A Conversation about Our Little Secret with Chevy Stevens & Roz Nay

Last year, I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of Our Little Secret by Roz Nay and was immediately engrossed. So much so that I kept emailing Roz’s agent, exclaiming at every twist and turn, raving about the clever writing, and confessing to a crush on one of the main characters. Of course, I offered a blurb, then I waited happily for the book to burst out in the world. Since then, I’ve cheered when it landed on both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star bestseller lists in Canada and when Roz was flown to Paris to accept the Douglas Kennedy award for the best foreign thriller. Now, the accolades are beginning to roll in from the US, with two starred reviews already. I can’t wait to share this book with my readers, and I’m doubly happy to say that Roz and I have become friends. I was honored when our publisher asked if I’d be willing to interview Roz and jumped at the chance to find out all her secrets.

Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens: Your book has already come out in Canada, and it was a lot of fun for me to see how well it was received in our country. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for you. Did you have a special event in your town to celebrate its release? I was also wondering if the dream lived up to the reality. Is the publishing world different than you’d thought?

Roz Nay: I had such a lovely launch here in Nelson. It’s a little town that really encourages and celebrates its artists; I’ve been so touched by all the support. And so far, the publishing world has felt very collaborative—I’ve done my first panel and lit fest now, and it was all about meeting people who wish you well and want to help you along. Your friendship included. So from being the most isolated job in the world (at the keyboard), it becomes an uplifting team effort, a kind of meeting of minds.

CS: I’ve heard many writers say that their favorite parts of writing a book are the beginning and the end. The middle is a big slog uphill. I’ve said it a few times myself, usually when facing a blank page and a looming deadline. What was your favorite part of writing this book? The beginning, all the tweaking and revising, finishing the last draft, or seeing it finally on the shelves?

RN: I think the best part was opening the cardboard box full of ARCs that arrived at my house and having my kids watch me pull out a copy of the book and hold it in my hands. They got to see the reason I’d been working so hard in the basement! I also liked the middle bit of the process, weirdly. I like the shelter of having editors alongside, the ability they have to cut away all the excess of what I’ve written so the pages actually emerge as they should. I like that leanness, and it’s hard to get to on your own. With a first draft, I’m just muddling along over-explaining everything, over-padding.

CS: You are so right. It’s hard to see all our puffy parts until someone points them out. Editors are like a changing room mirror under fluorescent lighting. Our Little Secret is definitely lean, and that tight pace is part of the intensity of this story and highlights the dramatic, breathless hunger of obsessive love—the kind that some people never get over. Do you think that is real love? Or maybe more of a misguided belief that one person can fix everything?

Roz Nay

RN: I think it’s hard to qualify what’s real love and what isn’t. I could argue that obsessive love might be the rawest, most powerful form of it and that anything more functional and everyday is actually a diluted version. From Angela’s point of view, she remained utterly loyal and true when nobody else did. It’s an interesting approach. But yes, it’s a question that permeates everything in the story—it’s an ambivalence, a double-edge.

CS: Speaking of obsession, I fell hard for HP, the love interest in Our Little Secret. He was the perfect combination of boy-next-door who grows up to be the man-you-want-next-door. How did you arrive at his character? Is he a conglomeration of layers, or did he come to you easily?

RN: I actually love how much you fell for HP—I think we bonded over it. He arrived fully-formed for me, probably because most of the things he says are lines straight out of my husband’s mouth. As similar as HP is to my husband, though, I think a lot of his character’s easygoing scruffiness is mine. My husband is better organized than HP. I’m slapdash and fine with winging it. So in essence, HP is a combination of me and my husband. You should really come hang out with us more. Or maybe you shouldn’t.

CS: I think I just found the premise for my next book. Thanks for that—and for the hours I’m going to have to spend in therapy now. It sounds like you pull from real life for your characters. Angela is a delicious blend of vulnerability and edge, combined with some, shall we say, darker qualities. Have you ever known a woman like her? What did you most admire about her?

RN: Angela was so fun to write. I used to teach high school and taught a handful of kids like her—really bright girls who couldn’t quite fit in. When I was coming up with her character, I took what I knew of those girls and projected them forward into a life that didn’t suit them at all. And then I wondered what they’d do next.

CS: That’s fascinating. You’ll have to try your hand at YA one day because you wrote youthful angst perfectly. You’re also great at using setting to convey mood and the change in your characters as they grow up. I loved the bits about Oxford. It was such a fantastic contrast to Angela’s and HP’s hometown. You went to Oxford University yourself. Did you enjoy sharing that part of your life? One day, I’m going to hold you to your promise of a tour so you can show me all the places you wrote about and introduce me to the delights of fish and chips (crisps?) at the local pub.

RN: For me, the Oxford section of Our Little Secret is my favorite. It came out of me in full color, probably because I loved living there and miss the city so much. Writing has become a way for me to deal with homesickness—it’s a healthy way to pay homage, I think. I’d love to give you the Angela Petitjean Tour of Oxford. My kids do the tour every year unknowingly! I’ll take you to the Turf Tavern, the Bridge of Sighs, Cafe CoCo, and the Cowley Road for late-night fish and chips. Chips, Chevy, not crisps. Those come in packets and are your version of chips. It’s okay— I’ll explain all this on the plane ride over.

CS: I can’t wait for my in-depth crisp/chip lesson. I suspect flying with you would be a lot of fun. At least for us. Maybe not so much for the other passengers. You’ve traveled around the world and had some unique jobs in your life—a snowboard videographer and a high school teacher in the UK and Australia—but the one I find most fascinating is that you were an underwater fish counter in Africa. Do you think you’ll ever work that into a plot?

RN: I’m working on it! I have an idea for book three that taps into lots of memories I have of travel, Africa, and diving. What better place to set a thriller?! I want to use some of the adventures I’ve had, and I’ll pitch the idea to my editors later this year. Surely, they’ll be wooed by the fish counting? Best job ever.

CS: But did you ever find Nemo? Never mind, you’re too busy to go looking now. You have a full-time job, you’re writing your next novel, and you have two kids who are very active in sports. I’d like to ask you how you balance it all, but I know that is an impossible task. It usually swings one way or another. So I’ll ask, what do you like to do for fun? Binge-watch Shetland? Text naughty pictures of DI Jimmy Perez to me? I mean, if you wanted to…

RN: I don’t think I do balance it all; I think I drop it all on the floor. At the moment, I have to get up at 5 a.m. to write and then go to work; weekends are mostly spent in hockey arenas. I’m looking forward to the day when I might be able to write full-time, but for now, it’s all about spinning plates. For fun, I do enjoy watching crime shows on Netflix, and Shetland’s DI Jimmy Perez is my current favorite. (I don’t care if you saw him first.) I also love snowboarding (if there’s ever time) and swimming in summer. Where I live is a paradise in the summer—beaches and lakes and fresh mountain air. It’s a pretty good place to be.

CS: Ah. The challenges of a working writer—but you face them well. Just so you know, our trip to Europe better not include any of those athletic adventures. I’m more of the “walk around and look at things and then eat somewhere” kind of traveler. You forgot to mention that you take drum lessons. I’ve seen your videos, and if you weren’t already going to be a rock star with your writing, you could have your own band. One way or another, I’d still be your fan.

RN: When Our Little Secret hit the Globe and Mail bestseller list, my drum teacher told me it was really going to help my music career. That still makes me laugh. I’m fairly new to drumming and stole the lessons off my 10-year-old son when he was less excited about them than me. I was days away from sending my demo to Stephen King when his rock group disbanded. Perhaps I’ll send it to him anyway, see if we can go on tour. You can come too.

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