Flynn Berry’s debut novel, Under the Harrow, is a powerful novel about women, their choices, and their relationships with each other. Nora, London sophisicate and ex-party girl, takes the train to Cornwall, expecting a nice, bucolic visit with her sister Rachel. Upon her arrival, she finds her sister murdered. Her vacation away from the stress of the city turns into a nightmare of rural secrets and resurfacing traumas as she seeks her sister’s killer.
Under the Harrow has received a ton of praise this summer, all of it well deserved. RT Book Reviews, in just one of many gushing reviews, called the novel “the stuff of classic crime fiction, but this is deeper than a caper—it is the story of a woman working through her stages of grief.” My favorite blurb comes from author Claire Messud described Berry’s debut as “like Broadchurch written by Elena Ferrante,” which I took to mean the novel does not sacrifice pace for feminism, or vice versa. I also must admit that while I hate recommending books as “beach reads,” I did read most of Under the Harrow at the beach, and the dark atmosphere of the novel provided a perfect antidote to the hot, hot sun.
Flynn Berry joins us Saturday, June 18th, at 6 PM to speak and sign her debut. She was kind enough to let us interview her before the event.
“The “girl” trend is funny, but so understandable. Publishing is hard, and if you have a shortcut to get a reader’s attention, it makes sense that there’s pressure to use it. I also like that “girl” is now shorthand for “dark and twisted.” That’s so satisfying.”
Molly Odintz: Under the Harrow is your debut, yet it perfectly mixes mature themes and a nail-biter of a plot. What was your writing process for the novel? What advice would you give writers starting out in the genre?
Flynn Berry: I spent a year writing Under the Harrow. Then there was another year of revision and copyedits once it was with the publisher. My writing process is that I write longhand, while listening to the same few songs on repeat. I try to write for three hours a day. But I was also working, so often it was less.
And the other thing is that I wrote two full novels before this one, that I didn’t send out. I loved working on them and was committed to them, but they weren’t quite ready.
So I think my biggest piece of advice is to be patient. And to just always keep nudging it forward, even if all you can do in a day is write one sentence or figure out a character name.
MO: It’s so rare to find women avenged by other women in crime novels – usually a man goes out to seek revenge for the death of a woman. In fact, I can’t think of a single crime novel where a woman sets out to avenge the death of an adult male figure. What was your inspiration for the women in this story, and why do they seek their own vengeance?
FB: That’s so interesting—I’d never considered it before, but you’re right, I can’t think of one either.
I was really angry when I started the book. There had been a few awful crimes against women in Austin that made me furious on behalf of the victim.
So the book is sort of a revenge fantasy. And I kept asking what I would do next, and that led Nora further and further into obsession.
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