Interview: Ellie Marney on ‘Some Shall Break,’ Centering Survivors, and More


In 2020, Ellie Marney released her YA novel None Shall Sleep, which followed two teenagers – Emma Lewis and Travis Bell – as they assisted the FBI. The book was a hit with readers and soon climbed its way up the New York Times bestseller list. Now, the sequel Some Shall Break is finally out in the world, catching viewers back up with Emma and Travis.

Some Shall Break is set three months following None Shall Sleep after the vicious showdown with teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson and another killer. While Travis continued working with the FBI, Emma took a step back. However, after Simon’s twin sister, Kristin, reaches out to Travis with a chilling warning: Emma is potentially in danger. So, taking all precautions, Emma returns to the FBI, where she, Travis, and Kristin assist on a case that’s eerily similar to the one Emma survived a few years prior. And they must once more rely on Simon’s insight to catch the killer before he hurts anyone else.

In conjunction with the book’s release, we were able to talk with Marney about expanding the story, focusing on victims and survivors, and more.

Note: This interview contains mentions of sexual violence.

Nerds & Beyond: First off, congratulations on Some Shall Break! It had me on the edge of my seat. It’s so, so good. What prompted you to pursue a sequel for None Shall Sleep? Was that initially your plan when you began the series?

Ellie Marney: Thank you so much! And yes, the None Shall Sleep Sequence was actually pitched as a series from the get-go, although you never know how these things are going to work out in publishing. 😊 I had half the manuscript for Some Shall Break ready to go by the time None Shall Sleep was released, and initially my publishers weren’t interested, so my plan was simply to finish Some Shall Break and release it chapter-by-chapter in my newsletter. But then None Shall Sleep hit the New York Times bestseller list, and suddenly plans changed!

Nerds & Beyond: Because this is a sequel, we get a lot more about the characters that a first book doesn’t quite offer. In the first book, we learn Emma is a survivor of a serial killer. This time around, we get much more of her story because of the case she and the others investigate. Why did you decide to withhold this case and Emma’s experience until the second book?

Ellie Marney: Yeah, I had a lot of feedback from people after None Shall Sleep, that they wanted more detail about what happened to Emma when she was 16 – but there was a reason I didn’t want to include those details in the first book. I just felt like it was pretty clear, from hints and suggestions planted throughout the first novel, that she’d been through something horrific, and considering we see so much sexual violence against women on the news (like, all the time!), it felt a bit prurient to disclose it all in None Shall Sleep. My priority with the series has always been to honor the characters, and it just didn’t seem like something that Emma would want to share straight up, you know? But with Some Shall Break, I wanted to give Emma the chance to confront what happened to her and learn how to recover — so dealing with a copycat killer, I knew that revealing more of her history would be both necessary and appropriate to the story.

Nerds & Beyond: One character I especially loved seeing more of was Kristin Gutmunsson. She’s so unique, and it was interesting to dig deeper into her psyche, especially with her and Simon’s relationship. What do you think makes Kristin such a compelling character? Why did you include her in the way you do for this book?

Ellie Marney: I think Kristin is compelling because she’s a human chameleon — her upbringing made her very sensitive to the feelings and conflicts of others, kind of like an emotional barometer. Now she kind of contorts herself to please people, which is a self-protective thing, but it means she changes shape and adapts herself constantly to those around her. It makes her personality very amorphous. And the fact that she was basically raised by a sociopath (her brother) means that as a character, she’s unpredictable — and we like unpredictable characters on the page!

Kristin is also interesting because of her relationship with Simon; their connection is basically Simon’s only real point of vulnerability. And it becomes more clear in Some Shall Break, that their relationship has tipped over into incestuous territory, which is a major red flag. In her own way, Kristin is just as unstable as her brother; she’s just a lot nicer and gentler, so people think she’s a sweetheart. But readers may discover, with Some Shall Break, that perhaps their first impression of her wasn’t completely accurate after all…

Nerds & Beyond: Speaking of Simon, I know you drew inspiration from NBC’s Hannibal, and Simon reminds me so much of Mads Mikkelsen’s version of Hannibal Lecter. But he also stands easily on his own. How did you approach peppering in familiar elements of characters like Hannibal while ensuring that Simon held singular qualities?

Ellie Marney: The most important thing that distinguishes Simon is his youth – he’s not a guy in his 40s, he’s still just a teenager. So it was really important to show Simon as still having teenage traits, such as the way he likes to show off his intelligence for Emma and flaunt his intellectual rigor, and basically be kind of attention-seeking — I guess we see a little more hubris in Simon than we see in Lecter. I’ve watched Hannibal (and loved it!) and also read Thomas Harris’s books, of course, and it was Harris’s depiction of Lecter that first drew me in. But it’s been well-documented that Harris constructed Lecter with hints of Dracula, to create menace. I didn’t want to ape that portrayal, so instead I reached for another comparison – the classical fairy prince. Like a fairy prince, Simon is cold, and capricious, and inhumanly beautiful, and cruel. He also loves music, and elegance, and courtesy – and he rarely lies (although he distracts and obfuscates a lot!). I had so much fun writing Simon!

