In my opinion...
This is an unusual novel, quite different to many of the psychological thrillers that I have read recently.
Our unreliable narrator, is an intriguing character that I found difficult to like, but was still fascinated by her story, and wanted to know who was she confiding in? The further into the story I got, the harder it was to put down.
There are many twists during the course of the narrative, and also unexpected horror- in a very ‘Hitchcockian’ manner, at times I could positively hear the sawing of squeaky violins à la Psycho, as the suspense was craftily built up.
As an actor, Ross obviously knows how to work his audience, and he has used this skill within this novel.
I was delighted that, after finishing the novel, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions, which are not only fascinating in background to the book, but as an insight into the acting world.
BB: Do you have an interest in bird watching- have you done any yourself?
RA:I chose bird watching because it was an interesting way into Lily’s character. It feeds into how she sees the world, and creates a certain dynamic with her father. But it’s not something I did at the time. However, now I notice birds everywhere, and identify what types are around wherever I go. I see more than most people in London, because shortly before the release of The Watcher in hardback, a Wetlands centre opened up next to where I live. I was able to ask questions of bird experts and spend time making last adjustments to the novel surrounded by them. It was so fortunate and strange. The birds tend to follow Lily and I around.
BB: . Do you feel that being an actor makes you write in a way that you could envisage the novel made into a film.
RA: If people feel like they see the movie in their head as they read, it’s probably because I like novels that lend you a character's eyes, and because of my interest in films as a watcher, rather than because I’m an actor.
After graduating from RADA, when I was first on a TV set surrounded by cameras, I had the bizarre feeling that it wasn’t what I was promised. Films sets are exciting, but the pace is slow and exacting. When I studied Film Studies at University, just as Lily did, it became clear how much is going on in the images that a whole cast and crew work to make. And that hard work creates the overwhelming and visceral feeling that made me fall in love with cinema as a child.
So oddly, I get the excitement in my bones that I did watching films as a kid when I do theatre as an actor, or read books that get you by the throat, whereas being an actor on a film set is a technical challenge, something different entirely.
BB: Have you ever performed in a play written by Hitchcock?
RA: No, but I think Hitchcock has come to inform so much culture, including theatre. When I did Hamlet with the Donmar Warehouse, the production appealed to a modern audience because they made it a psychological thriller. Its dark and moody hues were something that came out of a type of cinema that Hitchcock created, which was both unhinged and so watchable. And in Jude Law, that production had a brilliant actor and a star, and Hitchcock knew how to play with perceptions of his stars to create maximum effect on his audience.
I felt there was something that I got from Hitchcock that wasn’t quite represented in some books or films that are often called ‘Hitchcockian’. I also had a different type of character, or star, who I wanted to be given the usually very male position of looking at others and deriving pleasure without being seen.
BB:. Why did you write as a woman? Have you ever played the part of a woman?
RA: I saw a thread on Twitter the other day, which was started by a male author discussing whether he could write a woman, presumably technically? And politically? This seems completely bizarre to me. I may have a predisposition to write characters further away from myself, thereby gaining a lift from the act of imagining, but I also think I’m not so different from a woman of my age. And the ways in which I may discover that I do see the world differently to Lily are nothing but fertile material.
I think writing should always involve some sort of transformation. They say, write what you know, but they should also add in, explore what you don’t, because your journey towards a new perspective adds an inspiration to the story which will come across.
I played a woman once at university in The Maids by Jean Genet. I found I did it best when I was not trying to play a woman, when I resisted any affectation, and was just myself, then I could subtract anything that I felt was incongruous, from me, that got in the way. Women have a lot of masculine qualities. Men have a lot of femininity. I guess the trick is to pick which dial you turn up.
BB: Do you like Lily?
RA: I love Lily. But then that could seem quite self-regarding as she’s obviously part of myself. I enjoy her most when I see her as I occasionally glimpse myself, objectively, as a human person with obvious issues and virtues. I feel for her, but I also laugh at her sometimes. But then, I’m good at laughing at my own problems, however serious. It’s just the human thing to do.
BB: Which came first Lily or the plot? What inspired you?
RA: It was the setting, in fact. I moved into a modern apartment block and there was something about how new but empty it was that was quite spooky.
I then realised that, just as in the novel, the gentrification of the area meant that many people had been moved on, and others were still living there, but waiting for their homes to be demolished. That created a real tension for me, and a certain guilt.
Then when I realised I could see into people’s flats, I knew I was a bit unnerved by the idea of looking at others going about their lives, but I wanted to create someone who was magnetically fascinated by it. And then I just had to follow where Lily went. The plot wrote itself, feverishly, as I wrote for hours on end, following wherever she went.
A big thank you to Ross Armstrong for answering my questions, and @HQStories, Harper Collins for my ARC
Want to know more?
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?
A thrilling, chilling, filled with suspense four glasses...
Thank you Harper Collins @HQStories for my ARC.