CURRENTLY riding high in Amazon’s bestseller lists, Nearest Thing to Crazy, a psychological thriller from Herefordshire-based author Elizabeth Forbes, is a readit- in-one-sitting novel attracting five-star reviews on the site.

Nearest Thing to Crazy is not Lizzie’s first novel, but it comes almost 20 years after the publication of her third in 1996, since when she has completed an Open University degree course in English literature, graduating with a first, and she also holds a diploma in creative writing and literature from the OU.

Explaining how she started writing again, Lizzie says: “I always wanted to write and need to write, but the degree just gave me lots of confidence – I think it also made me a better critic of my own writing and gave me a greater understanding of structure.

The creative writing course involved students putting up what they had written to the group forum and we had a group of really good writers who were very good at being proactive, and everyone, including the tutor who I respected hugely, liked what I was doing.

“For the final part of the OU, wehad to write three opening chapters of a novel and that’s how Nearest Thing to Crazy started – and it was a brilliant way to start.”

The novel, a clever unputdownable study of madness and manipulation, opens with an idyllic scene – a group of friends enjoying Sunday lunch on a summer’s day, welcoming glamorous new neighbour Ellie into their midst – the husbands a little more attentive, the wives subtly competing for her smile, but Cass isn’t feeling the warmth. And as time passes and Ellie, who’s moved to the village to write, befriends everyone, Cass feels inexplicably excluded and increasingly confused.

“I was interested in how you can tell a story within a story,” says Lizzie about what provided the catalyst.

“It’s a bit like a labyrinth but at each level you’re creating a credible story, and asking the reader to believe or not believe in this story.

The reader has to make a value judgement, yet the whole thing is a fiction.”

It took about two years to write, including a re-write when the first people to see the manuscript suggested that with a single first person narrator, Cass, the effect was perhaps too intense and a tough read. “And because I didn’t have a contract I wasn’t as fast as I should have been.”

Lizzie then added Ellie’s voice, but admits: “I had no idea how it was going to end. I got to within three chapters of the end and thought it would come to me but it didn’t. Then I had a conversation with Broo (Doherty, her agent) and after pacing up and down the kitchen for 45 minutes I had it. I must have written about 50 pages that day and finished it.”

Although she had published three novels in the 90s, Lizzie had not, as she wrote Nearest Thing to Crazy, got a publisher, but she had found a new agent in Broo following a serendipitous meeting in London. “I went to a drinks party in London with my husband Jamie (who runs Lay and Robson Smoked Salmon), having hummed and hahed about going and found myself in a room full of people I didn’t know. The first person I turned to said, when I introduced myself as Lizzie from Herefordshire, that he was Tom and was from Monmouth. He then pointed across the room and said: “And that’s my fiancee – she’s a literary agent.”

Having become disenchanted with publishing last time around, Lizzie could not be happier with her publisher now. “Cutting Edge Press is a small independent publisher and it’s fantastic,” she says, clearly enjoying the experience far more , not to mention those Amazon listings, which she’s keeping an eagle eye on – “by the minute”.