Alice Feeney: On Writing Sometimes I Lie

Alice Feeney: On Writing Sometimes I Lie

I think about a story for a really long time before I’ll commit to writing it. Writing a book takes over your whole life for a while, so you have to really want to do it. My stories often spend months simmering away in the background before I begin, and that includes spending a lot of time with your potential characters. You have to let them in, listen to them and decide whether their voice really is compelling enough for you to want to write it.

The story begins with a short note from the protagonist:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

1. I’m in a coma.

2. My husband doesn’t love me any more.

3. Sometimes I Lie.

That opening and those three things were in the very first draft and they haunted me throughout the writing of the novel.

I love unreliable narrators and I liked the idea of one who confessed about who and what she was from the very beginning. Amber isn’t just unreliable for the readers, she’s unreliable for herself and that’s what fascinated me most about her. Sometimes I Lie isn’t just a story about the lies we routinely tell each other, it’s about the lies we tell ourselves. I think we are probably all guilty of that from time to time, and I think those lies can actually be far more dangerous. People like Amber use them almost as a coping mechanism when they need to, because sometimes the truth of our lives, who we are and what we’ve become is unpalatable.

The story navigates between the past as well as the present, including a series of childhood diaries. I think that memories too can often be lies. We all remember certain events, days, moments in a slightly different way, and your memory of an event could be quite different from mine, but we would both believe our own version to be the truth.

It’s also a story about how we become different versions of ourselves to suit the people around us and how, when you spend too long pretending to be someone you’re not, you can forget who you really are.

I’m a planner, but the novel did evolve while I was writing it. I worked as a producer on the BBC’s One O’clock News programme when I wrote this book. It was a great job, one of my favourites during sixteen years at the BBC. An ability to work under pressure, ignore internal politics, and cope with seeing the true horrors of the world are essential for anyone working in a large newsroom. But I sometimes think there should be clearer warnings on the prescription for the drug that is journalism, because when people are pushed too far, they inevitably snap.

On one such day, as I watched two inflated egos do battle on an already overcrowded stage, it reminded me of children in a school playground. A line came into my head that made it into the book:

“We’re all just older versions of ourselves; children disguised as adults.”

Some people lie to try to fit in, while others lie to feel different or superior to those around them. Having a front row seat to this particular newsroom squabble fundamentally changed the novel. The childhood diaries were a direct result of that day, they weren’t in my original plan. Wondering why someone at work behaved the way they did, got me thinking about Amber’s childhood and what had happened to her. It gave me a way to explore the nature verses nurture argument, which is something that has always fascinated me.

“People say there’s nothing like a mother’s love, take that away and you’ll find there is nothing like a daughter’s hate.”

The world we live in can be a very dark place indeed at times, and so I think it’s not a bad thing if some fiction reflects that. We are a species that has been bred to project our own worst fears onto one another, and I wanted to explore that idea of lies masquerading as truth when we are at our most vulnerable.

Sometimes I Lie is the title of the novel, but it’s also a confession. I think we are all guilty of telling lies from time to time, we can’t help it; it’s in our DNA. We tell ourselves that we’ll only stay for one drink, having already checked the time of the last train home. Or we tell friends and family that we’ll see them soon, when we know that the time rations imposed by modern life won’t allow it. And I’m quite sure that most of us will have said we’re fine, when the truth is we are anything but.

Writing is honestly the best job in the world and I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to write full time now. In June 2016 I was approached by fifteen literary agents. My dream agent got in touch, took a chance on me and my novel and has since sold it to publishers all over the world. The little girl who made up stories in the back of her parents’ shop has been waiting a long time for this moment and that’s no lie; it’s proof that you should never, ever give up the day dream.