Character study

Ali Land on Milly: "I want readers to inhabit the mind of a damaged teenager"

Milly is a girl with a troubled past. But although she may be hard to love, it is love that she needs more than anything in order to move beyond her dark family history, writes Ali Land


The idea for Milly, the main character in Good Me, Bad Me, began to emerge during my time as a children’s mental health nurse. One conversation in particular - one that I had with a teenage girl - never left me.

She was trapped in a devastating and escalating pattern of self-harm and, in a breakthrough moment, was able to tell me that the reason she loathed herself and wanted to end her life was that she was convinced she would turn out like her mother, who had been involved in the serious harm of children.

In addition to that, I witnessed young people taking on traits of parents who had been absent from their lives for years. The idea of how it felt for those young people to live with a parental legacy of evil, or a genetic imprint that might lead them astray, left me feeling haunted.

It wasn’t until I gave up nursing that I found the psychological energy to breathe life into Milly. I spent hours in creative solitude filtering the voices I was hearing, listening to music that opened up the darker channels in my mind, and revisiting scrapbooks I’d kept during my university years as a way of coping with the things I was seeing and hearing whilst beginning to work in mental health.

I knew before I put pen to paper that I would write in first person. I wanted the reader to inhabit the mind, the body, the very essence of an acutely damaged young person, and I didn’t want there to be any opportunity of relief for the reader by having other voices in the book.


I had to delve deep into the darkest parts
of my imagination, and cried often


Authentically inhabiting the mind of a potentially psychopathic teenager was a disturbing and intense process. I had to delve deep into the darkest parts of my imagination and cried often during the writing of Good Me Bad Me, yet overall it was a cathartic experience and I view it as an extension of my nursing, a way of provoking discussion around how to care for children like Milly, and letting the young people know that I’ll never forget the conversations we shared.

I got very used to having Milly in my life. I could hear and see her like any other person, but after I finished writing the book her voice became quieter and quieter, as if somehow she’s found a more peaceful place to exist now that her story has been told.

Whilst she might be compelling to read, creating a character as dark and raw as Milly has its own risks. Readers can very quickly decide that there’s no hope for a character like her, which is why it was important that I used the toxicity of the foster family she was placed in as a tool to buffer those thoughts. To prompt the reader to ask: But what if she’d been in a different environment?

It isn’t that there’s a right or wrong way to view a character like Milly - how can there be, when she barely knows herself, and is continually shape-shifting and evolving, and the reader is also being tossed back and forth in her psyche? It was my intention for readers to feel disturbed and gripped but, after being released from Milly’s mind, once the thrilling element of the book subsides, I also wanted them to think about the fact that young people like Milly do exist, and that no matter how uncomfortable a thought it is, compassion must be shown towards them, these children doing the best they can.

And after all, the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.  

Find out more about the author

Good Me Bad Me

Ali Land

SET TO BE ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY, CONTROVERSIAL AND EXPLOSIVE DEBUTS OF 2017 - for fans of quality psychological suspense and reading group fiction: once you read this book you'll want to talk about it.


Annie's mother is a serial killer.

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me.

She is, after all, her mother's daughter...

Translated into over 20 languages, Good Me Bad Me is a tour de force. In its narrator, Milly Barnes, we have a voice to be reckoned with, and in its author, Ali Land, an extraordinary new talent.

Praise for Good Me Bad Me

'Original and compelling - what a sensational debut!' Clare Mackintosh, number one bestselling author of I See You and I Let You Go

'An astoundingly compelling thriller. Beyond tense. You hardly breathe. Best read in ages' Matt Haig

'I absolutely loved it and read it in less than a day. A proper page turner and brilliantly written' Edith Bowman

'This book is a work of twisted genius. It is going to be HUGE. Watch out for Ali Land' Bryony Gordon

'Ten pages into Good Me Bad Me, I became an Ali Land fan. Her beautiful, intimate voice immediately tugged me into the heart and mind of a serial killer's daughter and then wouldn't let go. Is there hope for this teenager's new life outside of her mother's horror? Original, intense, and utterly compelling, Good Me Bad Me is not just a terrific thriller but a psychological dive into a young girl's soul. It takes subtlety and perfect balance to maintain a dark tale like this, and Land never once stutters or makes you look away' Julia Heaberlin, author of Sunday Times bestseller Black-Eyed Susans

'A triumph of tension. I doubt I'll ever sleep again' Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of R&J bestseller The Last Act of Love

'Intelligent and disturbing, Good Me Bad Me had me hooked from the first page' Debbie Howells, author of Richard & Judy book club bestseller The Bones of You

Milly's voice is gripping and shocking. This is a book you will want to discuss with everyone you know' Claire Douglas, author of The Sisters and Local Girl Missing

'Good Me Bad Me is a novel that explodes off the page, with beautifully drawn characters and carefully executed pace. Heart rending, engrossing and ultimately terrifying, you'll be thinking about it a long time after you've turned the final page' Rowan Coleman, author of R&J bestseller The Memory Book

'Unbelievably good, utterly gripping' Jill Mansell

'Listen to the early praise for Ali Land's Good Me Bad Me because it's all true. It's dark, utterly gripping, brilliant'David Headley, Goldsboro Books

'I read this book in one compulsive gulp over two days and absolutely loved it. It's raw, superbly controlled and it chills to the bone' Richard Skinner

'You know from the first page you're in confident hands. A genuinely disturbing debut that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Good Me Bad Me is going to be huge - and it deserves to be' Catherine Ryan Howard

'The best crime debut I've read in ages. Creepy, edgy and addictively twisted. I loved it' Sarah Hilary

'Ali Land's Good Me Bad Me is an intensely compelling exploration of nature versus nurture wrapped up in a page-turning psychological thriller. Darkly disturbing and beautifully written. What more could any reader want?' Sarah Pinborough

'Good Me Bad Me is an astonishing debut - technically sophisticated and emotionally heart wrenching. So many things are done well - the status jungle of girls school, the psychological dissonance of a dysfunctional family, the internal machinery of damaged children. I thought it was wonderful' Helen Callaghan, bestselling author of Dear Amy

'One word: Wow. What a brilliant book - believable, shocking, thought-provoking and utterly compelling. The writing, as well as being so pacey, is beautiful. This feels such a current and original book' T R Richmond,author of What She Left

'Good Me Bad Me is a compelling page-turner. Chilling and dark, it grips you and won't let go' Rebecca Done, author of The Secret We're Keeping

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