Meet Philippa East Author Of I'll Never Tell

To start 2023 we're delighted to welcome back Thriller Woman Philippa East, whose debut novel Little White Lies we featured back in 2020. I'll Never Tell is her third psychological thriller, a heart-in-mouth mystery about a missing daughter and the secrets a seemingly-perfect family are keeping. 

Download the ebook of I'll Never Tell 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.

Read on to find out how East's day job as a psychologist helps her craft gripping thriller plots!

Front book cover of I'll Never Tell by Philippa East

TW: Congratulations on writing your third psychological thriller. Have you had a different writing experience with each book, and which was your favourite to write?

PE: Thank you! Yes, the experience has definitely been different each time, partly (I think) because I am still learning what works for me in writing a novel. Obviously, with my debut Little White Lies I could spend a long time flailing around figuring out what my story was. It went through about 25 drafts, and I spent about five years on it, all told. Then, I had to come up with a brand new idea for my second book (Safe and Sound) and write the first draft in about a year! For this third book I really had to get to grips with my writing / planning process, because I was tired of so many false starts.

I think my current (fourth) book is the one I’m enjoying writing most! It seems to have come out more easily than any of my previous ones, and I feel I’ve gone beyond the sort of stories I’ve written before. I feel like I’m really starting to get to grips with how to approach the blank page and create a 90k-word book basically from nothing. However, my editor hasn’t read it yet, so I may change my mind after that!

TW: What was your inspiration for I'll Never Tell?

TW: I remember “seeing” two scenes very clearly in my mind when I was starting to develop ideas for I’ll Never Tell. One was of a mother and father (Julia and Paul) driving through a foreign country to “rescue” their daughter; in my head was the hook line: “as they draw ever-nearer the place where against all odds they hope to find their daughter, Julia is beset by a terrible, terrible suspicion…” I didn’t know what the suspicion was, but I wanted to write the story to find out!

The other scene was of a teenage daughter waking her father up very early in the morning so they can go for a training run together. In the scene, it was hard to tell who was pushing whom: was the daughter more determined to drive herself onwards than the father? Or was the father the one relentlessly pushing her forwards? That scene ultimately became chapter two of I’ll Never Tell.

TW: I'll Never Tell opens the door into the seemingly blessed lives of Paul, Julia and their 15 year-old daughter Chrissie, who is an extremely gifted musician. What is it about going behind closed doors that interests you and how does your day job as a psychologist inform this?

PE: I am fascinated by the idea that what we present to the world rarely fully matches up with what is really going on for us. To an extent, this is adaptive and functional. For example, we often need to compartmentalise our personal lives for when we go to work.

But the flip side is that a lot of dark things can happen when we hide our true selves from others. As humans, we can carry so much corrosive shame about things which are actually normal and understandable. So much can go wrong too when we don’t face up to secrets, guilt and truth. This is exactly what is going on within the Goodlight family, and Chrissie’s disappearance is essentially a symptom of that.

I think a common theme in all my books is the redemptive power of confronting things and “coming clean”. This, of course, links to my work as a psychologist and therapist: helping people bring very painful things out into the open so that they can actually heal from them.

TW: In the first chapter Chrissie goes missing after a prestigious concert she's performing at. What devices did you use to ensure the reader cares about what has happened to her and her parents' worry? Which character were you most drawn to?

PE: That’s a hard question, in a way. It’s a challenge every writer faces: how to make our readers care about our characters. I had to work through a number of drafts to develop the characters of I’ll Never Tell and try to make it “work". I think ultimately, it boiled down to two things (which are so fundamental but which I find it so easy to forget!). Firstly, does the character have something they really, really want? And secondly, is there something major at stake for them if they don’t get it?

For Paul, he desperately wants to see Chrissie flourish in her music career because this will cement his place within the Goodlight family, and also make up for his own failed musical ambitions. If things go wrong in his mentorship of Chrissie however, he is at risk of losing pretty much everything: his marriage to Julia, his beloved daughter, and maybe even the roof over his head.

It’s desperation that leads people to take desperate measures. And we can all relate to the sense of desperately wanting something, and being terrified of what we have to lose. I think this is what can make a storyline engaging and characters relatable (even when they are unlikeable!).

TW; You've got some great red herrings and cliffhangers in the novel. What's your advice on thriller plotting?

PE: Gosh! There are so many things to think about with that. Firstly, it often takes me a lot of sketching and reworking and redrafting to get all the intricacies of the plot worked out. Usually, the twists don’t come to me all at once. In fact, sometimes the final twist comes to my mind very late in the day (the twist even I didn’t see coming!) and only goes in to the story after quite a few drafts.

I also think a lot about the thriller convention of shifting throughout the story who is the villain, the victim and the hero. Playing with those roles can be a great way to wrong foot your reader.

Finally, fully getting to grips with scene structure can really help find that sweet spot of where you put a scene- or chapter break, so as to end the scene just at that “dah dah dummm!” moment.

