Over the Christmas holidays, I’d reached a bit of a rut in my personal free-time reading, with so many novels feeling a bit generic, but as soon as I picked up The Long Weekend by Gilly Macmillan, I was hooked and I could barely put it down. Despite the fact that I read psychological thrillers by the bookcase-load, the latest novel by the Sunday Times bestselling author feels fresh and the characters and voice so authentic! (Her best, yet, perhaps!?!)
Set in a holiday home on the wilds of a Northumberland moor, this is a tense and gripping exploration of the toxicity and fragility of friendships and the secrets that people hide from each other. Longtime fans of Gilly’s writing are going to love this novel – this one certainly does! – but also I’m sure it’s going to inspire many more readers to pick up Gilly’s books.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gilly on one her previous books, The Nanny, so I was delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Long Weekend. Despite being super busy preparing for publication day, Gilly was lovely enough to answer some of my burning questions on how the novel came to be, but also how she always gets her legendary twists so right!
Scroll down to read an exclusive interview with the author!
The Long Weekend by Gilly Macmillan
Gilly, welcome! The Long Weekend is your seventh published novel, now, isn’t it? Tell us a little more about it.
The Long Weekend is inspired by a 1949 film called A Letter to Three Wives. Here’s the publisher’s description:
By the time you read this, I’ll have killed one of your husbands.
In an isolated retreat, deep in the Northumbria moors, three women arrive for a weekend getaway.
Their husbands will be joining them in the morning. Or so they think.
But when they get to Dark Fell Barn, the women find a devastating note that claims one of their husbands has been murdered. Their phones are out of range. There’s no internet. They’re stranded. And a storm’s coming in.
Friendships fracture and the situation spins out of control as each wife tries to find out what’s going on, who is responsible and which husband has been targeted.
This was a tight-knit group. They’ve survived a lot. But they won’t weather this. Because someone has decided that enough is enough.
That it’s time for a reckoning.
Much of the action is set in the wilds of Northumberland as a weekend away goes horribly wrong, making the action feel all the more disturbing. What inspired you to set the novel here?
For the plot to work I needed to find one of the wildest places in England and Northumberland seemed to fit the bill. I was drawn to it because of the variety and beauty of the landscape and the dangers hidden within it. It’s one of the only dark sky places in England so my characters would be very isolated and feel extremely vulnerable at night.
Who inspired you to start writing? Have your influences changed since then? Why did you choose to write psychological thriller?
I write thrillers because I love reading them. Specific influences were Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Total page turners, both.
What is the biggest challenge you faced when writing The Long Weekend? How did you overcome it?
The pandemic was my biggest challenge. Trying to muster the deep concentration you need to write a book while the world was becoming unrecognisable was hard. But I took inspiration from all the people who had to get on with their jobs. Health workers, in particular. If they can do what they do and face such relentless and extraordinary challenges, I thought, I should get on with my job which is easy by comparison. So, I did.
In the novel you write the point of view of essentially all the characters? Do you have any routines to help switch from one ‘head’ to the other? And is it tricky to write from a perspective that isn’t your own, and how do you overcome that?
I found switching between characters to be fine. I let the action dictate it and it came quite naturally. I was aware of the importance of making sure that the character’s internal voices were differentiated from one another, but I didn’t let that kind of detail hold me back on the first draft. I used the second draft to work on their individual voices.
Do you like to plan the action of your novels (plotter) or do you just let them write themselves (pantser!)?
I hardly plan at all. Most of my best ideas come to me once I’ve begun to write. Sometimes I can’t see what the book should be until I’ve finished the first draft.
When writing thrillers, one of the most important aspects of the narrative are the twists. The Long Weekend is full of them, with the reader shocked at every turn! Do have any tips with regards to really nailing those crucial instances?
You must pay close attention to how you build up to a twist, making sure that every moment along the way lands. Pacing, plot and character development are crucial to this.
What is your desert-island read?
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Are there any authors that you’re loving reading at the moment? Or any names to watch out for?
Sarah Moss. She’s a phenomenal writer.
What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine? A favourite place to write?
I prefer to write in the morning, before the world starts to distract me. I can work anywhere so long as I have a laptop and some good headphones but the place I like working best is my office with my dog.
Also most important question. Favourite writing snack?!
Do you have any writing tips to share?
Hold your nerve and keep revising while there are improvements to be made.
Writing a novel is both an exhausting and inspiring experience. After a well-deserved rest, what are your plans for putting pen to paper again soon?
I’m working on my next novel, another thriller. I don’t have any details to share just yet but it’s a lot of fun to write. Watch this space!
‘I’ve got a package for you.’
‘Parcels get left in the box by the farm gate. At the bottom of the hill.’
‘I’m supposed to give it to you in person. Special instructions.’
