In Roz Nay’s debut novel, Our Little Secret, a woman sits somewhat calmly in the interrogation room of a police station. She is being questioned by a detective who visibly dislikes her about her possible role in the disappearance of another woman.
The suspect, Angela, gives nothing away with her body language. The story is from her point of view, but she doesn’t let us at the whole truth. Is she innocent? Guilty? Both? Neither? We do know that the missing woman is the wife of Angela’s friend and former flame, HP. We know that Angela wants to tell her story. We know the detective doesn’t believe a word she’s saying. But the most important question perhaps is, should we?
In an email interview, I asked Nay about the motive behind the plot (so to speak), and the intricacies of being a writer. Oh, and a former fish counter.
When did you first get the idea for this novel?
I found Angela’s voice first during a writing class I took. The homework assignment was to write 1,000 words in the voice of someone who has an axe to grind. Angela poured out of me fully-formed with a love triangle to describe. Crime stories and love stories intermingle very naturally, I think, but in this book’s case, the first seed of it was the love story.
You worked as an underwater fish counter in Africa. Tell me a bit more about that.
Best job ever! In the spirit of doing quite random things in your twenties, I volunteered for three months for the Tanzanian government, collecting data from the reef off the coast of Mafia Island, which is 10 miles south of Zanzibar. I had to scuba dive and count fish underwater – literally write down numbers of tropical fish on a little whiteboard – and then submit the data to try and get the reef protected from dynamite fishing.
I lived with 12 other volunteers in a camp with no electricity or running water. We ate fish and rice, cooked in an earth oven. I heard bush babies screeching at night. Honestly, I’d have done it forever if it was a paid position.
Angela is such a complicated and even enigmatic character. Did you base her on anyone in particular?
I think I based her on me, although obviously I might need therapy now that I’ve realized that…I think my years of high school teaching also played into Angela’s character – every year I taught girls who were cleverer than me, with tons of potential. They were amazingly powerful, even if they didn’t know it yet. I thought it would be interesting to take a girl like that and put her in a life she doesn’t want. What would she do then?
The story begins with Angela at a police station telling her story to a detective about a past relationship with her high school sweetheart HP, whose wife is missing. Were you confident this would draw the reader in right away?
I was trying my best to hook readers! I figured they’d surely want to know what happened to the missing woman, but I was also relying on the bait of a tragic love story. I gambled on the notion that most people have suffered a heartbreak or two along the way: it’s rare to get through young adulthood without one. So I loaded up the hook with a relatable sense of disappointment, and hoped for the best.
No spoilers here, but the ending is very unexpected. Did you know what the conclusion would be all along, or did it change as you were writing?
I always knew how it would end. I always knew who’d done the villainy! There was a lot that changed in the book, plot-wise, as we went through edits, but the bad guy(s) never changed. I think if you read the book twice, there are clues to the ending threaded in all the way from page 1. But I had to keep them subtle.
In the novel, you explore topics like manipulation, lies and betrayal. Was it difficult to keep all that balanced within the plot?
It is quite tricky to write a plot about being sneaky. Writers are sneaky anyway so it was an added layer of complication! Every step of the way, I was trying to seed doubt into the reader, playing with their sense of who to trust. So it was a very delicate balance. But ultimately, there’s nothing more fun than writing around big themes like secrets and lies. It opens up all kinds of possibilities for the characters.
Was there a character that proved particularly challenging to write?
They were all really fun to write, although Angela’s character felt like the most challenging. I wanted each of the main characters to be flawed and have a certain level of ambiguity. But the complexity of Angela was also why I liked writing her. I align with a lot of the things she says. Although perhaps not all of them.
Is there a second novel in the works?
There is! I’m currently editing book two, which is another psychological thriller. It’s about two sisters and something that happened in their past that only they know about. It’s about who they’ve become as adults, what they’ve done and how far they’d go to protect each other. It’s due out in Canada in spring 2019.