Lucy Clarke, THE HIKE

Lucy Clarke, THE HIKE

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews bestselling author Lucy Clarke about THE HIKE, a propulsive thriller about four women who venture into the Norwegian wilderness – but not all of them will return. Lucy shares the inspiration behind her novels (it involves her love of travel and the outdoors) and the importance of stronger character development in thrillers. She also discusses the TV series adaptations of her novels, and how much she enjoys being part of the creative process and seeing her imagination come to life on set. Finally, Lucy reveals that she appreciates feedback from readers, especially when they highlight specific lines or characters that resonate with them.


Julie Chavez: Lucy, thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about your upcoming novel, The Hike.

Lucy Clarke: Thank you. Thanks for having me here. It’s lovely. I’ve got my kids here somewhere in the house on their summer holiday, so we’re really going to get the feel of this life.

Julie: Yes. Yes, we are. As I was just telling you, I’m filming directly from the utility room where my washer, thankfully, is not running at this moment, so that’s a win. The sound guys will be really happy about that.

Lucy: Absolutely. It’s all going to go smoothly.

Julie: Let’s talk about your book. I finished it last night. I loved it. I have to say, I was so impressed because it was so layered. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming. You can tell you’re a pro. This is your eighth or ninth?

Lucy: It’s my eighth.

Julie: It’s your eighth. How was the experience of writing this book?

Lucy: It was an absolute pleasure, actually. I can’t say that for every book. I’ve got my copy here of The Hike, which is quite new to me. It’s only just landed, so I do a lot of stroking at the moment. It was a pleasure to write it. I generally start a book based on the place. That comes first, where I want to set a book. I do that because I spend a year, year and a half writing each novel. I want to inhabit a world that I’m going to have fun with for the next year or so. I knew I wanted to set a book out in the wilds of Norway on a hike. It meant that I decided to go there on a research trip and do the actual trek and be out there. I hiked for five days with a tent on my back with my husband. The trail was wild and beautiful. We didn’t see a single hiker in five days. It’s that remote. It was really incredible, really fun. That, for me, started the process off on exactly the right foot. From there, I could come back to my desk in the UK, which is where I am now, and just really love being in the writing space of this place but also in the heads of four women who are the lead protagonists who I came to love. It was a fun book, a really fun book to write.

Julie: I bet. I love that you were able to revisit that as you were writing too. I know you wrote in your bio that you really are a writer because you want to go on research trips.

Lucy: Absolutely. That is my number-one reason for being a writer, is for the research trips. Do you know what? When I decided to become a writer, I was in my mid-twenties. I’d had another career in advertising to begin with. I went away on a six-month trip with my boyfriend at the time. He’s my now husband. We had this wonderful six months. We actually traveled across America and Canada and spent a couple of months in Maui. When it got to the end of the trip, I was very much aware that I didn’t want to go back to my desk job and my neat package of travel was over and done with. I just left thinking, I want to keep on traveling. I really want to write. Can I make these two things work together? That led me to this, really.

Julie: That’s fantastic. I’m so glad. I think you’re totally in your sweet spot. I was so impressed by the smoothness of your book. I love the short chapters. That makes for such a nice reading experience, especially with multiple perspectives. You did a really good job. I think because the friends are so close, from each perspective, you were still getting all the perspectives in each small chapter, which is no small feat. It was really impressive. I kept going back and thinking, how did she do this? Is that something that’s developed for you over time? Tell me about that.

Lucy: Definitely. It really developed. I would say I love reading books that are real character studies and character driven. Despite me being in a thriller sphere, I only actually enjoy thrillers that go really deep on character. Otherwise, it’s just a plot. It loses me because I don’t care. I need to care about my characters. I’ve always felt that as a reader. As a writer, that’s really hard to put into practice. I definitely struggled with character to begin with. It was my weakest area. I would not put a book out there until I was happy with my characters. It just meant draft upon draft. It would maybe be my eighth draft before I finally was like, oh, okay, I really know my character now. Over time, I’ve kind of got into my characters a bit more quickly now. Definitely, writing from giving each of the protagonists a point of view has really helped because I get into their internal thoughts and what they’re thinking. A really simple example might be, in my previous novel, One of the Girls, a group of six women go on a holiday to — it’s actually a hen weekend, a bachelorette party, as you’d call it.

Julie: Thank you for the translation.

