I pass on that one please?
I think it would have to be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I adored the Narnia books as a child, and it’s been lovely to see my children enjoy them too. They have everything you could possibly want from a book: fantastic storylines, vivid description, wonderfully drawn characters, important messages and happy endings.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
What a great question in itself! Here’s my question and answer:
Question: Is there a book you’ve written which remains unpublished but which you’d love to see out in the world?
Answer: Yes! In 2013 I wrote my first thriller, entitled Illicit Retainers. It’s a sexy, fast-paced suspense thriller, exploring themes of addiction, love, ambition and revenge, and brimming with twists and turns which hopefully keep the reader entertained to the end.
I’ll refrain from revealing the main hook of the plot here – in case it does find a home (!) but safe to say it centres on a struggling female lawyer who joins a glamorous City law firm only to discover its steeped in corruption with a dangerous hold over certain of its employees. With her life and freedom at stake, she must protect her family, and strive to expose the dangerous men who will stop at nothing to silence her and her closest allies. Although it’s the book my agent took me on for, and remains one of my and her favourites, despite coming close with a few big publishers, it hasn’t yet been taken on. I’ve had fabulous feedback from various beta readers so it would be my dream to see the book published. Next year, it’ll be a decade since I wrote it, so maybe 2023 will be my lucky year!
About the Book
She has your back.
And may stab you in it.
Wealthy, pampered Susan is living the perfect life in leafy Kingston. She’ll never let anyone see the darkness she’s concealing behind the diamonds and rosé.
Grace is new to the group, seemingly the perfect wife and mum. Yet no one knows the truth of what’s happening behind closed doors.
Loner Natalie hides the pain of her childhood behind a carefully ordered life. But how long can the past stay hidden?
Three unlikely friends, brought together for a weekly class run by beautiful, friendly, instructor, Jade.
But when Jade goes missing in mysterious circumstances, the group starts to unravel. And as their darkest secrets come to light, it seems that no one can be trusted. Even their closest friends…
You can buy a copy of My Loyal Friend at Bookshop.org here. (This is an affiliate link so I may make a few pence if you purchase through it). The book is also available in your independent bookshop and Waterstones.