Though a lawyer by profession, Julie Compton is currently a
I think there are several
reasons. I'm not familiar with the work environment for lawyers in
interest" is, for many lawyers, writing
ME: Tell No Lies is your first published novel. What other writing have you done previously?
JC: I know it's a cliché to say it, but I've been writing as long as I can remember, in one form or another. I still have notebooks I wrote in as a little girl, filled with stories about sassy heroines with unusual names like Summer and True. I gave up my creative writing once I entered law school; I just didn't have the energy after a long day of classes and studying cases. It wasn't until I became a stay-at-home mom after my second daughter was born that I finally began writing again. I wrote some short stories and poems, and started on the novel that eventually became Tell No Lies. I also did freelance work for a local paper – it helped me to feel legitimate as a writer. One of my short stories became a finalist in Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers contest, giving me a badly needed boost of confidence.
You were born in
Well, I was not only born
there – I was raised there and didn't leave until I was 32
years old. I started
the novel shortly after we'd moved away, so I think the reason is
it was the city I knew best, and two, I felt very nostalgic for it. To
ME: The story is told from the point of view of a male character, the lawyer Jack Hilliard. What prompted you to write from a male viewpoint, and how difficult did you find it?
JC: Almost anything I've written of any length is written from a male point of view. I never really thought about my propensity to do this until people started pointing it out to me. I just find men so much more interesting to write about because they keep so much inside. For me, this makes it easier to create a complex character, because I've got his "interior" life, which comes out in narrative, and then I've got the side of him he shows the world, which comes out in dialogue. Whenever I start something with a female protagonist, I lose interest very quickly. I also grew up with five older brothers, so maybe that has something to do with it!
ME: Jack is a lawyer who has to become involved in politics when he runs for DA - it's very different from the British system. Do you think that mixing law and politics in this way is desirable?
The process varies within the
I can see the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. When the head prosecutor is elected, often the voters focus too much on policy and less on qualifications and experience. The candidates know this, and it becomes a situation of telling the voters what they want to hear. And I certainly don't think it's a good thing to have the incumbent prosecutor worrying about the next election when he or she is trying to exercise prosecutorial discretion. They become more focused on conviction rates than on serving justice. On the other hand, there's something appealing about letting the populace have the final say, since the prosecutor is a public official and his decisions affect the whole community. And though appointing prosecutors may eliminate some of the concerns associated with electing them, this alternative method is not without its flaws. After all, some might argue appointments are often made to return political favors, and that raises a whole new set of issues.
ME: The murder which changes Jack's life isn't committed until more than half-way through the book, so the structure is relatively unusual. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
JC: Definitely not. I didn't even set out to write a legal thriller! When I sat down to begin the story, I had two characters in my head – Jack and Jenny. I knew they were friends and colleagues; I knew they were attracted to each other but weren't supposed to be; I knew they disagreed about the death penalty. But other than that, I had no idea what would happen to them, or why. It wasn't until some time later, after hearing a news story about a corrupt politician, that I began to develop their story. I wanted to explore how and why a basically good person ends up doing something so out of character. The murder grew from that exploration; I didn't plan its "location" in the novel; it just happened when it felt right. I wish I could say that I write my novels according to some outline planned in advance – even a rough one – but I'm simply unable to write this way. I usually have an idea in my head of what the novel will be about, but that idea generally involves the theme and the characters more than the plot. I struggle immensely with plot. I think John Lennon said "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Well, for me, plot is what happens when I'm busy writing about everything else.
ME: Claire, Jack's wife, sees her perfect world fall apart because of Jack's behaviour. How did you feel about her as a character?
JC: I admired Claire. She was the one character who didn't spout her convictions; she lived them, quietly and without fanfare. I wanted her to be grounded, and more emotionally mature than the other characters. But I also felt sorry for her. She mistakenly believed she had a kindred spirit in Jack. She didn't deserve what happened to her, and because of that, I wanted to make sure I let her grow stronger at the end.
ME: There's a significant plot twist at the end of the book. How important was that element of the story in planning the book?
JC: At the outset, it wasn't important at all, because I didn't know my plot. As the plot developed and grew, I began to think a lot about the ending, but I certainly didn't begin the novel knowing the end. As mentioned above, I simply don't plot my novels in advance. The plot sort of grows organically as I write. Once I had the first draft completed, however, the plot twist at the end played a large role in my editing. I tried to ensure that the ending was supported by everything that had come before. I also struggled over whether to make the ending more or less ambiguous. So as not to give anything away, I'll let readers decide which way the scale tipped.
ME: Which crime writers do you most admire?
JC: Unless you count the Nancy Drew mysteries, which I feasted on voraciously as a child, and legal thrillers written by Scott Turow and John Grisham, I'm not sure I've read enough of the genre to answer this question. I enjoy Dennis Lehane. I just finished Chelsea Cain's Heartsick, and I'm about to read my first Minette Walters novel. I tend to gravitate more toward what I call "relationship" books, like those written by authors such as Sue Miller, Jodi Picoult, Anne Tyler, Chris Bohjalian, Ian McKewan, Ann Patchett, Amy Bloom, to name just a few. A British friend recently turned me on to Douglas Kennedy, whose books seem to combine the two elements.
ME: What next for Julie Compton?
I'm close to finishing my
second novel for Macmillan. It's got another male protagonist, and
there's plenty of suspense (I hope!), he's not a lawyer and the novel
is not a
legal thriller. (Though I've learned it's best to let my publisher
what I write.) It's set primarily in
TELL NO LIES £6.99 pbk published by Pan Books Feb 1st 2008
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