About The Author
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a freelance journalist in London and was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4. Monroe, the author of five other novels, was also a foreign correspondent in Delhi for the Daily Telegraph and was on its staff in London as Weekend editor.
In his suspenseful new novel, Find Me, a brilliant young Cambridge student who had just lost her father appears to have committed suicide. But Rosa's boyfriend Jar can't let go. He sees Rosa everywhere - a face on the train; a figure on the cliff. He is obsessed with proving that she is still alive. And then he gets an email. 'Find me, Jar. Find me, before they do..' Is Rosa really dead? And, if she is, who is playing games with the ones she left behind?
Below, in an exclusive q&a for Foyles, and without giving any spoilers, we talked to J S Monroe about why he chose to write about a missing person, how his book moved from spy thriller to psychological thriller and the perils of researching the Dark Web.
Author photo © Hilary Stock
Questions & Answers
What gave you the inspiration for setting the beginning of the novel in Cromer?
I was there with my wife, Hilary, who is a photographer, while she was delivering some of her pictures to a gallery in the town. I went down to the beach, sat down on the shingle, stared out at the sea and the pier, and had the beginnings of an idea. What if someone was seen walking down to the end of the famous pier but was never seen walking back? This fermented into what became a key part of Find Me. Rosa, a Cambridge undergraduate, disappears. Everyone believes that she has jumped to her death in Cromer but then, five years later, her boyfriend thinks he sees her…
What made you want to write a novel about a missing woman?
Unfortunately, I once lost a friend who had studied with me at Cambridge University. A few years later, I thought I saw her. I knew it couldn’t have been her, but it set me thinking. What if? I also lost my mother when I was a teenager. The only recurring dream that I’ve ever had in my life features her returning to the family home a few years later, wondering who the new woman is in our life and where everyone is going to sleep. Very unsettling. (I should add that my father remarried, very happily, to my step-mother, whom I love dearly!)
What are the hardest and most enjoyable parts of the writing process for you?
I love running and I think of writing in the same way. It’s the best feeling in the world – when you’ve finished. The actual process of writing – sitting down at your desk each day and putting 1,000 new words in the right order – is tough. For the first part of each day, I revise what I’ve written the previous day. This is fun and less arduous than the coalface stuff. I then wander around the house, doing as many things as I can to put off writing the next 1,000 words – a bit like a restless dog circling his mat. Eventually, I sit down and just get on with it, wondering what all the fuss was about. Routine is important – I call it the discipline of creativity. It’s been said many times before, but writing’s as much about perspiration as inspiration.
Do you read any books in this genre? If so, which were the most exciting recently? If not, what do you prefer to read and why?
I tend to read outside the thriller genre when I’m actually writing. I’ve recently been reading Karl Ove Knausgaard, which I loved, and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which was richly rewarding and a quite unique voice. I’ve also just read Kate Atkinson’s Life Ever After, which did some very clever things with narrative. Within thrillers, I’ve recently read Claire Macintosh’s I Let You Go, which had a terrific twist that had me turning back to the beginning of the book to check the plumbing and wiring to see how she did it. Other psychological thrillers that I’ve enjoyed are The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson and Tell No One by Harlan Coben.
Why did you choose this genre to convey the story?
Up until now, I’ve written spy thrillers. Two standalones (The Riot Act and The Cardamom Club) and the Daniel Marchant trilogy (Dead Spy Running, Games Traitors Play, Dirty Little Secret). I knew I wanted to try something different with this book, but at the start I wasn’t sure how. I’ve always enjoyed psychological thrillers. And I love unreliable narration and the effect it has on telling a story. Find Me actually began life as a spy thriller, but when the plot – in particular, the disappearance of Rosa - began to head towards familiar espionage territory, I had what turned out to be a seminal lunch with my agent, Will Francis. He suggested I try to resolve the story by looking within Rosa’s character – her past, friends, family etc – rather than turning to the easy props and tools of the spy world. It would be a lot harder to do, but I knew at once that he was right. And so the story appears to move from spy thriller to psychological thriller – and a world of misdirections, unreliable narration and what I hope is a killer twist.
Were there any parts of the novel that you found hard to write?
The scenes involving the Dark Web, that lawless part of the internet that lies beyond search engines and social media, were quite scary to write. I wanted to research the Dark Web properly, but my worry was taking a wrong turn and ending up on the end of an FBI drugs sting, or in some dodgy chatroom. Interestingly, although the Dark Web is predominantly used by criminals – arms and drugs dealers, human traffickers, paedophiles etc – it serves some good purposes, too. Participants in The Arab Spring, for example, were able to communicate on the Dark Web, beyond the reach of government censors. There’s a StrongBox site down there, too, run by the New Yorker magazine, where whistleblowers can leave anonymous information about corrupt companies, public figures etc. And it’s being used by people working with victims of domestic abuse – again, allowing for anonymous communications that can’t be scrutinised by violent partners.
Have you ideas for a next novel?
I am starting to put together some ideas for another psychological thriller – it will once again involve identity, memory and possibly a school or university reunion of some kind. I’ve also just written a spy novella featuring a teenage main character. I am currently writer-in-residence at The Nare Hotel in Cornwall, which commissioned the book. The owner is a spy aficianado – his direct phone extension is 007 – and wanted a thriller set in and around the Roseland Peninsula, where his hotel is located. It’s been a lot of fun.