Fresh Blood

Name: Ali Land

Title of Book: Good Me Bad Me

'...a startlingly good debut.'

Annie's mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. But Milly's mother is a serial killer - and blood is thicker than water.

Annie is, after all, her mother's daughter...

In the first half of last year, I gave a rave review for Robin Wasserman’s novel, ‘Girls on Fire’. I experienced a similar sense of excitement very early on with ‘Good Me/Bad Me’. It is a startlingly good debut.

The central character in ‘Good Me/Bad Me’ is Annie, a deeply traumatised, deeply troubled teenager. Annie’s mother is a serial killer who was only discovered when Annie herself went to the police and told them what her mother had been doing.

Land perfectly captures Annie’s relief at knowing her mother can’t hurt another child, and her guilt at being the person who handed her over to the police.

As she waits for the murder trial to begin, Annie is given a new identity and a new – temporary – home with her psychologist, Mike, and his family. Mike’s role is to help Annie prepare for the trial and make sure she’s able to give evidence against her mother, an ordeal Annie dreads more with each passing day.

What follows is a gradual unfolding of Annie’s story. With incredible skill, Land reveals the depths of abuse Annie has suffered, without once letting this become gratuitous. The more we learn about Annie, the more we understand her desperate need to be accepted in her new family.

But wanting something doesn’t mean it will happen. Mike’s wife, Saskia doesn’t seem entirely comfortable welcoming Annie into her home. While Phoebe, Mike and Saskia’s only child, makes it clear from the outset that she cannot stand Annie (now called Milly).

Phoebe is a nasty, damaged young woman whose behaviour becomes increasingly threatening the longer Milly stays in her house. The tension between Phoebe and Milly works brilliantly. And, as the trial date draws ever closer, the combined pressure from Phoebe and the prospect of facing her mother in court, threaten to break Milly completely.

But Milly is her mother’s daughter. She was raised in violence and has witnessed violence for most of her short life. Is it only a matter of time before she too chooses violence as a way of dealing with the world around her? That’s the question that keeps the reader turning the pages of this brilliant novel.

There is an image running through the novel of the ‘playground’ where Milly’s mother carried out her abuse and murders. ‘Up eight. Up another four. The door on the right’. It’s a haunting image that will stay with you long after you have finished this fine novel.

In Milly, Land perfectly captures the voice of an extremely damaged, very desperate teenage girl. This is a dark, complex and absolutely gripping psychological thriller. If you like crime fiction that’s original and unconventional, you will love this book.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) I’ve read that you used to work as a children’s mental health nurse. How did that experience influence this book? What inspired you to make the jump from nursing to writing?
In mental health, for many, often good reasons, touch isn’t allowed, so instead we talk and we listen. We gather stories and we search for the why. Why is a person like that? What happened to them to make them that way? Having been up close and personal with emotional trauma I’m able to burrow deep into the psychological insights readers find fascinating. So what inspired me to jump from nursing to writing? Like most writers I was a reader first and a voracious one at that, but it wasn’t until much later on in my life that I felt brave enough to acknowledge and explore my own creativity. The voices and images in my mind that I had learnt to exist with from a very young age were louder and sharper, and I started to experience a deep sense of restlessness. Reading had brought me such comfort and pleasure and I wondered if writing would do the same, so I decided to attend an evening class in creative writing. Almost as soon as I put pen to paper I felt a palpable sense of relief, like I could finally exhale. ‘Good Me Bad Me’ is the first thing I wrote and the first draft tore out of me in less than five months. I was thirty-three when I started to write but looking back now I’ve always been a writer, it just took me longer than most to get the words on to the page.
2) Milly/Annie is a really great character. Despite the horror of her earlier life, she retains a humanity that is so touching and makes the reader really root for her. The circumstances of her early life are terrible. Was this story inspired by any real life crime?
It makes me really happy to hear that. I felt such a responsibility towards Milly and I worked incredibly hard to make her character one you could feel compassion for. The basis of the book was born out of a real conversation I had with a fifteen year old girl who I looked after as a nurse. The girl was convinced her insides were black and no matter what she did, she would turn out just like her mother who had been involved in the serious harm of young children. In writing my book I wanted to explore how it would feel to have an evil and criminal mother, but also how other people would respond to a young person like Milly. The remaining majority of the book was down to my dark imagination being allowed off the leash.
3) Despite the title, I didn’t ever think of Milly as a ‘bad’ person. She is deeply traumatised and obviously concerned that she might be more like her mother than she wants to believe. To me, she’s clearly nothing like her mother. Did you feel the same about her?
A French journalist asked me recently if I felt Milly was a more dangerous monster because she had ‘survived’ her mother. I was shocked by the idea of Milly being thought of as a monster. Yes, she’s unreliable and at times unnerving, but she’s also exceptionally brave and resourceful and caring. It’s not enough, certainly in a case like Milly’s, to simply desire to be good. She needs her whole psyche re-programmed, her fight or flight response needs to be readdressed and her ability to trust needs to be readdressed. This is why I used the powerful tool of fiction to showcase a child-like Milly. To open up conversations around how we feel about these types of children. It’s been proven that understanding leads to compassion, and when people have contacted me after reading the book to tell me that they now understand the challenges a young person like Milly faces, that to me has been the biggest gift in this process.
4) Without giving anything away, there’s a great twist at the end of this novel. Did you know – from the outset – how the book would end?
As writers we generally fall into two categories – the Plotters or the Pantsers. I fall into the latter. So, ‘by the seat of my pants’ I am led by my characters and their emotional hearts. I have to write thousands and thousands of words before I truly know my characters. I love the realisations I have as I write, the Eureka moments where I think, ’of course he or she wouldn’t say that.’ When the ending to ‘Good Me Bad Me’ revealed itself to me, I knew my characters inside out and could see it was both a realistic and thought-provoking ending.
5) What comes first for you – plot or character?
‘Good Me Bad Me’ was all about character. The book sold at fifty-five thousand words based on the strength of Milly’s voice, I then grew the plot around her. No matter which one comes first it’s imperative that by the time the book is finished, both the tightness of plot and the authenticity of the characters have been addressed if you want to hold the reader’s attention.
6) What one piece of advice would you give novice writers after your journey becoming published?
Find an agent you can trust implicitly. One you can laugh with, cry with, and one who will go to war for you. Like any career there will be highs and lows and you want an agent who’ll remain by your side throughout.
7) What can we expect next from Ali Land?
I’ve done a lot of publicity for ‘Good Me Bad Me’ recently and now I’m getting my head down for book two. I’m still writing my way in and working out whose story it is I’m telling. It’s hard not to feel pressure after the success of my debut but I keep telling myself what I used to tell the kids I looked after – just do your best and don’t forget to breathe.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris: the first book to truly thrill yet terrify me. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier: atmospheric, a creeping sense of dread and I love that the narrator is never named. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson: more gothic horror than crime but one of my favourite books of all time. Jackson writes with perfect restraint, slowly turning the screws and leaving as much unsaid as possible.