What an intriguing title for a novel; and like the title, what a intriguing read Still Life With A Vengeance is.
Full of tension and sobering, uncomfortable questions, Jan Turk Petrie’s new novel is the story of Eve, married for the past ten years to Nick, a rich and famous rock star. Struggling to conceive and desperate for a child, Eve is hopeful that her adoption dreams will soon be fulfilled.
But then Nick is accused alongside his band members of drugging and gang raping a fan.
Still Life With A Vengeance is such a poignant exploration of the treatment of women within a male dominated society, especially as the woman accusing Nick and his bandmates alleges they ‘passed her around‘ in a drug-fuelled orgy.’ As Eve’s doubts in her husband and her marriage gradually intensify, she also feels ‘she could be a baton being passed from one man to the next.’
Told entirely from the point of view of Eve, Still Life With A Vengeance powerfully portrays the impact of the allegations on her; how her life is invaded by the press, how she feels that by association, she is subjected to trial by social media, and how her dreams of becoming a mother are painfully thwarted. Ultimately Eve’s trust in Nick is increasingly in jeopardy as more sexual allegations against him surface and her doubts in him grow.
Like Eve, throughout I was questioning Nick’s integrity and honesty.
I was so intrigued by this novel that I approached Jan Turk Petrie with a few questions, which she kindly took the time to answer. Thank you Jan!
Still Life With A Vengeance is a brilliant title and really fitting for this novel. How did the title come about?
Thanks for the feedback. The title is a phrase I use when describing some chopped-up fruit very near the start of the novel. As it seemed to fit the story I was writing, it became my working title. Once I’d finished the book, I considered various alternatives but decided to stick to it because it neatly encapsulates the main themes of my novel.
Still Life With A Vengeance is a tense and powerful read set against a backdrop of sinister secrets, betrayal and trust. What inspired you to write this novel?
I began by writing a very short piece about a young woman rushing around before a visitor is due to arrive. Instead of trying to clean up, she’s attempting to make her too-perfect house look untidy – more lived in. When I came back to the piece, I asked myself why she would want to do this and what might throw her plans off course. That’s when I came up with the basic outline of the plot.
You poignantly explore the role the media plays in people’s lives in contemporary society today. This includes social media and paparazzi. Can you tell us more about this?
I’m sure we’ve all seen footage of famous people being ‘doorstepped’ by the press; forced to making public statements after criminal or career-threatening charges have been levelled against them. I’ve often wondered what it must be like for their partners – the person you see at their side adopting a strained smile in an attempted to hide how mortifying the whole experience is for them.
I mostly enjoy interacting with people on social media platforms but I’m aware of the more sinister and unpleasant underbelly. People can be quick to take sides – ready to condemn or exonerate before the full facts are established.
What came first, character or plot?
As I’ve mentioned, in this instance the central characters came to me first. With some of my other books, I began with ideas for a plot. Some people claim literary fiction is about character, whilst thrillers, for example, are more concerned with plot. It seems to me the best thrillers contain intriguing, well rounded characters, and literary novels quickly become boring without a fully developed plot.
The plot takes quite a few turns that are unexpected. Did you plan it this way or did the turns surprise you?
I find it useful to have an idea of where the story is ultimately headed but I never like to plan things out too much. Writers often talk about their characters taking on a life of their own – and in my experience it’s true. When I’m writing a scene, they can become quite rebellious, which means things don’t turn out the way I’d planned or imagined at the start. For me, these unexpected twists and turns are what keeps the writing process fresh and interesting.
I felt your portrayal of setting in this novel was very powerful and evocative, enhancing the intensity of the story. Was that your intension and can you tell us more about your use of setting?
Setting plays a vital role in any story. ‘Still Life with a Vengeance’ has a number of very different settings including rural Somerset, central London, a remote Scottish island and Umbria in Italy. Eve’s inner journey is very much linked to her physical one. At the beginning of the novel, she has opted for a quieter life in Somerset, which is shattered when the allegations against Nick first surface. To escape the paparazzi camped outside their gates, the couple travel to London in search of the bustle and anonymity a big city can offer. Although they can afford to stay in a luxury penthouse suite, Eve soon misses the simplicity and serenity of the natural environment.
You are a very diverse novelist having previously written Nordic noir thrillers, both historic fiction and contemporary fiction. Are you writing something now and if so, are you happy to share some details about it?
I really enjoy challenging myself – mixing things up rather than writing in one genre or historical period. My previous book, ‘Running Behind Time, was my first time-slip novel. The storyline alternating between 2020 and 1982. I had intended it to be a standalone work, but recently began planning a sequel which will involve the same characters but take the story in a rather different and unexpected direction. I’m about six chapters in and, so far, it’s going well.
Is your reading as diverse as your writing?
In a word – yes. I enjoy reading many different genres and styles. After a serious book, for instance, I will often choose something lighter and less demanding. Many of my favourite writers work in several different genres. Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Nora Roberts, Emma Donoghue to name just a few.
Thank you so much Jan for giving me your time to answer my questions. Thank you also to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to the blog tour of Still Life With A Vengeance, which was released in paperback on 7 October 2021.
To read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the blog tour, please see below.