Editor’s Note: Having started her first novel for a bet in 1996, Lisa Jewell has grown into one of the UK’s most beloved and popular fiction authors. Jewell’s writing is addictive, her characters fleshed out and her storylines original. We were thrilled she agreed to write this piece about the inspiration behind her latest novel, Watching You. Read on to discover how this book came to be!
The first glimmer of the genesis of Watching You was a feeling that there seemed to be an awful lot of news stories about very suburban people in very suburban love triangles committing murder. Either the mistress would kill the wife, or the husband would kill the wife, or the wife would kill the mistress or some other combination of the three.
So, if I was to write about suburban love triangles then I needed a suburb, and that was when the book really started to take form in my head; there is a suburb of Bristol in the UK called Clifton which is famous for its high set rows of brightly painted houses. It used to be a rough area, but has become increasingly gentrified over recent years and is now so “chi chi” that it has its own branch of the Ivy (an upscale restaurant chain in the UK).
To save on research trips, I decided to create my own fictionalised version of Clifton, leaving me free to make everything up.
I pictured my row of big colourful houses overlooking the smaller houses in the urban village below and that really set the tone for the way the story unfurled. It lent itself to a claustrophobic world in which everyone was watching everyone else.
I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of different ways of watching people; we have a girl watching her friends having fun without her on social media, we have hormonal Freddie watching girls with his binoculars, we have lovelorn Joey loitering in dark corners waiting for a glimpse of her crush, psychotic Frances convinced she is being watched by everyone; and we have a parent watching their child for signs of being on the spectrum, a girl watching her best friend for signs of being groomed by a paedophile.
The theme of watching, of voyeurism, is not new; Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller uses a secondary school as the setting for the creepy story of the aptly named Barbara Covett who becomes obsessed with glamorous middle-aged art teacher, Sheba Hart. When Sheba becomes embroiled in a shocking scandal, she allows Barbara to become her confidante, with chilling consequences.
You by Caroline Kepnes is the story of charming psychopath, Joe Goldberg, who becomes infatuated with a customer in his bookshop, called Beck. He watches her constantly, in real life and on social media and takes chilling steps to keep his fantasy alive by killing anyone who threatens his idealisation of her.
More recent, was AJ Finn’s The Woman in the Window, the author’s homage to Rear Window. This is the story of Anna Cox, confined to her New York apartment due to agoraphobia and taking a keen interest in the comings and goings of the neighbours on her block. One day she sees a woman being murdered through the window. But Anna Cox is an unreliable narrator; a heavy drinker with mental health issues who can barely remember what day it is, let alone what she saw. How will she persuade anyone to believe her?
Thanks so much to Lisa Jewell for providing us with these titles that inspired her in the writing of Watching You.
Lisa Jewell is the internationally bestselling author of sixteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Then She Was Gone, as well as I Found You, The Girls in the Garden and The House We Grew Up In. In total, her novels have sold more than two million copies across the English-speaking world and have been translated into sixteen additional languages so far. Lisa lives in London with her husband and their two daughters. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.