Elizabeth Kay, SEVEN LIES

Elizabeth Kay, SEVEN LIES

Zibby Owens: Elizabeth Kay is the author of Seven Lies which is a fantastic debut thriller. Seven Lies, when it made the submission rounds for the publishers, it became one of the most sought-after novels of the year and was immediately sold all over the world at the London Book Fair. Now there’s already a TV deal in place. Publishing rights have been sold in twenty countries. It’s gearing up to be a really exciting, much-anticipated summer read, so I had to get it out so you guys could hear about it. Elizabeth Kay works in the publishing industry under a different name. She currently lives in London and has a first-class degree in English literature.

Welcome, Elizabeth. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Elizabeth Kay: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I love your accent. I always love doing podcasts with these beautiful British accents. It sounds so official and everything. Seven Lies, your book took the world by storm at the London Book Fair. Now it’s going to be a TV and movie. It’s so good. First of all, tell listeners what it’s about and then what inspired you to write it, which is a great story too.

Elizabeth: It’s the story of seven lies that lead to a death. It starts with two best friends, Jane and Marnie, who’ve known each other since school. It is organized by the seven lies that Jane tells to Marnie throughout the novel. Along the way, we find out what this death is and how their friendship falls apart and the various strings that have been pulled and released as their relationship has evolved. For me, it was about how childhood friendships can evolve as we become adults and what that can look like and how female friendships can be intense and very overwhelming. That can be a brilliant thing, but it can also be a difficult and very complicated thing at the same time.

Zibby: It’s so true.

Elizabeth: The inspiration for it, how I came to write it.

Zibby: Yes, please.

Elizabeth: On a practical, how-did-I-write-it note, I’d been writing something else for about three years. I felt like I’d been working at it for absolutely ages. I had rewritten it again and again and changed whole parts of the plot. I never really felt like it was particularly exciting or very strong. It took a long time for me to have the courage to say, actually, I’m going to stop trying. I’d always been told, keep persevering. Keep persevering. Don’t give up. It felt like a bit of failure to put that one away. But as soon as I had kind of drawn a line under it, I was able to start thinking about something new. I knew I wanted to write about female friendship. I knew that I wanted it to be very dark and very sinister. The main character is Jane. It’s all told from her perspective. Her voice came to me straight away. I so enjoyed being in her head. Once I had her and I felt like I knew her and I knew how she spoke and what she wanted to say, I felt like I was on to something that felt exciting to me.

Zibby: It’s also so great how you have Jane talk directly to the reader. I always love when that happens in books.

Elizabeth: Me too.

Zibby: It’s so neat because then you’re just so in it. You feel complicit in whatever she’s doing and thinking. It’s an intimacy squared something.

Elizabeth: I totally agree. That’s something that I really enjoy. I really like a first-person narrate. As you say, that sense of being part of their story can be quite enjoyable.

Zibby: Yes. There was a passage, the way you write about female friendship — as a woman, I adore my female friends. I’ve thought a lot about friendship over the years, as many people have. There’s one passage. Hold on, let me just get to it. You wrote, “There is something so enchanting about a first best friend at twelve. It is intoxicating to be so needed, to crave someone so acutely, and to have that feeling of being so completely entwined. But these early bonds are unsustainable, and someday you will choose to extricate yourself from this friendship in the pursuit, instead, of lovers. You will extract yourself limb by limb, bone by bone, memory from memory until you can exist independently, until you are again one person where once you were two.” So great. It’s just so captivating. That is what happens. You’re so enmeshed. My best friend passed away on September 11th.

Elizabeth: I’m so sorry.

Zibby: Thank you. At the time, we were so — I try to explain now, and I explain to my husband, “You know how we’re so close now? That’s what it felt like then.” In your early twenties, your best friends are your everything. They’re who you talk to. You’re just so entwined. When I read this passage, it just made me think of my friend Stacey. It doesn’t have to be at twelve. It can be at any point in your life when you meet someone and you become totally hooked together in a way.

