The wonderful writer Susan Elliot Wright, (a fellow Simon and Schuster author) kindly invited me to be involved in this blog tour. You can find her honest account of the writing process, and read about her fascination with nature versus nurture, family, and mental health, at www.susanelliotwright.co.uk.
I love Susan’s writing. Her book ‘The Things we Never Said’ is an elegantly written novel that explores our changing attitudes to mental illness, how far we are influenced by our parents, and the subtle conflicts within families. Subjects all close to my heart. I highly recommend it and look forward to her next, ‘The Secrets we Left Behind’ coming out in May 2014.
Now to answer the blog questions…
1) What are you working on?
I am working on my fourth novel, another ‘domestic noir’ thriller.
The novel opens when Beth, a mother, is late for school pick up, and to her dismay and mounting terror discovers her foster son Jayden has disappeared. To make matters worse, Beth has to lie about where she has been that afternoon, even while she is desperate to find the boy, because she was with her lover, and this confession will put a stop to any chance of her adopting Jayden officially- if and when she finds him- something she has been longing and planning to do for years.
I wanted to explore the idea of doing bad in order to do good, and how in a quest to achieve something we find highly desirable we may be tempted to go off course and do morally questionable things, and how others may judge these decisions, when they don’t know the whole story behind them.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Often the tension in a psychological thriller comes from the knowledge that someone is under threat or danger. The reader is made to question how the victim is going to get away. We often, but not always, know where the danger is coming from. (I’m thinking of Nicci French, SJ Watson, and others.)
If my work does differ, it is in that I like to write from the point of view of the perpetrator- an ordinary person (who could be you or I!) who is tempted, through a situation or obsession, to do unwise or even dangerous things. I like to write about temptation, crossing lines, obsession and where it leads rather than about victim versus predator. I hope to evoke a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ reaction!
3) Why do I write what I do?
I am a worrier, and so I often find myself imagining situations in which something small spirals out of control. For example my third novel, ‘Don’t Look Back’ (out Aug 2014) is about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the idea she has caused a hit and run, even though the evidence suggests she couldn’t have done. She can’t leave the fear alone and so inadvertently walks into a much more dangerous situation.
This idea came from a hit and run incident I heard about on the local radio. I was wondering how anyone could drive off after running someone over like that, and then I thought but perhaps they didn’t know they had hit someone! But if this were the case, it might have been anyone who did it (anyone who had been on that road at that time)….even me! I had to stop myself going any further with that thought. The woman in my book, however, does go further, and further, seeking out the victim of the accident and becoming dangerously entangled with him and with the web of lies she finds herself weaving.
4) How does your writing process work?
I usually begin with a premise, something that is worrying or bothering me, – and then I invent a character for whom this obsession is going to get out of control.
It is very important to me to find the right voice, and that can take some time. I might try different voices, before settling on the one I’m going to use. Once I have got that, and can hear the character speaking I can really begin the writing.
I tend to write in the first person, but in Tideline some sections were written in the third person as well. My new novel is mostly in the first person from the mother’s viewpoint but I am writing some parts from the boy’s point of view in the close third person. The Darkening Hour (about a woman and the domestic worker who comes to care for her father) was written in two first person voices with interchanging points of view which was quite complicated to do. I had to make sure I wasn’t just repeating the same scene from different perspectives, and ensure the narrative moved on. I also had to decide who was reliable and who the unreliable narrator.
I like to have a strong sense of place and so far have set all my novels on or near the Thames in South East London where I grew up. It is an incredibly atmospheric area, with the tidal river constantly shifting and changing, old barges moored on the water, and things washed up on the shore. It has strong associations that provide fertile fodder for my imagination. So I go down there and walk about and research quite a lot in order to know where my characters live, where they eat, shop, meet their lovers and so on.
I write in scenes, trying not to worry too much about the finer details of the plot in my first draft, because I believe (or hope!) these will usually reveal themselves in the second or third drafts when I’ve got to know my characters thoroughly, and can see where they are going to make those disastrous wrong forks in the road.
Thank you for reading this blog on the process, I hope it was of some help.
Next week on the blog tour you will be able to meet the talented Cambridge and East Anglian based crime writers, Kate Rhodes Alison Bruce and Ruth Dugdall.
Kate Rhodes is a poet turned crime writer. Her Alice Quentin series is published by Mulholland and focuses on the work of a London-based forensic psychologist, whose private life is as complex as the cases she solves.
Alison Bruce is the author of the DC Goodhew novels, a crime series all based in Cambridge
Ruth Dugdall is a crime writer, whose novels include Debut Dagger winning THE WOMAN BEFORE ME and THE SACRIFICIAL MAN. Her novels are published internationally, and are inspired by her previous career as a probation officer.