Lisa Jewell has been publishing novels for two decades now, but it’s only with her last few titles that the London-born author has really broken out Stateside, with more and more readers connecting to her brand of twisty domestic suspense, in the vein of Liane Moriarty and Ruth Ware.
Last December, Jewell published Watching You, which netted major buzz among U.S. booksellers. She’s an author to watch right now, and EW is excited to offer an exclusive preview of what she’s got coming next: The Family Upstairs. It has everything those who have become fans of the author would hope for.
Here’s the official synopsis: “Gifted musician Clemency Thompson is playing for tourists on the streets of southern France when she receives an urgent text message. Her childhood friend, Lucy, is demanding her immediate return to London. It’s happening, says the message. The baby is back. Libby Jones was only 6 months old when she became an orphan. Now 25, she’s astounded to learn of an inheritance that will change her life. A gorgeous, dilapidated townhouse in one of London’s poshest neighborhoods has been held in a trust for her all these years. Now it’s hers. As Libby investigates the story of her birth parents and the dark legacy of her new home, Clemency and Lucy are headed her way to uncover, and possibly protect, secrets of their own. What really happened in that rambling Chelsea mansion when they were children? And are they still at risk?”
EW can exclusively reveal the cover for The Family Upstairs below. We also caught up with Jewell on hitting the 20-year milestone, breaking out with American readers, and the secret to a good, twisty family saga. Read on for more. The Family Upstairs publishes Oct. 22 and is available for pre-order.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I believe The Family Upstairs marks a full 20 years of being a published novelist for you. How is that milestone sitting?
LISA JEWELL: Well, believe it or not, it’s kind of gone sailing over my head until this very moment. In fact, for many years I told people my first book came out in 1998, and I’d been subconsciously looking forward to 2018 as the year that would mark both 20 years as a published author and my 50 birthday. Then I sort of realized that it wasn’t 1998 at all, that it was 1999. And then I forgot all about it. So thank you for alerting me to the fact. I think I might have to demand a party of some kind!
With U.S. readers, your books have had a slow build, as you’ve steadily gained a large, loyal readership — why do you think that is? How has that experience been from your perspective?
I’ve loved my experience of growing as a brand in the US. It’s been very pure and positive. In the U.K. I had a massive bestseller — in 1999! — with my very first novel. It was a very light and frivolous novel and marketed in the “chick lit” genre, and because it got such a huge amount of publicity at the time, a lot of people who wouldn’t normally read a book like that read it just to see what all the fuss was about, and that led to a lot of people going, “Meh, Lisa Jewell, not my kind of thing.” And then as my work matured and grew darker, it was a big battle to persuade people to jump on board again. My name was kind of tainted in a way. So here in the U.S., it’s so wonderful for readers to have no preconceptions or misconceptions and for them to just find their way to my books with an open mind.
The Family Upstairs is another tale of dark family secrets. What about that subject appeals to you as a novelist?
Oh, well, what’s not to like about dark family secrets?! And the beauty of writing about families with dark secrets is that families can be everywhere and anywhere. They can be rich or poor and can be any size or shape; they can be single-parent families, you can write about babies or teenagers (I love writing about teenagers, they’re the most interesting subject matter) or elderly parents or weird uncles, and you can absolutely write about family homes. And I love to write about houses. Family is where every story in the world starts out. Family is the crucible of all stories.
What’s the inspiration for Libby, Lucy, and Clemency? How did they come to you?
Squeaky-clean Libby came to me as I needed someone pure and slightly boring to throw into this crazy, messed-up family tree. Lucy was a woman I saw I when I was on holiday in the south of France two summers ago hustling her kids into the shower block of a posh beach club, and I just really wanted to write about her. Clemency is just a sidekick with a cool name, really.
What authors inspire you?
I love Clare Mackintosh, Louise Candlish, Sabine Durrant, Tamar Cohen. They never let me down. But generally speaking it is individual books that inspire me rather than particular authors. So some of the most inspiring books I’ve read have been by authors whose other books maybe haven’t hit the spot in the same way. Any time I read an amazing book, I’m inspired, regardless of who wrote it.
What’s the secret to delivering a good twist? How did you come up with some of your favorites?
I’m terrible at twists. I wish I could do more of them, but withholding information from the reader — which is basically all a twist actually is, [as in] it was there all along, you just chose a moment quite late in the day to reveal it — can really mess with the basics of a good, organically flowing narrative, and I’d rather let the narrative flow than tie myself in knots trying to throw in a twist. With The Family Upstairs there is a shocking twist on the last page that I had known was there somewhere, but I just couldn’t see how to put it in until the night before I delivered the book (when I had two double vodka and tonics and BAM, there it was).