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North London Mums talks to Louise Millar, author of The Playdate -a gripping thriller about parenthood, and a North London mum of two

At North London Mums we always like to meet and talk to local mums who are doing interesting and creative things, so we were excited to hear about Louise Millar, a North London mum of two who has recently published her first novel - a thriller set in North London called The Playdate.  If you enjoy gripping thrillers that will have you turning the pages as fast as you can then this is the book for you. I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it and even found myself making dinner for the children one handed whilst finishing the last few pages.

The Playdate tells the story of Callie, a single mum whose daughter has a heart condition which has left her frail and in need of extra protection. Cut off from her family and drifting apart from her friends, Callie comes to rely more and more on her neighbour Suzy who has three children and a seemingly perfect life. Initially everything is great between the two women who support each other, look after each other's children and pop in and out of each other's houses for dinners and playdates. So far so familiar. But soon the story takes a darker turn when a new neighbour moves in across the road. Louise explores how far we should trust people we don't know that well with our children and whether the appearance of domestic bliss can be deceptive and hide something much darker and more disturbing.

After I finished the story I wanted to run and pick my daughter up from nursery immediately but I really did enjoy it even though the themes are disturbing. It's also nice to see familiar North London landmarks mentioned in the book.

We asked Louise some questions about her writing career and what made her write The Playdate and here are her answers:

How long have you been writing?
I started to write in my thirties. Before that I worked as a freelance sub/production-editor on entertainment magazines, editing copy and writing headlines and captions. It was a six-month trip around the States when I was 30 that sparked my imagination and made me want to write my own stories. I met some fascinating people in places such as the Mississippi Delta and the mountains in New Mexico, where my husband was researching his PhD, and started to keep a travel journal. When I came home, it seemed a waste not to do something with it. After lots of attempts, I finally managed to get two travel features published. That was the start of my freelance writing career.

Did you always want to write novels?

I started to dream about it when I was in the States but I concentrated on developing my journalism skills first. Writing a novel still seemed like a step too far – something ‘other people’ did. But as I approached my late thirties, I realised if I was going to attempt it, I had to get on with it. I started with a screenplay, so I could concentrate on just dialogue and the story, and based it on a mystery I’d heard about in New Mexico. I sent it out to agents, and received enough positive feedback to attempt a novel.

What gave you the initial idea for the book?
I didn’t know what I was going to write, and made a pretty awful attempt at a few chapters of a chicklit novel. I met my now-agent through a writer friend, and she told me my writing was better suited to something darker, and suggested I try a domestic-set psychological thriller. The idea for The Playdate came out of a chat we had.

How did you find time to write the book whilst having children?

I carried on working as a freelance journalist, and wrote the book when I had gaps and they were at school. Towards the end, I wrote in the evenings and weekends. In some ways, it’s a great job to have with kids because you work from home and have flexible hours, but it can also be difficult to switch off from it mentally when they come home from school after being so deeply immersed in the story all day.

In The Playdate you write a letter at the end to readers, is this because you were worried that some people might be upset by some of the themes?
No, my editor asked me to write it. I think it’s just becoming more common for authors to write letters, and novels to include other supplementary material. For example, the American version of The Playdate contains book club questions and suggestions for British food to make on the night! Perhaps it’s a response to the increasingly interactive nature of Twitter, Facebook and writer blogs?

It is a fairly negative portrayal of city living, that tells of isolation and insular lives. Is this your experience?
I think London is full of vibrant, welcoming communities but they’re not always easy to find when you first arrive, if you have no ‘in’. Personally, I had one two-year period like that when my husband and I moved to the North London suburbs. We didn’t know a single neighbour we could ask to feed our cat or take a parcel in for us, and I remember feeling very isolated. That all changed when we had a family, and became part of a very friendly local school community. Suddenly we knew most people on our street. I drew on that experience for Callie.

What are your favourite things to do with your children in North London?
Nothing, for me, beats Alexandra Palace. There’s just so much space up there and so much to do, from the playpark and ice rink, to the parkland and cycle tracks. On a warm summer evening, we love sitting up there, looking over London as the kids run around.

Are you working on anything else now?
I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel, Accidents Happen, which is another psychological thriller, this time set in Oxford.

What genres/authors do you most like to read?
I tend to read mostly American literary fiction – Cormac McCarthy is my favourite, and I’ve just discovered the fantastic Willy Vlautin – and lots of Scandinavian thrillers. Perhaps oddly, I’ve read very few British psychological thrillers and am just starting now. I think Sophie Hannah has an incredible imagination, and always surprises you with her plot twists, and I loved The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly.

We hope you enjoyed reading about Louise and her book. If you're a creative North London mum or one who has an interesting story to tell do get in touch and we might feature you next.

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