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  • Debbie Howells


Updated: Jan 17, 2022

As a writer, you take a leap of faith. You invest all this time and love in your books, not knowing what anyone else will think, but you do it anyway because you’re a writer and something in you won’t let you give up on them.

Before I started writing thrillers, I wrote and self-published three women’s fiction novels. The first two were under a pen name, Susie Martyn. I was still running my wedding flower business. Two identities, two names… seemed to make sense, plus my writing name was a play on my mum’s maiden name and I wrote the first book, This is Your Life, just after losing her.

Another book followed, after which I wrote Wildflowers as me. My heart went into that book and six literary agents requested the full manuscript. For a few days the dream seemed so close… until what followed were six passes.

Maybe if it had found a publisher, I wouldn’t have written my first psychological thriller, The Bones of You, and that was the point at which so much changed. It was published in 2015 around the world and was a Sunday Times bestseller. I love writing thrillers and creating twisty plots. I’ve written five more since, with The Secret just published in January 2022, to be followed by a seventh in 2023.

But in the last three years, I’ve been writing other books. Books about family, friendship, love, loss – the stuff that happens to all of us. They’ve been inspired by many things: this time of change we live in; the life shocks that can be transformative; how from our darkest times we find the strength and light we have, that all too easily we lose sight of.

These books have also been inspired by spending time away from everything I know. After a winter in Ibiza, I’ve spent most of the last three years in unfamiliar, very quiet parts of rural France. Here, the only sounds are the birds, or the wind in the trees (and maybe a few passing sheep) and over this time, I’ve felt myself reconnect with something.

Isolation and solitude are not how I’d like to live forever, but something happens when you spend time alone. Your mind becomes quieter. You become more attuned with nature, with the subtleties of the changing seasons; to a wider sense of connection. More in tune I think, also, with yourself.

Without this, these books may have remained unwritten, as it’s over this time they seem to have flowed into being, almost as if they’ve come from somewhere else. The Life You Left Behind was written at the kitchen table in L’Arpent, our home for several months, a gorgeous restored farmhouse with panoramic views of the Pyrenees that are breath-taking. The story was so clear in my head - some days, I wrote ridiculous amounts of words! The solitude and peace have definitely made their way into the pages – the mountains, too.

It’s essentially a love story – between Casey and Ben, who meet when she leaves her passport at home and misses a flight. Ben is her once in a lifetime love and she’s never been happier – until one year later, she faces what she never expected, when Ben leaves her.

But as Casey confronts her way forward, between the lines, this book is about much more: this beautiful world we live in; the very real eco-grief so many of us feel for the planet we’re slowly destroying; solastalgia, sometimes described as a form of homesickness for a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore.

It’s also about change; how in our darkest moments we find our strength; how hope can be found in unlikely places. But mostly, it’s about this amazing life that goes on changing with each twist of the path, each glorious high point and each loss; that will go on changing and throwing the unexpected at us, because that’s what being human is all about.

I am so happy this book will be out in the world –also, that Boldwood have given me a six book deal, which means I have a reason to write more. When finding a publisher can be so hard, this feels like a gift.

It means the world to be sharing it with you. I hope it makes you laugh and cry, but ultimately leaves you with a sense of hope. I hope you enjoy it... x

THE LIFE YOU LEFT BEHIND is out on 23rd February.

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