Today it is my turn on the Blog-Tour for The Watcher by Ross Armstrong and believe you me you are in for a treat. Aside from my review there is a fantastic Q&A with the author. His answers are so great I wanted to write an entirely new set of questions after I read them.
About the Author
Ross Armstrong is a British stage and screen actor who has performed in the West End of London, on Broadway and in theatres throughout the UK. Among others, he has acted opposite Jude Law (Hamlet), Joseph Fiennes (Cyrano de Bergerac), Kim Cattrall (Antony and Cleopatra) and Maxine Peake (The Deep Blue Sea). His TV appearances include Foyle’s War, Jonathan Creek, Mr Selfridge, DCI Banks and most recently, Ripper Street.
After gaining a BA in English Literature and Theatre at Warwick University, Ross went to RADA and whilst there he won the RADA Poetry Writing Award. The idea for his debut psychological Thriller, The Watcher, came to him when he moved into a new apartment block and discovered whilst looking at the moon through binoculars that he could see into his neighbours’ homes. Thankfully for them, he put down his binoculars, picked up his pen and wrote a crime novel. The Watcher is his debut novel.
About the book
The Girl on the Train meets Rear Window, The Watcher is an absolutely addictive and on trend commercial psychological suspense read, with a captivating unreliable narrator and some powerful narrative twists. She’s watching you, but who’s watching her? Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours. Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat. But can Lily really trust everything she sees?
Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’ (readers love to get to know all about their favourite and new authors)
The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) Well, to be thorough, I’m currently reading Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’, a seminal piece of travel writing about a place I’m fascinated with and am heading to in March/April. I also just finished the superb Harlan Coben’s ‘Hold Tight’ as it has a plot strand I was interested in for a future book. And Paul Beatty’s brilliant, punk, hilarious ‘The Sellout.’
Books or authors which have inspired you to put pen to paper? I started off writing stories when I was about seven because I loved the anarchy of Roald Dahl. Then in my teens I really enjoyed how funny but compelling Hugh Laurie’s ‘The Gun Seller’ was. Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ was incredibly inspiring in my twenties. Then I really loved ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Sharp Objects’ by Gillian Flynn, they opened up new ways to think about the genre for me. These books and many others gave me numerous ideas to nick and sentences to be in awe of.
The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) I just saw La La Land and for the first time in a long while I was at the front of a huge screen and in a big full picture house, I wish we had more big screens where you could feel the audience going with a movie. They certainly did with this one, a special film for anyone who tries to do creative things, or any things at all really. It had the magic of ‘Singin In The Rain’, which is probably my favourite film ever. But was so bang on about various little things about the trade-offs involved in creative life that it made me feel a bit uneasy, in a good way, if you can imagine that.
Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) Up until last year I’d still definitely say a movies guy, there’s still nothing like a movie in the cinema, or double bill at home. I particularly loved ‘Weiner’ the movie about the bizarre life of a very particular American politician and the other-worldly ‘Embrace Of The Serpent’. But I watched more whole TV series than I thought possible last year. Highlights being The Night Of, The Crown, Westworld, Girls, The Affair, Atlanta, Show Me A Hero, Stranger Things and The OA.
Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Werner Herzog. Incredibly insightful, hilarious, I love him, everything he does and says, and how he does and says it.
All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about The Watcher!
I have tried not to reveal any major spoilers, although I admit I would love to ask a totally different set of questions I wouldn’t want to deprive any readers of your twists and turns.
I must say I am really intrigued to discover what your inspiration was for The Watcher?The more I try to psych evaluate myself, the more I realise it’s really about how close we are to each other proximity-wise, particularly in cities, but how afraid and fascinated we are by strangers. Everyone we meet is a new empty box, and the possibilities of what’s inside provides ample material for a thriller writer. The more I know about people viewed from a distance, mostly through the window of social media, the more I realise what beautiful and icky shapes and sizes we come in, and how bizarre the various ways we choose to represent ourselves are. It also came from realising how well you I could see into neighbours windows, and how little I wanted to do that, but how much someone else might.
I also just wanted to write a book that was about the humour and intimacy of being deep inside one character’s head, one that would compel with its story turns and abstract tangents, but would also in some ways be visual. I like to write stories like I’m slowly revealing a picture, piece by piece, just a little at a time.
At the beginning of the story, which has a first person narrator, the gender of the main character/speaker is unclear. Was this intentional on your part? Do you want your readers to make initial assumptions about the ‘speaker?’ Yes exactly, I think men have had the monopoly on watching in stories for almost throughout the entire history of stories. So in the book we get a lot instantly from the act of watching and its implicit power and implied sexuality. Then to tell you those eyes belong to a woman hopefully throws up some uncomfortable questions. For one, women aren’t ‘supposed to be’ desirous of such vicarious, possibly sexual, thrills as men. But maybe Lily just is. Or maybe she’s after something else, and if so, what? Something more underlying than the erotic? What would that be? That’s part of the intention anyway.
