You are outside your front door. There are strangers in your house. Then you realise… You can’t remember your name.
She arrived at the train station after a difficult week at work. Her bag had been stolen, and with it, her identity. Her whole life was in there – passport, wallet, house key. When she tried to report the theft, she couldn’t remember her own name. All she knew was her own address.
Now she’s outside Tony and Laura’s front door. She says she lives in their home. They say they have never met her before.
One of them is lying.
Interview Questions – J S Monroe
What inspired you to write this story?
Two things, really: the fear of forgetting, and how identity is bound up with our memories. Forget My Name begins with a woman who arrives off the train in a Wiltshire village not dissimilar to where I live. She is unable to remember her own name and is without any form of identification, having lost her bag at the airport. Passport, bank cards, mobile phone – all gone. The only thing she has is a train ticket and a vague sense that she lives in the village. How did she get there? And who is she? When she approaches the house that she thinks is hers, she peers in through the window and sees a young couple preparing dinner. I was haunted by such an image when I was commuting from my own village in Wiltshire to London. It was a stressful time in my life. I had a young family and the trains were always delayed. When I returned late, I often wondered what it would be like if I glanced through the window of my own house, only to see another family preparing for bed.
What makes your story different in this popular genre?
A character suffering from amnesia is a popular trope in psychological thrillers. S.J.Watson explored it brilliantly in Before I Go to Sleep. I have tried to push it even further, taking the genre into what I hope is new territory. By its very nature, amnesia has a lot in common with unreliability, another popular theme in psychological thrillers, and I’ve explored this too in a dark and unexpected way.
Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mix of both? How do you make your characters realistic?
I think any author who says they don’t base their characters on people they know is lying! That’s not to say that they are transposed from life to page without any changes. I tend to be a bit of a magpie, picking traits from different people and merging them into a new character. Friends are always asking me, ‘Am I in it?’ and it’s a difficult question to answer. “Bits of you might be’ isn’t quite the answer they’re looking for.
When you write, what comes first, the characters, the plot or the setting? Why do you think this is?
Place plays a very important part in my books and I knew that I wanted to write about a Wiltshire village in Forget My Name. I also wanted to write about a woman who has survived a hideous trauma of some sort but is definitely not a passive victim. So place and the lead character were uppermost in my mind when I started to work out what that trauma might have been and the effects it’s had on her life. I was also keen to explore popular neuroscience, in this case, the role that the hippocampus – a seahorse-shaped part of the brain – plays in human memory.
What made you decide to become a writer, and why does this genre appeal to you?
I was asked this question the other day by a close friend and I couldn’t really answer it. I’m not sure you actively choose to become a writer – it’s just something that happens. I’d read English at university and was a freelance journalist for ten years before I wrote my first novel, The Riot Act, in 1997, so I clearly enjoyed working with words. Writing at greater length than a magazine article was a natural progression. As for psychological thrillers, I used to write spy novels – I’ve had five espionage thrillers and a novella published under my own name, Jon Stock – until I switched names and genres in 2017. I had done all I wanted to do with the world of spies and had become increasingly interested in popular neuroscience. In Find Me, my first psychological thriller, and now Forget My Name, I’ve been able to explore themes of memory and identity through a new and exciting lens.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
In terms of fiction, I tend to read anything but thrillers when I’m writing, usually more literary fiction by authors such as Eimear McBride. I don’t want to be distracted or envious! I read a lot of non-fiction books when I’m writing, most recently Into the Grey Zone, by Dr Adrian Owen, who explores the relationship between brain, mind and consciousness and the penumbral world between life and death. I re-read John Fowles’s The Magus on holiday in Greece last summer, which remains a mind-blowing piece of storytelling, and I’m looking forward to reading Ian McEwan’s new one, Machines Like Me.
What are you currently writing?
I’m just putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my new novel, which gives a modern, high-tech spin on the Gothic trope of doppelgängers. In this digital age of social media and selfies, it’s surprisingly easy to find – or be found by – someone who looks identical to you…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books in return for an honest review.
Losing your identity and turning up in a place that you vaguely recognise, the house you think is yours, but someone else is living there, and they don’t know you are, is the idea behind #ForgetMyName, a classy, well researched psychological thriller.
This thriller works, because this type of crisis is a fear for many people. We are grounded by familiarity, we feel safe, and not being able to fall back on things we recognise, is a shattering concept, for most people.
The everyday setting, makes the woman’s situation more frightening, she wants to fit in, remember, but she can’t. Is she running from something terrible? Something she’s done or been done to her? Do others know more about her situation than she does? Why are they keeping secrets? Do they really want to help her? All these questions make this a believable, twisty thriller. It has the ambience of a gothic style plot. Creepy, evil, lies, secrets and the main protagonist who doesn’t know who to trust, and whether she can even trust herself.
Chilling, compulsive reading, with realistic characters, hard to spot clues, and a relentless pace make this an addictive book that you read with the fervent hope you never forget who you are.
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.