Hello my fellow bookworms and page turners, in this post I will be covering both Panel Eight of the Literary festival, which was moderated by my good friend Stephanie Cox.
Due to the sheer amount of information and chatter that you would expect in a open event such as this, all questions, where sent 24 hours in advance and where typed into the comment section for the present authors to answer in real time. In this post I will be documenting some of the questions within all the individual authors of panel 8 Q&A’s.
Panel 8 – Skeletons in the closet : Tammy Cohen | Julia Crouch | Amanda Jennings | Sarah Ward
Q: Celeste Ni Raois : I have your book The Long Fall on my TBR pile but have you always wanted to write crime & can you tell me do you think reviews are so important to you as an author?
A: I’m glad TLF is the TBR! I have always loved reading crime, and when I was a kid, my favourite books other than Black Beauty and The Secret Garden were the Pan Books of Horror, so I guess I’ve always had a dark side. But when I started writing in my early forties – the novel that turned out to be Cuckoo – I thought I was writing, I don’t know, literary fiction. I was just writing the book I wanted to write. My agent told me it was crime and, since then, I have continued in that vein.
Q: Jeremy Newman : I heard an interview with the “Buddha of Suburbia” writer the other day, in which he brazenly admitted that he was writing about himself and his family, more or less unfiltered. It’s a common question of course but… did you? Push, that is..
A: Jeremy! I think Hanif is a little less filtered than me, but all writers, to some degree, write themselves and their lives into their work, however much we disguise it with character or setting or plot. We are magpies, picking up on this and that from everywhere and putting it through a blender. My second book, The Long Fall, is about a family who go to upstate New York for a summer while the actor father does a gig in summer stock theatre. Every other summer for a decade we did exactly that. But everything else is made up, or picked up from other places. Honest… Of course, I also used direct liftings from my teenage diaries for The Long Fall, when I travelled around Europe on my own. It was one of the most intense periods of my life, and I have always wanted to use it in something…
Q: William Shaw : Which book did you enjoy writing the most? Cuckoo, because it was your first?
A: It’s hard to say. It’s like choosing your favourite child. Each one is equally thrilling and scary to write. Perhaps the first, because I had no idea I was even going to show it to anyone else, let alone seek publication, was the most enjoyable because it was the least pressured. One a year can be quite hard work. But, compared to most other jobs I have done, it is a complete joy! One thing, though, it never gets any easier – some things, yes, you get more used to, but each book is like starting at the bottom of a mountain again.
Q: do you think your theatre background has influence how you write novels?
A: yes. I used to make plays by devising with actors. So I’d turn up to the rehearsal room with a premise and the actors would riff on it with impro, and I’d take notes or record, then write it all up in the evenings, then spend a week about half way in structuring. That’s almost exactly how I write my novels – except the actors are just the voices in my head…. And of course, you develop an ear for dialogue doing all that. But plays are far more restrictive in terms of structure. You can do anything you like with a novel!
Q: On the genre topic, The Long Fall is undoubtably Crime, with the most sinister one of the three brewing on the page – but no cops, wigs or courtrooms! Refreshing.
A: I don’t really do cops or courtrooms, because other people do them so well, and I’m more interested in the dynamics in families and relationships that lead up to crime – the whydunnit rather than the whodunnit. However, my current novel has an inquest scene in it, so I have spent a bit of author time lurking in court, which has been a complete eye opener. Having said that, the scene is less about the process and the whos and whys and more about the woman who comes clattering down the steps in Manolos and Dior.
Q: The Book Trail : Have your reviews of crime fiction and role as a Petrona judge given you more inspiration and an insight into when it came to writing your own?
A: I’m not sure if reviewing has helped my writing except to make me aware of everything that is out there. You’re aware that there is so much good writing and you want to live up to that. Being a Petrona judge is slightly more personal because I love Scandinavian crime fiction. But as a writer you do strive to be original in what you write. Great question BTW!
Q: In Bitter Chill has had a great response – congratulations! Although it’s your debut you’ve been very involved in the book world for a while now, but did the process of publication hold surprises for you? And if so, what were they?
A: Thank you! I think it’s different being on the other side of the publishing world. I was surprised how little I knew about actually getting a book published and the timescales etc. I’m a bit more on top of things now for the second book. In terms of surprises, I suppose I expected major edits of my book and that didn’t happen either in the UK or US. I’m happy about this!
