Renowned for her gripping suspense novels, Shari Lapena joins us today to discuss her favorite books and reading habits. From being a lawyer and English teacher to creating international bestsellers such as ‘The Couple Next Door‘, and ‘An Unwanted Guest‘, Shari’s journey is as captivating as her writing.
Her debut thriller, ‘The Couple Next Door’, was a global sensation, selling over 4 million copies. All her novels have consistently graced the New York Times, UK Sunday Times, and Globe and Mail bestsellers list. Her storytelling prowess extends beyond books, with her work being optioned for film and TV.
Join us as we explore Shari’s early fascination with writing, her transition from law to literature, her reading habits, and the books that have influenced her. We’ll also delve into her advice for aspiring authors and discuss her latest thriller, ‘Everyone Here is Lying‘. Immerse yourself in the literary world of one of suspense fiction’s most compelling voices.
Please enjoy our conversation with Shari Lapena…
When did you first realise you wanted to become a writer?
I remember thinking when I was nine years old that I’d like to be a writer. I was big into Nancy Drew books and I thought it would be the best life to write mystery stories and not have a real job. I still feel the same way. But it took me a long time to take writing seriously. I grew up thinking it wouldn’t be a practical way to make a living, so I took a lot of detours. But the dream never died, and here I am.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m just about to start Central Park West by James Comey. I picked it up recently at a crime festival in Toronto where he was speaking. After that I have Day One by Abigail Dean, and All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby on my bedside table.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
That I can’t really answer. I do know my mother read to me (she was a voracious reader and we always had a lot of books in our house). I remember the Dick and Jane books at school. We called them ‘readers’. My mother told me I was reading before I went to school, but I don’t remember what exactly I was reading.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No, I’m afraid I can’t remember that either, as I’m sure we wrote stories in school. But I do remember the first attempt I made as an adult to write something. I was in my late twenties. It was going to be an historical novel. I didn’t get very far into it before I gave up and I didn’t go back to writing until years later, when my first child was born.
When did you first get the idea for your latest book, Everyone Here Is Lying?
I don’t remember that either! I hardly remember last week! But it must have been soon after I got my previous book in. I don’t usually take much time off. I remember having the idea of a father striking his very challenging child, and then her disappearing and him being a suspect, and that’s how it began.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
First, write what you want to write, what interests and excites you, and write it how you want to write it. It’s only that way that you’ll find your voice. Second, prepare yourself for the long haul. There is no such thing as ‘overnight success’.
Previously you have worked as an English teacher and a lawyer, how do you feel these experiences have influenced your writing?
I don’t feel being a lawyer influenced me much, as I didn’t do criminal law. Maybe if I had, I’d be doing legal thrillers, which I really enjoy. I don’t think being an English teacher influenced my writing either. I think rather it was my love of reading and desire to write that influenced me to leave law and become an English teacher. I’ve just always loved reading and have wanted to write books since I was a child. It’s what I most enjoy doing. I’m very lucky that I can read and write for a living.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
I have so many books to read that I almost never have time to reread. However, having said that, I recently reread Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which I loved as a child. I’m not sure why I read it again, but I picked up an early edition at Hay on Wye. Maybe because I still love horses, or maybe I was feeling nostalgic, I’m not sure. It still holds up, although it’s more didactic than I remember. I think fiction is so essential to developing empathy.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
One book I have recommended a lot, over many years, is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s non-fiction. If you’re interested in dysfunctional families, as I am, this book is for you. It’s about a child who survives to become a successful adult despite really dreadful parenting. For fiction, lately I keep recommending Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent. It’s also dark, about a dreadful early childhood and its aftereffects. I’m seeing a theme here…I’m obviously very interested in psychology and human relationships and the things people do and why, and how what people do affects others.
Who would you say are the three writers that continue to inspire you?
That’s a difficult question. Kazuo Ishiguro—he’s such an amazing stylist and is so good at unreliable narrators. Patricia Highsmith for her interest in and portrayal of psychopaths. Kate Atkinson—her novel A God in Ruins is a masterpiece.
What can readers expect from your latest book, Everyone Here Is Lying?
A child has gone missing. The missing child’s family is dysfunctional. Nothing is as it seems, here. There are people who know more than they’re telling, and others who are misinterpreting events. It’s a deep dive into the hearts and minds of multiple characters at a time of great tension and high stakes. It’s twisty—and I’m told it’s a page-turner!
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Oh that is almost impossible to answer. But I do remember being deeply shaken, as a young girl, reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I think it was the first time that the evil of the world—what human beings are capable of—really registered for me. It opened my eyes. I was probably too young when I read it.