Under the debut spotlight today I'm delighted to be featuring author Colette McBeth and her debut novel Precious Thing which was published in paperback format last week.
Colette McBeth was a BBC TV News Correspondent for ten years. She lives in West London with her husband and three young children. She attended the Faber Academy Novel Writing Course in 2011. Her debut novel, PRECIOUS THING, was published in 2013 and her new novel THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND will be published later in the year.
You can find Colette on Twitter @colettemcbeth and on Facebook colettemcbethauthor.
Remember the person you sat next to on your first day at school? Still your best friend? Or disappeared from your life for good?
Some friendships fizzle out. Rachel and Clara promised theirs would last for ever.
They met when Rachel was the new girl in class and Clara was the friend everyone wanted. Now in their late twenties Rachel has everything while Clara's life is spiralling further out of control. Then Clara vanishes.
Imagine discovering something about your oldest friend that forces you to question everything you've shared together. The truth is always there. But only if you choose to see it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut book Precious Thing?
It’s about a toxic female friendship. Most women I speak to have had one- those friends you love to hate, who make you feel high at times but frequently drag you down. Rachel and Clara shared an incredibly close bond as teenagers but as adults their roles have been reversed. Clara, the girl every wanted to be friends with, has undergone psychiatric treatment whereas the once dumpy Rachel is now a successful TV crime reporter. The story begins when Rachel is sent to cover the story of Clara’s disappearance. Slowly we begin to see that their friendship isn’t all it appears to be. As the police begin to believe Clara may have been murdered, Rachel comes under suspicion. Did she harm her friend and why? And how do we know whose story to believe?
Where did the inspiration come from to write about a close friendship that turns into an obsession?
It was actually the character that came to me first way back in 1998. I’m fascinated by how some people hide their true personalities and present us with a version of what we want to see. So I wanted to play with that in a novel. Having a close friend as a foil was perfect because we like to think we know everything about our best friends. Quite often that’s not the case. My oldest friend has been described as the person who inspired the book. She’s not entirely happy with that description and anyone who reads the book would understand why! What I did was pinch a few scenes from our lives and use them in Precious Thing. For instance my friend and I met on my first day at school when I was eight and the teacher told me to sit next to her and this is how Rachel and Clara meet.
Are you able to tell us anything about book two, The Life I Left Behind?
It’s another psychological thriller about two women, Melody and Eve who were attacked by
the same man years apart. Melody survived but feels dead inside and Eve was murdered. The story is told from their alternating points of view. As Melody begins to pick over her past in order to find the truth she develops a bond with Eve– a bit like a friendship beyond the grave – and realises that although she’s dead she’s the only person who can teach her how to live again. It was fiendishly complicated to put together, there were many moments when I thought I bitten off more than I could chew.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Lately it’s been very intense because I ditched about 90,000 words of my first draft in October and started all over again with four months to go before my deadline. I’d be at my desk for 9am and then write until 4pm when my kids come back home from school and nursery. Once I put them to bed I’d start again and work from 9pm until midnight or beyond. Quite often I’d have a power nap, for twenty minutes after lunch because I can’t write when my eyes are drooping. Coffee and chocolate came in to the equation a lot too. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that way of writing because it nearly broke me and my friends no longer know who I am, but it had to be done.
In more relaxed circumstances, I’d take the kids to school, go for a run on the way back and start around ten. I’d try to write at least 1,500 words a day. Some days you fly and others are like wading through treacle. When I’m stuck I’ll go for a walk, cook, just do anything that doesn’t involve me sitting at my desk but I’m thinking my way through the problem all the time.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Write! But also give yourself the permission to write badly. Most authors’ first drafts are terrible, I know mine are. Don’t stress about the prose, get the story down, make sure every chapter has a piece of action that pushes the story forward and then go back and rewrite and reshape again and again until you have a coherent story. That’s probably about five pieces of advice...
Have you got anything exciting planned for publication day?
A holiday by the sea. But really just having some time away from my desk is wonderful. I feel like I’m emerging from hibernation!
Are you going to treat yourself to something nice for publishing your first book?
I did when I first got my book deal. Everyone thought I was going to buy an expensive handbag or splash out on clothes, instead I had a woodburning stove installed. Not the most glamorous of presents but every time we have a fire I think, my book got us that. Precious Thing is published over the Easter holidays and we’re going to Cornwall to a nice hotel on the beach. We’re praying for sunshine although every time we go it pours down.