Lucy: I was like, a hen party? I’ve got six very different women. What I love is seeing how if they were given the same plate of food, how each of those women — I don’t obvious way, but what their reaction may be. When you get their internal thoughts — it’s not a spoken thing. It’s just, how do they feel? One of them is pissed off at someone else that’s talking to them while they’re trying to eat because this is their moment. Someone else, I don’t really like eating in public. A third person is fretting about portion size. You can get a flavor of each character, just what they’re thinking, by giving them the same thing. They’re all very different. I don’t know if that makes sense. For me, it helped me to get into character more.

Julie: That makes complete sense. That seems like such a good exercise, the idea of giving them all the same — also, like you’re referring to, a simple situation. It’s not only what they would do in a big moment. Just in a very tiny, everyday moment, what are they doing? I have questions related to that. You have four characters in this one. You have Joni, Maggie, Helena, Liz.

Lucy: Very good.

Julie: Phew, passed. Who are you most like?

Lucy: I know exactly who I’m most like because in the UK, our publisher sets up a Buzzfeed quiz. You answered multiple choice stuff. It came out with, you’re a Maggie, or a whoever. I did the quiz. The character I really wanted to be was Joni because she’s the cool, impulsive rockstar. She’s just out there and spontaneous. I got Liz, who is the checklist person. She planned the trip. She’s very organized and efficient. She’s on a straight path. Her friends tease her because she’s just so by the book. I got Liz. I knew it. Deep down, I knew that was going to happen, but I wanted to be Joni.

Julie: I’m sorry for your loss. That’s very disappointing. Unfortunately, I too identify with Liz. Would love to think I’m a Joni, but no, it’s a lie.

Lucy: Do you know what’s the fun thing when you’re writing other women? Actually, in all of the characters — they’re all really different. Yes, I am more of a Liz than the others, but there are actually parts of me that I put into all of the women. They might be a very tiny part which I’ve magnified and explored if that was an experience that I’ve had. Maggie, for example, she’s creative and quite bohemian but very nervous about going on this hike because of her fitness. She’s got a young daughter that’s she leaving behind at home. She just feels lost without her. There’s this awful moment when she says goodbye. She leaves her in the care of her ex-partner. For me, I’ve got young children, and that whole experience of saying goodbye was definitely something I felt. Even though we’re quite different, there’s so many parts of yourself that you can put into your characters and then just push them to the — raising the stakes, pushing them to the extreme, really, and seeing how those characters act.

Julie: You can sense that in your writing. You write very beautifully about — you mentioned the connection between Phoebe and Maggie. We don’t meet Pheobe, but we do through Maggie in that way, which is so interesting. As a mom, you do know other people’s families through the women that you’re connected to and their children and their experience of them. I loved that. Your writing about grief was really profound and beautiful. There were even lines I highlighted here. You definitely accomplished your goal of having depth behind it. It’s true, thrillers can be sort of formulaic, and you’re just following the page. No, this was a page-turner, and I knew the characters by the end too. That was a gift to me. I’m so excited for readers to explore it.

Lucy: Thank you.

Julie: Here’s the big question. You become connected to these characters, obviously. You’re creating them very carefully. We’re going deep. How do decide who’s going to die?

Lucy: It’s really hard. Do you know what? My editorial feedback from publishers is always, can we just kill someone, please? Can we have a body? Actually, when I did my first draft of The Hike, none of the women died. I didn’t kill any of them off. I just became really attached. I wanted the nice ending outcome of them all making it out and have learned stuff and getting out of this wilderness together and having grown together. Actually, I then read the draft back. I had some space from it, read it back, and was like, no, the payoff isn’t there. The threat that’s following these women is so large. I think it would have felt unsatisfying to have tied it up too neatly, so I did have to kill one of them off. I never know when I’m starting a book, who that will be. It’s very much in the writing. I never know. I don’t think I’ve ever started a book knowing who’s going to die. Quite often, it changes during the writing process. I’m like, I think it’s going to be this person. Then I might write that draft and be like, no, it just doesn’t feel right, and go back and redo it until I find the right ending, for me at least.

Julie: That makes sense. It feels really cruel to say it felt right, who you chose. One of those, well, I’m sorry for you, but you had to go. I’m glad we’re aligned with that practicality in the end. I’m sorry. This is what has to happen. This is your eighth book. We talked about that briefly. Over time, what do you think is the thing that you’ve gotten better at in terms of improvement? What have you improved at the most? Over time, what has experience given you?