Q: Daniel Pembrey : loved In Bitter Chill (congrats on being in the Sunday Express, by the way!) … what can you share at this point about book 2?
A: I’m so pleased you liked In Bitter Chill. The next book is set in the spring in Derbyshire so things are slightly warmer. It has the same police characters as my first book but a new female protagonist. I actually loved writing it and have just delivered it to my publisher. I decided not to stress too much about the second book and just go for it!
Q: Nordic Noir: I wonder after reading the book review if your novel this morning if lack of melodrama is a key identifier in the nordic noir genre or in scandi writing in general?
A: It’s an interesting point, isn’t it? I think that some Scandi books are quite melodramatic and the endings in particular can be quite gung-ho. I suppose it depends on the author. However, i do think that Scandinavian crime fiction can be read at a slower pace in some instances and there is an emphasis on characterisation and descriptive narrative.
Q: apart from the male/female ratio in your reading, do you have any idea what the English/Translated ratio might be, considering you’re a Petrona judge? And has all that foreign stuff rubbed off on you?
A: I think my English/translated is around 50:50 but I don’t just read Scandi also French, Italian, Greek. I try to read one English and then one translated book just to get some variety. Interestingly, I now read much less US crime fiction and, at one point, that was my reading staple (Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton etc) Has reading translated stuff rubbed off on me? Of course! All my reading has…
Q: Helen Giltrow: I loved The Broken – while also wanting to scream with frustration at the characters! (In a good way.) They seemed very real to me… How much do you rely on observation for your characters, and how much on invention?
A: With me it’s all observation, but the way it’s pieced together is invention, if that makes any sense. What I mean is I take little bits from people I know or meet, and then fit them together with other little bits from other people and form whole new people!
Q: Helen Giltrow: So what comes first for you? Characters or situation / setup / plot? (Or is it a bit of both?)
A: It’s always the situation to start with. That big ‘what if’ question that kickstarts the whole thing. But as soon as I start writing and the characters develop, they drive the story in directions I probably didn’t even imagine at the beginning.
Q: Book Talk : you write about a difficult subject. How tricky was the research and the emotional side of writing it?
A: Yes, you’re right the subject was very difficult, and quite traumatic to write about. I did a lot of online research, but I also drew on interviews I’d done as a journalist (I wrote for papers and magazines for twenty years) with parents and victims and experts, which all helped. But yes, it did make for a few sleepless nights.
Q: Helen Giltrow : Given the popularity of psychological crime among readers, why do you think we’re not seeing more of it on TV? (I think your stuff would adapt brilliantly, btw.)
A: I also think my books would make great TV (hint, hint – anyone?). I think TV tends to go in phases, doesn’t it, at the moment it’s all about recurring characters and police procedural, but I’m sure the two-part psychological thriller will come back. I used to love those Sunday/Monday night two-parters.
Q: Teresa Nikolic : The Broken was the first book I read of yours and I loved it, I’ve also recently read First One Missing which I loved too. How do you decide on characters names, is it from people you know or do you just fit them to their personality?
A: You’ve been looking at my author page haven’t you! As you may know I’ve had a couple of friends called Helen and Sally point out that Helens and Sally’s have a hard time in my books. The truth is I don’t really think that much about names when I’m writing a first draft. I choose the first one that seems to fit and think ‘I’ll change that at a later stage’ but often by the time I get to that later stage, the character has become lodged in my mind with that name to the extent that it would be really traumatic to change it!
Q: Celeste Ni Raois: have you always wanted to write crime & can you tell me do you think reviews are so important to you as an author?
A: How lovely of you to come and say hi and welcome. *hands you a virtual brownie as a prize for asking the first question*. So the first part of your question is fairly straight forward. I started writing what felt right and soon realised that past crimes and their effects on relationships and emotions was what fired me. About a year and a half ago, I thought it might be quite lovely to write a romance. By the time I’d written ten pages or so I was itching to kill someone. I think that was enough of a clue that trauma and emotional fallout is where I’m happiest. At least on the written page! in answer to your second question (here, have another brownie smile emoticon ) reviews are something you have to get used to. They go with the territory. There is no greater feeling (with my writer’s hat on) than getting a wonderful, insightful review from a reader who ‘gets’ the book. It feels like a proper connection has been made and I feel a real rush of emotion and warmth. Bad reviews aren’t so lovely but there’s no point in beaching a writer, if you can’t take the bed with the good. You can’t please all the people all of the time, and I keep that in the forefront of my thoughts. If I’ve had a bad review – and it’s hurt (generally because the reviewer has a point!) – then I will go and read a few of the bad reviews on books I love, perhaps To Kill A Mockingbird or The Book Thief, and remind myself that even those books I think are near perfection have their critics.
