âWe need conventions both in life and in fiction, but when they replace insight, we become victims,â says Livesey. âI wanted to overturn some of the crime fiction conventions – therefore, make my victim a boy, not a girl, make her hurt, not dead, and my detective isn’t someone who likes orchids, or drinks too much, or has romantic issues. “
Another important theme is the unsaid or communication without language: the meaning conveyed by the similarity of two pairs of hands, the attraction of a stranger’s eyes, or the movements of the Langs’ foster dog, Lily, who periodically âTalkâ to the siblings. Livesey herself grew up in the Scottish countryside and says her childhood was “full of animals trying to tell me something”.
âMy impression is that a lot of people, without necessarily believing in the supernatural, feel a sense of communication with animals or small children or houses or plants,â she says. âThe trees in my garden often seem to whisper after the rain. I hope I’m not the only one who thinks the world is busy.
Art also plays a role in the book, through Livesey’s eyes. There are many references to art throughout The boy in the fields (Livesey’s husband Eric Garnick paints large abstract oil paintings), such as Giorgio Morandi’s still lifes of bottles. “I see myself as an artist in the first few pages, but as the novel progresses I become more and more of an investigator – would Zoe really do that?” Duncan would say that? I created a world, and I have to make sure it makes sense. I love those moments of fiction where a character does something surprising and absolutely plausible.
Livesey grew up in the Scottish Highlands, where her father taught and her mother, Eva, was a school nurse. After earning a BA in English and Philosophy from York University in England, she spent most of her 20s working in shops and restaurants and learning to write, which she says she has. learned by reading. âBut not by reading like I normally do – going through a trap door into the world of a book,â she says. “I had to learn to slow down and be careful of how a writer creates her characters, how she persuades us that we want to spend time in this world.”
Over the years, Livesey, who is almost 60, has taught creative / fiction writing at Boston University, Bowdoin College and Brandeis University, to name a few, and teaches currently at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received scholarships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Livesey says writing has become an essential refuge. âLast March, when I realized I wasn’t going to go back to Scotland anytime soon, I started a new novel that’s set there so I could visit it every day,â says Livesey, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Reading was also a refuge, and I feel fortunate that the Boston booksellers worked valiantly to supply us with books.”
Asked about her favorite authors, Livesey says, âThe answer changes every day. Today I would say Kate Atkinson, Andrea Barrett, Britt Bennett, Willa Cather, Lan Samantha Chang, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, Ian Rankin, Jim Shepard and Joan Silber. Although she can’t remember the first time she fell in love with words, she does remember the first book she ever read. “It was about Percy, the bad guy, and I was delighted that someone like me, short and rude, stood up to run the barnyard,” she said. âI have some favorite words that I always try to use in my novels and rarely use: twilight, tintinnabulation, indigo.
In addition to trying to sprinkle some of her favorite words, Livesey tries to sprinkle her novels on geographic and chronological timelines: Her Book Gemma Hardy’s Theft (2012) takes place in the early 1960s in Scotland, and Mercury (2016) in the contemporary suburb of Boston. The boy in the fields takes place on the edge of the year 2000, in England, although when Livesey first imagined the novel it was closer to the present; however, the ubiquity of technology – cell phones, in particular – threatened to ruin his plot.
âI also liked the way the year 2000 reflected my theme,â she says. “We thought the danger was coming, but we were looking in the wrong direction.”