TW's Penny Batchelor's Second Novel Her New Best Friend

August is special for Thriller Women because it's the month in which both co-founders, EC Scullion and Penny Batchelor, publish their second books with RedDoor Press. Join them on 19th August at 8pm for a joint online launch. It's free to register and you will receive a 10% discount code off both books:

First up on the blog is Penny Batchelor's Her New Best Friend, a novel about motherhood, secrets and how much can you really trust your friends. Dubbed 'mum noir' it was described by reviewer Paul Blezard on LoveReading UK as 'a white-knuckle tense thriller that has more twists than a Simone Biles gymnastics routine'.

EC Scullion took the opportunity to grill Penny including her author goals, the TV she watched and books she read during lockdown, and her top writing tip.

Download the ebook of Her New Best Friend from Amazon or buy the paperback from Thriller Women's list at NB: if you buy books through this link we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Front cover of Her New Best Friend by Penny Batchelor

EC: As an author, what have you been up to in the year since the publication of My Perfect Sister?

PB: I've been very busy writing Her New Best Friend and networking with the writing community - authors really are a great, supportive bunch of people. Self-marketing has taken quite a lot of my time too, building my social media profile, appearing at online festivals and talking to book groups who did me the honour of reading My Perfect Sister. Then I had my freelance journalism jobs too, which now includes a monthly column for The Bookseller on disability and publishing issues.

EC: Congratualtions on the release of your latest book. Can you tell us a little about Her New Best Friend (no spoilers!) and how you came up with the idea for the story?

PB: Certainly. I'm calling it 'mum noir'! 

Mother-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her Claire, a stranger, is nearby and saves the day.  The two quickly become firm friends but how much does Audrey really know about Claire?

Her New Best Friend is a twisting tale of intrigue and deception, the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her children and of what happens when your worst nightmare as a parent comes true…

A lot of my friends are parents and the idea for the novel popped up out of my imagination. 

EC: Psychological thrillers remain hugely popular in the UK fiction market - what do you think is their enduring appeal?

PB: I think because people like reading about precarious situations when they themselves are in a safe environment. With thrillers usually something happens, known as the 'inciting incident', that sets off chain of events leading to peril. In Her New Best Friend the inciting incident is Audrey's pram, containing her son Wilfred, rolling into the pond. We may fear such situations or wonder how we would act if they were thrust upon us. As a writer I have great fun exploring my darker side with the more nefarious characters! Also, certainly with domestic thrillers, we can all relate to issues surrounding family relationships, friends,  work and the like. 

EC: You've welcomed the surge in literary festivals switching to online rather than in-person as a result of the pandemic. How important is it that the industry doesn't revert to its old ways when the pandemic is over?

PB: Very, very important and I've written about this in my monthly column with The Bookseller. Online festivals have democratised literature, enabling people who previously couldn't afford the ticket and travel,  or perhaps weren't physically able to travel, to attend. Literary festivals also have the reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being a bit elitist and white middle class, which can be off-putting if you don't fit the bill. Now anyone can see their favourite author and meet new ones for from the comfort of their own home, wherever they live.

I have a vested interest in literary festivals continuing online or in a hybrid form too. My physical disability makes it difficult for me to travel, meaning that if festivals return to a purely in-person format I won't be able to attend as a speaker or ordinary punter. Lockdown has shown us that online festivals can be done. I appreciate that there will always be a place and a demand for in-person festivals - it's great meeting authors face to face - but there's no reason they can't be live streamed and beam in speakers via in the internet. If BBC Newsnight can do it then so can festivals! 

EC: You've been a champion for other disabled authors over the last year. Following the pandemic, has there been a change in attitude in the publishing industry towards disabled writers, or is there still much work to be done. Are we seeing more disabled characters represented in fiction?

PB: I think there publishing industry is vaguely starting to open their eyes towards the existence of disabled writers as part of their diversity drives but it's still at the conversation rather than action point. What's needed, as well as more authors with disability to come forwards, is for an increase in disabled employees in the industry. Editors sometimes commission books similar to books that have sold well but if you're writing something relatively different, such as positive representations of disability in fiction, there isn't much to compare it too. Disabled publishing staff know there's a market out there for disabled characters in fiction, after all according to the charity Scope one in five people in the UK have a disability, and want to represent the diversity we have in the UK and know that including disabled characters isn't niche or depressing. That said there are some great authors out there, such as Nell Pattison who writes thrillers about the D/deaf community and Elle McNicoll, the author of the award-winning children's book with a neurodivergent heroine, A Kind Of Spark

EC: For you, what's the best thing about being a writer, and on the flip side, what's the worst?

