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Interview with Ellery Lloyd

A young, red-haired woman in an orange dress lies on her back against a metal staircase, one hand raised as if to shade her eyes: cover of Ellery Lloyd's The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby

An art auction in Dubai that ends with the dealer arrested for murder in 2023; a Surrealist artist who pulled her only exhibited painting from the gallery twenty-four hours after the show opened, then died in a fire that swept through a Paris apartment in 1938; and a pair of university students at Cambridge trying to finish their dissertations while juggling their romantic feelings for each other in 1991—these are the threads that intertwine in the latest compelling novel from Ellery Lloyd.

It’s hard to say much more about this novel without giving away spoilers. The various threads are too entangled with one another and the compelling portrait at the center of the story. Even the title has a double meaning. There were elements I figured out quickly and others I didn’t get until the full explanation at the end, but either way I was pulled along from the opening chapter. If you like twisty, suspenseful narratives with driven, not always likable but complex characters, this novel is for you. Read on to find out more from my interview with Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos about their latest collaboration as Ellery Lloyd, The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby.

You share one author name, but you are actually a husband-and-wife team. What made you decide to write novels together?

Collette: We both have backgrounds in words—me as a journalist and Paul as a professor of creative writing, but it took nearly ten years of marriage before we sat down to try our hand at a novel together. We’d just had our daughter, and I went down an Instagram rabbit hole with Mommy influencers. I thought that world would make such a good setting for a thriller—and I probably wanted to feel that all my time mindlessly scrolling was useful in some way!—and so we started discussing a plot for that. It was quite organic, and it lent itself to two voices, a husband and a wife, so we just took a voice each and got on with it. That ended up being our debut, People Like Her. Now we are three and a half books in!

How do you handle the co-writing process? Do you divide up chapters or take responsibility for different characters—even story lines, in this book? Or do you do everything together?

Paul: We plot together—and we spend quite a long time doing that, and getting a really solid chapter plan down on paper. Otherwise it would be like a game of Consequences! Although of course, things do always change and evolve as the novel takes shape in successive drafts. We then each take one or two voices—our novels are always told in multiple voices, as it makes a virtue of having two writers—and we do their entire story. After the first draft, though, we both edit and rework everything—I don’t think there’s a single sentence in any of our novels that both of us haven’t touched. By the time we get to the finished product, we actually have a hard time remembering who exactly was responsible for what!

This novel has three separate time threads: Patrick Lambert and Caroline Cooper in Dubai (2023), the same characters in the UK (1991), and Juliette Willoughby in 1937–1938, told at first through her diary. What did you gain from telling the story that way?

Paul: We wanted to really pull people into the story, making it immersive. Often flashbacks do that less successfully, and we really wanted the reader to feel like they’re in these places, at these times, with the characters, seeing and feeling what they are seeing and feeling alongside them (and having reveals and realizations in real time). As well as the different timelines, we really liked the idea of taking the reader around the world. Our previous novel, The Club, was set entirely on one isolated island over the course of one weekend—perhaps it was a reaction against that!

Introduce us, first, to Patrick Lambert—as a young man, then in 2023. What drives him? How would you describe his personality?

Collette: Poor Patrick had his best days at university, when life was ahead of him and full of possibility. He’s a man who was brought up in an entitled world, surrounded by men who just expect life will be kind to them, with an expectation that they will inherit the world. But life hasn’t quite worked out like that for many of them in his rarefied circle, and it definitely hasn’t for Patrick. But he is kind and well-meaning and worth rooting for.

And what do we need to know about Caroline, as a character?

Collette: As an art history academic, she has dual passions, which we see compete—her work and Patrick Lambert. And both cause her a lot of trouble, and both put her research and detective skills to the test! I actually studied art history at Cambridge like Caroline, and I shared her irritation with the general lack of focus on female artists taught there, mostly by men. But just like in the novel, I had one lecturer—Dr. Alyce Mahon, in my case—who opened my eyes to incredible female Surrealists including Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington, and Dorothea Tanning, elements of whose lives all inspired parts of Juliette Willoughby’s story.

We meet Juliette first through Caroline’s reaction to her, then through her diary, and last through Juliette’s own recounting of what happened after the diary ends. Where is she in her life when that first diary entry is written?

Paul: She has been in Paris a year, having followed her older, married lover—the artist Oskar Erlich—there only days after meeting him, leaving her wealthy family and her troubled past behind. But by the time we meet her, we sense that the bohemian dream has curdled a little, and that neither Paris or Oskar are quite what she’d imagined.

The heart of the novel is Juliette’s painting, Self Portrait as Sphinx. Please talk a bit about the painting itself and how it fits into the story.

Collette: One of my favourite paintings in the world is Little Hermit Sphinx by Leonor Fini, which is in London’s Tate Modern. Although different in content from the Self Portrait as Sphinx, it echoes the feeling of the painting in our novel—eerie, uncanny, confronting, loaded with symbolism which it is almost impossible for the viewer to unpack without knowing the artist’s own personal mythology. Self Portrait as Sphinx has secrets, and that is what the novel unpacks over the decades.

Are you already working on another book?

Paul: We are! It involves time travel, and a lot of research. It will be out in 2025.

Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Head shot of a woman with light auburn hair and a man in a blue shirt, who together write as Ellery Lloyd

Ellery Lloyd is the pseudonym of the husband and wife writing team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos. Together they have published People Like Her, The Club, and The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby. Find out more about them and their books at

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