What Lies Beneath: A Memoir

Represented by:
Diana Tyler


Otago University Press

Publication date:
January 1st 2017

Foreign rights controlled by:

Elspeth Sandys was born during the Second World War, the result of a brief encounter between two people who would never meet again. The first nine months of her life were spent in the Truby King Karitane Hospital in Dunedin, where she was known by her birth name, Frances Hilton James. This would change with her adoption into the Somerville family. A new birth certificate was issued and Frances James became Elspeth Sandilands Somerville. Tom and Alice Somerville, Elspeth’s new parents, lived with their son John in Dunedin’s Andersons Bay. While Elspeth was happy among the ebullient and welcoming Somerville clan, she had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother, who was frequently hospitalised with mental health problems. Elspeth’s search for her birth parents did not begin until much later in her adult life. What she discovered after an exhaustive search provided answers that were both disturbing and, ultimately, rewarding. What Lies Beneath is a searing, amusing, and never less than gripping tale of a difficult life, beautifully told.


‘Has the immediacy and intimacy of good fiction… a book of pleasing mixtures, close ups and long shots, the personal set against the public.’ David Hill. Book notes

‘Written with lean elegance and taut energy… Highly recommended. Christopher Moore. Listener

‘Carefully considered and crafted prose, without high drama, sentiment or rancour… Many of the “grand challenges” of human relationships are addressed with sensitive and profound insight.’ Willie Campbell. Otago Daily Times

‘Sandys is an attentive, lucid, modest writer…, She has been an observer or participant in some of the most significant moments and movements of New Zealand writing. She has recorded our culture, aspirations, identity. Lets hope there’ll be another memoir to supplement this eloquent story.’ David Hill. NZ Herald