Meet Charlotte Northedge Author Of The House Guest

What could happen if you're new in town and the person who makes you feel at home isn't quite what they seem? Charlotte Northedge's brilliant debut thriller The House Guest was published on May 13 and she took time out to answer our questions ranging from whether she's a plotter or a pantser, how she juggles writing with her career as Head of Books fir The Guardian, and the classic book she feels she ought to have read but hasn't...

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Book cover of The House Guest by Charlotte Northedge

TW: Charlotte, congratulations on the release of your debut novel, The House Guest. Can you tell us a bit about the book and what inspired you to write it?

CN: Thank you! The House Guest is about a young woman called Kate who moves to London to look for her missing sister and gets caught up with a charismatic life coach, Della, and her strange group of followers. Gradually Kate is singled out by Della, and invited to the family’s holiday home in France. It doesn’t occur to Kate to question why she is there, but over a long hot summer, the tension between them builds and the situation begins to unravel.

I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and spent my teens and twenties writing short stories and beginnings of novels that never seemed to go anywhere. It wasn’t until I moved to London after university that I got the idea that would eventually become The House Guest. Although I grew up in north London, we moved away for my teens, and returning I felt both lonely and exhilarated. I wanted to capture that particular innocence and vulnerability on arriving in a new city, the search for the people who will make you feel at home. And also what happens if those people turn out to be not quite what they seem.

When I started writing, I identified with the novel’s central character Kate. By the time I returned to the novel more than a decade later, I was more in Della’s demographic – two children, a husband, a career. I wanted to explore the intense relationship between these two women at very different life stages, one that is fuelled by admiration, but also by envy and ultimately mistrust.

TW: As joint Head of Books for The Guardian, what made you want to make the switch from journalist to novelist, and what was most challenging about making the transition?

CN: I’ve been working as a journalist for twenty years, but I always secretly wanted to write a novel. In my twenties, working on women’s magazines, I was part of a writing group with other journalists and that’s when I started working on The House Guest. But then I got my dream job at The Guardian and put the novel to one side. It wasn’t until I was on maternity leave with my second child that I started to feel a strong urge to write creatively again. I wanted to do something that was just for me, and it felt like a now-or-never moment, so I signed up for the Curtis Brown Creative writing course and returned to the idea I’d had all those years earlier.

The most challenging part was believing I could finish the novel after so many attempts, especially when I was working and had a young family. It was a very slow process. I wrote in the evenings, any hour I could snatch at weekends, on holiday, whenever the children were asleep. I didn’t tell anyone at work that I was writing fiction until I knew the book would be published. Now I work part-time, and I find that the two jobs go well together. At work I edit other people’s writing, and then for two days a week I get to concentrate my own.

TW: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you always want to write a first person narrative?

CN: So far, I’m definitely a pantser. I’ve written two novels – The House Guest and a second that is currently titled Book Two – and both times I’ve started with characters and a setting in mind, and written my way into the story. I really enjoy the process of getting to know the characters, putting them in situations and seeing what happens. Any plans I’ve had for the plot are under constant revision, and both times the ending has radically changed by the time I’ve reached it. At the moment, I prefer writing that way – it feels like setting out on an adventure. But perhaps I’ll become more disciplined as I go on.

The House Guest started out as a third person narrative, but when I tried rewriting sections in the first person, something clicked and Kate really came alive to me. I’d like to try writing in the third person at some point, but for this story, a first person narrative felt right.

TW: Can you tell us how you got your agent, and about your journey to publication?

CN: At the end of the Curtis Brown Creative course we were invited to share the opening of our novels with the agents at Curtis Brown and C&W and attend a drinks session with them. I had a great conversation with Sophie Lambert from C&W about my book and felt she really connected with the story I wanted to tell. Afterwards, she got in touch to say she’d like to see the full manuscript. I hadn’t finished it at that point, but when I eventually sent it to her she had so much insightful feedback, and she has worked with me really closely on the manuscript at every stage.

