Thank you so much for agreeing to answer a few questions! Let the fun begin!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: I grew up on the south coast of England. At seventeen, I moved to London, where I studied French and German at university. After working in sales and fundraising, and running various successful businesses, I obtained a psychology degree and taught psychology in East London. I left school-teaching ten years later and began an MA Creative Writing. I moved to Whitstable in 2013 (back to the coast) and have made my home there. Turn a Blind Eye is my debut novel and is the first in the DI Rahman series of novels. Published by HQ/HarperCollins, it is a contemporary police procedural set in East London. I also write short stories, flash fiction and spoken-word poetry.
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING? I’ve written for as long as I can remember. As a child, I adored writing letters. My love of reading soon prompted me to start writing stories. At school, I adored poetry, and at college and university, I enjoyed writing essays. In my teens and twenties, I took courses in journalism and feature-writing but never tried to get anything published. I began a few novels while I was teaching but wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about and found it hard to fit much else round full-time teaching.
DESCRIBE YOUR LATEST NOVEL, TURN A BLIND EYE, IN THREE WORDS: Gripping, topical, culturally diverse. (Sorry, I cheated there.)
HOW MUCH RESEARCH IS INVOLVED IN EACH OF YOUR BOOKS? A huge amount. As the DI Rahman series is set in Tower Hamlets, East London, it’s important to me to make sure that I’m portraying the characters and setting as authentically as possible, while writing the story sensitively and with empathy. Maya Rahman is a British Bangladeshi who came to live in the UK with her family in 1982. I’ve deliberately made the characters as representative as I can of the diverse communities who live and work in that area. That’s involved a lot of interviews, fact-checking and reading. I have written large sections of both the first and second books in the actual setting so as to ensure the sights, sounds and smells are accurate. To plan and write the books, I’ve drawn on my experience of living and working in the area but have needed to supplement and update my own knowledge. I’ve also wanted to reflect carefully on the fact I’m writing outside of my cultural experience ‒ to consult, plan, and research how I needed to approach this. Maya’s second-in-command, DS Dan Maguire, is an Australian who’s just arrived on a fast-track scheme and his character grew from my two trips to his home country, but I have to watch a lot of Aussie crime dramas and regularly listen to ABC Sydney (radio) to get various things accurate, not least current affairs, Dan’s vocabulary and references.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING (OR GRUESOME!) THING YOU HAVE EVER FOUND DURING RESEARCH FOR A BOOK? For the first novel I wrote (not Turn a Blind Eye) I had to research human branding so I was able to describe what it sounds, smells, and looks like ‒ how long it takes and how much it hurts. Thanks to the internet, I discovered that there’s a whole community of people who do this for kicks. Yeah. That freaked me out and gave me horrible dreams for ages. For Turn a Blind Eye, I had to learn what it’s like to be strangled so that I could describe not the act, but what Maya’s observations would be when she sees the headteacher dead ‒ the fact that the head would have been staring into the face of her killer as they squeezed the life out of her. I got those details from watching survivor videos. And although I included very little of it in the narrative, I had to read up on forensic pathology and post-mortems. That wasn’t too cheery either. I’m OK with text (sort of) but images of gaping flesh and bloody wounds make me feel sick. The second book has involved learning about the physiology of gun-shot wounds. It is all interesting but not easy on the psyche. Remind me why I do this job again?
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WRITING ROUTINE:
I get up, let the dog out in the garden, make coffee and start writing. Then, I get some breakfast, which I eat while I’m writing, and an hour after that, I take the dog for a walk. I write either to a word-count, number of chapters edited, or hours spent. Whatever it takes to get the story written and into as good a shape as I can before it goes to my editor or agent. I’ve always been a goal-setter and a pragmatist, so I approached writing as a job long before I got my agent and book deal. It enabled me to write two full-length novels while I was doing my MA.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR?
Ah. That’ll be how difficult it is to make enough money to live off. The next thing is that you never know how your book will be received and what will sell. Then there’s getting the structure right, changing the sequence of events, and making the story work as a whole. This is all really hard so I often feel like my head is going to explode and spray the walls with all those words.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR?
I genuinely adore writing, so I enjoy all aspects of it: drafting, revising, editing. I enjoy the promotion side too (but it’s time-consuming and expensive). Of course, each stage of writing comes with its challenges and frustrations, and I’m often in the mood to do one but not the other. Once I’ve got cracking, though, the enjoyment and satisfaction come quickly enough. Usually. The main thing is writing stories and hearing from readers who’ve connected with them.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’m currently doing edits on the second book in the DI Rahman series, Out of the Ashes, and around those I’m plotting the third book in detail and have started to draft it. I’m also working on a standalone thriller, which I’ve plotted.
WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW?
I’m glued to The Death Knock by Elodie Harper. I listened to her talk about the book at CrimeFest and thought it sounded brilliant. It is.
WHICH BOOK SHOULD EVERYONE PUT IN THEIR SUITCASE TO ENJOY DURING THE HOLIDAYS?
Whatever takes their fancy.Something different. Something uplifting or gripping – whichever captures their imagination.
TELL US A SECRET!
Only if you keep it between us, OK? I used to live in a house-share in North London and Johnny Vegas was best mates with one of the guys in the house. It was when he was studying ceramics. Johnny would often come round and was always making us laugh. We took him to the King’s Head in Crouch End to do his first stand-up gig.