Judy Blundell had been writing children’s books for decades before finally deciding to make her adult debut with The High Season.
Writing under the pseudonym Jude Watson, Blundell emerged as one of the most acclaimed voices in the children’s space, winning the National Book Award in 2008 for her YA novel What I Saw and How I Lied and gaining notoriety for popular middle grade series like The 39 Clues. But while her career was still flourishing in that particular area, the author couldn’t get a different kind of idea out of her head: an adult novel mixing beach read fun with literary heft.
The result, The High Season, affirms Blundell as not only a great author, but an impressively versatile one as well. This tale of divorcée named Ruthie, slowly unraveling over one unhinged summer in the Hamptons, has captivated readers with its thrilling and twisty narrative, as well as its sharp commentary on class, marriage, and aging. “Season teems with angst-riddled teenagers and twentysomething grifters, townies and trophy wives and eccentric billionaires,” EW’s Leah Greenblatt raved in her review. “But she weaves them all together seamlessly, landing somewhere in the smart, breezy sweet spot between Meg Wolitzer and Elin Hilderbrand.”
To give us insight into why she turned a corner into adult fiction, and how she crafted such an irresistible summer novel, Blundell chatted with EW about all things The High Season. Read on for our conversation below, and purchase your copy of the book here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been writing for a long time, and finally decided to write an adult novel. Why now?
JUDY BLUNDELL: I’m the debut author who’s written 100 books. [Laughs] The story dictated the fact that it was for adults; the original seed of the story came to me quite a while ago, over 10 years ago. I wrote a bit of it, and then I just kept writing on it whenever I could within the context of having this very busy professional life as a writer for children. The story just didn’t let me go. And then new threads started to come in and I could see where it was going to work as a novel. About three years ago, I was really faced with this choice of having another project in the pipeline. I was offered a contract for it, and I just went to bed that night thinking, “I just don’t feel right about this somehow.” I woke up the next morning and thought, “I really have to be in love with what I’m writing. I’ve got to find a way to finish this adult book.” It took me a while to get my financial ducks in a row; I couldn’t just quit everything right away, but I finally got to a point where I was able to devote a year to finishing the book. That’s a long way of saying it took a while. I was able to devote a year to it, to which I’m really grateful, and then I was able to finish a full draft.
How did you approach crafting a “beach read”? Did your process change at all?
My process is banging my head against a computer all the time. With this one, the plot was more complex, so I spent a lot of time working on the plot. Because I’ve worked in children’s literature and have written adventure stories for children, I pay a lot of attention to the page-turn, and there [are] a lot of cliffhangers in my books for kids. I wanted to marry that sense of a really propulsive page-turner to a literary novel, to really go into depth into adult themes that I was writing about. Those twists and turns that come pretty often in the book, I had to really map out — especially since there were three point of views — which a lot of writers do. I had one wall in my office that was just made up of index cards and post-its and color-coded sharpies — the inside of my crazy brain was on the wall.
What was it about this story that stuck with you and made you want to write it?
The original seed was the idea of a couple who’s really succeeded at being separated — they’ve done all the right things. They have what we’d call a good divorce: They’ve worked out childcare and they’re still friends. And then another person comes into the picture and that person solves every problem the marriage had, because the problems weren’t love — the problems were about money and ambition and things like that. That was the first seed. It wasn’t until I connected another interest of mine, which was when my husband and I, earlier in our marriage, lived in Montauk on the end of Long Island for a year. We moved there in January, and it was very beautiful and spare — this was before Montauk was an expansion of East Hampton.
Then summer came and people we knew were packing up their houses and moving in with their extended family or they were living in a trailer — finding other, cheaper ways to live so they could rent out their houses and give their income a bump. That stuck with me too: I thought, I could really marry these two ideas and see the beginnings of a novel. It got more and more relevant as real estate prices started really going up. Today, I think, the great wealth in this country is casting a bigger and bigger shadow on American life because of social media and everything we know about what rich people do and how they live. That is also a part of the novel. It was just a matter of weaving in those threads with this really simple story of a woman whose wife is blown apart fairly quickly in the course of a summer.
How did you draw Ruthie? She’s a really well-rounded, complicated protagonist.
Novels are always about bad choices. There’s contrast between what Ruthie is as a person — which is basically a very good person who follows the rules in her life and expects life to reward her for that — and what goes wrong in an unfair way. She’s been repressing her anger and frustration at certain things in her life, and so she scrapes. She gets in touch with her anger. She just happens to make a catastrophic choice with that anger to take back what she thinks she had.
Did you have any inspiration for creating a great beach read?
I think summer, as a concept to me, was really more what inspired me. It’s almost like New Year’s Resolutions: Everyone approaches summer in this way where they’re going to turn a page in their life. There are certain summers in people’s lives where they go, “I’m only going to eat fruit and salad!” Or “There’s this wedding I’m going to and I’m going to meet my true love!” Summer’s page-turning for people. “I’m going to live better.” It’s also a concentrated period of time for things to go wrong.
You’ve covered young adult, middle-grade, now adult. Anything else you want to tackle that you haven’t yet?
I’m working on another adult novel right now. That’s my next project. I’m superstitious about talking about it, but I’m planning on it not taking as long to write!