Nerds & Beyond: With this book, Emma and Kristin have a greater awareness that they are both young women, and that they are often the only female presence amongst the FBI and the police departments. Why was it important for you to dig into that more specifically this time around, also considering the time period of the book?

Ellie Marney: It felt like Some Shall Break was a good opportunity for the characters to start unpacking some of this stuff, as part of the larger arc around Emma’s recovery, and confronting her old experiences, and as part of a greater understanding of the relationship between serial murder and sexual violence (and how it’s handled by the police). The killer in Some Shall Break is a man with twisted ideas about true love and marriage, who dresses his victims in wedding gowns. Emma – a survivor of sexual violence – is struggling with the idea that she may feel more for her partner, Travis Bell, than she is ready for. And Kristin is falling further into an incestuous attraction to her sociopathic twin brother…

The time period itself – 1982 – was obviously an era when women were still, legally and personally, fighting for their rights, and for bodily autonomy (Roe v. Wade had been decided less than a decade before). I just thought it was a great stage on which to play out and draw attention to these themes. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t something that’s gone away – even today, only about 1.3% of rape cases recorded by police result in charges, and two out of three don’t even get reported… Now with Roe v. Wade gone in the US, it seems like we still have a long way to go.

Nerds & Beyond: Something I admire about this book is how – while it’s not true crime per se – you always keep the victims and survivors like Emma at the forefront. I think with the intrigue surrounding true crime and serial killers, people sometimes forget about the victims. Why is it important to you to humanize these girls, whether they’re fictional or not? With Emma, how did you approach balancing the brutal parts of her experience and trauma with her drive to keep pushing forward?

Ellie Marney: Honestly, this has always been one of my primary concerns while writing the None Shall Sleep Sequence – I’ve consistently tried to show, in the books, how a survivor can take back agency and control the narrative. As a culture, we’re kind of really obsessed with the serial killers, like Bundy and Dahmer and Manson; we find them fascinating because their mindset is so alien to most of us. But it does bug me that the victims/survivors are routinely ignored. Like every other media consumer, I’ve noticed how often murdered or traumatized women form the basis for a plot engine, usually as a way to propel the hero (often a guy) into action. I really wanted to do the opposite of that. I wanted the hero to be the survivor and see how a traumatized survivor would change the course of the story.

In order to center a survivor’s experience, you have to show them as human, with human frailties and strengths. In Emma’s case, her drive to solve the case and get justice for other victims and rescue other survivors is an essential part of her nature. But I also had to be honest and show what recovery from sexual violence is really like; the processes of it, the coping strategies that Emma relies on to get by – like her therapist, and her personal rituals and calming techniques, and sometimes medication – plus the fact that sometimes it just all gets overwhelming. I had the advice of a specialist trauma therapist when depicting scenes like this from Emma’s perspective, for which I was really grateful.

Nerds & Beyond: Pivoting a bit, I have to ask about the ending, which leaves some tantalizing threads open for a third book. Without spoilers, do you have an idea of where you would take the story in a potential threequel? What sort of character dynamics would you be interested in exploring further?

Ellie Marney: Whoo, it’s hard to talk about Book 3 without spoilers! But I can say that I’ve already started writing it – I’m about 100 pages in, right now. I just hope my publisher is keen! All I can tell you is that the scope of Book 3 is a little bigger, and that there are some scenes set in other countries, and that things are really going to come down to the wire … Nope, that’s all I can say!

Nerds & Beyond: What are some of your biggest hopes for this book?

Ellie Marney: I guess my biggest hope for Some Shall Break is that readers will pick it up and love it just as much as they loved None Shall Sleep. That book was a genuine sleeper hit – it came out small, and then built and built. But now that people are familiar with the world of the story, and have kind of fallen for the characters, I hope they like the direction I’m taking it all in. I’d also like readers to get a little glimpse into the worldview of a survivor – and maybe understand it better. If any readers out there have survived sexual violence, and find hope and strength in this book, that will absolutely be the biggest compliment I could ever receive.

Nerds & Beyond: What are you most proud of with Some Shall Break?

Ellie Marney: The readers, not gonna lie. People connect with me on socials or get in touch to say how much they loved the books – that is amazing. It was reader interest that propelled None Shall Sleep to the New York Times list, which encouraged my publisher to release Some Shall Break – without readers, this second book really would not exist. I’m proud and grateful every day. So big shoutout to the readers! Without you, I’d be nowhere. ♥

Some Shall Break is available now online and in stores. Read our review here.

Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.

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