Lucy: I think where, perhaps, my strength lies now is in the pace and suspense. I really learned how to structure a novel so that you get that build of suspense. Being in the thriller space is quite hard for me because it’s about how you market a book. I’m in the thriller space, but I’m not at the high body count, dark stuff happening all the time. Because my books are quite character driven, there has to be that investment at the beginning of a novel where maybe you haven’t got all the big page-turning drama happening. You’re getting to know the characters. What I try and do in that situation is use my structure to try and create the threat to come so that I clearly signpost to the reader, hey, look, this is a thriller. There are going to be dark moments. This is my setup. By adding in interludes from things that happen later on in the novel, whether that be a prologue or — I have mountain rescue interludes from one of the characters in the book, one of the male characters called . Without giving too much away, he lets us know from the beginning that there are women out on this trail the body. We get that sense of propulsion from his point of view even while the women are actually setting out having a wonderful time to begin with. I think I’ve learned more about structure and pacing and suspense as I’ve gone on. That’s just practice and lots of reading as well.

Julie: Your books remind me a little bit of Sally Hepworth. I love her books as well. Maybe a little more thriller, but that same sort of suspense but so character driven. I appreciate what you’re saying. It sounds like where you started getting to know your characters — that pacing is so tricky. As a reader, it’s hidden. We don’t see that. If you’re reading it, then it’s just right. It smooths right out. As a writer, it’s like trying to pull teeth. What do you put in here? Then succumbing to the temptation to just put in filler that doesn’t move anything anywhere, right?

Lucy: Absolutely. I hate filler. Often in psychological thrillers, you get those scenes where you’re looking over your shoulder. You can hear footsteps. You’re running. All of that kind of stuff. I’m not into that. I want to feel compelled and the tension because I care about what the characters are doing in that moment. I think it’s a harder way to get pace, but it’s so much more satisfying by the end of the read. Hopefully, you’re so invested in the outcome.

Julie: Yes, that’s a really good way to put it. I remember in certain literary fiction, I know when I’ve read too much about plants, I just want to throw the book across the room. I’m like, I don’t care that there’s seagrass. Some people love that, which is the great thing about all books. You and I are talking about the kind of books that we like. Everyone is so different with that kind of stuff. There are some people that would just love to read about hydrangeas and tulips all day long.

Lucy: All day.

Julie: Their soft silken petals would send them into total excitement. Tell me a little bit more about Norway. What was that trip like? I read in your acknowledgments about it. I just thought, oh, I don’t know that I would want to do that. Are you a natural outdoorsy person? Was that just a gene?

Lucy: I am. I love being outdoors. I’m much happier and better company when I’m outdoors. I love hiking. I’ve never done a big trip like in the novel. Where we live, it’s a lovely area. We hike a lot. For the actual research, it was a proper, put your tent on your back, take a gas stove, everything that you need for five days. You’re out in the wilderness. Luckily, I went with my husband, who’s always really game for stuff like that. He’s a great person. I feel safe when I’m hiking with him. That being said, hiking in Norway felt incredibly different to anywhere else I’ve hiked because the wilderness is just so much more vast and threatening and more beautiful. Everything is more, I feel, in Norway. There’s a scene, or several scenes, in The Hike where fog rolls in. It envelops everything. Visibility is down to zero. This happened when we were on our hike. We were up in the mountains. The fog rolled in. You could see it. It took about five minutes to reach us. You could just see what looked like almost a really dense cloud.

I remember how my skin — I got goosebumps everywhere. I felt like as it reached us — it was an icy fog — that I couldn’t breathe, almost, because of the density of the moisture in this fog. My husband would be like — if he was more than two meters away, I could no longer see him. It just felt really threatening and really scary. All your landmarks of mountains and lakes and everything was swallowed. You felt like you couldn’t really move. You’re just alone in this space. It was really terrifying. Then of course, you’ve got the moment of sheer relief and beauty when the sky clears. It’s blue. You can see all around you. Experiencing those things firsthand absolutely brought to life the landscape and also, more richly, the emotions that my women who I’m setting out on this trail would then feel. It was really important for me, a really important part of the writing process, and loads of fun. It was retrospective fun. Really hard during the hike and just feeling like — it rained a lot. I was on my period. It was just gross. Then I got the other side and was just like, I’m an absolute legend. I’m a legend. I just did that. It was great.

