Where Readers and Writers Meet

School Mom or Sociopath? Harding’s “Her Pretty Face”

in Thrillers by
Image courtesy of amazon.com

Robyn Harding, author of the dark domestic novel The Party (Gallery/Scout Press), has given us yet another pulse-quickening read, set within a seemingly normal friendship of mothers. In Her Pretty Face (Gallery/Scout Press), Harding follows the overweight, insecure Francis Metcalfe as she struggles to fit in with the other Forrester academy mothers. Francis is miserable and desperate for a friendly face, but her chances dwindle as her son is drawn into an event at school that spells social suicide for him.

When the gorgeous, confident, charismatic Kate Rudolph chooses to befriend Francis over all others, Kate cannot believe her luck. As these women grow closer, secrets are revealed and it becomes clear that one of these women is hiding behind a wall of lies. Hiding in the shadow of the deceit stands not just a run-of-the-mill school mom, but a cold-blooded killer and sociopath. As one’s past is revealed, the other must ponder whether people can change and be forgiven, or always be suspected for their old ways.

This complex story is told through three different points of view (Francis, Daisy, and DJ). The constantly shifting perspectives offer a unique style to the story, and the reader must ponder how each of them is connected. Overall this story is an easy one to get sucked into, and truly a successful follow up to The Party. We had the honor of interviewing Robyn Harding to get the juicy inside details on her inspiration, takeaway message, and more!

BookTrib: This is such a complex story – how did the idea first come to you?

Robyn Harding: The idea for this book was sparked by a story I saw in the media. A female murderer had been released from prison after a plea deal. She’d gone on to have children who were now attending elementary school. When the school community found out about the killer in their midst, the parents were horrified, and it became a media sensation. I have two kids. For many years, their elementary school was the center of our universe. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have reacted to the knowledge that a parent, a friend even, had a murderous past. It brought up so many questions about judgement and what is ultimately forgivable. I decided I wanted to explore these issues through fiction.

Image courtesy of amazon.com

BookTrib: With both this book and The Party, you write about seemingly perfect families who, when put under the microscope, are revealed as anything but. Why is this something that appeals to you as an author? Why do you think this is something that readers gravitate towards?

RH: I think for me, and for readers, there is a bit of schadenfreude at play. When we see someone whose life looks perfect, it’s human nature to look for the cracks in the façade. And, whether it’s right or wrong, we feel better when we find them.

BookTrib: Frances and Kate have such an interesting relationship together. Can you tell us a little about writing them individually and as friends, especially with one of them hiding a huge secret?  

RH: I consider female friendships to be one of the most powerful and complex of all interpersonal relationships. They are ripe for drama! Frances was an easy character to write. She feels insecure and judged, and I think we’ve all felt that way at some point in our lives. (I know I have.) Kate is more of a cipher, appearing cool and confident, but there is much more going on beneath the shiny surface. I think sometimes an infatuation can exist between friends that blinds them to the realities of the other. I wanted to play with that dynamic.

BookTrib: Without giving away any spoilers, one of the women is not who she says she is; in fact, she’s a sociopath. What was it like writing a character like that? Did you run into any difficulties?

RH: Statistics state that up to five per cent of the general population is a sociopath, but most of them blend seamlessly into society. I did a lot of research into how sociopaths function in relationships: with friends, with their partners, and with their children. That’s the stuff that really interests me. How someone with no conscience, no moral compass, can be a friend, a wife, and a mother.

BookTrib: Were there any elements, characters or plots that didn’t make it into the final draft that you really wanted to keep?

RH: Originally, I had a written a character who was a documentary filmmaker and he was going to reveal the identity of the murderous mom. My editor felt that his storyline distracted from the more compelling arcs of Frances, Kate and Daisy. I had to agree, but it was a HUGE rewrite.

BookTrib: What do you want readers to take away from this story?

RH: Don’t trust your friends. They might secretly be a murderer.

Seriously though, I hope this book will make people think about what is and is not forgivable, and about who deserves a second chance. The book doesn’t offer easy answers because there aren’t any.

BookTrib: What’s the one question you’ve always wanted to answer, but have never been asked?

RH: Great question! Here’s one. . .
Dorothy Parker famously said: I hate writing, I love having written. Does that apply to you?

My answer is no, flip it! I love writing. Once I’m done, and it goes out into the world, I’m filled with insecurity and panic.

Her Pretty Face is now available for purchase. 

ABOUT ROBYN HARDING

Photograph by Tallulah

Robyn Harding is the author of several books, including The Party and Her Pretty Face, and has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two children.

Rachel Fogle De Souza was born and raised in Connecticut, and traveled extensively throughout Europe, parts of Asia, and the United States, before attending college at the University of California, Davis, where she received a B.A. in Comparative Literature, with a double minor in Women, Gender and Sexualities studies, and Middle Eastern/South Asian studies. When she's not writing, she's reading, boxing, or thinking about traveling.

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