Elizabeth: You find you’re talking to them all the time. There’s nothing about your life that they don’t know. They know more than your parents, your siblings. Everyone else feels kind of boring by comparison. You just want to be with that person. It is like falling in love, I suppose. I think particularly when you’re in that teenage phase, I guess the hormones and everything else make it all that much more intense anyway.

Zibby: It’s so true. So how did you come up with this structure, which I love also by the way, of the seven lies and each chapter is a lie? How did you come up with that? Was it just a natural development when you were writing it?

Elizabeth: I suppose it was a conscious decision. The book I had been writing before had felt really wooly and like I skipped all over the place. I never had enough structure or momentum. I knew I needed to be quite strict with myself this time and not allow myself the space to run away into various ideas without focusing on a central plot. Seven lies felt like an interesting way to hold myself to account. I could never travel too far away because I always had to get back to the next lie in the story. It started for me as quite a practical tool. I’m not really a planner instinctively. I sort of had a vague idea where the middle would be, a vague idea where the end would be. It served as a bit of a roadmap to stop me losing my place.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I read somewhere that you were inspired by some sort of Broadway show to write this particular story. Did I make that up?

Elizabeth: No, you didn’t that make up. My husband, we were in New York for his birthday in 2018, I think. We went to see Waitress. There is a song in that, “Take it From an Old Man,” which is one of characters — I don’t know if you know it — saying to the other, life is short. Do what you want to do. Have a go. It doesn’t matter if you fail. That was the point at which I was like, I have to put down the previous book. I have to draw that line underneath it and I have to try again. It was just one of those moments. The song kind of pushed me to take that leap and to trust my gut and to start afresh.

Zibby: Very interesting. Start to finish, how long did this book take?

Elizabeth: All in, I think it was about a year or fifteen months including editing, so not too bad given the other was three years and it didn’t get very far.

Zibby: You work in publishing also.

Elizabeth: I do. I’m an editor for Transworld Publishers which is part of Penguin Random House in the UK. That is where I have that editor hat Monday to Friday, and then writer hat Saturday/Sunday.

Zibby: Wow. So when did you find time to do this? Was this a before work, after work…?

Elizabeth: It was only weekends, actually. I was always really knackered after work. I can never really think creatively or carve out the time for it. I sat down every Saturday and Sunday morning and wrote until I couldn’t bear to write another word. Eventually, there were enough words on the page for me to start editing, which is what I prefer doing if I’m honest. Getting the words down felt like a bit of a slog. Then I started to enjoy it from there.

Zibby: Your whole life is now books. You’re an editor.

Elizabeth: I had a baby four months ago, so that’s kind of shaken the book bit to the side for the moment.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Elizabeth: Up until then, it was very much all books.

Zibby: Was it something that from a very young age you just knew you loved and wanted to do? How did you discover? I know you had a pivot earlier in your career when you weren’t working in the book world and your husband suggested that you do it, right?

Elizabeth: I wrote a lot as a child. I loved writing as a child. I think I stopped at some point in my teenage years. It just stopped being a priority. Then when I was studying, it was always other people’s books and thinking about language and form and never writing creatively. It wasn’t until after I left university and I started to think, what do I want to do? What sort of job do I want? I found myself in a job that I hated. My husband said, “Well, you like books.” I thought, let’s give that a go then. I was really fortunate, actually. I landed on my feet in many regards. I managed to get a couple of work experience placements. One of those companies was then hiring for a PA. I was able to apply for that job and then move up from there. It was once I was back in the book world when I was working in books and seeing people writing creatively and doing that as a career, and I suppose seeing how publishing works, I thought I wanted to try it from the other side as well.

Zibby: Now that you’ve done both, what do you think? What was the most useful thing from being on the publishing side that you took into your experience as a writer?

Elizabeth: The importance of being able to pitch a book really succinctly. When I’m trying to acquire a book as an editor, I’m always trying to pitch it in one or two lines at the most because I know that the publicists have to go out and talk to the media and be as picky as possible, and the sales team to retailers. It’s so, so hard to stand out. That little focus for what that book is and how you can sum it up really briefly and make people feel excited by it, that was something I was aware would be great if I could manage to do that.

