Lizzy Barber studied English at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge University. After ‘previous lives’ acting and working in film development, she is now the Head of Brand and Marketing for a restaurant group, working with her brother, a restaurateur.
Her debut novel, MY NAME IS ANNA, was the winner of the Daily Mail crime writing competition.
She is currently hard at work on her next thriller. Lizzy lives in London with her husband, George, food writer and strategy consultant.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
I had been working on a literary fiction novel for a long time which was based on my grandmother’s life in Tel Aviv, Cairo and London, but I became increasingly stuck with it. This sounds a bit bizarre, but around the time there seemed to be a rash of news stories about women who had been kidnapped and escaped – Natasha Kampusch, Elizabeth Smart, Josef Fritzl – and of course there was the looming disappearance of Madeleine McCann. It made me wonder what it would be like if a child had been kidnapped at a very young age – so young that they had forgotten who they really were – and only began uncovering their true identity as a young adult. The idea became ‘My Name Is Anna.’
What came first the characters or the world?
Absolutely the characters. I have a background in theatre, and love getting under a character’s skin.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I took quite an unusual route to publication! I had mentioned the idea for My Name Is Anna to my mum, and had began to write it when she mentioned that she’d seen a competition in the newspaper searching for the next crime writer. I’d sent short stories to competitions before and never won anything, but I took a chance, and a few months later I heard the news that I had won the Daily Mail / Penguin Random House First Novel Competition! The prize included publication of my novel by Penguin Random House and representation by my now agent, Luigi Bonomi. It was an absolute fluke and a bit of a dream come true.
How long did it take to write?
Having a publisher lit a fire under me – I’d only written about 25 thousand words when I won the competition – so I finished it in about 6 months. The next ones have been a fair bit slower…
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
I can’t write to music, weirdly, I find it too distracting. Conversely, I like to have chatter or general noise around me, and I’ve always worked in coffee shops, even when I was doing my degree. If I’m at home, I’ll listen to podcasts, or put something familiar on like The Gilmore Girls.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
I had some lovely reviews for My Name Is Anna, in particular the late Times reviewer, Marcel Berlins, who called it ‘splendid.’ I was very proud of that. I know some readers were disappointed with the epilogue though, which I made deliberately open-ended, and that’s something I’ve taken on board for future novels.
Out of Her Depth isn’t out until the 28th April but it’s brilliant to already see it getting a lot of enthusiasm from advanced readers, who seem to love the Tuscan setting and unlikeable characters.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
A 1 star Amazon review from ‘golfie’. Subject line: Never judge a book by its cover, that’s my motto. book was purchased by my husband.
What can you tell us about your next book?
Out of Her Depth is published on the 28th April. It’s the story of Rachel, an unassuming young woman who gets a Summer job in a luxurious pensione in the Florentine hills, and finds herself thrust into a world of privilege. The book touches on desire, lust and toxic friendships… and, of course, because it’s thriller, what happens when these things collide, and everything goes wrong…
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Absolutely. I’m a glutton for punishment.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
Like many other authors, I have a draw of unfinished manuscripts and would definitely like to flex my muscles elsewhere in the future, but at the moment I still feel I am learning and growing as a thriller writer.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’ve dabbled in acting and film development, but for the past eleven years I’ve worked with my brother overseeing the Brand and Marketing for our restaurant group, The Hush Collection. I think what I realised when I made the move into writing is that what I really love doing is telling stories, and all of these roles have that in common.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Emily Bronte, Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith. More current names are Taylor Jenkins Reid, Emily St. John Mandel and Lisa Jewell.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I’m a completely itinerant reader – anything with an exciting plot and intriguing characters
What is your biggest motivator?
Hearing people have enjoyed my books
What will always distract you?
A-ny-thing. I am very easily distracted. Right now I am supposed to be finishing a structural edit, but this seemed way more fun
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
To be honest, I was quite surprised when I published My Name Is Anna that I had so little say. I think I had assumed, rather naively, that it would be a collaborative process, but as I have learned more about the publishing industry I have realised how much more there is to selling a book than an author’s preferences. Having said that, both my agent and I raised queries about the first cover proposal for Out of Her Depth, and I’m so glad we did because I’m very much in love with the revised, final result. I think it’s about picking your battles, and raising concerns if there’s a real reason to.
Were you a big reader as a child?
The biggest. When we’d go on holiday, half my suitcase would be taken up with books. I’m the youngest child in my family with a huge gap, but they’d always cart me along to restaurants because I’d just sit in the corner reading.
What were your favourite childhood books?
I loved Goosebumps, Christopher Pike and the Point Horror series (you could tell where that was going…). I was also a huge fan of Jacqueline Wilson, and I was ten I wrote my first ‘novel’ in the vein of her books. It was sixty pages with illustrations and I was incredibly proud of it.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
I think BookBar, near where I live in Islington, is an incredible business. They are so passionate about books and authors, and have really raised the bar for what a bookshop can be.
What books can you not resist buying?
Dystopian fiction – particularly ones with a feminist angle. I’m a sucker for a ‘not so distant future’
Do you have any rituals when writing?
…Apart from procrastinating? I work for the restaurants Monday – Wednesday and I write Thursdays and Fridays, so I have to be quite strict with myself. I like to go for a long run on Thursday mornings to clear my head and getting into ‘writing mode’ for the next couple of days, then I’ll shower and take my laptop down to the coffee shop (Redemption Roasters in Camden Passage – thank you for all the caffeine) for the rest of the day.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
Too many to contemplate. I keep a list on my phone and I’m constantly updating it
What is your current or latest read?
I’m about to go on holiday, so I have a few on my list, starting with The Sanctuary by Charlotte Duckworth, which looks fab.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
This is Gonna End in Tears, by Liza Klaussmann. I just loved her last two books.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I’m just finishing off the edits for A Girl Like That, my next book, which is out in 2023. And then it’s on to the next one, which is very early days, but is going to touch upon modern day cults…
Any events in the near future?
Nothing finalised, but there should hopefully be some events for Out of Her Depth…watch this space.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I love unravelling a mystery. It doesn’t have to have a mind-blowing or shocking ‘twist,’ but I just enjoy getting to the bottom of something, the satisfaction of finally having uncovered a secret…