Susan Allott and The Silence
Susan Allott is a mystery author, namely of the literary type.
Her debut novel, The Silence, is available now.
It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney, Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father, Joe, phoning from Sydney.
It seems that thirty years ago, the Greens’ next-door neighbor Mandy disappeared. Joe claims he thought Mandy had moved away with her husband, but now Mandy’s family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her.
Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he’s under suspicion of murder. So Isla returns to Australia for the first time in a decade to support her father and to search for the truth.
Her arrival in Sydney brings up echoes from the past, taking us back to the heat of summer 1967, when two young couples lived side by side on a quiet street by the sea.
The more questions Isla asks, the more she learns about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore.
Could her father have done something terrible? And how much does her mother know?
At the center of it all lies a shameful practice rooted in Australia’s colonial past: the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families, children now known as the Stolen Generation.
A thrilling debut from a rising literary star, The Silence explores the cost of devastating truths, the depths of betrayal, and the fear that keeps some secrets hidden in plain sight.
Let’s Place Susan Under the Spotlight!
Tell us a little about yourself and your books, including the genre(s) you write in.
I’m a British author and I live in South London with my husband and children.
My debut novel The Silence came out in e-book and audiobook in April in the UK. (Because of the pandemic the hardback was delayed to 6th August).
What project are you working on now?
My current work-in-progress is a spooky mystery set in London about a young couple whose house renovations unsettle the history of the building, opening up a pocket of time that starts to bleed into the present.
They need to stop history repeating itself if they want to avoid the fate of the previous inhabitants.
I’m enjoying writing about my local area, drawing inspiration from places I see every day. It makes a change from writing about the other side of the planet!
How do you choose the genre(s) you write in?
I wrote the kind of book I love to read.
I wrote it for myself initially and when I submitted it to agents I described it as a literary mystery in the vein of early Gillian Flynn.
Luckily my agent didn’t want me to change the genre, it turned out to be marketable after a bit of work. And when I sat down to start working on my second book it was another mystery.
I like the idea of staying with this genre but trying out different traditions within it.
Is there any particular author or book that’s influenced you, either growing up or as an adult?
I’m a big fan of early Gillian Flynn, especially Sharp Objects.
I also love Maggie O’Farrell and Kate Atkinson.
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas also made a big impression; he writes with such empathy and can really get under a character’s skin.
It took me seven years to write The Silence (whilst working part time and bringing up children) and in that time I read as much Australian fiction as I could get my hands on. Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Peter Carey, Sally Morgan, Jane Harper, Liane Moriarty. I could go on!
Is anything in your books based on real life experiences?
The Silence was inspired by my failure to immigrate to Australia in the nineties. I left and went back to London, and promptly fell in love with an Australian man who I went on to marry! So the Australian setting came out of those experiences.
I might have written a different debut if not for my years in Sydney and the extreme homesickness I experienced while I was there. It felt sometimes like Australia was forcing me to make my peace with it, like it wouldn’t let me go.
How do you come up with your titles?
With great difficulty!
When I was writing, I had in mind The Great Silence as a potential title, which comes from a phrase used by the anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner to describe the way Aboriginal history was obscured by white Australian historians.
My agent wasn’t keen on it at the time, and when the novel was submitted to publishers we used the working title Blind Spot. Nobody liked it much, and throughout the editing process we kicked around dozens of ideas for a new title, but we couldn’t reach a consensus.
We really wanted a title that everyone loved, so it could have the same title in the UK, Australia and the U.S.
It was getting a bit desperate as we reached the final editing stage without a title, and I thought I was going to have to accept a mediocre title that nobody loved.
I looked back through my list of working titles and found The Great Silence. I was sitting at a bus stop emailing my editors and agent, and the idea came to me as I was typing to simplify if to The Silence. I hit send on the email and got an email back within minutes – they loved The Silence. So did the Australian team and the Americans, the marketing and sales people. It was so obvious once we’d decided – why hadn’t we thought of it sooner? The simplest ideas are often the best.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Honestly I think writing is the only thing I’m good at!
I was very studious at school and did well academically, mostly because I was good at putting my answers down on paper.
I think I did a good job at work up to the point where I was made redundant in 2018. But really all I ever wanted to do was write books.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party, which four authors would you invite (alive or dead)?
Curtis Sittenfeld, Margaret Atwood, Anne Enright, Jonathan Franzen.
What are five words that describe your writing process?
Slow, caffeinated, torturous, compulsive, rewarding.
Which would you rather do: Never write another story or never read another book?
This is a HIDEOUS question!
I honestly don’t think I can make this choice. But since you’re making me do it I’ll choose to give up writing if it means I can continue reading. But it would be so hard. The two are so bound up together for me.
What is the funniest typo or error you’ve ever written?
When my daughter was a baby I mis-spelled a message to my husband about breast feeding, calling it ‘beast feeding.’
We referred to her as the Beast for the whole of her first year. ‘Have you fed the Beast?’ etc.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
I named my protagonist Isla because of the suggestion of the word island.
She is Australian-born and has British parents: an island-child. Isla’s grandmother is Irish, and as a child Isla thinks that her grandma is from a place called ‘Island’, as I did at that age. (My mother is from Kilkenny).
It pleased me to give her a name that linked her to the geography of her roots, in a book about the enormous pull of home. I also think it’s a beautiful name.
For the rest of my characters, I wanted them to have names that were distinct from one another, without too many syllables, or that could be shortened.
Mandy is sometimes shortened to Mand, but only by her husband; he also calls her Amanda at times, a useful shortcut as to his mood, whether he is displeased with her or showing affection.
Likewise Louisa’s name is frequently shortened to Lou. I chose the name Louisa because to me it has a simple elegance, more British-sounding than Mandy to my ears, and more middle-class.
Louisa struggles to adapt to life in Australia, and her English-sounding name helped me to develop her as someone who clings to her British identity in an Australian setting.
Who is the most supportive person in your life when it comes to your writing?
My husband David has been great.
I was trying to write when I met him and he always knew it was my great ambition to write a novel.
It wasn’t always easy to keep working on it when our children were young, and for a few years I abandoned it because I never had a minute to myself.
But the year I turned 40 David bought me a week at an Arvon writing retreat and it helped me to refocus on it. I had a first draft within a year of that retreat, and it was the first of many.
What is your most favourite word and why?
I’m going to go with sanguine because it sounds nice and I should use it more.
What is your least favourite word and why?
I’m a bit tired of stunning. But very fond of stunned.
You can find Susan in the following places:
Facebook: Susan Allott Facebook
Instagram: Susan Allott Instagram