Julie: One hundred percent. I would tell literally everyone upon meeting them. Hi, I’ll have a macchiato, and also, do you know what I did last week? That makes complete sense. You’re right, you definitely wrote that well. The scenes where it’s foggy and they can’t see anything and they may or may not be walking off the edge of the mountain or toward the DNT, that, for me, I was like, oh, dear. I think I even said out loud to myself a couple times, oh, no. Oh, no.

Lucy: Speaking aloud to books is a really good sign, so that’s great.

Julie: Yes, it is. I love talking to myself when I’m a reading a book.

Lucy: Me too.

Julie: Continue.

Lucy: And talk to the authors. I was reading a Maggie O’Farrell recently, who’s one of my favorite authors. I was just like, “Oh, Maggie, my goodness. Yes, yes.” My husband’s there like, “What are you doing? Who are you speaking to?” I was like, “My book. Don’t interrupt.”

Julie: We’re having a conversation. Leave me alone. I’m very busy. What’s your favorite thing as a reader? What do you enjoy most? You were mentioning Maggie O’Farrell.

Lucy: I’ve just finished reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which I’ve absolutely loved. It’s a fantastic novel. It didn’t appeal to me at all because it’s about gaming, which is just not my world, but the characters are incredible in it. I love books that are beautifully written but that you’re compelled to just — whether it’s compelled through the tension in the plot or whether it’s just your character relationships, I need to be invested in the characters and care. Those are my favorite books. If you can blend that, like Crawdads, with a gorgeous setting, then I’m a hundred percent in. Those types of books are the ones that really get me. I’ve just started Cleopatra and Frankenstein. that. It had loads of good reviews. It’s really fantastically written. I’m enjoying that.

Julie: I can’t wait to read that one. I’ll put that one on my list.

Lucy: Beautiful. Really fun. Really fun.

Julie: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, for me, was one I think I’d like to reread because it was so rich. Certain books, I feel like, have to be read — I wish I had had more dedicated time at the beginning experience just to get — I loved it, but I think I would appreciate even more the second time. That’s rare for me. Most books, I’m like, I don’t have time to reread.

Lucy: No. I think there’s lots of books that you can read really fast and skim, and particularly thrillers. I kind of know the bits I can miss and just skim. That is not a book to skim. If you go into it, maybe, reading a bit too fast, you lose the nuance. You kind of need that to go there. I read it in a week, but I read it slowly, taking my time with it. I loved it because it went really deep on the creative process to do with gaming, which is just not my world, but I was like, it’s all creativity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s building a game or writing a book or making a show or whatever. It was really beautiful.

Julie: I love books that have that sort of meta element about story. We’re all living our story. Then also, but a game, to that same point, is very similar. The good games, not the just, shoot, shoot, the ones my kids are clearly playing. Bless their little souls. Love them so much. Teenagers. Tell me this. What is your favorite thing about once a book comes out? Talking about story, what do you enjoy about interacting with readers? One side question of that is — a couple of your projects are in development for the screen. Have you been involved with that? How is that process? Once you’re done and now it’s out there both for readers and then developers, what is that like?

Lucy: Outside of the job of writing, which is the great pleasure for me, certainly, the TV aspect has been an absolute dream. I’ve had my third novel, which is called The Blue in the US, it has been made into a seven-part series with Paramount+, which is out now. It’s called No Escape. It was so fun to be part of it. I was in the writers’ room. I went out on set. I took my family. It was a seven-month shoot in Thailand.

Julie: Gosh, amazing.

Lucy: So fun. It was in COVID times. The fact that we got out there just felt like this incredible thing that we even left the country and made it. When we got to Thailand, we then had to quarantine for five days and do our PCRs and all of that. The stakes felt so high. We made it. Then we’re like, what if we got COVID on the plane and we can’t go on set? We got on set. This particular book is set on a yacht that sails around the Philippines with a group of travelers and adventurers. I had had this strong vision of what the yacht looked like, and this cast of characters. The production company had found the most perfect yacht. It was called The Blue. I went out on set on a huge catamaran with the director and producer. We went out to sea. I saw this yacht this yacht from my imagination with the title of the book on and met the actors, who I’d met over dress rehearsals over Zooms and stuff. Just seeing them out in their costumes on the yacht, it was absolutely mind-blowing. I’m also so grateful that I set all my books in exotic locations. It was Thailand. It was gorgeous. That was fun. Yes, another one has just wrapped now. The Castaways has just been shooting in Fiji and Greece. We went out to set again this summer. That comes out at the end of this year on Paramount+. It’s just been wonderful. I’ve loved it. I learned loads from being in the writers’ room about story and plot and dialogue and all of those things, which is really helpful to bring to the page as well. It’s been a great journey.

