How and why did you get into writing?
I’ve always wanted to write. When I was little, I used to entertain my younger brother and sister with made-up stories. Despite loving writing, I didn’t believe ‘author’ was a viable career choice. I knew I needed to earn a living, so I went into journalism. I was a health and beauty editor in magazines, worked as a freelance journalist, script editor and copy writer, had four children, and did a second degree at Cambridge in English Literature, before I eventually wrote my first novel.
Tell us a bit about your writing process?
I’m not a big planner. I could never write crime novels! When I have a potentially workable premise, I begin whatever research needs to be done. Researching always takes me deeper into the idea, and when I’m ready, I begin writing, letting the story develop with my characters. I do a lot of editing as I go.
Where do you get the inspiration for your plots?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, any time: a conversation, a radio programme, an art exhibition, something in a newspaper. Ideas for plots float around in my head pretty much all the time. I keep mulling them over until one of them takes shape as a book; many of my ideas remain unwritten.
You base the plot of your novel ‘How It Ends’ on both real life stories and imagination, how do you combine the two?
The story started with the air base. There’s an American air base in Suffolk near the place I lived as a child. I was intrigued by the sealed-off life of the inhabitants, and it occurred to me how much more concentrated and claustrophobic life would have been in the 1950s with the threat of the Cold War. I thought it would make a great setting for a story. I needed a fictional family to put in the air base, and so I came up with the Delaneys. The MK Ultra project was something I was aware of, and after a little research, I realised it would make a powerful dark force in the book.
I like writing about places I know well – it gives me confidence to have that authenticity – that’s why I set The Twins in the Suffolk in my childhood territory. But saying that, I also write about places and times I am unfamiliar with. It’s amazing how research can quickly build a world in your head. I never write about people I know – having a real person inside my head kills my imagination.
Your description of the air base is very convincing, how did you go about researching this?
Thank you! Living close to Bentwaters air base, I’d grown up listening to the roar of the jets, and had walked past the tall wire fence many times, peering at the bungalows inside, the big American cars and military bunkers. But I needed some insight into what it was actually like to live there. I managed to track down a couple of American women who had lived on Bentwaters in the 1950s, and they were kind enough to talk to me.
Why did you decide to give Christopher a physical disability? Where did your inspiration for this come from?
I thought that his incarceration in the brace would work on lots of different levels: imagining his vulnerability makes us fear for his safety; his disability increases Hedy’s sense of responsibility for him and, ultimately, her guilt; and his helplessness is a metaphor for the rest of his family – for the way they are physically trapped on the base, and by their fears and suspicions, even by their innocence.
You are represented by Eve White Literary Agency, can you explain your process of getting agent representation?
Eve accepted me as a client after I’d finished my MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. The book I’d written on the MA was the novel I went to her with – but after it failed to get a publisher, she told me to go away and write another book. A little over a year later, I came back to her with The Twins. Then it all happened very quickly. Piatkus signed me, and I was lucky enough to become a Richard and Judy author as soon the book hit the shelves. Eve runs a small, boutique agency, so I don’t feel that I get lost amongst lots of other writers or bigger names. It’s important to me that she didn’t give up on me when the first book didn’t find a home. Some other agents would have.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a love story called The Bench. I’m having a short break at the moment, to clear my head before beginning something new.