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Clever Device Delivers Intriguing Story – 2014

 Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Clever Device Delivers Intriguing Story

An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Ms. Louise Doughty,
Author of Apple Tree Yard (Faber & Faber, 2 January 2014)

Columnist Anna Roins


Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty

Buy this Book
at Amazon.com

Yvonne Carmichael has always done the right thing. She worked hard for her high-profile career in genetics, a loving family life and blessed with a beautiful home. Then one day she meets a stranger at the Houses of Parliament and, on impulse, begins a passionate affair with him – a decision that risks everything she holds dear.

Apple Tree Yard is both a psychological thriller and an insightful examination of the moral values we all live by and the choices we make. Louise Doughty is an acclaimed writer and a master at her game.

“With Yvonne, it was a process of discovering her as I went along. “
—DOUGHTY

AUTHORLINK: Ms. Doughty, thank you for sharing your time with us. Apple Tree Yard is compelling in its subject matter as well as beautifully written. It’s almost as if Yvonne, the main character, has hijacked our brains – her voice is so clear. Was she fully formed when you started to write the prologue, or did she settle into character as you went along?

DOUGHTY: With Yvonne, it was a process of discovering her as I went along. As the novel opens, the reader finds her on the witness stand at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London, and knows very little about her other than she is on charge for a serious crime, facing hostile questioning and about to be exposed in a damaging lie. You then go back into the past to discover what has brought her there. It was the same for me – I wrote that Prologue without much idea about who Yvonne was or what she had done and then had to write the rest of the novel to find out. It was a process of excavation.

AUTHORLINK: I see. The idea that a set of conditions collude to weaken Yvonne’s moral code, despite her high intelligence, is intriguing. In addition, is the question of her culpability, which is raised in the third part of the book. As an unreliable narrator, is Yvonne simply a person with character flaws, or is her morality judged by what is expected of her gender?

DOUGHTY: I think the answer is: both. She is human, of course, and like all humans has a partial view of her own behaviour – but it’s also true that when she steps out of line, she is judged far more harshly than a man in her position would be. I am hoping to invite the reader to question their own judgement: you may not like Yvonne and may disapprove of her choices, but does she really deserve the level of punishment she gets? Women’s overall honesty or reliability is still judged through the prism of their sexual conduct. The same simply isn’t true of men.

AUTHORLINK: It’s compelling why this happens and many women, I’m sure, would welcome the dialogue. The courtroom scene felt truly realistic and embedded the reader into the layers of the British criminal justice system. Despite the obvious flaws, like how barristers (as you said once), “cherry-pick the facts to fit the narrative,” do you think in general the legal system is more effective than not, despite its many areas of needed reform?

DOUGHTY: I spent three weeks sitting through every day of a murder trial as research for this book – I had special permission from a judge to sit in the well of the court and was disguised as a barrister and sitting on the benches normally reserved for the Crown Prosecution Service. It was a fascinating experience and I felt the professionals there were truly committed to the idea of justice. Nonetheless, I emerged with feelings of profound ambivalence about the system of adversarial justice that exists in the UK and the US. So much depends on how good an advocate you are lucky to have – and how well your advocate can undermine witnesses for the other side. Witnesses are routinely attacked using factors that have nothing to do with a case – and all you need is a witness who is, say, inarticulate or nervous or ill-educated and it’s very, very easy for a highly trained professional to make them look mistaken or duplicitous. I’m not sure justice is best served in those instances.

“. . . first person occasionally lapsing into the second. . . felt instinctive and natural.”
—DOUGHTY

AUTHORLINK: I think many would agree with you. The narrative moves effortlessly from past to present alternating between a first-person and a second-person point of view, with an epistolary style. Did this develop naturally, or was it your intention to write it this way from the beginning? Either way, what were the advantages do you think?

DOUGHTY: The tone of voice that an author uses in any given book: that’s the part of the process that I find quite mysterious. I wrote the Prologue in Yvonne’s voice, the first person occasionally lapsing into the second as she addresses her lover as ‘you’ and it just felt instinctive and natural. It really wasn’t a conscious choice. It worked for Apple Tree Yard because it’s a novel in which the main character addresses the most calamitous events in her life with the benefit of hindsight, so that slightly dry, ironic tone is natural – but because it’s the first person, it’s easy to introduce the idea that she’s not entirely reliable, as none of us are when it comes to our own lives.

AUTHORLINK: Yes, understandable. We liked how you took a serious look at the consequences of infidelity for women especially in the eyes of the law and examined whether, the way they were viewed and judged, was proportionate to men. Do you believe society will ever be rid of this and other double standards?

DOUGHTY: That’s a really big question. Let’s just say, we have a long way to go. When it came to the way in which women are treated in the criminal justice system, how easily they are discredited or disbelieved, I researched very thoroughly and actually had to tone the truth down a bit in order to make the novel believable. Open any newspaper and you will see any woman in the public eye being traduced for her appearance or her sexual morality or her mothering skills in a way that simply doesn’t happen for men. There’s a lot of work to do.

AUTHORLINK: It’s remarkable that there’s so much more that needs to be changed. Your books deal with secrets and lies that eventually become exposed. Have you always been a fan of these themes? Do you have any favourite books where not much happens at all, like the gentle books of Flora Thompson, for an example? What do you think makes a good story?

