Briefly tell us about your book.
Like Before I Go to Sleep and Second Life, Final Cut is another psychological thriller. It’s about Alex, an award-winning documentary film-maker who goes to a seaside town in the North of England to assemble a documentary from short films shot by locals. In doing so she discovers that a number of young girls have gone missing from the area, and all is not as quaintly bucolic as it might seem. It’s very different from my debut, Before I Go to Sleep, but definitely shares some of its DNA. I was inspired by stories of voyeurism, and in particular a photographer I read who would take photographs of people in their own homes, with their consent, but through the windows and at night, so that they couldn’t see her. I started to become fascinated by documentaries, and I’ve long been interested in the modern-day urge to document, record and share everything with smartphones etc. These ideas coalesced into a narrative about an ordinary town in which dark secrets were hiding under the surface, which would be brought to light as the village was put under the spotlight. But my subconscious was also working away, and when I came to write I realised I was once again looking at someone with only a partial understanding of who she was. Alex, it turns out, has dark secrets of her own…
If I looked at your internet history, what would it reveal about you?
That I should be locked up! I write crime fiction, so my search history is littered with ‘what poisons kill but leave no trace?’ and ‘where is a good place to hide a body so that it won’t be found?’. I’m also constantly texting myself with little snippets that occur to me – things like ‘It’s probably time I killed someone else now’, or ‘consider a better way for them to die’ – so who knows how many watchlists I’m on. It’d also reveal I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook, that I buy a great deal of books, and that I’m obsessed with music. I also seem to spend a lot of time reading about pens, or I have this week at least. I’m writing my new book in longhand, and my stationery fetish is out of control.
Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?
Yes, and also no! When I sat down to write my second book I naively thought I knew how it was done, now, and all I had to do was follow the same path I had with the first. But now I realise that’s not quite how it works! Each book has its own internal logic and seems to demand something different from the writer, and so the writer needs to get to know what’s being required of them. That being said, for me there are some things that seem to be universal. Mostly they’re about knowing myself, though. For example I’ve learned I work best in the mornings, and that if I’m ever stuck the very best thing is to step away from the desk. With Final Cut, for example, I spent hours indulging in my other passion, which is street photography. There was something about getting out there and observing people that really seemed to click with this book, and unlocked a number of ideas. Will that be the case with the next one? Who knows…
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I’d say, concentrate less on ‘getting published’ and more on writing the best book you can. Everyone thinks they have a book in them , but the books that most people write simply aren’t good enough. So, you need to write, write and write some more. Write a rubbish book, but get it done. Edit it, or scrap it and start again. Keep going, for as long as you feel your writing is improving. Be ruthless when you edit, don’t keep something that doesn’t belong in the book as a whole just because you have fond memories of the day you wrote it, or because you think it’s a particularly beautiful passage. And read, too. That should go without saying. But read with a writer’s head on. Ask yourself why something worked (or didn’t). Try to get beyond the surface of the novel in your hands and see how it was put together. Reread old books that you love, but take them apart this time and see how they worked. Make notes, about everything, everywhere you go. Make observing things and people a habit you no longer even think about.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. No one said this was going to be easy.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
I try to do my creative work in the mornings, with afternoons left for admin and ‘life maintenance’ tasks, though if my writing is going well I’ll find it bleeds into the afternoon. I don’t work well with rigid boundaries, I prefer having a vague plan for the day. It depends on what I’m working on, too, and what stage I’m in. When I’m drafting I aim to write at least 1000 words, at least five days a week. Sometimes it’s much more, when it’s going well, but when it’s not I’ve learned not to force it. It’s important to trust what the work is telling you. When I’m editing I can get through a lot more in a day, though much of that is cutting and rewriting. I’ll often do that in the evenings, when I seem to have more of a critical head on.
At the moment I’m working on a new novel. Final Cut seems to have unblocked something in me, so the ideas are coming thick and fast. I’m definitely in the stage of loving it at the moment, and want to make the most of it while it lasts.