How did you come to write your first novel and get it published?
I had the idea for Come Back to Me while I was on holiday in Perth back in 2003. I saw a very small article in the West Australian, and it grabbed my attention because there was so little space devoted to what was, for the people involved, a catastrophic event. So I began to develop that, and also combined it with another aim, which was to tell the story of a genuine love triangle without any bad guys. I worked on it for four years, took a couple of months’ break from editing to get it finished in 2007, then was thrilled when Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown agreed to become my agent. Together we did a rigorous edit on the book before we even approached publishers, and then we sent it out under a pseudonym, so that people who knew my name as a book editor would have a better chance of reading it ‘fresh’. I was over the moon when various publishers took an interest, and we finally signed the deal with Random House at the end of 2008.
You have written: “There are many things I love about writing: the constant sense of discovery; the never-ending challenge to redefine and improve the crafting of a novel; the chance to study life deeply in order to tell the stories that fire my imagination.” What is the key to studying life deeply for your stories?
That’s a great question! I think I try to take an interest in everything that’s going on around me. I might not be directly absorbed in a certain topic, but I still find it fascinating to discover what other people are passionate about, or frightened by, and I am really interested in the psychology of it all, and just how much there is to learn about the world when you begin to engage with different topics.
You are described on your website as a mystery suspense author, how would you describe your approach to mystery suspense fiction?
When I am writing my books I am always looking for another twist, another fork in the road that people might not see coming. Mapping out a story is a slow process, and I combine the mechanics of building up the plot with as much spontaneous creative writing as possible. I have learned now that I might write in excess of 180,000 words for a 90,000 word novel, and that is not a bad thing. For me, it’s not about trying to get it right first time, it’s about getting my ideas down and then enhancing them as much as possible. Some passages get worked on and pulled apart until I’m tearing my hair out, while others remain virtually unchanged from the first time I write them.
What can people look forward to in your latest novel, Beneath the Shadows?
Beneath the Shadows is the story of Grace, who finds herself living in isolation on the North Yorkshire moors after her husband Adam vanishes in the area. She is desperate to discover what happened to him, but the landscape is hostile, the locals are suspicious, and she has to confront some disturbing local legends, and her own insidious fears in her search for the truth. It is full of pace and twists and turns, but I have also tried to enrich it with plenty of local folklore and gothic symbolism, including incorporating one of my favourite gothic novels, Rebecca, into the text.
In what ways was writing your second novel, Beneath the Shadows, easier or more difficult than writing your first novel, Come Back to Me?
In many ways Beneath the Shadows was more of a challenge than Come Back to Me, because I was working to a strict deadline, and I couldn’t help but be aware that there was now a sense of expectation about my writing. Plus I also had a small baby to look after! In publishing it is well known that writers often struggle with their second book due to these kinds of pressures. But I was fortunate in that I already had a well-developed idea, because I’d begun writing Beneath the Shadows before Come Back to Me took over.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
If you had asked me that a few years ago I would have replied lots of action thrillers, as I went through a phase where I read nothing else. I think it was because I needed some fast-moving, action-packed books to absorb me when I’d been editing all day, as editing is a very slow process. But at the moment I’m loving mystery and more psychological/family/relationship-based dramas. The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton is one of my recent favourites. It is the kind of book I would love to write, and I really admired how she held it all together, and all the historical detail that went into the story. The Distant Hours is on my bedside table, waiting to be read, as is Room by Emma Donaghue. I’m currently reading Delirium by Lauren Oliver and I’m already hooked – it reminds me of how gripped I was by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood when I was in my teens.
Who is one of your favourite characters from fiction and what makes them stand out for you?
Bridget Jones springs to mind – because she lightened me up and made me laugh at myself and my angst in my twenties, by letting me laugh at her a lot.
You worked as an editor before your novel Come Back to Me was published. In what ways did that prepare you for writing fiction?
Writing my first drafts is always a very spontaneous, fluid process, but, once I have got that far, my editing experience has been invaluable in helping me work out how to shape and refine my stories. It has enabled me to look objectively and critically at my work, and sometimes allowed me to make drastic changes without feeling too defeated. I have seen lots of books in their unedited state, and so I know that this is a process every writer goes through. Therefore, I don’t feel too worried or threatened by it – so far, at least! However, I do find editing brings out the perfectionist in me, which can drive me a bit crazy at times.
In a recent interview you said you are working on “a love story by the sea, with a woman who has a mysterious past.” Can you tell us any more about that?
That’s my plan, but it’s all in my head at the moment as I have no time to write! This book will be about a couple who are deeply in love, but the woman’s deep passion for the sea, and her experiences as a child, will lead her to make a decision with devastating consequences for them both. It’s very exciting to be thinking about writing a brand-new story, and I cannot wait to get started.
The Australian Literature Review