PB. The best thing has to be seeing my books for sale in a bookshop. It's a childhood dream come true and I still can't believe that these stories that started life in my imagination are now physical books. I've also really enjoyed getting to know other authors - including you! - and the supportive writing community. The flip side? Probably when I'm midway through a novel, I can't see where it's going and start to think I'll never write another novel again. This is where the encouragement and advice from other authors come in. There's no magic wand to wave, it's simply a matter of keeping going, keeping writing and working through it until the plot comes together. 

EC: What are your author goals over the next year?

PB: I've got a week's holiday coming up, which I'm really looking forward to. I'll be away from home and plan on not taking my laptop or looking at social media! That'll renew my creative batteries to continue writing book 3. I hope to keep promoting Her New Best Friend and build on my readership. I'm also involved in a very exciting literary project, which very annoyingly I can't tell you about, but, fingers crossed, should launch in 2022.

EC: What's the most useful piece of advice you've ever been given about writing fiction?

PB. It's difficult to choose but if I have to I think it's the importance of finding your own voice and not emulating what is popular or what you think may sell. You have to really love and believe what you're writing in, because if not why should the reader? 

EC: It's been reported recently in the media that men are still more reluctant to pick up a book that's been written by a female author. Why do you think that is, and what can authors and the publishing industry, or others do, to change this? 

PB: Aha, is that why you publish under the name EC Scullion? Yours is a hard question to answer without doing lots of research but it may be because of a longstanding myth that women write only for women about trivial women's things, which is of course a load of old tosh. Fiction written by men tends to be perceived as more deep and literary. Prizes such as The Women's Prize have done a great job in raising the profile and status of female authors but as the old saying goes you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. I guess gender-neutral cover designs can help along with female authors being shortlisted for prestigious prizes such as The Booker. In the end though, it's men who are missing out on great literature if they don't pick up a novel written by a woman. 

Quick fire questions: 

EC: Favourite book you read during lockdown?

PB. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell. I adored it and wish I'd thought of the idea first, although if I had it would have been a very different book, more like a thriller, and probably not half as good as hers!

EC: Favourite TV series/film you watched during lockdown?

PB: I know TV viewing soared during lockdown but I didn't get chance to watch much because I was busy working on Her New Best Friend. I did, however, have some time off after Christmas to binge on Bridgerton!

EC: The thing you missed most during lockdown?

PB: My family and friends. Zoom and FaceTime calls just aren't the same as meeting in person. I was fortunate though that I locked down with my husband, so at least we had each other.

EC: The things you didn't miss during lockdown?

PB: Traffic on the roads. 

EC: The first country you would like to visit when it's safe/easier to do so?

PB: If I could afford it I'd love to go to Bali! I'll be very happy though to go on a city break in Europe, mooching around cafes, catching up on culture and enjoying the change from home. 

Thanks Penny!

It'll be Penny's turn to ask the questions in a fortnight when Emma's second novel Evaders is published. 

Image of Penny Batchelor author of Her New Best Friend

More about Her New Best Friend:

Mum-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park, her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her, Claire Jones is nearby and rescues Wilfred, soothing Audrey and daughter Antonia with coffee and cake in a nearby cafe. No harm is done. 

However, the frightening experience dents Audrey's confidence and she replays the events over and over, convinced she can't have forgotten to put the brake on. To make matters worse she keeps spotting a shadowy figure everywhere she goes and becomes sure that someone is stalking her. 

Audrey's fears are escalating when a catastrophic reaction to a bee sting sends her into a coma - and into hospital - but once again her new best friend is on hand to step in. 

Does Claire really have Audrey's best interests at heart? And if not, why has she inserted herself so cleverly into Audrey's life? Will Audrey ever recover? And will her real friends be able uncover the truth before it is too late? 

A twisting tale of intrigue and deception - and of what happens when your worst nightmare comes true.


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