In Conversation with Karen McManus
What inspired you to write The Cousins?
KM: I got the idea while reading an article about the Kennedy grandchildren, many of whom lead very interesting lives. I started thinking about the power of legacy, and how it can shape families for generations. Then, I wondered what would happen if that were taken away. The Story family grew from that train of thought: a prominent family whose matriarch abruptly disinherited her children years ago, and whose grandchildren Milly, Aubrey and Jonah – who have grown up without any of the privilege their parents experienced – receive a mysterious invitation to return to their roots.
Question 2: Who is your favourite character in The Cousins?
KM: I can never pick a favourite character! However, after writing 15 POV characters in my first five books (the fifth, You’ll Be the Death of Me, is scheduled for release in 2021), I have come to appreciate characters whose voices are strong and clear from the start, because they make my job easier. In The Cousins, that character was Milly Story-Takahashi, a savvy New York City girl whose mother is the only Story daughter.
Question 3: What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
KM: Suzanne Collins, because I wouldn’t be an author if I hadn’t gotten inspired after reading The Hunger Games trilogy, and Agatha Christie, whose mysteries are some of the best ever written.
Question 4: Do you have a special writing space?
KM: I have a dedicated office in my house, but I can write almost anywhere if I have a laptop and earphones.
Question 5: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as an author?
KM: Make sure your characters are doing something in the last chapters that would have seemed impossible for them to do in the first. That’s when you know they’ve been through a growth arc.
Question 6: Do you have any golden tips for aspiring writers?
KM: Find other writers at the same stage of the publication journey as you, and exchange work with them. My writing improved enormously when I started giving and receiving thoughtful feedback.
Question 7: Have you ever had writer’s block?
KM: Oh, sure! I had it with Two Can Keep a Secret, where it manifested as writing lots of words, but the wrong ones. I had to rewrite that book twice before I got it right. And after I turned in You’ll Be the Death of Me earlier this spring, I found myself unable to start something new for almost six weeks. I needed some downtime in order to recharge, but I also needed to let go of an idea that wasn’t going anywhere so that I could make space for a different one.
Question 8: Of all the books you have written, which is your favourite?
KM: I love them all for different reasons. One of Us Is Lying launched a new life for me, but I like to say that Two Can Keep a Secret is the book that really made me an author, because I had to work hard for that one, and I’m so proud of how it turned out. One of Us Is Next was like coming home, and The Cousins was pure joy to write from start to finish.
Question 9: What is your favourite book of all time?
KM: I’m a broken record here, but I really can’t pick just one. So many books have been meaningful and important to me at different stages of my life. I can tell you my most recommended mystery, though – it’s And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
Question 10: Can you tell us a bit about your next book?
KM: You’ll Be the Death of Me is like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets a murder mystery: three estranged friends skip school, and get caught up in a crime they can’t solve without exposing their secrets. It primarily takes place over the course of a single day, and giving my POV characters ample opportunity to grow in such a compressed time frame was an interesting challenge. I’m excited for readers to meet them next year!
by Karen McManus
This interview was run by Penguin UK. No part of this interview may published without the permission in writing from the publisher.