Zibby: Excellent. What sort of advice would you have, then, to aspiring authors aside from a short and exciting pitch?

Elizabeth: I would say based on my experience, don’t be afraid to just put something down and start again. If it starts to feel boring, genuinely boring — I think everything feels boring and hard work at times. That’s not necessarily a reason to stop. If it’s not exciting you anymore, start again. Try something different. Don’t be afraid to do something else for a week or two weeks just to see if that feels like a better fit. I think if I had taken that advice earlier, I probably would’ve saved myself a lot of time trying to edit something that was never really going to be good enough.

Zibby: Tell me about the experience of the sale of this book and what that was like for you emotionally.

Elizabeth: It felt ridiculous at the time. It felt so surreal. I was really excited when I signed with my agent. I think she’s brilliant. I’d been impressed with her and thought she was wonderful long before I had a relationship with her professionally. I knew that she had done brilliant things for other debut authors. I felt excited that she was going to be the one to send it out. Still, I think I was managing my expectations. When we started getting offers from various countries, it was so hard to make that feel real. I’m still not sure it does feel real, if I’m honest. It feels still very, very strange. It was such a thrill that other people liked it because for so long it’s you and a keypad writing away at a laptop. Then to have an agent like it was amazing. Then editors coming on board too is so exciting.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about the film and TV news around the book.

Elizabeth: Again, that feels crazy. You never quite know if it will come to fruition. It’s been optioned. There is a writer currently working on a pilot here in the UK for a potential TV series. Fingers crossed. Who knows? It might be on TV at some point.

Zibby: That’s so exciting. It’s such a perfect transition to a limited series with seven episodes.

Elizabeth: I hope so.

Zibby: If I were a TV producer, that’s what I would do.

Elizabeth: I think that’s what they’ve been talking about, trying to keep the structure and see what happens. It’s one of those things. You hand it over to another creative team and say, do what you can with it. I hope it works for you and it feels exciting and you can do something fresh. I’m just hoping that it will happen. Fingers crossed, certainly.

Zibby: What has it been like now having a baby? Are you still trying to write? How has it changed your creative output?

Elizabeth: I’m trying. It’s not as easy as it was to carve out big chunks of time. I think we’re getting into a little bit more of a pattern, getting more sleep now certainly, which means a bit more mental space for thinking, if not actual time. We will see. It feels a very different way to be writing my second book than it did for Seven Lies.

Zibby: Can you share what your next book is about?

Elizabeth: It’s very much in its infancy. I think it will be a similar dark story looking at women in particular. I think it will be focusing on women and anger. It’s something that’s interested me for quite a while and how we think quite negatively about women who are angry. It’s seen as a weakness, perhaps, and kind of an ugly quality in many ways. I feel that there might be something there. We will see. If I can get the words on the page, we’ll find out if there is something there after all.

Zibby: Fantastic. Thank you so much for chatting with me about your book. I can’t wait to watch and see as your career progresses. I feel like you’re so young. I don’t know how old you are, but you seem young to me. This book is so good. Just the way you wrote it, you don’t get lost in the sentences and yet they’re still really interesting sentences. They’re not too self-conscious. It’s clear enough and yet it’s still literary, but not in a way where you feel like you’re ever out of the flow of it, which I really appreciate. Sometimes the sentences themselves can be a little distracting in their prettiness, almost. This is not like that. You’re just so immersed. I’m very grateful for books that really capture my attention and draw me in and get me out of my own mind. Your book is a check plus. Truly, I can’t wait to see all of your output. It’s exciting.

Elizabeth: Thank you. That’s so nice to hear. I always say that I can be a bit of a lazy reader sometimes. If I’m not into it really quickly, I find it quite hard to persevere. To know that this was a book that kept you going is lovely.

Zibby: Yes, amazing. I see why there’s so much attention around it. Anyway, it’s very exciting. I’m wishing you all the best.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Zibby: Making sure not to tell any lies because as you point out in the book, the first one, hard to stop.

Elizabeth: Hard to stop. Thank you very much.

Zibby: Bye.

Elizabeth Kay, SEVEN LIES