Fresh Blood

Name: Rebecca Whitney

Title of Book: The Liar's Chair

'...a searing and heart-wrenching tale... '

Driving back after spending an illicit evening of drinking and love-making with her lover, Rachel knocks down a tramp on a deserted road. Fearful of what her husband, David will say or think Ė as well as being over the limit, Rachel panics and drags the trampís body in to the scrubland alongside the road. What happens within the next few months will be a direct result of her actions.

Full of remorse for this unknown man who had rejected society Ė or had society rejected him? Ė Rachel plays over the scene time and again. Her controlling husband, David dealt with the matter quickly Ė the weapon that dealt the killing blow Ė her car Ė is found burned out after being reported stolen by David. The fact that David has such shady connections shows Rachel she is not safe to escape. David would rather have her killed than lose her to another man.

As Rachel constantly presses her own self-destruct button, she feels the power of the man she married as she slides in to the depths of her despair. Rachel feels more and more isolated and she knows that it will only be a matter of time before David runs out of patience.

I read ĎThe Liarís Chairí in only a couple of sittings as Rachelís plight stayed with me even when I laid this book down to do mundane jobs life conjures up. But as soon as I could, I was back at Rachelís side. This isnít because Rachel is particularly likeable Ė in fact, her personality is so self-destructive that half the time she gets herself in to some of the scrapes by her own hand. However, nothing prepares you for the punishment meted out on Rachel by her husband, David.

What makes David one of the most frightening and intimidating men on paper is the fact that his abuse of Rachel is never physical. Slowly but surely he chips away at her fragile persona, gradually taking away any small amount of pride Rachel might have had, stripping her back to the little girl whose father left her at a young age. And that is where all the trouble started.

As Whitney slowly peals back Rachelís psyche you begin to understand that the poor woman never stood a chance. Having met her husband at University, they began a relationship that was always based on greed rather than love. The need for success and wealth has always been high on Davidís agenda Ė and an attractive and malleable wife was always a good choice of partner. I have said that David wasnít physical towards Rachel, but his treatment of her in some instances made me as sick as if I had been punched in the gut.

Whitney shows Rachelís past, her parents Ďwife-swappingí parties of the 80ís, the fatherís desertion of the family home and her motherís manipulation and scheming persona that is still strong in Rachelís life even though she has been dead for the past year. I felt that Whitney brought Rachelís mother to life and was very much a three dimensional character and quite honestly, responsible for Rachelís current behaviour. For Rachel, David was the strong man she never had in her life, the parent she never really had.

Yes, there were some parts I felt were a little over descriptive but with practice, Whitney will see that less can mean more. What I was left with were the agonised whispers of a woman whose home was her prison. She could go out but in fact, she had no way of escape.

This is a searing and heart-wrenching tale that has a glimmer of hope at the end. Whitney really did show that you can have it all and yet have nothing. This is a chronicle of a womanís decline within a crumbling marriage with one of the most hateful men I have ever had to read about. I cannot get out of my head that people exist who live within this kind of marriage on a daily basis whilst putting on a faÁade of contentment. Knowing that makes the shivers from this book all the more potent.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ĎThe Liarís Chairí is a very dark tale of a poisonous marriage. Where did the inspiration come from that germinated the original idea for your book?
I was interested in the idea of a woman who is lost to herself, who is going off the rails, but doesnít know why. Rachelís present-day dysfunction, with all her complexities she hasnít addressed, leads her to some pretty poor decision making, plus a good dose of willful self-destruction. It is this self-sabotage that inspired much of the original idea of the book. Rachel will only make the changes she needs by reaching rock bottom, and even though she is avoiding addressing the reasons why she is remote and difficult, subconsciously she is forcing her hand, getting deeper into trouble in order to find an escape. The most prominent of these bad decisions is marrying a man who is only interested in molding and confining her to suit his own needs. But for someone who has leant from an early age that being controlled is the norm, Rachel walked into this situation willingly, and remains there because on some deeper level she believes she deserves nothing better. I also wanted to show how a seemingly strong and successful woman could find herself in a position of such powerlessness. Many people think itís easy to walk away from an abusive relationship, but I hope Iíve demonstrated the mental manipulation and self-esteem bashing that can be experienced in this sort of domestic abuse.
2) You have written in the first person and from Rachelís point of view. Was it difficult to keep the momentum of the book going when you have a lot of internalisation going on via Rachel?
In Rachelís case it didnít feel hard as the decisions she makes are very unusual and self-destructive - they are not the actions of a fully-functioning adult - so there is always another shock around the corner, which I hope keeps the pace up. Demonstrating the flawed characteristics of Rachelís internal world was fascinating for me, and I hope that part of the surprise in discovering how her mind works, also keeps the momentum of the story going.
3) I have to admit that none of the characters, save possibly Will (and he is a drug dealer!) are not particularly attractive or invoke sympathy. Even Rachel has to take some of the blame for her troubles. However, despite this I was still compelled to read Rachelís story. How do you think you balanced the storyline with characterisation when you must have known that the people you had created would not necessarily get the backing of the reader?
Obviously there is nothing thatís meant to be sympathetic about David - he is an abusive narcissist - but Iím happy that you Ďliked?í Will as heís essentially a good guy. Yes, heís a drug dealer, but heís fallen into the world of petty criminality through poor decisions and opportunities. Thatís not to excuse crime, as obviously not everyone who has his start in life goes on to lead the same life as Will, but I wanted to show the humanity in someone who hasnít had the support and love from an early age that many of us have. He has genuine feelings for Rachel and that goes a long way in her world of mistrust.

