Thursday, July 6, 2023

Q&A with Siena Sterling




Siena Sterling is the author of the new novel The Game She Plays. She also has written the novel Tell Us No Secrets. She lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write The Game She Plays?


A: A few years ago, a friend came to see me in a seriously unhappy state. She’d had dinner the night before with her new partner’s group of friends.


“It was the first time I’d met them and they spent all night reminiscing about their past and trading in-jokes I didn’t get,” she said. “But way worse, they were talking in glowing terms about his ex. I wanted to walk out. Actually, I wanted to kill them all. Instead, I stayed up stalking the ex online. She’s beautiful – of course. But at least she’s married and lives in Alaska. She’s not about to show up, so I don’t have to kill her too.”


We laughed but she was clearly miserable. I understood her anger, her sense of being excluded, her jealousy. How could her new partner’s friends be so tactless and hurtful? This was a toxic group dynamic, one that could lead to emotional meltdown.


After she left, hopefully a little bit consoled, the writer in me kicked in.  What if the ex wasn’t married and living in Alaska? What if she were to appear on the scene?


Then I took it up a few notches.


What if this wildly popular ex was one of those women who was stunning, charismatic and nastily manipulative?


Meeting your new partner’s friends and family is hard enough. Add the perfect ex with a devious agenda into the mix and things can get explosive.


That conversation was the genesis of The Game She Plays.


Q: Why did you decide to set the novel in 1980?


A: The ‘80s were the right time period for the book because the English class structure plays a large part in it.


My main character, an American woman named Nicola, has to negotiate a new romance in a foreign country, spending time with her new partner’s friends. These friends are upper class English people who have a language of their own and ways of behaving that are foreign and disturbing to Nicola.


These are people who go on shooting parties to kill birds, have staff serving them, and either have actual titles or feel entitled. All the men of the group were sent to posh boarding schools at the age of 7. 


Although that class hierarchy still exists in England, and some people do still send their children away at a horribly young age, it’s a lot less evident than it was in the ‘80s.


Q: The writer Ashley Winstead said of the book, “Part love story, part seething tale of lives unraveling, and part scathing indictment of the unearned privilege that insulates the wealthy, The Game She Plays unfolds like a clever chess game: all calculated moves and ratcheting tension until a final violent strike.” What do you think of that description?


A: I couldn’t have written a better review of my book than Ashley Winstead’s. She understood exactly what I was trying to convey and that’s what a writer always hopes for. Also, I admire her work hugely, so I am even more pleased by her words.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: When I started writing, I knew the basic plot but as I continued and began to develop my characters, it veered in directions I hadn’t expected. That is the real joy of writing for me: when the characters surprise me and lead me to an ending I hadn’t expected but which is the right one for them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Now I’m working on another psychological thriller. A family hires a young female carer for their aging father. Her arrival results in sibling rivalries, jealousy, and grift. Tensions between family members are as powerful, if not more so, than romantic ones. I like to explore the types of emotions that can lead to a deadly outcome.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: All I would add is that my friend and her new partner’s relationship lasted only two months. No one was killed, but I met him once and she dodged a bullet when she broke up with him.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Siena Sterling.

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