The Secrets of Strangers

The Secrets of Strangers


A gunshot rings out in a London cafe and the lives of five strangers will never be the same again. The only thing that's certain is that nothing is as it seems.

A compelling, tense and heartfelt drama from the bestselling writer of See You in September, shortlisted for Best Crime Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Crime Fiction

Five strangers, one cafe - and the day that everything changed.

A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for a group of strangers whose paths cross in a London cafe - their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage. But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years' travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law in the northeast of England. Also a mediator and telephone crisis line listener, she's passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. Her first novel, Freeing Grace, was published in 2010. Second Chances (After the Fall) was a Richard and Judy Book Club choice and World Book Night title. See You in September, her last book, was shortlisted for Best Crime Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Crime Fiction. The Secrets of Strangers is her sixth book.

The Secrets of Strangers
Allen and Unwin
Author: Charity Norman
ISBN: 9781760876715
RRP: $29.99

Interview with Charity Norman


Question: What originally inspired the idea of The Secrets of Strangers?

Charity Norman: Something that happened in Napier, a beautiful art deco town in New Zealand. In May 2009, a man called Jan Molenaar found the police searching his home for cannabis. He grabbed one of his arsenal of rifles and opened fire, killing a well-respected officer and wounding several others. A forty-hour siege began; the town filled with armed police and military vehicles. I heard the first shots and had met the gunman, because I happened to own the house right next door to his – it was a quiet, leafy street and he seemed perfectly pleasant. Our place was taken over by armed defenders. Later we had to plug dozens of bullet holes in the walls. Police negotiators tried to talk to Molenaar, but in the end he took his own life. The Secrets of Strangers is about a very different event, on the other side of the planet, involving completely different characters; but perhaps the idea began to form when I heard that final shot.


Question: Are the characters based on anyone you know, in real life?

Charity Norman: No. The characters are fictional, but I do draw on experience for ideas. For example my father, who is in his nineties, found two rough sleepers on the steps of his church in Balham, London and invited them home to live with him for a while, which they did. My character Neil also sleeps outside a church in Balham, though he's not in any other way based on my father's house guests. Then there was a wonderful nurse who looked after my mother in the dementia wing of her nursing home. She was calm, competent, warm – we all loved her. I think that amazing woman inspired my character Mutesi, but she is definitely not Mutesi.


Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?

Charity Norman: I'm genuinely fascinated to listen to people's stories, and of course everyone has a story. Often something I read in a paper or magazine, or online, might catch my imagination and appear in some form in one of my books, often years later. But I'm careful not betray people's confidence by directly basing events on their lives.


Question: What advice do you have for aspiring writers or artists?

Charity Norman: Edit, edit, edit. Edit again. Be prepared for several major rewrites. It's all about what you leave on the cutting-room floor.


Question: What book are you reading, right now?

Charity Norman: Virginia Woolf's astonishing novel, The Waves. I am a distant cousin of Woolf's, but I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't read much of her work! I'm trying to put that right while in Covid-19 lockdown.


Question: What's next, for you?

Charity Norman: My next book is set in New Zealand. A woman returns to her rural home town, to care for her father who has Alzheimer's disease. As his mind fails him, some very disturbing secrets begin to emerge.


Interview by Brooke Hunter

The Secrets of Strangers 
Allen and Unwin
Author: Charity Norman
ISBN: 9781760876715 
RRP: $29.99




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