DOUGHTY: I’m a big fan of secrets and lies and no, I’m not a devotee of gentle books. I’ve written about a girl who murders her parents (An English Murder) and genocide (Fires in the Dark) and in all my books there’s a common theme that of an ostensibly ordinary person to whom something hugely dramatic happens – how do they respond, what do they do? And how does that event relate to their past lives, their secrets? In some books, the dramatic happening is an external event (Whatever You Love) and sometimes it’s a life choice a character makes (Apple Tree Yard) but I hope that the reader feels invited to ponder how they would behave if something similar happened to them.

“We are all the heroes or heroines of our own particular story.”
—DOUGHTY

AUTHORLINK: It’s an effective way to hook the reader. Can you expand on this idea, “Everyone has a novel of their own lives that they use to explain themselves, and they ignore the things that don’t fit that narrative.”

DOUGHTY: We are all the heroes or heroines of our own particular story. We all have a pre-conceived narrative of our own lives and we cherry-pick the events that happen to us to fit that narrative. One of my favourite quotations on this comes from Janet Malcolm, who I admire enormously. ‘We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding, so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.’ I think that’s very true. As a novelist, you can never tell your reader every single thing that happens to a character or every single thing they do: every time they eat, every time they visit the bathroom – you cherry pick what fits your narrative, and I really believe we all do the same in our daily lives.

AUTHORLINK: Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why and, if you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

DOUGHTY: Well the answer is the same to both questions: Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. I am fascinated by the idea that the Brontes lived such remote lives, cloistered lives in many ways, and yet their novels are full of such passion and drama. How did Emily create a character like Heathcliff when she was so young and apparently so inexperienced? The nineteenth century was when it became really possible for a woman to become a novelist and when the novel itself became a mature form – it’s a wonderful era.

“On a writing day, it’s imperative that I don’t look at or begin any other tasks in the morning or I’ll get distracted . . .”
—DOUGHTY

AUTHORLINK: Very true! You have so many things going on in your career. You’re a novelist, a journalist, a playwright, a columnist, a creative writing tutor; the list goes on. How many hours a day do you devote to only writing and editing?

DOUGHTY: It varies enormously! I sold Apple Tree Yard in advance to my UK publishers, Faber & Faber, and that allowed me to turn down all the other jobs I do for a whole year and really concentrate on it – it was the happiest year of my career. When it made the bestseller lists in the UK and Ireland, my first thought was, great, I can say no to the next teaching job. But you never know from one year to the next, as an author, so there’s a lot to be said for keeping your finger in lots of pies.

On a writing day, it’s imperative that I don’t look at or begin any other tasks in the morning or I’ll get distracted, I have to go straight to my novel – the afternoons tend to be for admin, other work, childcare. Before I had children I would write through to the evening but that just isn’t possible now. Historically I’ve been a terrific multi-tasker but I find that the older I get the more I just want to hide in a hole and do nothing but write. I’m very lucky that I’m having a degree of sales success at the moment that’s going to allow me to do that, for a while at least.

AUTHORLINK: For a long time, to be sure. You also interview other successful writers. What would you say is a great interview question to ask an author (and if you like, will you answer it?)

DOUGHTY: What level and type of success – in all honesty – would make you happy? I would want an honest answer, though. A lot of bestselling authors feel they don’t get enough critical respect or prize nominations and huge numbers of literary authors crave sales. Very few authors get both. And I think it’s in the nature of literary ambition to be constantly dissatisfied – you should always feel that the next novel is going to be better than the last. Have you noticed I’m avoiding answering the question myself?

AUTHORLINK: Yes I have and that’s okay! What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

DOUGHTY: That if you do it long enough and hard enough, you can learn how to make the dog bark on command.

“. . .a main character in a situation of peril, a love affair and lots of dark secrets.”
—DOUGHTY

AUTHORLINK: Then there’s hope for us all.  Are you working on a new book at the moment? Can you tell us about it?

DOUGHTY: I am but it’s under wraps. Suffice to say, there is a main character in a situation of peril, a love affair and lots of dark secrets.

AUTHORLINK: That sounds fascinating. Looking forward to it. Ms. Doughty, thank you so much for sharing your time with us. We wish you every success for Apple Tree Yard and any future novels you publish.

DOUGHTY: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure!

About the Author:

Louise Doughty is the author of seven novels, including Apple Tree Yard, published by Faber & Faber, UK. So far, rights have been sold to 23 territories worldwide counting the US. Apple Tree Yard is her first novel since Whatever You Love, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has won awards for radio drama and short stories, along with publishing one work of non-fiction, A Novel in a Year, based on her hugely popular newspaper column. She is a critic and cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and regularly broadcasts for the BBC. To find out more about Louise Doughty go to official website http://www.louisedoughty.com/ and twitter account, https://twitter.com/DoughtyLouise.

About Anna Roins:

Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor before she embarked on a career in writing six years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to numerous articles on social and community issues and edited a number of books, websites and dissertations. She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with bestselling authors. You can find out more about Anna Roins on https://www.facebook.com/anna.roins and https://twitter.com/Sophiabluestar.