Julie: That’s exciting. Was there any part of you that had a hard time letting go of anything? In the writers’ room, was there — or was it just, this is great, do what we will?

Lucy: Absolutely, do we what we will. It’s not that I’m an easygoing, control-free person. I’m not. I’m a Liz. I think I was okay with it because I just always felt — firstly, it’s a gift to get your work optioned and made. Come on. I’m not going to say, oh, no, . I’m just like, thank you. Take my writing. Also, second to that is that you’ve got this team of amazing creatives who are specialists in their field and really bright, creative people. They’re taking your work — the book is always the book. They’re just reimagining as something else. I’m like, great. What are you going to do with it? It might not be the end product that comes out matched to the book, but it’s fresh and new. I love that. It’s been a really interesting process. I haven’t had any qualms about letting go of control, thankfully.

Julie: You didn’t decide to be a full-tilt diva, just really make everyone’s life —

Lucy: — . My sister-in-law did say, “When you get onto set, you just go, no, not that. Not that.” I’m like, “I’m not sure that’s me, but maybe I’ll try it once.”

Julie: Thank for the advice, and I’m going to pass. That sounds bad. That makes sense. I kind of combined those questions. When we’re talking about readers, what’s your favorite thing to hear from a reader who reads one of your books?

Lucy: My very favorite thing is if someone sends me a message with a quote in, a quote that they loved about the book. It always is really meaningful. If a reader says, “I loved your book,” that’s wonderful. That’s great. If you get lots of messages saying that, then I suppose it loses the specialness. If someone says, “This really resonated with me,” this line or this character or just something so I understand what it is they connected with, I love that. Also, by the time a book comes out, it’s often several months or a year since you’ve written it, and you might have forgotten that line. It’s a really nice reminder that, yeah, I worked really hard over that paragraph or crafting that sentence. That’s always really nice. Of course, as well, if you’re doing live events, which are back on the menu now, which is great, I think it’s lovely when you can sign someone’s book and meet them in person. I love that. Just that extra eye contact thing is really nice.

Julie: That makes total sense, the hours you spent slaving over your laptop, sweating over it, I should say.

Lucy: Absolutely, and crying.

Julie: I forgot about the tears. It’s just amazing how you can put that behind you. I’m just not going to think about that anymore. We should end by saying that my line that I loved — I read it on my Kindle, so I highlighted it because I had your e-copy. I’m going to pull up the note. The line that I loved the most — I had multiples. The one that I love the most was about loneliness. Oh, the other one was, “Tension fizzed down the left side of her spine, her emotions showing themselves in her body.” That was a line you wrote about Maggie pretty early on. Then the other one was, “Loneliness wasn’t the absence of people, she realized. It was the absence of people who understood you.”

Lucy: That is so true, isn’t it? We’ve all been there. I remember going to university and being surrounded by people but not meeting my tribe straight away and just feeling like the loneliest person in the city. That’s a good line that you have underlined. .

Julie: Good. Phew, I feel really a lot better about it. The book is beautiful in that way, though. There are so many small insights you get. It’s a very human book, and I think especially for women in the time of life in which many of us find ourselves, which is midlife. You’re kind of both the person you were and the person you want to become and the person you hope to become. They all converge. The idea of going on a hike in that time with people you love and that know you in all your imperfection is just such a great premise. It’s a wonderful book.

Lucy: Thank you. That’s a lovely way of describing that period of life. Completely on board with that.

Julie: It’s just so strange, isn’t it? We’re never done growing, which is kind of dumb, honestly. If you ask me, sometimes I’m like, I’d like to have reached the pinnacle of my existence and then just ride it out.

Lucy: Not yet, Lucy. Not yet.

Julie: Thank you so much for this time. This was a joy. I loved talking to you. I can’t wait to get into your backlist because this was such a good reading experience. Also, I think I need to sign up for Paramount+, so there’s just a little plug for them too.

Lucy: Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks for having me. It’s been really lovely to chat.

Julie: It was a pleasure. We will all be picking up The Hike. Thanks for coming.

Lucy: Thank you.

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