Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Debut Spotlight: Clare Mackintosh

Today it's my absolute pleasure to welcome Clare Mackintosh to the blog to talk about her debut novel I Let You Go which is published tomorrow as a paperback, eBook already published and has had amazing reviews so I'm looking forward to finally getting around to reading it.

Clare Mackintosh is an author, feature writer and columnist. She has written for The Guardian, Sainsbury’s Magazine, Good Housekeeping, The Green Parent, WI Life and many other national publications, and is a columnist for Cotswold Life and Writing Magazine. She is the founder of Chipping Norton Literary Festival and lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their three children.

Clare spent twelve years in the police force, working on CID, in custody and as a public order commander, and has drawn on her experiences for her psychological thriller I Let You Go. She is currently writing her second novel.

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn't have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating...

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel I Let You Go?
I Let You Go is a psychological thriller with a police procedural strand. The book opens with a hit and run that kills a young boy, devastating his mother, who witnesses the accident. The story charts the months that follow: Jenna, who tries to escape her grief by starting a new life on the Welsh coast; and DI Ray Stevens, who leads the investigation into Jacob’s death. Despite her best efforts, Jenna can’t disappear completely, and her past catches up with her – with terrifying consequences… 

Did your previous experience in the police force play a part as inspiration for the storyline?  
I’ve definitely drawn on my experience as a police officer to write I Let You Go, but despite what some of my former colleagues have suggested, the characters are definitely a work of fiction! The essence of the book – the hit and run that kills five year old Jacob – was inspired by a real-life case that took place shortly after I joined the police force. It devastated a family, and a community, and I often thought of the family putting their lives back together in the years that followed. I Let You Go isn’t their story, but it touches on the emotions involved in such a tragic case.

Can you describe I Let You Go in one sentence? 
A chilling psychological thriller about letting go of your past.

What can we expect from you next?   
More of the same! I’m writing another standalone psychological thriller, this time set in London. It involves lots of research on the Underground, which I’m enjoying, and it’s a rather unsettling, frightening plot that I hope will appeal to readers of I Let You Go!

Have you always wanted to write? 
Yes. I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school but was persuaded out of it by a teacher who felt it wasn’t a ‘proper career’. Four years ago, when I sold my first magazine article, I decided that perhaps it could be… Even when I was a police officer I always loved writing – I think I was one of the few who actively enjoyed putting court files together!

What is the best writing advice you have ever received? 
‘Ask your characters why they’re dancing’! A writer and filmmaker, Marie Macneill, once gave me some very good advice about building your characters from the ground up. She found me dancing in the kitchen (it’s a long story…) and used it as an example to help me add depth to the characters in I Let You Go. Essentially you need to work backwards through your characters’ lives until you know them so well you can answer questions as specific as why they’re dancing to a particular song, at a particular time, in a particular place. When you know them to that extent, the decisions they make are obvious, and they start to lead your plot, not the other way around.

Describe your typical writing day.
I take the children to the school bus stop at 8.30am, then walk the dog and am back at my desk by around 9.30am. I should really start writing straight away, especially as I often spend my dog walk planning the next scene, but I find it hard to write when I have emails to be answered, or other admin to do, so I clear those first, as well as any features or columns I’ve been commissioned to write. I stop work when I’ve finished my 1,000 words: sometimes that’s 4pm, when I hurtle up the hill to collect the children from the school bus; sometimes it’s 2pm, when I go for a swim. If my husband is working late I’ll often work in the evenings, which is my favourite and most productive time to write.

Do you set yourself a daily/weekly writing target?
I write 1,000 words a day. When I first started writing, that didn’t seem like very much, but I’ve realised that – for me, at least – quantity doesn’t always equal quality! I grow my book a little every day, consistently, rather than doing masses on one day and nothing on another, and that seems to produce the best work for me. Sometimes I don’t do it, and sometimes I do more, but as long as I write 5,000 each week I’m on track.

Did you treat yourself to something nice to celebrate your publication deal? 
I kept meaning to, but never got around to it! But I’ve decided to completely redecorate my office, which will be my publication present to myself. I’m having floor to ceiling bookshelves built, and a little reading nook, and some amazing wallpaper – I can’t wait till it’s finished!

Have you anything exciting planned for publication day? 
I will be flying back from France on publication day, having spent a week at the brilliant Chez Castillon writing retreat, where I get far more done than I ever would at home. It’s also the day of the General Elections, so I’ll be taking a quick detour on my way home to vote, then looking forward to seeing my three children after a whole week away!


When I wake, for a second I’m not sure what this feeling is. Everything is the same, and yet everything has changed. Then, before I have even opened my eyes, there is a rush of noise in my head, like an underground train. And there it is: playing out in Technicolor scenes I can’t pause or mute. I press the heels of my palms into my temples as though I can make the images subside through brute force alone, but still they come, thick and fast, as if without them I might forget. 

On my bedside cabinet is the brass alarm clock Eve gave me when I went to university – ‘Because you’ll never get to lectures, otherwise’ – and I’m shocked to see it’s ten-thirty already. The pain in my hand has been overshadowed by a headache that blinds me if I move my head too fast, and as I peel myself from the bed every muscle aches.

I pull on yesterday’s clothes and go into the garden without stopping to make a coffee, even though my mouth is so dry it’s an effort to swallow. I can’t find my shoes, and the frost stings my feet as I make my way across the grass. The garden isn’t large, but winter is on its way, and by the time I reach the other side I can’t feel my toes. 

The garden studio has been my sanctuary for the last five years. Little more than a shed to the casual observer, it is where I come to think, to work, and to escape. The wooden floor is stained from the lumps of clay that drop from my wheel, firmly placed in the centre of the room, where I can move around it and stand back to view my work with a critical eye. Three sides of the shed are lined with shelves on which I place my sculptures, in an ordered chaos only I could understand. Works in progress, here; fired but not painted, here; waiting to go to customers, here. Hundreds of separate pieces, yet if I shut my eyes, I can still feel the shape of each one beneath my fingers, the wetness of the clay on my palms. 

I take the key from its hiding place under the window ledge and open the door. It’s worse than I thought. The floor lies unseen beneath a carpet of broken clay; rounded halves of pots ending abruptly in angry jagged peaks. The wooden shelves are all empty, my desk swept clear of work, and the tiny figurines on the window ledge are unrecognisable, crushed into shards that glisten in the sunlight. 

By the door lies a small statuette of a woman. I made her last year, as part of a series of figures I produced for a shop in Clifton. I had wanted to produce something real, something as far from perfection as it was possible to get, and yet for it still to be beautiful. I made ten women, each with their own distinctive curves, their own bumps and scars and imperfections. I based them on my mother; my sister; girls I taught at pottery class; women I saw walking in the park. This one is me. Loosely, and not so anyone would recognise, but nevertheless me. Chest a little too flat; hips a little too narrow; feet a little too big. A tangle of hair twisted into a knot at the base of the neck. I bend down and pick her up. I had thought her intact, but as I touch her the clay moves beneath my hands, and I’m left with two broken pieces. I look at them, then I hurl them with all my strength towards the wall, where they shatter into tiny pieces that shower down on to my desk. 

I take a deep breath and let it slowly out.

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