With Rachel however, while sheís very remote and flawed at the beginning, I hope that as the reader sees more clearly the reasons why she has become the person she is, that they would have some sympathy for the damaged being she is. Obviously itís down to the reader to decide what they think is acceptable behaviour, but I like her. Plus I hope by painting three-dimensional plausible people, the characters are interesting and engaging if not lovable, and that is enough to keep the reader turning the pages.
4) The book is based in Brighton where you live. Was it easier to plan your story in a landscape you were familiar with?
Yes, very much so. Iíve used Brighton and also areas of Sussex where I grew up as the backdrop to the story, and because Iím so familiar with this environment it really helped to evoke the atmosphere and mood that I wanted. I haven't been specific with locations or many landmarks as I was keen to use the locations as a flavour, but this also it gave me a little more creative license to make the places work for me. Brighton is also very well known, and I felt that for many readers they would have the same familiarity with the town as I did, and therefore the locations would come alive for them.
5) You paint Rachelís mother as quite colourful and yet childish at the same time. Although she died only a year before she has quite a strong presence in Rachelís story. Was this deliberate?
Yes it was. I wanted to show how those early years of Rachelís life set her up badly for adulthood, and how her manic mother and absent father were the key to mapping her personality at this early stage. Rachel became stuck in this period, repeating her mistakes and falling further into problems as she was unable to move on from the damage. Addressing her childhood and the feelings she had about her mother is as important to Rachel as attempting to solve the present.
6) Rachelís husband, David is a control freak. Despite being an abusive husband he never laid one finger on his wife during the whole book, although he mentally toyed with her. I felt Davidís abuse towards Rachel was very strong even though it was not physical. Was it difficult to convey Davidís abuse towards Rachel as it wasnít physical and how did you get around this situation?
I had a lot of problems with Davidís character in early drafts because I didnít want him to be a cartoon baddie, and at first he was coming across as very two dimensional. Physical violence is one of the major ways to demonstrate abuse, but it was important for me to base Davidís coercion and manipulation around mind games which would lover Rachelís self-esteem and make it more plausible for her to remain with him. When I took the physicality out, it actually made Davidís character come alive for me as he felt much more threatening. We know what he is capable of, we see how guilt free he is when he mentally tortures Rachel, and how his allegiance can switch so easily depending on what suits him at the time, so there is always the possibility that he could erupt at any moment. That menace is more dramatic than seeing him be violent towards her all the time.
7) This is your debut novel. Did you have to write around your Ďday jobí? What sort of writing regime do you try to stick to?
I have an admin role in mine and my husbandís business, so Iím very lucky in that I can prioritise my writing when I need to. I intend to write everyday, but the reality is often different. Usually I work the hours when the kids are at school, but when Iím in a good writing zone I can go on much longer. Mostly I try not to beat myself up if I havenít achieved the regimen I hoped for as the guilt only ends up making it harder to get back to work. Writing retreats are wonderful though if you can find the time and the money. Thereís an amazing place called Retreats for You in Devon and Iíve had some of the most intensive and productive writing sessions when Iím staying there as thereís nothing to disturb the flow.
8) As a newly published author what advice would you give to anyone looking for their first deal?
Get your manuscript as polished as you can. I spent a very long time redrafting until I really couldnít do any more without professional input. The book at that stage was as good as I could make it, and even though itís changed since then after working with my fantastic agent and editor, I believe I gave myself the best shot at getting representation.
9) What are you working on at the moment?
Iím working on another psychological thriller but itís not a sequel to ĎThe Liarís Chairí. Itís about a woman who has a baby, and she struggles very much in those early months. She does all the things youíre not supposed to do: she moves house, she isolates herself from her friends, sheís very competitive about being the perfect mother. As a result her mental health deteriorates, she finds it hard to bond with her daughter and her marriage suffers, although this time sheís married to a very nice man. One night she witnesses some serious criminal activity in a disused building at the end of her road, but she doesnít know whether to trust what sheís seen as sheís so mentally unstable at this stage. Her choice has to be whether to batten down that hatches and try to look after her daughter while not raising any more alarm bells about her maternal capabilities, or to try to find out whether what she has seen is true, and go some way to help the people caught in the nightmare.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Historically I havenít read a lot of crime, and I was very keen when I was writing ĎThe Liarís Chairí not to be influenced by the genre as I very much wanted to write my own book rather than try to work to any expectations. Recently however I have read quite a few thrillers. I loved Peter Swansonís ĎThe Kind Worth Killingí, and even though I wouldnít describe it as a crime book, I was blown away by Kate Hamerís ĎThe Girl in the Red Coatí. Cormac McCarthyís ĎNo Country for Old Mení is pretty great too.