Liz Webb – Q&A

The Daughter by Liz Webb is published in paperback by Allison & Busby on 19 January 2023.

Liz kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Daughter.  

The Daughter is a psychological crime novel with a quirky, darkly comic narrator called Hannah Davidson. At the age of thirty-seven, after losing weight and growing out her short hair, she is shocked to catch sight of herself in a mirror and see the spitting image of her dead mother Jen. Her glamorous mother died in strange circumstances in the woods behind her family home at exactly the same age as Hannah is now. When she returns home to care for her dementia-suffering father, he confuses her with her mother and plays out conversations with her as if he’s talking to her dead mother. Hannah’s estranged actor brother always blamed their dad for their mother’s death and when he releases an autobiography, describing the day of her mother’s death with a slant she doesn’t recognise, Hannah decides to use her uncanny likeness to try to find out what really happened. She heightens her resemblance to her mum with clothes, hair, perfume, music and food, using every sensory reminder possible to jolt everyone who knew her mother into spilling revelations. But by unearthing long buried secrets, she puts herself on a collision course with the killer.  

 2. What inspired the book? 

I’m an ex-classical dancer and was literally half the weight I am now at the same height – I was five and a half stone as a dancer and now I’m eleven stone. I’ve been equally happy and unhappy at all weights, but I’ve noticed how, as my weight changes, I’ve slid in and out of looking like different members of my family who I never imagined I resembled. My mother was suffering from dementia and I became disturbed and fascinated by the way memory works as you age: how the past can seem crystal clear but the present is a blur; how the same conversation can be repeated innumerable times as if it never happened; and how siblings who lived through the same experiences, can have very different memories of the past. I was a stand-up comic for ten years and I really like darkly humorous observational humour and strong voices in books. So, I gave the narrator of my book my own darkly comic way of thinking, where she uses humour and self-deprecation to cope with dark feelings. After stand-up I was a producer in BBC Radio Drama for many years and was shocked when someone described me as looking very capable. I realised that I work hard to appear organised and reliable, but always double-checking everything and putting in the extra time because I’m such a nervous insecure person. So, I wrote about a character who looks glamorous like her confident mother, but is a seething mass of insecurity on the inside. I used a quince tree below my writing window as a metaphor: the quince fruit looks so succulent and tasty on the outside, but eaten raw it’s hard, sharp and revolting.

3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you? 

Ah ha ha haaa. I WISH I’d planned my first book more before writing it. But I had no idea what I was doing at the start. I did the Faber 6-month novel writing course and just wrote about things that I was experiencing: self-doubt, my Mum’s dementia, hating quinces, weight change and family alienation. I tried to entertain myself and to keep the attention of the class when I read out extracts. I gradually found a character I thought could carry a book and put her in a situation which would push her nerves to the limit. I did NaNoWriMo, the online November initiative where you make yourself write 50,000 words in a month, and I jumped around without a clear narrative, writing individual scenes which I thought were dramatic, then joined the disparate scenes into a very loose plot.  

I read the excellent book ‘Save the Cat’ for structure. To keep motivated and gain skills I did some short online writing courses:  

Yes, I’m addicted to courses and never feel like I know what I’m doing. 

Then I had to restructure and rewrite the whole thing over and over till the plot had a real shape, the characters were rounded, the voice was distinctive, and the tension ebbed and flowed and built to a satisfying climax. Next, I researched factual details and visited places used in the book, even faking interest in buying a house that backed onto the woods which my fictitious house backed on to and arranging a fake viewing of it to get lots of real detail. Finally, I worked on the prose, removing repetitions and flowery over-writing, and sorted my awful spelling, my clunky grammar and my terrifying over-use of hyphens.  

I’ve planned more with my second novel which I’m just finishing now, but however much I plan, I always go off on tangents and only really discover what I’m writing during the interminable editing process. But I shouldn’t moan. However hard the job of novel writing sometimes feels, it’s still way easier than a million other jobs, and as long as I keep slogging on, new ideas and solutions will always bubble up. 

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you? 

Publishing was a completely unknown world to me when I wrote this first book. I know a bit more now, but publishing still feels like a mysterious world run by powerful wizards in long robes, behind massive lead-lined doors, who hold my fate in their hands.  

I found it relatively easy to find an agent, so I thought a publishing deal would happen instantly but it took some time. I didn’t anticipate how glacially slow everything would be at each level of the process and found waiting for responses excruciating. I thought I’d feel a little more secure as I passed certain publishing industry milestones: when I got an agent, got a UK deal, got international deals, got to do interviews, got to write quotes for other books, etc – yet on every rung, there are new ways to feel insecure. But in a way, that’s freeing: to realise that I’m still the same me however successful or unsuccessful I am, so I can just get on with writing what I want to write, keep learning and forget about all the rest of the publishing stress.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

Obviously, I love reading – all genres, but especially books with strong voices, tight plots and relatable observations. And I love listening to audiobooks – while having a bath, walking or swimming with my underwater ipods.

My family are big into sport and we support and watch Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient football teams, and love tennis and darts. Over Christmas I went up to Alexandra Palace to see this year’s competition and I find nothing so calming as watching darts on TV. My favourite new darts clip is of the Italian commentators when Michael Smith got a 9-darter this year:  

I love food, eating chocolates off the Christmas tree and lounging about chain-watching boxed sets and films; so, I try to hold back imminent death from clogged arteries and stop myself falling into a funk of obsessive self-analysizing lethargy by doing physical things: morning workouts in my local park, swimming outside and walking whatever the weather’s like. When I have time, I find it very calming to sit naked in a really hot steamy Russian sauna wearing a felt hat and be beaten with bundles of birch, oak and eucalyptus twigs and then jump into a freezing plunge pool:  

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

I feel I should choose something very wise, very long or about surviving life in a book-burning totalitarian state. But I’ll just choose a book that I think is really well written, quirky and has a difficult main character who learns to live with her difficultness, cos that’s always going to be me: Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple.  

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? 

‘Who will play your lead character Hannah when your book is made into a Netflix series?’  

‘I’ve had had two bits of TV interest but nothing solid. If it ever does happen: Anna Maxwell Martin. And I’ll use part of my huge adaptation fee to pay for a professional house de-clutterer so that I can finally write at a tasteful empty desk which is colour-coordinated with my laptop like I see other writers on social media doing, instead of at the junk-stacked, fold-out exam desk I use, with its dried rings of undefinable sticky substances, three empty glasses cases and two phone chargers which don’t work.’  

About the Book

I lean in and whisper the question I have never let myself utter in twenty-three years.

“Dad, did you murder Mum?”

Hannah Davidson has a dementia-stricken father, an estranged TV star brother, and a mother whose death opened up hidden fault lines beneath the surface of their ordinary family life.

Now the same age that Jen Davidson was when she was killed, Hannah realises she bears an uncanny resemblance to her glamorous mother, and when her father begins to confuse them she is seriously unnerved.

Determined to uncover exactly what happened to her mum, Hannah begins to exploit her arresting likeness, but soon the boundaries between Hannah and her mother become fatally blurred.

You can order a copy of The Daughter here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may earn a small amount of money if you purchase through it. You can also buy The Daughter from your local independent bookshop).

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