Sally Hepworth's Very Real Inspiration for 'The Mother-in-Law'

Posted by Cybil on April 1, 2019
Ever been annoyed by one of your in-laws? Well, Sally Hepworth turned that experience into a buzzy new domestic thriller, The Mother-in-Law.

The author of The Things We Keep and The Secrets of Midwives told Goodreads how her chatty father-in-law inspired her latest novel. As an added bonus, she's keeping it in the family by recommending five more domestic suspense novels.

Goodreads: Summarize your book for us.

Sally Hepworth: The Mother-in-Law begins on a rainy weeknight. Lucy and Ollie are feeding their kids dinner when the police arrive on their doorstep and tell them that Diana, Lucy’s mother-in-law, is dead. A suicide note has been found written by Diana claiming that she no longer wanted to live because of a battle with cancer. But the autopsy finds no cancer. The autopsy does find evidence of poison and suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something.

But while on the surface, the book is about the murder of a wealthy matriarch, on a deeper level, it is about the relationship between that matriarch and her daughter-in-law and the difficulties they have as they try to forge a relationship, and more importantly, the misunderstandings that lead to those difficulties.

GR: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

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SH: I wrote my first novel when I was seven years old, a book of short stories called Mustard & Ink (which I also illustrated). Despite the high quality of this product, the shock of this not becoming a New York Times bestseller was enough to put me off writing for another 20 years.

I started writing my next novel at age 27, while on maternity leave with my first child. This novel was eventually published by Random House Germany and published in the German language only. I proudly held up the book at a party my friends so graciously threw for me, remarking how I could only read two words in the entire book—Sally and Hepworth.

As thrilling as it was to achieve my dream of having foreign translations, it had never occurred to me that I may not get a publishing deal in English! It wasn't until my third novel, The Secrets of Midwives, that I was able to realize the dream of having my books available worldwide in a language I could read (as well as many languages I couldn’t). It was at this point that I became a full-time writer.

GR: What sparked the idea for The Mother-in-Law?

SH: Let’s just say that it is not a coincidence that my British in-laws were staying with me when I came up with the idea for this book. In fact, they were with us following the birth of my third child. But it’s not what you think! I get along great with my mother-in-law. It was my father-in-law, of whom I am very fond, who inspired this book. He’s a talker, you see. God love him, he doesn’t stop talking from the moment he gets up to the moment he goes to sleep. Doesn’t matter if I’m on the phone, wrangling children, preparing a meal—he’s talking. He doesn’t require much in response from me, just the occasional head nod. Still, after a while, it can get tiring.

One day, for a bit of peace and quiet, I decided to take the baby for a walk. She was a bit unsettled, and I thought it would do us both some good to get out of the house. What do you think happened?

Yep. My father-in-law decided to join us.

He decided it could be a good opportunity for us to work on my next book idea. Us! Given the fact that I had just given birth, I didn’t have an idea for my next book, and my father-in-law thought this was something we could remedy together.

You know that saying "everyone has an idea for a book, but not many have any idea how to write one"? Peter has thousands of ideas for books and no idea how to write one.

I think he was on idea 9,672 when I finally had a brilliant idea. I turned to Peter and announced that I was going to write a book about a woman who murders her father-in-law!

Surprisingly, my father-in-law was delighted by this idea, and proceeded to talk to me about it for the rest of his stay. He decided that he would need to accompany me on my book tour and that if it ever became a movie, he’d be the one to walk me down the red carpet. It was about this time that I made a slight adjustment to the premise.

A mother-in-law who is murdered.

My father-in-law is still not speaking to me (which is an utter relief).

Hepworth Recommends Her Favorite Domestic Suspense Novels:

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"An Anonymous Girl is an electrifying novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone. I adored this even more than The Wife Between Us…and that is saying something."

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"I got a sore neck from all the twists and turns, and never knew who to trust. The Other Woman is an addictive, fast-paced thriller about how far one mother-in-law is prepared to go to get rid of the other woman in her son’s life."

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"What looks like a perfect marriage turns out to be the exact opposite. This one gave me nightmares for weeks, but it was worth it."

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"When a young wife’s husband is killed in a car crash, her pursuit of answers leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche."

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"A chilling psychological thriller about a marriage and how far one woman will go to keep what is rightfully hers."

Sally Hepworth's novel The Mother-in-Law will be available on April 23. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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message 1: by Susie (new)

Susie Yates I love her so much, and I'm still giggling about her description of her father-in-law comments...long after I finished reading this interview! Thank you for sending it to me!!

message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol May I suggest to Sally Hepworth to get some ear plugs from when her father in law visits! lol Looking forward to reading The Mother In Law

message 3: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Sorum Adding this to my list.

Veronica ⭐️ Great interview. I feel your pain Sally. My mother is the same but what amazes me the most is she never runs out of things to say. The Mother-in-law is a fantastic read even though it was a little sad.

message 5: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Well I will enjoy this book. Your writing is like a friend in the room but with more excitement . I will look forwa d to reading this

message 6: by Maria (new)

Maria Carlos I hope they will translate it in portuguese,,,bui if they dont perhaps I can buy it in English….I liked the interview,and I am sure I would enjoy reading her.

message 7: by Maria (new)


Susan - on semi hiatus Adding this book to my list. I Loved the sense of humor in her interview plus her description of her non-stop jabbering father in law. (THAT would drive me bonkers btw).

message 9: by Jeanniehay64 (new)

Jeanniehay64 Lovely interview it’s great to get to know the story behind the author, can’t wait to read this one

message 10: by M (new)

M Price I cherish her, lol. From my first read (no pun intended because I won it as a GR’s first Read”, anyway, since my first read of hers, I’ve seen her video interviews, her written ones as well as participating in a Goodreads group for “The Things We Keep” and there is ‘always’ something new, fun, funny, interesting and awesome we learn from and about Her. I didn’t see the above interview coming to me in the way of laughter, but I’m cracking up right now. Yet another fantastically awesome and cleverly told message/story from Sally Hepworth. Cannot wait to read this book!!!! Need to get my hands on a copy ASAP.

Thank you a million for this, Goodreads and personally to Sally Hepworth and Cybil Wallace for the message about this. I may never have seen it which would have left me missing out on this bookishly special interview.

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