Why did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember. That instinct took me into journalism, and then into a communications role, but it wasn’t until I hit my mid-thirties that I started taking fiction writing seriously. It took me the best part of ten years (including a first book, which is still in my bottom drawer) to get to the point of being offered a book deal with Bonnier Zaffre. Then in January 2017 – two weeks after Lies came out in e-book, I found out that my full-time job was being made redundant as part of a restructure at work. I had the choice of applying for a new role, or taking redundancy. It seemed as if fate was calling, so I took the plunge and opted for redundancy to become a full-time writer.
You published your first book in 2017. What’s it been like being a fully-published author?
It’s been an amazing year. When I was unpublished, the idea of getting a book out there was what kept me going – but I also knew it was a long shot! So to be in a position where I’ve now got two books out, and a deal to write two more, is basically a dream come true. Although it felt thoroughly surreal for the first few months (and still does now, from time to time).
What’s your favourite thing about being an author?
All of it! I love the creative side of it – creating characters and situations and then seeing where the story takes them. I just really enjoy being able to write for a living, every day (even if my daughter describes what I do as “sitting in the spare room making stuff up”). I also love the feedback from people who’ve enjoyed my books – I’ve started going to book festivals which are a great way of meeting readers and other authors.
What inspired the plot of 29 Seconds?
Most of my ideas come from everyday life – a conversation, a story on the news, a thought that turns into a ‘what if?’ question that might form the core of a plot. With 29 Seconds, I had the original kernel of the idea some time ago, but had been searching for the right setting for the story. Then in the summer of 2016, in my previous job (as head of communications for a large university) I fielded an enquiry from The Guardian – a national investigation into the scale of sexual harassment in higher education, almost exclusively senior male academics harassing younger female colleagues or students.
That got me thinking. When I read the story that came out of their investigation, I thought it might make a strong setting for a novel – if the victim was so desperate for a solution that she would resort to desperate measures. It’s been very weird to see it coincide with the ongoing international news story about harassment/#MeToo that has become so huge in recent months.
Your previous novel Lies was lauded by readers and reviewers. Was it difficult writing 29 Seconds after that?
Yes – and no. In Spring 2017, as Lies was taking off and climbing into the Amazon top ten, the first draft of 29 Seconds was still a work-in-progress so it did suffer a bit by comparison in terms of the way I perceived the two books. But the flipside is that I knew I could do it – because Lies was already out there and readers/reviewers were responding in a really positive way. So I was more confident with 29 Seconds, as Lies had already paved the way to some extent.
What’s your writing process like?
I will spend 6-8 weeks planning a story, getting the plot, characters and key moments clear in my head. My desk – in the spare bedroom – faces the wall so there’s nothing to distract me, no window, no view, no outside world. No TV, no radio. Nothing to tempt me away from sitting in that chair and putting my hands on the keyboard. The walls around my desk are generally covered with notes, chapter plans, lists, reminders and scraps of paper with ideas and quotes for the story I’m working on.
When I’ve got to the stage where I’m just procrastinating to put off the real business of writing, I’ll dive into it and write every day, without fail, until the first draft is done. Writing every day helps me to maintain momentum, to keep on top of the plot and stay in touch with my characters. I keep a tally of my daily wordcount, although it’s less about the number and more about making links in the chain and keeping that promise to myself. If I’ve written for 50 or 100 days straight, I’m less likely to take a day off and break the chain.
What’s your favourite author or novel?
This is a very tough question. My favourite author overall would be one of: Harlan Coben, Michael Connolly, Gillian Flynn or Lee Child. For favourite novel, I still have a soft spot for A Simple Plan by Scott Smith – a great thriller premise, genuinely unpredictable, shocking, unnerving and totally absorbing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Make time for writing, every day if you can. Writing is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it.
Minimise distractions: put your phone on silent, turn off email, mute your notifications. Allow yourself to be totally absorbed by the story, even if it’s only for 45 minutes at a time.
Read. A lot. Read across genres and think about what the author does well – and how he/she does it. Books like On Writing by Stephen King are also very helpful.
Find some people who can give you constructive criticism, and listen to them. Friends, colleagues, family – anyone who will give you an honest critique.
Don’t give up!
As far as timings go, 29 Seconds hits the nail on the head. A fascinating exploration of sexual abuse in the workplace from a woman’s perspective- made all the more prescient, of course, by the recent #MeToo movement- given an exciting, thriller-y twist, this book raises questions even as it delivers a satisfying, solid story.
29 Seconds is a story about Sarah, a professor in the English department for her local university- which is run by Alan Lovelock, a celebrated scholar and TV presenter- and somebody who uses his power to torment and harass the women in his department. So, straight away, the story hooked me- it’s all the more interesting because it’s so relevant, and … does a fantastic job of establishing Sarah’s position as a normal, likeable woman with two children, who is at the same time trapped due to her boss’s influence and control over whether she keeps her job. The sense of claustrophobia is palpable, from a humiliating boardroom meeting where Lovelock (great name) takes the credit for her idea to the cringe-inducing scenes where he uses blackmail to try and get her to sleep with him in return for her job.
Lovelock is like Professor Umbridge: absolutely loathsome, but all the worse because he’s a representation of a genuine threat that many women do face in the workplace. His attempts to coerce Sarah are genuinely nauseating, so when she saves a little girl’s life, and gains the gratitude of a Russian mafia boss- and the chance to make somebody disappear as a weird thank you- things suddenly get a lot more interesting. Having the chance to kill Lovelock might be wrong- but given that the university turn a blind eye to him, and his harassment, might it be the right thing to do?
The best thing about it is that Sarah is such a sympathetic protagonist. She’s sparky, understandably angry and has already been abandoned by her actor husband, so she has nobody to fall back on. You really feel for her, and though her actions might be questionable they’re always understandable. It’s a really interesting dilemma, and …’s great writing builds up the tension and Sarah’s sense of claustrophobia whilst also keeping the surprises and twists coming, one after the other, as she and Lovelock square up to each other and do battle, each trying to outmanoeuvre the other.
An interesting moral dilemma as well as an exploration of what the ‘right’ thing is- and what to do when those problems come back to haunt you. Though by the end Lovelock is slightly more a caricature than a real character, the threat he represents is very real and this is an exciting, interesting and heart-stopping exploration of that. And the ending is extremely satisfying
So that’s what I think, but what has everybody else been saying? Why not take a look on T.M Logan’s Twitter feed for more inspiration?