I have online tutorials about story structure and the thriller genre if readers would like to find out more: 
  1. The Thriller Genre:
  2. Story Structure:

TW: What's your writing routine?

PE: These days, I generally sit down at my writing desk around the middle of the day. I will usually spend the morning sorting out writing admin (answering emails, doing promo, checking social media, etc.). I will then usually work solidly for three to four hours, before knocking off mid- to late afternoon. I’ll often have a nap at that point, because I always feel psychological drained after a writing stint! I write three to five days per week, and spend two days a week working in my day job at my psychology practice.

TW: What's coming next from you? Any exclusives?

PE: Well! I am just about to deliver the manuscript of my fourth book to my editor. This book is due for publication with HQ/HarperCollins in 2024. Currently titled The Hoax, it’s about a remote Scottish boarding school, a group of teenagers getting up to no good in the woods, the bizarre suicide of a psychotherapist, and the ex-spouses thrown together to uncover the connections between all of these creepy goings-on…

Quick fire questions:

TW: The house in the novel is very covetable. What would be your perfect home?

PE: Probably pretty much where I live now! We live in a lovely village in rural Lincolnshire, in a converted cottage. It’s very cosy and homely.

TW: Classical music or pop?

PE: Probably pop if I had to choose. I’m a big fan of Smooth FM.

TW: Favourite writing snack?

PE: Mini chilli rice crackers.

TW: Book on your bedside table?

PE: Currently If I Let You Go by Charlotte Levin.

TW: Ideal writing retreat?

PE: A lovely house in the countryside, with a pool to swim in every day and all my meals cooked for me.

Sounds marvellous. Thanks Philippa!

Head and shoulders photo of author Philippa East: a woman with brown hair just below her shoulders.

More about I'll Never Tell

To the outside world, the Goodlights are perfect.

Julia is a lawyer, Paul a stay-at-home dad who has dedicated his life to helping their daughter Chrissie achieve her dreams as a talented violinist.

But on the night of a prestigious music competition, which has the power to change everything for Chrissie and her family, Chrissie goes missing.

She puts on the performance of a lifetime, then completely disappears. Suddenly every single crack, every single secret that the family is hiding risks being exposed.

Because the Goodlights aren't perfect. Not even close.

Exclusive extract from I'll Never Tell:

Chapter 1



The streetlights flash past: orange, black, orange, black, swinging low over the windscreen, over our faces.

It’s fine.

It’s not fine.

It’s fine.

But it’s not.

This car we’re in could skid off the road. Plough into a tree or oncoming traffic. I see us ripping through a crash barrier, causing a ten-car pile-up. I can see us being arrested; I see us breaking our necks.

These thoughts are wild; these thoughts are ridiculous. I’m in a car with my husband, travelling on the well-marked A40 back to Oxford, and we know where she is now: she’s at home, she’s quite safe. There’s nothing to go crazy about; there’s nothing to fear.

Chrissie’s violin case slides around on the back seat, despite the fact that we’ve strapped it in. She left with her rucksack and her coat, but not her instrument – the instrument she loves so much. Another small thing that doesn’t add up. Something she was trying to communicate to us? But what?

I’m still fumbling to grasp the details of what happened. We searched all over the London concert venue for her, after the fire crew gave us the all-clear. A false alarm, they eventually declared. We had been standing outside for forty-five minutes by then, but split up into different areas: audience on one side of the concert venue, and performers and staff on the other. How were we supposed to know that Chrissie wasn’t there? She timed things so well, making sure she’d been accounted for amongst the bodies gathered outside before she disappeared

And she wasn’t back at the hotel either, the place where we’d dropped off our over-night bags earlier and the three of us took the chance to drink a half-cup of tea before the show. We’d tried to relax, but Chrissie was jittery – to be honest, we all were, and why wouldn’t we be? In a few hours, our teenage daughter would be standing centre stage, in front of the TV cameras and the live audience and the judges.

And then, after all that build up, the night, her performance, ended with this?

The seatbelt strains like a garrotte across my neck as I lean forward, craning to see beyond the cats’ eyes and white lines zipping past. Paul, my husband, is in the driver’s seat. He is so reliable. So safe.

The seatbelt slides up, pressing where the skin of my jaw is still sensitive, only recently returned to its natural hue.

‘She played so well,’ I say, as though seeking reassurance, fighting to keep the dumb fear from my voice. ‘Didn’t she?’

Paul’s hands tighten on the steering wheel, as though they weren’t already gripping tightly enough. ‘She did, Julia. She was truly brilliant.’

So why this? I want to demand of him, as though he has any better answers than I do. As though he has secrets to reveal of his own. It makes no sense that she would bolt from the venue before the winners were announced, when she had every chance of being one of them. Why do that without telling us and without then bothering to answer her phone? We had no idea where she was, until eventually Paul turned on the tracker app – the one he had installed on her phone and his after that time at the Botanical Gardens, the one I didn’t know about until tonight – and, lo and behold, turns out of all places she had gone back home. It seemed she just got herself on a train from London, Paddington to Oxford, and left.

