Moving and suspenseful, Lisa Ballantyne’s The Guilty One is a psychological thriller about the darkness in each of us. It explores how we are all tied to our pasts, and what it means to be guilty.
Solicitor Daniel Hunter is called to defend 11-year-old Sebastian who has been charged with the murder of a young boy on a London playground. While examining Sebastian’s life in order to save it, Daniel can’t help but be transported to his own difficult youth spent in foster care—a time when the one he trusted the most was the one who betrayed him…
Emotionally wrought, and with an abundance of twists and turns, The Guilty One is a character-driven novel of suspense that explores the true nature of guilt.
Deborah Crombie is the author of the best-selling Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James novels.
Deborah Crombie: First of all, congratulations on your first novel! The Guilty One is richly complex, and it gives the reader much to think about. How did this story come about? What made you start writing it?
Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you! I am always first drawn to characters, and in this case the characters of Daniel and Minnie began to “inhabit me”—I could see them and smell them. After musing on them for some time I realized that Daniel was telling the story as an adult working in London. I could see him in a suit and it was soon after that I realized he was a solicitor. It was only at that stage that I thought about giving him a very young client who would remind him of how he too had once been a very violent little boy. Sebastian is therefore there as a construct, to throw Daniel’s childhood into relief.
DC: The book shifts between Daniel’s experiences in his adolescence and the present day trial of his young client accused of murder. What made you choose this structure?
LB: I find that a book will tell me how it is to be written. It was the case with The Guilty One. I tried different voices and structures at the beginning, but once I stayed in Daniel’s point of view and alternated with his childhood and the trial things seemed to fall into place. It was an exciting book for me, too, to write as at the beginning when Daniel got the letter, I didn’t know what Minnie had done to alienate him, nor did I know if Sebastian would be found guilty or innocent.
DC: The Guilty One is so intricately plotted. I’m always curious about fellow writers’ processes: do you plot in advance, or do you write where the characters take you?
LB: Definitely the latter. I write as I live. I find it hard to plan everything out. I follow my instincts. I find that when I know a character well, the plot will come.
DC: Which of your characters was the easiest to write? Which was the most difficult?
LB: That is a good question. I found Minnie very easy to write and I loved writing Daniel. I did a lot of research to write Sebastian so he was perhaps the least instinctual of all the characters, although he was very clear to me.
DC: One of the most heartrending scenes, for me, was when Daniel has his falling out with Minnie, a character I grew to love. Was this scene hard for you to write?
LB:Yes, it was a hard scene to write and I wrote it very quickly and didn’t change much of it afterwards. I could see it playing out before my eyes, like a scene from a movie. It was heartbreaking for me because I understood both of them and I also knew that Daniel would come to regret his actions.
DC:The idea of nurture vs. nature plays a big role in The Guilty One. What are you hoping readers take away from this book on that topic?
LB: I hope that readers enjoy the book and have sympathy for the characters and that it then leads them to question the causes of crime and possibly our responsibility for people who commit crime, especially children. The question of Sebastian’s guilt or innocence in the book is irrelevant, because everyone in the book is guilty.