Our Song, Dani Atkins’ third novel, is an intensely emotional love story involving two couples connected by a shared past and brought together once more by a bizarre coincidence.
With breathtaking plot twists, Atkins explores themes of serendipity, friendship and love. The many dilemmas and challenges that face her two main characters, Ally and Charlotte, over one long and dramatic night mean the reader is hooked from the start. We spoke to Atkins about her writing, the big themes of fate and destiny, and why she’s known as an ‘e-book phenomenon’.
The ideas of fate and serendipity are big themes in your novels, including Our Song. What’s the idea behind this? Is it something you strongly believe in?
Although I never consciously set out to make these continuing themes in my books, it’s funny how they keep on popping up. I think my subconscious must be trying to tell me something. I do believe in fate – how could I not, when a random act of fate was responsible for my husband and I rekindling our relationship and has led to a long and happy marriage. I am continually intrigued by how our whole world can be irrevocably changed in a heartbeat, in a wonderful or a tragic way. If I had to choose just one message for readers to take away from any of my books it would be to make the most of every opportunity, cherish every special moment. Seize the day.
The story is narrated in first person by the two very different female protagonists, previously bitter rivals. How difficult was it to write from both their points of view?
In the initial planning stages of Our Song this was something that really concerned me. Although I prefer to write in the first person, I had never before tackled dual narrative and was worried that the characters might lose their individuality, especially as they were the same age, and had a shared history. However, as I began to write I could see each woman with a much greater clarity. Their separate strengths, weaknesses and flaws revealed themselves, which actually made it much easier to stay “true” to who they were. I did give myself one rule, and that was only to write in the voice of one character on any given writing day. I needed that much distance to get out of one woman’s head and into the next!
Much of the dramatic action in Our Song takes place over one night in the ICU ward of a hospital. Did you have direct experience of a medical environment or did you research to create these vivid scenes?
Although I have no professional experience of working in a medical environment, I have sat at the bedside of someone I love while they were in an ICU ward. Although this was many years ago, I think it’s impossible not to draw on those memories when writing about characters going through a similar experience. I shamelessly exploited all of my friendships with medical professionals and also spent far more time researching the medical elements of this novel than with previous books.
With all the present-day action taking place over one drama-filled night but with flashbacks to the characters’ pasts, did you find it difficult to sustain this narrative approach?
To begin with I found the narrative fairly straightforward. However as the novel progressed and the plot became more intricate, I began to get confused, particularly when I was going backwards and forwards over many different time periods. So I screeched to a halt in my writing and constructed a really comprehensive timeline going back through each character’s life and where and how they intersected with each other. I pinned it on the wall when I was done – and it was invaluable. I probably should have done it before I wrote the words “Chapter One”.
When I begin a novel I know just two things: where it will start, and where it will end. It’s the bit in between that I am never quite sure about. Not knowing every detail of the story, but living through it as it unfolds, is both exciting and at times quite scary. It also means that I can experience it as I hope the reader will do when they read it. (All of this sounds like a very cunning author device to cover up the fact that I am rubbish at planning!)
Your biography describes you as an ‘e-book phenomenon’. What’s the story behind this?
That is a very flattering description, which always makes me blush. Also, I firmly believe I shouldn’t be called something that I can’t successfully spell! I was extremely fortunate with my debut novel Fractured which was particularly well received. It remained at the No.1 position of the UK Kindle chart for eleven weeks and spent more than a year in the Amazon Top 100 ranking. It was a very magical and exciting time and I am aware how very lucky I was to have experienced that.
Our Song is your third novel. How has your writing evolved since your first books?
As with any other job in the world, you hope very much that the more you do it, the better you get. Certainly after being guided by the capable hands of an experienced publishing team, you become more adept at spotting your own mistakes and pitfalls before they do! This is a craft that I will keep honing and hoping to improve upon with every single book I write.
What authors do you read and admire?
I enjoy reading many different genres and authors, although if you pinned me down and made me choose a number one favourite author it would probably have to be Stephen King. This is surprising because I’m not really a fan of horror books (I skip over the gory bits), but he is without doubt a master of suspense and storytelling. I also enjoy many young adult titles, and am not ashamed to admit I practically devoured The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Currently sitting on my bedside table is a copy of Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. I have read all of her books to date, and I’m a real fan.