Friday, May 7, 2021

Q&A with Mhairi McFarlane



Mhairi McFarlane is the author of the new novel Just Last Night. Her other novels include You Had Me At Hello. She lives in Nottingham, UK.


Q: What inspired you to write Just Last Night, and how did you create your character Eve?


A: I'd wanted to write about grief and loss for a while and the shock of grief specifically, so a sudden, untimely death seemed to fit with that. Once I had that, I set about murdering one of my ensemble!


I know it's unsatisfying, but I honestly struggle to remember (this happens with all my plots) when and how I came to the decisions you see in the final story.


For example, I don't think I ever considered the death being a love interest - I know a lot of people think that the loss in JLN is going to be a man and I really like wrongfooting that.


Also, grieving a perfect angel (male or female) doesn't interest me as a writer - I loved the idea of coming to terms with the loss of someone who you loved intensely but had less appealing parts, and flaws.


My heroines tend to fit the circumstances, and Eve as a slightly underachieving, sardonic, sensitive person, wracked with an unconsummated love, fitted JLN.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "McFarlane balances sensitive observations on love, death, and friendship with an intoxicating sense of humor..." What do you think of that assessment, and what did you see as the right balance between serious topics and humor?


A: I am absolutely over the moon with any good review! In all honesty, I just had to feel my way through and my editor can confirm that I had moments of doubt where I wasn't at all sure I'd got the balance right.


I had to hold my nerve really and remember that humor is, as Eve says in the book, a way we heal and recover, not an inappropriate intrusion.


One thing I was certain of from the outset is that the death couldn't be a very grim sort of Meet Cute for the lovers - Susie is “present” right to the last page because she is the other love of Eve's life, not a device for Eve to find a man.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Yes, I generally always know how my stories will end once I'm writing it, because the whole adventure is crafted around that destination: the matching first and last pages of JLN making it particularly true.


There are always enough surprises in the detail and the spontaneous interactions that I never find knowing the outcome boring, but every writer's different.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: That people can be complicated, light and shade, and maybe you can't snap judge the heroes and the villains of a situation until you know their reasons and feelings a little better.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next book! Which will be my eighth, phew, how did that happen.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love Joe and Kamala. Please can they visit us as soon as it's safe.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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