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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

In conversation with
Vanessa Lillie
Author of
‘Little Voices’

Due to be published on 1st October 2019 by Thomas & Mercer, the lovely folks at NetGalley have provided this early bird, easy to access download, at the request of the lovely Katie, representing Little Bird Publicity. I am always pleased to be invited to work alongside this well organized little team and I look forward to reading Little Voices as soon as possible.

LITTLE VOICES

Cover image of the book 'Little Voices' by author Vanessa LilleyThe voice in her head says he’s guilty. She knows he’s innocent.

Devon Burges is in the throes of a high-risk birth when she learns of her dear friend’s murder. The police quickly name another friend as the chief suspect, but Devon doesn’t buy it—and despite her difficult recovery, she decides to investigate.

Haunted by postpartum problems that manifest as a cruel voice in her head, Devon is barely getting by. Yet her instincts are still sharp, and she’s bent on proving her friend’s innocence.

But as Devon digs into the evidence, the voice in her head grows more insistent, the danger more intense. Each layer is darker, more disturbing, and she’s not sure she—or her baby—can survive what lies at the truth.

VANESSA LILLIE

Image of author Vanessa LilleyOriginally from Miami (Mi-am-MUH), Oklahoma, Vanessa studied English at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO, and received a Masters of Public Administration from American University.

With over fifteen years experience in marketing and communications, Vanessa edited for an e-publisher for two years, before leaving to devote more time to her own stories and online writing course addiction.

Now, smitten with the smallest state, she proudly calls Rhode Island home with her husband and son, where she enjoys organizing book events and literary happenings in and around the Providence area.

She proudly likes to tell people about winning a poker tournament in St. Martin to sound interesting, but most of her time is spent writing on her phone at play dates 🙂

Keep up with all Vanessa’s latest news at her website

Follow Vanessa on Twitter

Connect with Vanessa on Facebook


Image of author Vanessa Lilley

IN CONVERSATION WITH VANESSA LILLEY

 

Q: Little Voices is your first novel. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for this story — was it an idea you had in mind for a long time before writing and getting it published?

A: As with so much of being a new parent, Little Voices began with sleep, or lack of sleep. My three-month-old son would not nap unless he was on me. I wore him in a baby wrap, but I had to move to keep him sleeping. Luckily, it was early spring, and I could amble through my neighborhood on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island. On these long, daily walks along Blackstone Boulevard, where Little Voices opens, I often imagined another mother wearing her baby like me. Scenes began to form, characters began to talk, and I pictured this mother trying to solve a friend’s murder after another friend is accused of the crime. I imagined her not listening to critics who questioned her sanity, and I envisioned how she believed in herself and her abilities, even if she was the only one who did.

It was 15 months after my son was born that I was finally able to write this new mother’s story (related to him being in daycare two days a week). I wrote Little Voices during National Novel Writing Month and edited for about a year before querying to find my wonderful agent and publisher, a goal I’d been working toward for over a decade.

Q: We see the novel’s protagonist, Devon Burges, struggling with her roles as a wife, mother and friend as she delves deeper into investigating Belina’s murder. Why was it particularly important to you to show the reader all these aspects of Devon’s life?

A: The motherhood aspect of the novel is what I was (and am) living. I read books for connection, and I write them for the same reason. I wanted to explore these new parts of myself and my early months as a mother, but within the thriller genre I love.

I’d also moved to Providence, Rhode Island in my early 30s and found it difficult to make new friends. Itwasn’t until my pregnancy group and new-mom group that I really started forming new friendships. I wondered a lot if I was giving enough. It’s a worry that extended to my relationship with my husband and family. Logically, I knew that as a new parent, I had so little left to give, but I still felt a lot of guilt. I wanted to explore those feelings of what we give and take in our closest relationships.

Q: Little Voices keeps readers gripped until the very end as Devon tries to uncover the truth about what happened to Belina. How did you approach plotting and pacing this novel, and could you give us your tips for building suspense when writing a mystery or thriller?

A: This is my debut, but it’s not the first book I’ve written. The other two that came before it, I’d worked on for about 13 years purely in a state of “pantsing,” or writing by the seat of my pants. Every time I sat down, I just let the story take me away. Looking back, this was a good way to spend time, as I needed to clock some hours (or years) to get better at the craft of writing. At the end of that decade, I knew I needed to find another way to write if I was going to find an agent and publisher.

When I had queried and had those other books rejected, the agent often noted that they liked the writing but the plot or structure wasn’t working. The good news was that I could fix those problems with enough hard work. So I sat down with Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel workbook and made myself learn how to plot and outline. There were plenty of surprises as I was drafting and editing, and I did let my mind wander as I used to, but I had the structure in place to keep everything moving forward. I would also highly recommend Save the Cat Writes, a Novel by Jessica Brody for anyone wanting to put the structure in place at any stage of writing.

