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What She Knew: A Novel Paperback – December 1, 2015
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From the Publisher
Author One-on-One: Mary Kubica and Gilly Macmillan
Mary Kubica is the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby.
Mary Kubica (MK): What She Knew is about the abduction of an eight-year-old boy, which is a mother's worst nightmare. I have my own eight-year-old son at home, and thought of him quite frequently while reading the novel. I know that you have children of your own. Did this make the novel difficult to write or did having children make it easier to bring the character of Ben and his mother's agony to life?
Gilly Macmillan (GM): I do have three children of my own, the youngest of whom was also 8 years old when I began to write What She Knew, and I would say my own experience of motherhood definitely informed my writing.
From a purely practical point of view it was useful, because I used elements from my own life to build up the world which Rachel and Ben inhabit. I've lived in Bristol for eight years with my young family and all the locations are very familiar to me. I often walk with my children and dogs in the woods where we find Rachel and Ben at the beginning of the book, and we've all swung on the rope swing where Ben goes missing. I also know well how eight-year-old kids talk and behave and what's important to them, so I hope I've been able to make Ben's world one that feels real to the reader.
Having said that, the challenging subject matter of the book meant that drawing inspiration from things that have happened in my own life wasn't, as I think you've guessed, without its difficulties. To imagine and then depict Rachel's agony as truthfully as I possibly could, I had to remember in uncomfortable detail some tough, and very private, experiences of my own. When one of my children was a baby he was diagnosed with cancer, and although he has since made a full recovery, I do know what it feels like to spend every minute fearing that you will lose a child who you love more than you can possibly describe. It certainly wasn't easy revisiting the memories of that difficult time in our lives, and I often had to break from my desk to escape the intensity of it, but I hope that by doing so I've managed to give Rachel's narrative voice at least some of the emotional authenticity that I think the story requires.
MK: Your descriptions of settings, people, landscapes and more are eloquent and vivid. I could see your characters in my mind, and could easily envision myself in the woods by the tire swing, or in Rachel and Ben's home. I've read that you're a photographer, and wonder what, if any, influence this has on your writing.
GM: I've worked as a photography lecturer, and I'm a passionate amateur photographer and also trained as an art historian, so I think it's probably safe to say that I'm very interested in trying to convey a vivid visual impression of things! I don't visualize an entire scene when I'm writing but small sensory details always leap out at me: the silhouette of a bird flying over bare treetops against a white sky, the sound of an old lady’s fingernails as she scrabbles with arthritic hands to pick something up from a countertop, the feel and smell of the teddy bear your young son left behind. I think small things such as these can make a large impression on us and often form our memories and experiences more intensely than the bigger picture.
“Gilly Macmillan introduces some smart variations on the [missing child] theme in her debut mystery...Macmillan enlivens the narrative with emails, newspaper headlines, passages from professional journals, even transcripts from Inspector Clemo’s sessions with a psychotherapist. But her best move is to include vicious blog posts that go viral.” (New York Times Book Review)
“This accomplished, intelligent debut should come with a warning--it’s completely addictive. A nail-biting, sleep-depriving, brilliant read.” (Saskia Sarginson, author of The Twins)
“Every parent’s nightmare, handled with intelligence and sensitivity, the novel is also deceptively clever. I found myself racing through to find out what happened.” (Rosamund Lupton, international bestselling author of Sister)
“Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.” (Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty One)
“A nuanced, completely addictive debut.” (People)
“Heart-in-the-mouth excitement from the start of this electrifyingly good debut…an absolute firecracker of a thriller that convinces and captivates from the word go. A must read.” (Sunday Mirror)
“A mother and son spend an ordinary Sunday at a park near Londontown. Until the boy goes missing. Cue dramatic music. This read’s basically The Changeling meets an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit but set in the UK.” (The Skimm)
“What an amazing, gripping, beautifully written debut. WHAT SHE KNEW kept me up late into the night (and scared the life out of me).” (Liane Moriarty, New York Times bestselling author)
“One of the brightest debuts I have read this year - a visceral, emotionally charged story….heart-wrenchingly well told and expertly constructed, this deserves to stay on the bestseller list until Christmas” (The Daily Mail)
“A terrific debut” (Reader's Digest)
“A very clever, tautly plotted page turned from a terrific new writer” (Good Housekeeping)
“An engaging debut.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Macmillan peppers her debut with subtle red herrings and a variety of potential suspects, ratcheting up the tension slowly but oh so deliciously.” (Booklist)
“Readers will have a tough time putting this one down. (Publishers Weekly)
“…a clever, dark, compulsive read… If you liked <em>All the Missing Girls</em> by Megan Miranda, you’ll also enjoy this one.” (Birmingham magazine)
From the Back Cover
Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.
The police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.
As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.
Where is Ben? The clock is ticking
. . . . “Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.”—Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty One
“Every parent’s nightmare. . . deceptively clever.”—Rosamund Lupton, author of Sister
“Completely addictive. A nail-biting, sleep-depriving, brilliant read.” —Saskia Sarginson, author of The Twins
Top customer reviews
As the clock ticks, many people in law enforcement and in Ben's family are forced to reveal secrets. Rachel is accused of being a bad mother, which she now begins to believe. After all, if she had kept Ben at her side rather than giving him a taste of freedom, this would not have occurred. She is forced to deal with her ex-husband's new wife, realizing that she has been unfair.
When her sister drops a bombshell, Rachel feels that she can trust nobody. When Jim Clemo's girlfriend devastates him with her secret, he is shattered. Ultimately everyone surrounding Ben becomes suspect, and trust issues abound.
This is a realistic page-turner. I felt as though I were in the middle of a law enforcement investigation, complete with blog and Facebook posts, and I gained even more sympathy for a family to which this crime has happened. I look forward to Gilly Macmillan's next book.
The author did come to resolve with their attitudes at the end. The statements about "what they deserved" were good.
The writing was tight and flowed well.