5 Minutes With Naomi Joy, Author Of Psychological Thriller, The Liars
Toxic female rivalry sound familiar? Naomi Joy, author of the new thriller, The Liars, chats to us about her experiences in the PR world and the negative impact of The Sisterhood Ceiling…
Tell us all about your new book…
The Liars is a psychological thriller set in a cutthroat PR office in central London. Ava and Jade, the two protagonists, are peers both up for the same promotion at work. Ava is younger than Jade and has less experience, but her connections with those in charge make her the front-runner for the role. This infuriates Jade and she’ll stop at nothing to prevent Ava landing the job that, she believes, is rightfully hers.
To make matters worse, the pair share an unspeakable secret, one they know will ruin them both if told. But with so much at stake, can either trust the other not to talk? Would you sabotage a rival to stop them from taking what’s yours?
How did you find inspiration for the female characters?
Whilst researching for The Liars, I came across the phenomenon known as The Sisterhood Ceiling – a term coined by researchers at UCL who found that women experience competition with other women negatively – and it was this I wanted to highlight in the characters’ personalities. As such, both Ava and Jade have slightly toxic traits, brought about by the culture and office environment they work in.
What is The Sisterhood Ceiling?
Time and again, studies show that women are less comfortable with competition than men. A study by Harvard found that even the most capable women shy away from competition, but that the least-capable men thrive on it. UCL’s research into The Sisterhood Ceiling found that women in competitive environments – who aren’t comfortable in them – would often take competition too personally, becoming overly cut-throat and mean as a result. Others would shy away from competition, letting less capable, but more competitive, rivals progress in their place.
Did you enjoy working in the PR world?
At times, PR was the most enjoyable and incredible industry to work in and, despite my experiences with a handful of toxic personalities, I was also lucky enough to work with an abundance of brilliant and inspiring women who taught me so much. The industry itself is highly competitive, which was why I probably experienced The Sisterhood Ceiling at its more extreme end.
Have you personally experienced female rivalry?
I’ve had a few experiences. Early in my career, I was fast-tracked for a promotion by my brilliant female boss. However, as soon as my promotion was announced, my female line-manager began whispering to the other members of our team that she didn’t think I’d deserved it. I confronted her about it – sick of the passive aggressive comments – but she denied it, then went to our mutual boss to try and get me switched off the team.
After that, I didn't bring it up again. I kept it quiet when her behaviour became more systemic: regularly blaming her mistakes on me, blocking my chances to work on more important projects, spreading rumours that I would likely leave the company soon so shouldn't be considered for pay rises and promotions. To make matters worse, she was supposed to be my mentor and, despite everything she did, I wanted her to like me.
And it’s not just me. As soon as The Liars was released I heard numerous stories from women who’ve experienced similar things. A woman got in touch to say that she’d flown out to Hong Kong to try and win a new client, her female boss hadn’t wanted to go because she didn’t think the client was win-able. Despite this, this woman won the Chinese client but, on returning to London, was immediately frozen out of all future communication with the client by her female boss, keen to take the credit for her success rather than share in it.
These examples are far too numerous and, perhaps because the majority of women experience competitive office culture negatively, this might be one of the reasons there’s been a sharp drop in women at board-level of the FTSE top 250 companies this year. The Sisterhood Ceiling isn’t the only reason why more women aren’t in top jobs, but it’s almost certainly part of the puzzle.
Is work-life balance important to you?
Absolutely, looking after yourself is incredibly important. Making the switch to self-employment has been a challenge though – whenever I’m not writing and I have a deadline I feel like I should be!
Your perfect weekend includes…
A trip back home to Jersey, catching up with family, walking the cliff-paths or heading to the beach.
A tip for aspiring writers?
Keep writing, keep applying to agents, keep approaching publishers. Don’t give up!
Almost a year after I first put pen to paper, I was offered a three-book-deal with Aria Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus. Signing that contract was a really proud moment for me.
Favourite people to follow on Instagram?
@rupikaur_ - Rupi Kaur, author and poet, has such a beautiful profile.
@katebeckinsale - I love following Kate, she’s hilarious.
@thestylelane - Of course!
Which summer reads are on your list? Tweet @TheStyleLane
Images: Naomi Joy