So it’s fine, I tell myself. She’s fine. Those images of disaster are all of my own making, because of my own guilt, my own lies.

‘I’m sorry,’ I tell my husband. ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been there.’ Six words that are so incredibly loaded, and I’m saying them now of all moments – as we speed along, in the dark, our daughter having temporarily vanished. But still – I got them out.

Paul gives a nod. I choose to take it to mean, I know.

‘Almost home,’ he says, and the knowledge makes me feel weak with relief. We just have to navigate Oxford’s one-way system and we’ll arrive at our grand, sturdy house on Woodstock Road. For the dozenth time, I check the tracker app on Paul’s phone, seeking to reassure myself yet again. The little pulsing dot hasn’t moved on the map; it’s still hovering exactly over our house. I wish I could zoom so close in to our street, our home that I could tell exactly which room she’s in. Is it her bedroom or her practice room, our big, bright kitchen or our snug? I’d like to be able to zoom in on every square foot of whichever space, and sense exactly what she’s doing right now – lying in bed or fixing herself a snack or throwing herself into yet more practice …Although she couldn’t do that, because her violin is here, on the back seat of the car, with us.

In a moment though, we’ll know for sure. Paul swings the car into our wide gravel drive.

I can hear our dog Jackson barking fit to bust, before either of us even get out.


Thank God. Thank God. There’s a light on upstairs: in Chrissie’s window. Leaving the suitcase and her violin in the car for now, I find myself almost shaking with relief as I point up for Paul. ‘Look. She’s in there.’

She really is home. The adrenaline drains from my body, leaving my limbs weak. Jackson’s barks continue to ricochet from the indoor hallway. I grab Paul’s arm though as he puts his hand on the knob of our front door. ‘Calmly,’ I say. ‘We have to go in there calmly. No panic. No shouting at her. We’ll just let her know how worried we’ve been, that’s all.’

My head feels loose on my neck as I speak. Despite my anger and my lingering fear, I know we still have to get this right.

‘No panic,’ Paul echoes. ‘No yelling. You might want to tell that to Jackson, though.’

I give a weak smile and Paul grins back, his joke letting in further ripples of relief.

He puts an arm round me in a brief, forgiving hug as I turn the knob and give the door a shove.

It sticks.

No, it doesn’t stick; this door never sticks. Jackson’s barks escalate.

It’s locked.

‘Have you got your keys?’ I say, calmly, to Paul.

Silently he fishes them from his pocket and neatly slides the right one into the lock. When the door opens, Jackson is all over us.

‘Down, Jackson!’ Paul says to him. ‘Hey, down, boy.’

I fumble for the hallway light switch and click it on.

‘She could at least have fed him,’ he says, and I give him an eyebrow raise that reads, what did we just agree? And he holds a hand up to say, okay, I’m sorry, I got it.

‘Why don’t you go up first,’ I say quietly. ‘And I’ll put the kettle on. I’ll come up in a moment with some tea for her. That way it might feel like less of an ambush.’

We follow Jackson into the kitchen and I switch the kettle on. I listen for any sound of Chrissie moving about upstairs, but our house is so big that noise doesn’t always travel and I can’t hear anything. Paul leaves Jackson with me and heads upstairs. He sits on the tiled floor, looking up at me with his big, brown eyes.

‘What a nightmare,’ I whisper, drolly crossing my eyes at him to make another joke, as though that might ease the tightness in my chest.

I can hear Paul’s footsteps now, lumbering about upstairs. The kettle’s really going for it now and I hunt in the cupboards for the box of tea, clicking my tongue because Paul’s moved it again in one of his tidy-ups.

The kettle clicks off.


I jump, spinning round to find Paul standing there. I didn’t hear him come back down, over the rumble of the water.

‘What is it?’ I say.

‘She’s not there.’

‘What? She has to be.’

‘Come and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.’

I feel as though gravity’s pull has doubled as I follow my husband upstairs, Jackson trotting faithfully behind. The doors to all the rooms up here stand open; Paul must have looked in every single one. I follow him to the doorway of Chrissie’s bedroom.

Her light is on, but she isn’t in there.

I grasp Paul’s arm.

‘Look,’ he says, as though I can’t see already. Chrissie is a neat child, she always has been, so now this scene is wrong in a hundred different ways. Her bed is a state, the duvet half-dragged off. Her wooden desk-chair tipped over on its side. Her phone on the floor, the screen smashed.

Jackson barks again. A nightmare. A nightmare. My mind goes wild, a whole new ream of images cascading through it. A slap, a struggle, a scream, a fall. The crash of furniture, the crack of glass, the thud of limbs.

I stand in Chrissie’s room, lost in disbelief and fear because those images are all I can see. A nightmare. A nightmare. Playing over and over and over again.


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