Sue Wallman: An Exclusive Interview on Lying About Last Summer

Sue Wallman: An Exclusive Interview on Lying About Last Summer

Hi Sue, thanks for speaking to us! Where did the idea for the story originate from?

It started with a writing exercise. I had to have a setting that interested me, so I chose a beautiful swimming pool (I love swimming), then I needed to introduce something fearful or exciting. Being me, I made something bad happen.

What qualities do you love about Skye? It’s quite an unusual name, why did you call her Skye?

I like Skye’s inner sarcasm and the way she loves her family despite their flaws, but above all I admire her determination. Skye started out as Bethany. It’s weird how sometimes names don’t suit your characters, and when you change them, things come together a bit more. I’ve always liked the name Skye (and I have a lovely friend whose daughter is named that). One day I’d like to visit the Isle of Skye.

Aside from Skye, who was your favourite character to write?

I enjoyed writing the young instructors at camp. Their over-confident dialogue was no bother – I know the type very well! By the time I’d got to the final polishing, tweaking stage of the book, I was pretty fond of all my characters, even the ones I’d be worried to meet in real life.

Did you know how your story would play out when you started?

In a rough sort of way, yes, but I wish I’d plotted it better from the start.

Why did you decide to set the story at a bereavement camp?

Initially it was a device to put Skye close to her old home (in a very early version, Luisa was her cousin, not her sister, so it was her aunt and uncle’s home). I realised later that having all the teenagers together was a brilliant thing in terms of more interesting things happening, and giving a sense of claustrophobia.

The story shows lots of different experiences of grief. Why did you decide to explore grief from so many different perspectives?

It wasn’t an intentional thing, but all the characters at the bereavement camp had to be individuals. I used experiences I’ve had and ones that other people have talked to me about.

We love the mystery element to Lying About Last Summer. Was it a challenge to make everyone suspicious?

Yes, very!

Social media has a sinister edge to it in this story. Why did you decide to explore this?

As we all know, social media can be fun, useful and a force for good, or it can be devastating and isolating. I have three teenage daughters, and I see some of what goes on in their social media worlds, as well as my own. I’m fascinated by the mismatch between appearance and reality.

What was the biggest challenge when writing?

The plot. And keeping the faith that after years of rejections, this book (my fifth) might be the one to get me a publishing deal.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

That, as Skye comes to realise, it’s possible to be happy when you have a life with bruised parts in it.

What research did you carry out for this book, and what was the most interesting thing you came across?

Good question! I researched drowning, which was horrible, I looked at the websites of holiday camps, and I plundered my girls’ recollections of the activities they did in their school journeys. My middle daughter does lots of kayaking, so she was a useful resource. The most interesting things I came across would be far too spoilery, as they relate to the end of the book (sorry to be so cryptic).

Why did you choose ‘Lying About Last Summer’ as the title?

My agent, Becky Bagnell, came up with the title. I’d called it One Summer’s Day, which gave completely the wrong vibe. When she suggested Lying About Last Summer, I knew it was perfect (and wished I’d thought of it).

What is your favourite quote/scene from the book?

The epilogue, i.e., when we get to see what happens to everyone after the camp. That was such a pleasure to write.

Which authors inspire you to write?

The ones whose characters are still with me – I love Standish from Maggot Moon by Sally Gardener, Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, and June from Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield.

What books would you recommend to people who enjoyed your book?

My next one! See below.

What’s next for you? Do you have another book underway?

Yes – my next book is called See How They Lie. It’s about a girl called Mae who’s grown up in a psychiatric and wellbeing facility. She thinks it’s because her father is a psychiatrist, but it’s not… It’ll be published in March.