I also want to note that in those early weeks when I went back to writing after my son was born, I felt guilty. The negative postpartum voice in this story is not so separate from an inner critic who said I should be doing things for my son, not myself. But like my main character, I fought those critical, mom-guilt “little voices” (and continually do), so I can nourish my whole person, not just the part that is a mother.

Q: You deal really sensitively with the difficult issue of postpartum psychosis, a condition that isn’t often touched upon in fiction, particularly in the mystery, thriller, or suspense genres. Why was it important to you to explore this topic, and how did you go about researching it?

A: Postpartum depression affects one in eight families, possibly more, as I imagine many new parents are like me and ignore their own crying and anxiety. That said, while I was never diagnosed, I am very aware of how difficult being a new parent can be through my own struggles. Looking back, there were so many raw moments, and while I think we generally say how hard it is to be a new parent, I still felt a little blindsided.

Outside my own experiences, I was in a new-mom-group for the first year of my son’s life. Every week, I heard other women sharing their ups and downs, often through tears, and I felt shocked at the difficulty, and I wanted to read about it. I longed for a book with a protagonist struggling postpartum, but also thriving as she rediscovers herself. I also spoke with a friend who is a postpartum therapist about diagnosed postpartum disorders, and she was tremendously helpful in sharing information, presentations, and resources.

Parenthood is a strange, lonely planet that so many inhabit. In those early months, I wanted to read about the psychological complexities new parents can face: terror and elation, exhaustion and euphoria, isolation despite constant physical contact, and loneliness while never being alone. I hope this book will connect me with others who want to explore the difficult paths parenthood takes us down. This is the book I wanted to read as a new parent who loves dark and twisty psychological thrillers.

Q: The novel is set in Rhode Island, where you yourself live, and you include so many details specific to the state that give Little Voices a strong, vivid sense of place. Did you always intend for the setting to be so integral to the novel, and why do you think Rhode Island is the perfect setting for this story?

A: I’m from a small town in Oklahoma, and I’ve lived in Kansas City and Washington, D.C., but Rhode Island is the first place I’ve lived that I’d call home. I fell hard and fast for the smallest state. I wanted Rhode Island to be front and center to my main character’s experiences because it was such a powerful part of my own postpartum life. It felt natural to make this novel a sort of dark love letter to Rhode Island because it truly captured my heart and mind.

Q: Devon has a really interesting backstory, which is key to understanding her motivation for investigating Belina’s death. Is hers a story you intend to expand on, and would you be keen to explore other parts of her past in future books?

A: Absolutely—if readers want more of Devon, I’d be thrilled to continue her story. I’ve been thinking about Devon returning to Kansas and helping her brother out of a dangerous situation while also facing her own complicated past. There is an unsolved murder case that happened around the time I was graduating high school to girls who were my age, and I’d like to explore some of those elements that have stayed with me.

Q: As a debut author, do you have any advice for budding writers aspiring to publish their first novel?

A: This is probably the advice I didn’t want to hear, but it’s held true: just keep writing. No path is smooth or certain, but if you focus on your writing, you’ll be happier for it. Also, as much as you can, connect with other writers and readers. From Twitter to Instagram to in-person events, readings, and conferences, book people are the best people, and the more support you can gather and give, the happier you’ll be.

Q: We have to ask—what are you working on next? Anything you can tease for readers who are already anticipating your next book?

A: Little Voices was my opportunity to put my complex feelings about motherhood into a thriller. For my next book, there will be a few familiar faces, but it’s a completely different story with a new main character who is very different than Devon. I’m exploring addiction, privilege, and what we really pass along generation to generation. It’s also set in my neighborhood of Providence.


Cover image of the book 'Little Voices' by author Vanessa Lilley

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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15 comments
  • Hi Yvonne. What a fascinating sounding book. I can certainly relate to the new mum thing. Will look this up on Amazon in a moment, as it would do nicely for my personal American States challenge… very few books set on Rhode Island.

    Apologies for not being around much. My brother passed away on the 9th. (the funeral was on Monday) so I’ve not felt much like posting on my blog or being online a lot. Plus, my husband and I are executors of the will so lots to do. We’re off back to Penzance on Saturday for a week but once I get back I hope to be around a bit more.

    • Hi Cath,

      Please accept my deepest sympathies on your recent loss. No matter how much of a ‘happy release’ we consider someone’s passing to be if they are suffering, when the day of passing actually comes, that sense of shock, pain and loss automatically kicks in, doesn’t it?

      I am sorry to be so late in replying to you, however I have been without a laptop for much of the week, as a faulty power supply took out much of our electrics several times, before we worked out which appliance was causing the problem! Hubbie managed to source a replacement today, so I am now playing catch-up!

