Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?
Thank you for hosting me, Sharon, and yes, I’d be happy to. I’m an ex journalist, so have always been writing, one way or another, since leaving university – though I have to say handling something the size of a novel takes a very different set of skills to producing a 1,500 word article. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to try my hand at fiction and to decide what kind of novels I’d like to write; in the end I plumped for thrillers, because there’s nothing I love more than a terrific story that keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next and where it’s all going to end.
Your debut novel Untouchable featured a high-class escort and your latest novel Exposure revolves around the porn industry, what inspired you to write these sexier style of crime thrillers?
Several reasons. I was curious about the impact of Fifty Shades on the marketplace, which came out around the same time as Gone Girl, and I thought it might be interesting to try combining the two. And while there’s plenty of ‘vice’ girls in crime thrillers – usually turning up as dead bodies - I’d not seen much written from their perspective. I felt strongly that call girls and porn girls are essentially ordinary women – they’re not born intending to earn money from sex – and I wanted to explore what might tip someone into that kind of industry, and how the world would look from their perspective.
Kitty Sweet isn’t like anyone you’ve ever met before.
She’s an infamous porn star, imprisoned for double murder. As damaged as she is charismatic, as dangerous as she is charming.
But once no different from you or I.
Kitty’s past is full of heartbreak and desperation, of adulation and glamour. Of ruin. She’s descended to an underworld most people can only imagine, and lived to tell the tale . . .
This is her story.
Oh, it’s pretty boring really. I just read around as much as I can. For Exposure I read half a dozen porn star memoirs, and anything I could get my hands on about the industry behind the scenes. I also read one or two books about life in a British prison, though in-depth accounts are surprisingly hard to come by. I’d have liked to have done exciting things like go along to a porn shoot or visit a prison, but those are pretty difficult to arrange!
If you had to describe Exposure in one sentence, what would it be?
Kitty Sweet, a notorious young porn star, relates her side of the story that led her to be jailed for double murder.
Has your previous experience as a journalist helped with regards to writing to the editing process & working to deadlines?
I used to be a stickler for deadlines, delivering on the day the book was due – if not earlier! It took me a while to realise that publishing time is a bit more flexible than newspaper time – if you don’t deliver a news article or feature when it’s due, you risk never working for that editor or publication again.
In terms of edits, I’m not sure anything prepares you for how gruelling the process can be. Imagine you spent months knitting a large garment, carefully joining up the seams, embroidering the pockets, and adding the perfect neckline. Then someone comes along and suggests you unpick most of it and reknit bits and then put it all back together again – it’s pretty daunting! But invariably you end up with a better fitting, more polished garment.
Are you a plotter or do you prefer to see where the story takes you?
I’m a hybrid. I always flesh out a rough skeleton of a book before I start – what I think is going to happen, who the main characters are, and so on. I couldn’t just go in cold. But I leave plenty of room to change my mind or pursue other ideas as I work my way through that first draft and get to know my characters. I’m aware some people outline religiously, right down to the content of every scene, but my brain works best with a rudimentary road map, with enough blank spaces to allow it to fill in the details as it goes along.
What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you're in writing mode?
My laptop, obviously. I tend to start in Scrivener for the first draft then migrate to Word for subsequent rewrites. I like Scrivener because it makes it simple to move chapters around, and provides a space where you can keep everything together, such as research, character explorations and so on, but I prefer the cleanness of Word further down the line.
I also keep a supply of large pieces of paper where I can draw mind-maps to come up with solutions to questions or problems. And I have a store of prompts and questions that I routinely ask myself as I work on each book – some might be character-related, others centre on structure, such as making sure I have enough tension and narrative drive.
If you get a plot block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it?
Mind-maps are a brilliant tool for overcoming block, which I find tends to happen when I don’t know enough about the story to keep moving forward. I simply write a plot question or character niggle in the middle of a piece of paper, then branch out with all the things that pop into my head. I note down absolutely everything that comes to mind, vetoing nothing. Invariably this process conjures up something I can use.
Another useful method when I become really stuck or worried things aren’t going well is to simply open a new Word document and journal about what I feel and think in relation to the issue at hand. It’s a way of talking to yourself that always helps you see more clearly what the problem is and where you might go for solutions.
What authors have influenced you as a writer?
Goodness. So many. Gillian Flynn, Barbara Vine, Louise Doughty, Julie Myerson, Stephen King, Sarah Waters. I’m probably forgetting so many. I love literary novels as well as crime and thrillers, and tend to read across all sorts of different genres.
Finally are you already working on book 3 or taking a well earned break?
I promised myself I would take a long break after a somewhat relentless work schedule this last 18 months. But of course there was an idea I couldn’t resist pursuing, so off I’ve gone again. Glutton for punishment, me!
The Exposure blog tour continues on Monday with Crime Thriller Girl