Friends and enemies

Leeds author June Taylor's debut novel Losing Juliet is a dark psychological thriller about a friendship that goes wrong. Yvette Huddleston reports.

“It’s been quite a long route to publication after quite a long apprenticeship,” says Leeds-based writer June Taylor whose debut novel came out last week. “It took me five years to write, but it was fermenting for a lot longer.”

Published by HarperCollins under their Killer Reads banner, Losing Juliet is a fabulously dark and disturbing psychological thriller that explores a toxic friendship laced with destructive secrets. Taylor carefully withholds crucial facts as the narrative moves back and forth between two different time frames – 1989 and 2007 – gradually revealing some genuinely surprising twists until the truly shocking denouement. She is in complete command of her material ensuring that with each chapter another small piece of the jigsaw drops into place.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Chrissy and Juliet met and were close friends at university but it is almost 20 years since they have seen each other. In that time Chrissy has married, had a daughter Eloise, now 17, and lost her husband Dan to cancer, while Juliet is a successful fashion designer and businesswoman.

When Juliet gets in touch again Eloise can’t understand why her mother is so reluctant to see her old friend – and is determined to find out why. In the chapters set in the past Taylor takes the reader through the two girls’ summer vacation adventure as they hitch-hike across Europe, inspired by a similar trip taken by Taylor as a student in the late 80s. “It is only over the years as I began to reflect on what we did, that I realised there were an awful lot of ‘what if’ moments in that trip – and I knew there was a good story in there somewhere.” She was right. Losing Juliet is a totally compelling page-turner – Taylor is constantly teasing the reader, drawing you in with another juicy nugget of information as Eloise edges closer to the terrible truth. It is beautifully structured, but Taylor is aware that she didn’t make life easy for herself by deciding to run a dual narrative.

“There were times when I thought ‘this is a bit tough’,” she says laughing. “Switching between past and present meant that I had to keep unravelling the plot, so the book went through a lot of drafts.”

A former promos producer at Yorkshire Television, Taylor got to know screenwriter David Nobbs, best known for The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, while working there. “He was quite an influence on me,” she says. “And he got me thinking that I would really like to explore scriptwriting and see if that’s where my writing lay.”

She then undertook a part-time MA in scriptwriting at the Northern Film School and later wrote a Young Adult novel, Lovely Me, Lovely You, which was runner up in the 2011 Times Chicken House children’s fiction competition. Having previously written stage plays – which she certainly doesn’t rule out returning to – Taylor says she feels comfortable with the novel form and is already working on another in a similar vein. “I think I have found my niche. The adult psychological thriller that is a bit creepy and gets under your skin – this is where I want to be.” And I suspect many readers will agree.

Losing Juliet is available now as an e-book via Amazon and is out in paperback in January.