Saturday, 11 April 2015

Hush, Hush.... The return of Tess Monaghan

Laura Lippman is the multiple award-winning best-selling author of (currently) twelve books in the acclaimed private investigator Tess Monaghan series and eight New York Times bestselling standalone novels. Her most recent book published in the UK and the US is Hush Hush. She has won numerous awards for her writing including the Anthony, Edgar®, Shamus, Macavity, Nero, Barry and Agatha Awards to name a few! Her books are published all over the world to great acclaim. With the return of Tess Monaghan in her latest novel Hush Hush, Laura Lippman writes about her return and how she dealt with writing about her now that she is a mother.

Tess Monaghan has had a permanent place in my brain since 1992, maybe earlier. The novel that would become my first novel lodged into my head on a sleety November night. A year later, caught in a five-hour delay on a cross-country trip from Baltimore to San Francisco, I began scribbling in a black-and-white composition book about a young woman who — scribbled in a black-and-white composition book. Tess Monaghan, who believed that the autumn was the true beginning of the year, recorded her annual resolutions in early September.

  1. Bench press 120 pounds.
  2. Run a 7-minute mile. 
  3. Read Don Quixtote
  4. Find a job, etc. 

More than twenty years and 12 books later, Tess has done all of those things. She has not only found a job, but also opened her own business. She has had a baby, entered into a stable relationship. Her business is solid enough that she can afford to have a partner on her payroll and can generally pick-and-choose among potential jobs. She does divorce work only when financially pressed. She continues to have a nonstop supply of idiosyncratic opinions. (Driving manual transmission is superior, for example.) She is, in short, the most satisfactory imaginary friend that a grown-up could ever have. 

And yet we were apart for most of six years because I didn’t have a clue how to write about her once she had a child. 

There is no formula for the crime novel — how I wish there were! — but there are reasonable expectations. One of those expectations is that there will be suspense, presumably involving the main character. It has been challenging enough, over the years, to respect Tess’s intelligence and the reader’s desire for thrills. I have tried hard to avoid the plot device that my friend Lauren Milne Henderson has described as: “What’s that terrible noise? Let me put on my filmy negligee and marabou-trimmed mules and investigate!

But it seemed to me, who became a mother two years after Tess did, that a mother would be particularly vigilant about her safety. And if she were not, neither the reader nor I could forgive her. I had read so many reader reviews in which betrayed fans of longtime series proclaimed that they “threw a book against a wall.” I hated the image of my book bouncing off walls. 

Every January, I teach in an 8-day writers workshop. Over a decade, I have found myself
telling my students that no one can write around a problem. There is no amount of style or technique or language that can paper over plot hotels. Characters must be consistent to their characters. And I tell them that when they find themselves trying to write around problems, maybe they should run straight at them. 

So I took my own advice. The problem was that Tess was a mother? Then run right at that subject. Write about motherhood across a broad spectrum, from the most quotidian problems (a tantrum in a grocery store) to the true worst-case scenario (“I killed my child.”) 

Of course, the problem remains. Tess is still a mother. I still have to find ways to provide suspense without making Tess stupid or foolhardy. Where does she go from here? I have no idea. The only thing I know for sure is that we are not done, Tess and I. Yet — Tess deserves a proper ending, a planned ending. She also deserves a break. Because when I am around, life is not so good for Tess. That’s the final irony. I make life absolute hell for my imaginary BFF. Eventually, it has to end. Doesn’t it? 

More information about Laura Lippman and her books can be found on her website.  You can also find her on Facebook.

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

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