1. How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing since an early age. When I was little, if I loved a book, I’d try to write something similar. I think I wanted to try to capture that immersion you have in a good story, but to go even deeper, and be able to create and explore a fictional world on my own. I wrote little pastiches of Enid Blyton and Christopher Pike and later on spent my school holidays writing novels. That then morphed into writing plays at university and then, in my 20s I came back to novel writing.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel
I’ve always loved reading crime and mystery fiction and I wanted to write something I would enjoy reading, and that I would probably enjoy returning to time after time, as I knew it was going to be a long slog trying to get published. I also wanted my first novel to have a structure I could easily fall back on if I got lost. I think it really helped while learning to write. I find structure and pacing quite challenging and so having a precedent for the shape of the novel – as one has in crime fiction – gave me a steady framework in which I could let my imagination run riot.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I have very eclectic taste in books, and I’m not sure who has influenced my style and who I just love, but here goes: Angela Carter, Agatha Christie, Anais Nin, Jed Rubenfeld, Sarah Waters. I love Liz Lochhead’s plays, and The Hourglass Factory started out as a very surreal historical-modern play inspired by Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (it changed a lot after that!). I’ve also been greatly inspired by my Scottish Book Trust mentor Linda Cracknell’s work particularly when learning to write short fiction, and similarly by Ian Rankin. His short stories are brilliant – how much development and intrigue they pack into such a small number of words. It was massive for me earlier this year when he tweeted about The Hourglass Factory!
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
As it turned out The Hourglass Factory got snapped up in a pre-empt within days of being sent to my publisher. However before then it was difficult to get an agent, and even after getting an agent’s interest it took a long time and a lot of rewrites before it was sent to my (now) editor. The whole thing took about 5 years between writing the first draft and signing the deal. In between I won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, which helped hugely, and began to get short stories published in various magazines.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I loved writing Twinkle in The Hourglass Factory. Sometimes I was gobsmacked by what came out of her mouth and other times I felt she could be very wise. She seemed when I was writing her to have free will, and that was a great feeling to write with. In the Amber Shadows I love Piotr, but I won’t say why or what his role is because that would involve spoilers.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel
Different kinds, depending on what I’m studying and what mood I’m in! Visiting museums, looking at ephemera, old catalogues and magazines, reading novels from the period, secondary sources – history textbooks – and of course newspapers are fabulous resources, not just for their news stories but for the adverts. For both novels I visited the National Archives in Kew, which, if you’re a nosey parker like me, is just heaven. Seeing letters, reports and diaries gives you a hugely privileged peek into how people’s everyday working lives ran, and into the obstacles they had to deal with. They do say truth is stranger than fiction…
7. Are the characters in your book based on any real life?
Goodness that would be telling! Some of The Hourglass Factory figures are based on historical figures, and of course there’s Emmeline Pankhurst in there. Usually I can trace a loose thread back to some sort of reality but it’s very distanced from the truth. For instance Twinkle was very loosely inspired by Catherine Walters – or rather how I imagine she might have been in later years. When I was writing Honey in The Amber Shadows, I always saw her as being very like Joan Fontaine in Suspicion and Rebecca – her mannerisms, her voice…especially in the colour-tinted version of Suspicion where she has red hair.
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Crime Fiction Novels out there
I think there are many wonderful crime novels out there and I don’t know if mine stand out, but I suppose what makes every novel unique is the author’s imagination, and what fuel they have given it to feed on – (see eclectic and random list of authors I love above)
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
I try not to, but yes, inevitably sometimes. I think there has to be some of you in all of your characters, as that’s what makes them feel real.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
Ahh I am superstitious about this so nope, sorry. Only my agent and my editor have the secrets!
11. As you have written a historical crime novel, do you have a favourite decade and why
I wish I did. It would make life a lot easier. I keep jumping around and having to start from scratch with research. Generally I’m drawn to periods of excess – there’s something intoxicating and grotesque about them. I found it very hard to get inside the 1940s, because of the rationing and the austerity, until a friend said to me, ‘yes but people were emotionally extravagant then.’ That unlocked the whole of the Amber Shadows story for me, the emotional extravagance of wanting to believe in something and the indulgence of letting yourself believe it.
12. As a well known crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
I don’t know about being well known but I can try. I think it’s nice to enjoy what you read and what you write. There are some writers who try very hard to be brilliant or clever. I would prefer it if people are moved or thrilled, kept in suspense or delighted (even in a macabre way) by my work – at least to have an emotional response to the story, because that’s how I respond to my favourite books. I guess the advice connected to that is to write what you like to read.
OUT 7TH APRIL
In a place where everyone is keeping secrets all the time, how do you know who you can trust?
A brilliant novel of lies and intrigue at Bletchley Park by the author of the bestselling debut The Hourglass Factory.
Perfect for all fans of The Imitation Game.
On a delayed train, deep in the English countryside, two strangers meet. It is 1942 and they are both men of fighting age, though neither is in uniform. As strangers do in these days of war, they pass the time by sharing their stories. But walls have ears and careless talk costs lives…At Bletchley Park, Honey Deschamps spends her days at a type-x machine in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army. One winter’s night, as she walks home in the blackout, she meets a stranger in the shadows. He tells her his name is Felix, and he has a package for her. The parcel, containing a small piece of amber, postmarked from Russia and branded with two censor’s stamps, is just the first of several. Someone is trying to get a message to her but who? As a dangerous web weaves ever tighter around her, can Honey uncover who is sending these mysterious packages and why before it’s too late…?
The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret
Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?
From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…
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