Sister Act

Author of "Richard & Judy" favourite Sister, Rosamund Lupton, talks about her new novel Afterwards

A top 10 bestseller , Rosamund Lupton's début novel Sister exceeded all expectations. "I was an unknown author with a small book—it was not destined for huge things," she explains. "When we saw Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown and then Rosamund Lupton in the bestseller list, my husband and I just laughed. You do think there has been a mistake."

With the help of a slot on Radio 4's "Book at Bedtime" and an endorsement from the Richard and Judy W H Smith Book Club, Lupton achieved a word of mouth success that most authors can only dream about. But, having signed a two-book deal, the pressure is on for her follow-up—the aptly named Afterwards (£7.99, Piatkus)—to repeat the feat when it is published this June.

Under pressure
Luckily, she says her first draft of the novel was complete by the time Sister came out. "That was a big help because otherwise it would have been really pressurising. There are two sides: you've got all these expectations that you are going to write a book that is going to sell really well, and [yet] you read some reviews on Amazon where people just hate what you do."

For those who raved about Sister, Lupton has delivered another page-turning combination of emotional family drama and detective story. Afterwards opens with a mother's terrifying realisation that she is in a hospital bed, surrounded by doctors, and unable to move. What is worse, she appears to have become disconnected from her body. It quickly becomes apparent that the school fire that put her there was no accident, and her teenage daughter was inside. The race is on to find the culprit, while she watches on desperate to protect her family from further harm.

It is a definite tear-jerker and Lupton says writing it was  an upsetting process: "It is every mother's fear that either you or your child are very ill. It was much more demanding to write, emotionally and intellectually [than Sister]." But she adds: "The converse of that is that I do think it made me appreciate everything."
What links Afterwards to Sister is the criminal element, but it is that aspect Lupton says is most challenging. "The part I find hard is the detective stuff. There was a whole myriad of people interconnecting with one another, and keeping all of those bubbling away and developing was difficult. How Stieg Larsson managed to plot three books and keep that all in his head, I don't know."

Despite this, she has no definitive plans to give up on literary crime just yet, believing "detective stuff is the reason people read my [first] book." Jeffery Deaver, for example, described Sister as existing "in that rare place where crime fiction and literature coincide."

That said, her third novel is a way off. Following a long and intensive period of writing Sister, struggling to get an agent, finally getting published, and then cracking straight on with Afterwards, she is currently taking a well-earned break from writing in her peaceful Surrey home. "I need to recuperate and have a bit of family time," she explains. "There were many late nights—it's such an all-consuming thing."

Film & TV
Her decision to become an author—although regularly tossed up against teaching—came after nearly a decade in film and TV scriptwriting (which interestingly included an episode of "The Bill"). "With scripts I found it quite constraining: you can write the bones of it, but how it looks is up to the director and actors. I really wanted to have a go at writing the interior life of a character."

Hints of Lupton's scriptwriting past come through in her novels—from their pace to the unexpected red herrings and twists: "I envisage it as a series of scenes. I plot character journeys and use dialogue or monologue a lot, and the big moments are very visual," Lupton explains.

It follows then that the film rights to Sister have been snapped up by Pathé and Film Four. Lupton expects the first draft of the script to come through in the summer. If it goes ahead (Lupton isn't "holding her breath"), the result would be another huge boost to her new career.