- Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Girl A?
Abigail Dean: As an only child, I’ve always been interested in the relationships between siblings. I spent a long time watching friends with their families, trying to understand how you can want to murder somebody, but also defend them to the death. That was one of the dynamics I wanted to capture in writing Girl A. When I was little, I made up for the lack of brothers and sisters by creating imaginary ones, and I don’t think that the characters in the novel are particularly different. They’re made-up people who have spent a long time occupying my attention!
True crime followers will also see many influences on Girl A. There are several famous cases based around the moors in the north of England, where I grew up, and cases that have arisen in the US in recent years, where cults and religion have hidden terrible crimes. But you only ever heard about the immediate aftermath. I was interested in what happens when the media glare is over, in the long years that follow it.
- Girl A has quite a unique structure in that each chapter focuses on a different Gracie sibling, but Lex remains the narrator throughout. Can you tell us why this was important when writing the novel?
Abigail Dean: When I first started writing Girl A, I actually considered the idea of each sibling narrating their own chapter. That would have been a very different novel! Pretty fast, Lex had such a strong, endearing voice that I knew she would be the narrator. She has the benefit of having detached herself from her family, both geographically and emotionally: like the reader, she doesn’t know what she’ll find when she begins to reconnect with her siblings.
- As the author, which Gracie sibling means the most to you?
Abigail Dean: That’s a difficult question to answer! Each of the siblings means a great deal to me, each in very different ways. I have the most sympathy for Lex’s younger brother, Gabriel, who has real dignity, real self-awareness, despite having the saddest story of all. Even Lex’s older brother, Ethan – who some people may see as a real villain – has a kind of ruthless intelligence, which I find it hard not to admire. That said, I will always feel closest to Lex. I love her drive and her humour, amidst her loneliness. And we’ve spent a lot of time together!
- Girl A is your debut novel. What has your experience of publication been like so far?
Abigail Dean: It has been happy and surreal and terrifying, often all in the same hour! There have been some truly life-making moments, like seeing the cover for the first time, or hearing that your novel has made a reader cry!
I’m also more in awe of the people involved in the publication process than ever before, from the editorial team to the marketing and PR departments, to the booksellers making recommendations to customers on the shop floor. It’s been particularly amazing to see how the industry has made things work, even with all that 2020 has thrown at us, how booksellers cycled books around London at the height of lockdown, to keep people reading.
- Which writers are you inspired by?
Abigail Dean: Many! For Girl A, I was particularly inspired by Kazuo Ishiguro’s reserved narrators, and by the balance of brutality and beauty in The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I also find a great deal of inspiration in film and TV. The family relationships in Succession, The Sopranos and The Royal Tenenbaums were real sources of inspiration.
- Can you tell us a bit about your second novel?
Abigail Dean: My second novel follows two characters in the years following a mass shooting. One loses her mother in the attack, while the other comes to believe that the whole thing was a hoax, and sets out to disprove it ever happened. It shares a number of themes with Girl A: the lasting effects of trauma, how the same event can be seen so differently through various characters’ eyes. My mum is still waiting for me to write a more cheerful novel.
Abigail Dean was born in Manchester, and grew up in the Peak District. She graduated from Cambridge with a Double First in English. Formerly a Waterstones bookseller, she spent five years as a lawyer in London, and took last summer off to work on her debut novel, Girl A, ahead of her thirtieth birthday. She now works as a lawyer for Google, and is currently writing her second novel.