It took quite a while to get the manuscript ready to send out as I was working full time. But eventually Sophie submitted it at the end of 2019, and I was thrilled to be offered a two-book deal by Phoebe Morgan at HarperCollins. Phoebe has worked with some brilliant authors and books - CL Taylor and Abigail Dean’s Girl A – and she’s a novelist herself, so she knows the business from the other side as well. It’s been a dream working with her on my edits, and I’m thrilled with the way the way the book has come out. I particularly love the beautiful and slightly sinister cover!

TW: She arrived as a friend. She left as an enemy. It sounds very intriguing! What drew you to writing for the psychological thriller genre? How long did it take you to write a first draft?

CN: When I started writing The House Guest I didn’t have a particular genre in mind, which is probably quite naive, looking back. There was a story I wanted to tell and over time it developed into a novel that fits in the psychological thriller genre. But I have always enjoyed suspenseful, gripping books. I love anything with strong characters that pull me in and a propulsive, immersive plot.

From when I finished the CBC course to sending my first draft to Sophie was about seven months. I had chapters that I’d worked on years earlier, but I started again – and there was a lot more work to do from that point!

TW: What are you working on next?

CN: I’m writing my second novel for HarperCollins. I signed the deal in January 2020, and then the world changed a lot! So I’ve been writing and working and home-schooling for the best part of a year since then. It’s been amazing to have the children back at school, and to be able to write in a silent house again.

TW: Can you share with us the best piece of advice you’ve been given about being a fiction writer?

CN: Don’t wait for the muse, just sit down and write. You won’t always produce words that will end up in your final draft, but try to write every day, and enjoy the process!

TW: What are your favourite types of novels to review, and will you be reading your own reviews on social media and Amazon once the book is released?

CN: My job-share and I oversee the books department at The Guardian but we don’t personally review novels. There is a fiction editor and a nonfiction editor – they commission reviews and we focus on interviews, essays and regular columns. But in all our books coverage we’re looking for a balance between the books we know readers are excited about, fresh and exciting new talent and authors with an interesting story to tell. When it comes to my own reviews, I probably won’t be able to resist taking a look, but I’ll try not to get too hung up on them!

TW: When do you write and are you a part of a writer’s group?

CN: I write two days a week and also some evenings and the odd hour at the weekend, depending on how near I am to a deadline. It’s always a juggle with family time and work, but having spent so many years writing around a full-time job, it feels like a real luxury to spend whole days in my own fictional world.

Quick fire questions:

TW: An author you admire?

CN: There are so many. In thrillers: Louise Candlish, Erin Kelly, Gillian Flynn, Tana French. Elsewhere: Margaret Atwood, Maggie O’Farrell, Kazuo Ishiguro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Elena Ferrante ... the list goes on.

TW: Your favourite psychological thriller?

CN: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is hard to beat.

TW: A classic novel you’ve never read but should have?

CN: I keep meaning to get back to Anna Karenina.

TW: Favourite TV/film adaptation of a book?

CN: I loved the Anthony Minghella version of The Talented Mr Ripley. On TV, the adaptation of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante was beautifully done. And Big Little Lies was totally addictive!

Thanks Charlotte!

More about The House Guest

Kate trusts Della, and Della trusts Kate.

Their downfall is each other.

When Kate moves to London after the disappearance of her sister, she's in need of a friend. A chance meeting leads Kate to Della, a life coach who runs support groups for young women, dubbed by Kate as 'the Janes.'

Della takes a special interest in Kate, and Kate soon finds herself entangled in Della's life - her house, her family, and her husband. It's only when she realises that she's in too deep that Della's veneer begins to crumble, and the warnings from 'the Janes' begin to come true.

Why is Della so keen to keep Kate by her side? What does Kate have that Della might want? And what really lies beneath the surface of their friendship?


We've got lots of great interviews coming up on Thriller Women. Plus both of us co-founders have new thrillers coming out in August and we can't wait to tell you all about them! 


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