      Do you have a list of the US States you are still trying to fill on your list, as I can let you know if I come across books set in any of them and you can decide if they are ones you want to read or not?

      Take Care 🙂

  • Well! As a character Devon certainly sounds that bit different.

    I find it fascinating that the author explores these new parts of herself/her early months as a mother within her books.

    Great Q & A. Thanks for the introduction to Vanessa and her work.

    • Hi Felicity,
      Devon is a bit different, you are absolutely correct! I’d say she falls into that “play by your own rules” type character that we maybe don’t see quite as much with women protagonists, so I hope you enjoy it.

      I’ve found in my writing, I like to take whatever my feelings and emotions and then dump them all into my plot. So while what happens isn’t anything like my life, I’m able to reflect and process things though writing. I think I also do that with what books I choose. They help me think about myself and my own emotions as I’m reading. Of course I may be alone in this! Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Hi Felicity,

      I must admit that if I was Devon, had just gone through such a high-risk birth and was struggling so badly with postpartum symptoms and problems, probably the last thing on my mind would be worrying about one of my friends, murder charge or not!

      I guess that sounds terribly selfish and never having had children I am probably not qualified to make assumptions like that. Possibly having someone else’s problems to focus on makes dealing with your own issues more bearable, but I like to think that I would be focusing on my own relationships and bonding with my baby.

      It is always good to be able to share an author Guest Post which is written genuinely from the heart and I do hope that at some time in the future, Vanessa will decide to send Devon off on another case so that we can follow her progress!

      Thanks for stopping by and I apologise for the tardy delay – One new laptop power supply later … need I say more? 🙂

  • At first glance of the premise, I wasn’t sure I would be interested in reading this, having just had a child go through a not-so-easy pregnancy. However, the author interview makes it sound much more appealing. I’m certainly not saying “no” to it at this point!

    I experienced postpartum depression following the birth of one of my children – not to be confused with postpartum psychosis, which is far more serious. I can see how either would play well into a story like this.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I am so sorry that your daughter went through a pregnancy which was not the joyful expectation it is meant to be, although hopefully the cuteness of the little chap more than made up for any distress he caused early on 🙂

      Not ever having had children, I find it quite difficult to pass judgement on any of the comments yourself and Cathy are making about postpartum depression, including the authors own experiences, however it does sound like an emotionally difficult and draining time, especially whilst caring for a new baby.

      If Vanessa decides to evolve the character of Devon Burges into a series of her own, I wonder if the new baby will figure in any of the stories?

      Take Care and thanks for stopping by 🙂

      • Hi Yvonne,
        Thank you so much for this opportunity to connect with the readers of your website. You’re right that it is such an emotionally difficult time, and completely draining (and often scary). I think the more we discuss this and share our experiences, the better.

        I would love to write another book with this main character. In fact, I have an idea, but it just depends on if my publisher is keen to do it after this book is out. So fingers crossed readers do want to see more.
        Thank you again!
        Vanessa

        • Hi Vanessa,

          Thank you so much for taking the time to engage with the readers, here at FB.

          Knowing that an author has taken the time to read a post promoting their book and is interested enough to check out and reply to comments, is all the thanks I, as a hobby blogger, looks for. It makes all the difference and is much appreciated 🙂

          I’m not sure how you will correlate Devon being a part-time sleuth with being a new mum, should you decide to expand this stand alone into a series, but the idea you have forming which you mentioned in your Q&A sounds great.

          Good Luck and Best Wishes for the future 🙂

    • Hi Kelly,
      Thank you for your comment and sharing your own experiences. Postpartum depression impacts one in eight families (maybe more — this is just based on what’s reported). I would say my book could be a bit triggering, so if you do read, please do so with caution and mindfulness of how you’re feeling.

      Thanks so much,
      Vanessa

  • Great post and interview Yvonne, Little Voices sounds intriguing. Wow, she learns of the murder while in labor? That is rough. That is good the author weaves in important topics like postpartum depression into the storyline.
    Enjoy this one when you read it.

    • Hi Naida,

      The storyline sounds as though it has a completely new and different twist to it, so I am expecting a good read when I get to it.

      Vanessa seems to be pondering the idea of making a series featuring her new character too, so I shall be following her progress with interest!

      Thanks for visiting this week. I hope that all is well with you and that you have some great books lined up 🙂

    • Hi Nikki,

      Not having had children, this is definitely a subject I know nothing about, however it will perhaps make me more tolerant towards those who admit they are suffering.

      I also really appreciate authors who are willing to engage with readers and bloggers, especially when they are receiving good promotion and publicity for their book. Vanessa sounds like someone I could really get along with!

      I hope that you are well and enjoyed your summer to the max 🙂

Written by Yvonne

NetGalley

2016 NetGalley Challenge Professional Reader Goodreads

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