I think one of the aspects you have woven into your story is the lack of contact between people who live in close vicinity to one another. In a crowded room we can still be lonely and anonymous.
Do you believe Lily would have been able to obsess over the whole situation if her neighbours had paid more attention to her and showed more concern for her well-being? That’s an excellent thought, and I think again it’s totally bang on. We see her situation and her mind reveal itself by increments, only later looking back do we hopefully grasp the full connotations of this. Isolation is definitely an avoidable part of the recipe that has led to who she is, for better or for worse.
You also point out the nameless victims of rejuvenation projects in cities. Is our society guilty of creating even bigger rifts between the people in run-down housing marked for redevelopment and the more wealthy yuppies, who profit from rejuvenation schemes? I think so, and yet I am quite possibly one of those people, making the subject matter quite uncomfortable for me. Not that I have any ability to own any small piece of London other than the one under my feet, which I’m writing this from. But there a sense, hopefully, that these ‘nameless victims’ who are being thrown out of their flats add to the book’s body count.
I live in the same flat as Lily, and share her troubling and contradictory concerns. It creates a stinging guilt that made me write and drives the book. It’s a quandary and one I’m not quick to throw at the feet of anyone in particular but I’d like people to consider it and make their own conclusions without being too prescriptive, other than the suggestion that there is an odd way in which a free market grows to push you into areas that implicate you in things that history may see as crimes. Social crimes. Not murder. Maybe not as bad. But maybe worse.
The isolation and loneliness Lily experiences plays a pivotal role in her actions and her emotional state of mind. If we compare her isolation to the treatment of people with mental health issues, is this indicative of how society is failing that particular group of people? Yes. The strange act, the plea for absolution of middle-class guilt through connection, that propels Lily out of her ordinary life and into a psychological thriller, the likes of which she’s only seen in Hitchcock films, is all to do with that. I think we need to gain a better understanding of the mental health spectrum on which we all exist. In our minds we’re very keen instinctively to put people in categories. Again, I’m far from innocent in this, which is why I wrote about it. But the novel is clearly a suggestion that community and connection may be important to the survival of the species.
The Watcher (the person) is both criminal (voyeur) and victim at the same time. Were you walking the thin line between the two aspects of her behaviour on purpose?Definitely, I suppose that makes her an anti-hero, almost in the way that Michael C. Hall is in ‘Dexter’, but of course she’s not quite like that! Her flaws are what allow her to find her way into a mystery that otherwise would’ve lain dormant, so you can root for her hopefully, while enjoying and being concerned by her idiosyncrasies. In this and future books I want to walk a line of types of characters you find in fiction, and how they conform to and diverge from the norm, and I’ll particularly try to do this with realistic and expansive ways of representing age, race and gender.
Lily is not your typical pure-hearted, screaming under a swinging light bulb, heroine. And I love her for that.
Of course I am sure your readers would like to know if we will be seeing more of The Watcher or is this a stand-alone novel? (No pressure *grin*) I’m currently looking into the possibilities of where she might go next. It looks like my second book will be about a Police Community Support Officer, attempting to solve a crime that no one has asked him not to get involved with, while he recovers from a major head injury. But Lily, conceived as a character for a standalone book, just won’t leave me alone. There are so many options with her, and I will be taking her to wonderful and horrible new places.
Thank you for answering my questions, especially the odd ones! Great questions, you aced it.
There is one slight problem about reviewing a book like The Watcher, you have to be really careful not to give the plot away. For me this is a bit of a conundrum because I do like to rabbit on when I write a review.
So I am going to try and waffle without revealing too much. (I’m not sure I am even capable of that *grin*)
It’s written in first person, so initially the reader isn’t sure whether the main character is a woman or a man. All they know is that whoever it is spends a lot of their time at the end of a pair of binoculars. Lily watches her surroundings, she watches her fellow humans, and of course the occasional bird.
The problem with secretly watching the people around you is that sometimes you see things you shouldn’t see or weren’t supposed to see in the first place. Things like abuse or perhaps even murder.
Lily finds herself in her very own Hitchcock scenario when she witnesses something shocking and starts to suspect her neighbours might be more than just harmless individuals. She does find some vigorous opposition in her husband and her father though. They both believe she is slightly obsessed with watching others.
Without delving further into the plot let me just say the author does a really good job of keeping the reader questioning the whole plot and perhaps even Lily at times. Has she got an over-active imagination or is there something nefarious heading straight her way?
The Watcher is subtle, sneaky and unobtrusive. The author manages to create an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and paranoia, It is certainly a different kind of read. Quirky, and yet strangely moving and personal.