Q: Daniel Pembrey : Hi Amanda, I loved The Judas Scar, what are you working on next?
A: Firstly, thank you. *hands you a virtual brownie* *worries I’m going to run out of virtual brownies soon*. Secondly, I have, to my great pleasure, just signed a deal with the most fantastic publisher, Orenda Books (whose editor, Karen Sullivan, is quite the most passionate and enthusiastic person I’ve encounter in the book trade) who will publish my third book – In Her Wake – in Spring next year. It’s a dark, domestic thriller, telling the story of one woman’s self-discovery, when a family tragedy reveals shocking news that changes her life forever. It’s set against the rugged coast of Cornwall, around St Ives and Zennor, a place my mother’s family has lived near for generations, and somewhere I feel very close to. I’ve just seen the first ideas for the cover and I am over the moon with it. The final edits are in soon and I’m looking forward to reading Karen’s thoughts. I find the editing process incredibly exciting.
….. Note to self. Keep it brief, Jennings…
Q: Nicole Keegan : I was wondering do you plan your plots in advance, or do you start with just an initial idea and see where it leads you?
A: I tend to start with a premise and a few key scenes which are very clear in my head. These act as sort of markers, holding the plot roughly together. Then, for me, it’s all about character. Spending time getting to know their inner workings, filling out their backstories, clarifying their motivations, their drives, what makes them tick, and then knitting the story together by moving from key scene to key scene. I am a big rewriter. I will write a first draft, as quickly as possible, and then I will print it off in hard copy and begin making notes. I’ll develop themes, then concentrate them, use my characters to illustrate those themes, and also their personalities and backstories to make changes to the plot. I will do a good few rewrites, usually around six or seven, each time tightening and polishing, until (hopefully!!) the characters’ motivations and the narrative work in some sort of harmony! My edit notes are a muddle of crossings out, arrows, asterisks, inserted notes, and general musings, that I fear demonstrate a very chaotic mind!!
Q: Helen Smith : Was there a real life story behind The Judas Scar? If so, can you tell us about it?
A: well the initial inspiration came from a phone call my husband received whilst at work. A police officer called him and as she was introducing herself he stopped her and asked: Is this to do with my old school. She replied: Yes, it is. How did you know? He told her he had been expecting the phone call for twenty years. He had been to a famous choir school, a boarding school. And the police officer was investigating historic child abuse at the hands of two of the teachers. My husband wasn’t directly affected but he had to act as witness for the prosecution on behalf of a number of men who had been abused as boys. What struck me was how he was affected by the uncovering of the past which he had tried to forget. The Skeleton in the Closet, if you like. He became obsessed with what had happened to these boys, if they had managed to get over their experiences, if they had forged new lives, if they had managed, in essence, to make a life for themselves despite their horrifying pasts. It was so moving to watch him struggling with all these emotions that welled up. We have been together since we were 19 and though he had told me that period of his life wasn’t the happiest, I had no idea about the details. He said that even though he didn’t know exact what was happening to his peers, he knew something was happening and he knew it wasn’t good. He was eight years old when he went to the school. frown emoticon
Q: what’s your next book about? Glad you are teaming up with Orenda.
A: I am over the moon to be with Orenda. It feels like such an exciting move, vibrant and positive and I cannot wait to start working with Karen on the book. In Her Wake is set in Cornwall, it’s a dark look at identity and the effects of past crimes on the lives of people years later. This seems to be a recurring theme for me now. I am fascinated by the idea that each of us is a complex tapestry of our past experiences, and that no one experience can be extricated from our characters. Even if we put coping mechanisms in place, we will always be aware of our ‘skeletons in the closet’. In the case of my next book, my protagonist has no idea of her true past until it is revealed to her. She has a lot to come to terms with and get her head around. It’s also set against a very dramatic Cornish backdrop, and I adored writing those passages that evoke this special place. I’m half Cornish and very proud of that! (I also love a good pasty and a dollop of clotted cream. Though perhaps not together…
that just about wraps up my highlights of Panel Eight if you wish to read the full panel convocations you can view them here on facebook
Until next time, read more books