It’s been awhile since I’ve done an author interview and I am very lucky indeed that Sarah had some time to talk to me about her debut crime novel, Someone Else’s Skin. I have known Sarah online for a few years and had the pleasure of seeing her picked up by an agent and later a major publisher. She is talented, edgy, has a wicked turn of mind and a wonderful passion for her chosen genre. Today, she gives us the low down on her experience in the crime genre for the blog. Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions, Sarah!
1. How did you first discover the crime genre and what is it about crime writing that appeals to you?
I was about nine or ten, and someone introduced me to Sherlock Holmes. I love the complexity and the neatness of the genre, the way it sets up expectations and then perverts them. At its best, it’s a very anarchic genre.
What are your favourite crime reads?
Innocent Blood by PD James. The Collector by John Fowles. The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. More recently, Fred Vargas’s Adamsberg series.
3. You write wonderful, and award winning, crime flash fiction, established the Flashbang competition, and support other flash writers. What is it about micro crime fiction that appeals to you?
The discipline and the wickedness: telling a story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette; it shouldn’t work, but it absolutely can and does.
4. What advice do you have for aspiring flash fic writers?
Take us straight to the detail of the story. Think of those long zoom shots at the start of Hitchcock’s films – the cityscape, the street, the building, the room, the desk, the knife… Now jump-cut to the knife. But – and here’s the trick – do it without losing the story. You need to be a bit of a magician to pull it off. It’s why I admire stories like Iain Rowan’s Search History so much. Iain won the first ever Flashbang contest and his story is magnificent. Check it out: http://flashbangcontest.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/winning-story-2012/
5. Your debut crime novel, book one in the DI Marnie Rome series, comes out at the end of the month with Headline. I know that Someone Else’s Skin took a bit to get to print. How many years did it take from first draft to publication date and how many times did you rewrite your manuscript?
Twelve months, BUT I’d written four unpublished novels before that, so I’d put in my time earlier on. Now I usually take about three or four months to do a first draft then two or three months to get it to a second draft; so one major rewrite and then fine-tuning.
6. Your publication story is one that is proof of never giving up. What helped you to keep going when the writer’s road got tough?
Bloodymindedness and a dash of defiance. Oh and some really, really good friends. I think a writer’s ego is a strange beast – you have to lose almost all the arrogance you start out with, but not so much that you give up on the (crazy, mad, impossible) dream that you will be published. The iron has to enter your soul, but not at the expense of your imagination.
7. Someone Else’s Skin deals with complex forms of sexual violence around culture, race, gender and sexual preference. How much research was required for Someone Else’s Skin to make your story believable?
I think if you’re dealing with complex and sensitive issues than your research has to be up to scratch. But it also has to end somewhere, so that you can tell your story. I’m telling stories not writing non-fiction, so I would never over-emphasise the extent of my research. I hope I did enough for the story and its characters to have integrity and to move the reader enough to engage him/her with the subject matter.
8. Can you give us a teaser for Book Number Two? Maybe a cryptic clue?
I’ll give you a couple. Have you ever played Happy Families? Well, imagine if that was a matter of life or death. Now look around you and find the most innocuous object within easy reach. How could you turn that into a weapon and who would you use it against?
9. You have said before that you find characterization easier than plotting, yet Someone Else’s Skin juggles three different multi-layered plots. Was it hard to structure your book with these three plot lines and what’s your advice for people in search of a great story to match their great characters?
I didn’t structure the first draft in that way. It developed into the multi-layered plot as I added the detail. It looks like this is how I’ll do the second book too, so perhaps that’s my best advice: add layers once you have the spine of the story in place. I do think plot comes from character, not the other way around, although obviously the more plot you throw at your characters the more they grow and change, so it cuts both ways.
10. What’s a question about your writing/work that you’ve never been asked before and you’ve always wanted to be asked? Now answer it.
The question would be, “Marnie Rome is a strong female lead. Have you always written strong women?” And my answer would be No. All my early attempts at novels had heroes not heroines. I found it really difficult to write a female lead, partly I think because I was anxious about messing up, and partly because growing up, all my favourite books had heroes not heroines. But I’m over that now; I absolutely love writing Marnie. I love writing Noah and Ed too, but it’s all about Marnie for me.
Sarah Hilary lives in Bath, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin, will be published in February 2014 by Headline in the UK and Penguin in the US. A second book in the series will be published a year later. Set in London, both books feature DI Marnie Rome, a woman with a tragic past and a unique insight into domestic violence.