They watch him fetch the package from the back of his bike, his movements unhurried. He hands a cardboard box to John who passes it to Maggie. It’s unsealed, unmarked and has some weight to it. Maggie opens the flaps to peer inside and sees another box, this one cuboid and beautifully wrapped in paper and ribbon. An envelope is tucked beside it. Maggie takes it out and retrieves her glasses from her shirt pocket so she can read the small, carefully printed words. ‘to Jayne, Ruth and Emily’.
‘This isn’t for us,’ she says but, as she speaks, she remembers. ‘The guest who booked the barn this weekend is called Jayne. It must be for her. For them.’
‘There’s a note for you, too.’ The driver hands over a sheet of paper with typed instructions on it.
Maggie reads aloud.
‘“Please discard the cardboard box and place the wrapped present prominently on the kitchen table at Dark Fell Barn, facing the door, and lean the letter against it so it’ll be the first thing my friends see when they enter the room on arrival. It’s a very special surprise so I appreciate your attention to detail. Thank you.”’
It’s not signed. Maggie flips it but there’s nothing on the back.
‘Aye, I suppose that’s fine,’ she says. Her tension ebbs.
Sometimes guests do the strangest things. ‘We’re on our way up to the barn now.’ She still feels a little uneasy but also embarrassed for feeling so fearful earlier.
The biker nods. He closes his visor and is away as suddenly as he arrived, the bike spraying mud in its wake, leaving questions on Maggie’s lips, such as who and where he picked the box up from, and why all the effort to get it here in this way.
Not her business, she supposes, but she’s curious about this ‘special surprise’ and its ‘special instructions’.
‘That’s a first,’ she says. ‘How far do you think he came from?’
‘We could have killed him.’
John speaks through gritted teeth. He’s angry because the near miss frightened him, Maggie thinks and she wonders if she should take over the driving, after all, if he’s going to get himself in a state. She’s about to ask, but the words stick in her mouth. Every offer she makes to help him wounds his dignity and it hurts her to inflict pain on him.
Instead, she lifts the parcel and gives it a tentative shake. ‘The lengths people will go to,’ she says.
‘I hope whatever’s in here is worth the bother.’ John glances over, shakes his head and mutters something she can’t hear as he fixes his eyes back on the road. She notices him tighten his grip on the wheel, knuckles whitening beneath his thinning skin.
Those hands, she thinks, aware that since his diagnosis she’s been prone to moments of reflection and of nostalgia but allowing herself the indulgence. What those hands have built and achieved. She loves the liver spots, the tendons like thick string; sees the happy years of her marriage and the challenges of their farming life in them.
But the tight grip on the wheel, the head shaking and the muttering; it’s not him. It’s more change that’s new and troubling. She’s still learning to read his symptoms, and to decipher what they might mean, and she gets a sinking feeling that today might be one of those days where he’s lost to a terrible pessimism.
‘What are you shaking your head for?’
‘It’s a bad thing. The parcel is.’
‘What gives you that idea? How can you possibly know?’
He inclines his head. He knows, he’s saying. She tries to laugh it off, but the sound coming out of her mouth is hollow, and the truth is, she finds herself taking him semi-seriously. John might drown in pessimism or despair; he might exhibit agitation, forgetfulness and sometimes she thinks he even sees things that aren’t there, all of which is deeply troubling; but she can’t deny that for as long as she’s known him, he’s been able to sense more than the average person. She touches the back of her neck, seeking any soreness from whiplash. Her cold fingertips trigger a shudder that runs right through her. She thinks about the parcel, about whether it’s a good or a bad thing. After a few silent moments she puts it in the footwell.
The Land Rover lurches and bumps as it climbs the rutted track. Maggie steadies the parcel with her foot when the vehicle’s movement threatens to damage it. If whatever is inside it gets broken, her guests may leave a bad review, and that’s the last thing she and John can afford.
I wrote the letter and wrapped the package, taking my time over it, to make sure it looked beautiful. I thought carefully about the instructions for the owners of Dark Fell Barn. And I arranged the delivery meticulously so that it couldn’t be traced back to me.
And now I’ve just received confirmation on my burner phone that both letter and package have been handed over, along with my instructions.
It really is a great feeling, mostly comprised of relief – but satisfaction too, because I take pleasure in planning. You might, I suppose, call me a control freak.
What happens next is out of my hands, though, and my nerves are jangling at the thought. Directing a piece of theatre long distance isn’t easy.
I have to hope the Elliotts do as I’ve asked, putting the props precisely in place so that the curtain can rise on Act One.
Already hooked? Of course, grab your copy of The Long Weekend here.
About the Author
Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling and Edgar-nominated author of What She Knew, The Perfect Girl, Odd Child Out, The Nanny and To Tell You The Truth. She grew up in Swindon and studied at Bristol University and The Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She has worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery and has been a lecturer in photography. She now writes full-time and lives in Bristol.