This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
01.07.20 / Legend Press / Literary Fiction / Paperback / 272pp / 978-1789559835
About To Dare
Veronica and her wealthy husband George are unpacking boxes, hoping a fresh start in their newly refurbished Victorian terrace will help them heal from a recent trauma.
Next door, Simone returns to her neglected council flat. Miserable and trapped, she struggles to take care of her children under the watch of her controlling husband Terry.
When childhood friend Sarah re-enters Veronica’s life, things are thrown even further off balance. As tensions in their own lives rise, the painful memory that binds them threatens to spill into their present.
Three lives collide in this story of family, inequality and revenge.
Q&A with Jemma Wayne
Thank you Jemma for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel, To Dare. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect within the book?
I keep hearing To Dare being described as a thriller, which is interesting because that wasn’t my intention. For me, this story has always been an intensely domestic drama, that dives deep into human flaws, as well as friendship and the nuances of power. But I guess there is a bit of twisty plot in there too…
Where did the initial inspiration for the narrative, as well as characters like Simone and Veronica, in To Dare come from?
I usually start with the themes of a book, before plot and character, and this story began by thinking about the idea of power. It was around the time of the Brexit referendum, and I think many of us were feeling either powerless in terms of the outcome, or realising that others had been feeling powerless within society for a long time. I started thinking about what power means, and the different guises it comes in. How it impacts politics, class, inequality, gender. How it relates to money, ethnicity, sex. How it is there in every relationship and interaction we have. That was the start. There were a few real-life experiences that then triggered elements of the plot – living next to difficult neighbours for example. Everything else grew from there.
Could you give us a few more insights into what Veronica, Simone and Sarah face as their lives become entwined?
I don’t know what would happen next between them. There are so many directions their relationships could take. I’d like to think they would form some kind of sisterhood. But there could of course be darkness and duplicity too. For me, the joy of an open ending as a reader is being able to make my own assumptions about what would come next.
There are quite a few challenging and distressing themes in this novel including domestic abuse, grief and class divide. What was the most difficult aspect of writing To Dare?
The hardest part was probably the domestic abuse that happens between Terry, Simone and their children. It’s intense and dark, and I felt claustrophobic writing it. But when choosing to tackle these kinds of subjects, I think it’s important not to gloss over or glamourise. The most important thing to me when I’m writing is to try always to write truth. Not in terms of it being non-fiction – it’s absolutely fiction – but in the sense of being truthful to the character, to the emotion, to the reality of a moment.
Did To Dare evolve much during the writing process or did you know exactly what you wanted to achieve with this novel?
I knew the general A to B. But the characters always evolve and take on lives of their own – that’s when you know they’re beginning to feel real. And my favourite parts of the plot are often the tangents that were unplanned and unexpected. For example, Simone’s first boyfriend Noah only had a minor appearance in my original plan, but I found myself being drawn to him and to his family, fleshing out their story more and more, and they are now probably my favourite characters in the book.
How does it feel to have published your third novel?
Each novel has been very different, and I feel so lucky each time to be able to explore different ideas and delve into all sorts of worlds that interest me. Legend Press has been hugely supportive of stories that are not always easy, but, I hope, worth telling.
Is there a part of To Dare that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
I’m not sure about ‘most proud of’. Probably the weaving together of the whole, more than a single part. But the most fun were the childhood sections between Veronica and Sarah – exploring their pre-pubescent friendship, dares, insecurities, manipulations. It made me think a lot about my own school days, and so many tiny, forgotten things came crashing back.
How long did it take you to write To Dare compared to your previous novels?
I never have any idea how long a book has taken by the end of the process. I think I began this sometime around 2015/16. But for me there’s a research stage. Then the length of my writing day is dependent on school holidays and the hours my children decide to sleep! I co-wrote a children’s book during this period too, published in 2017. I had a baby in 2018. And then the back and forth editing between agents and editors can be very stop-start. So in short…no idea!
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Yes, always. I also wanted to win a gold at the Olympics, but that one didn’t quite materialise. As a child, I was a voracious reader, and I remember, aged five or six, stapling together bits of paper to create ‘books’ that I’d written and would palm off to my long-suffering parents. My reading taste ranged hugely. My parents both read to us a lot. I loved my dad’s rendition of Dr Seuss. There was a definite Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl phase when I was around six. That evolved into Noel Streatfield and all sorts of others. By my teens I was deep into Holocaust literature, then Austen, then Tony Morrison and other American writers. My grandfather was a big reader and used to give me books at every birthday or Christmas, so much of my reading was steered by him.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
Running. I didn’t quite make it to the Olympics(!), but I’ve always loved sport and especially running. It feels like an essential part of life for me – a way to clear my mind, to get away from screens and all the other demands of life, to get the endorphins pumping, and to feel totally free.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
I’ve read such a great run of novels recently. Often, I find I’ll get stuck on one that’s a bit slow-going, but I’ve loved almost everything I’ve read this year. The most recent are Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. And a proof copy of The Bench by Saskia Sarginson, which is a really compelling love story, coming out in September.
About Jemma Wayne
Jemma Wayne is the author of two previous novels: After Before and Chains of Sand. She has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and shortlisted for both The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and the Waverton Good Read Award.
Jemma’s journalism has appeared in The Spectator, National Geographic, The Huffington Post, The Evening Standard, The Independent on Sunday, Red Magazine, The Jewish Chronicle and The Jewish News, among others.
Born to an American musician father and English mother, Jemma grew up in Hertfordshire and lives in North London.