Monday, April 4, 2011

Author Interview: Sophie Hannah (part one)

Kelly, Sophie Hannah & Tarryn
Picture this:
It is a Wednesday (9th March 2011 to be exact).  Tarryn and I are stuffed in my tiny car on what must have been the hottest day in Africa!  We clambered in to my car; Tarryn leaving the boot open as we drove off, misread the directions and headed towards the cocaine capital of Johannesburg.  You can imagine our sighs of relief when we pulled up to 10 2nd Avenue Houghton...   
The angels sang and the hand of God cleared the way, as he did with the Dead Sea.  This was it!  Our blog was finally making it!  Tarryn and I looked more like we turned up for a dish-washer job more than setting up an interview for our first author interview.  Sleep deprived, we pleaded, begged, crawled on our knees and said “hallelujah! Coffee. Please. Now” when greeted with “What would you like to drink?”. That is when we met Sophie Hannah!  Insert butterflies and stuttering. She extended her hand and said “I am wet!  I had to swim and I just got out the pool – do you mind if I am wet?”  Tarryn looked at me and we just knew; this author would be gracefully funny.  We settled down and Sophie said “I’m going to lay on the couch, will your recorder pick me up?”  We loved her instantly!  She wasn’t overly dressed nor did she have any qualms about questions or photos!  Tarryn and I jumped in head first!
So welcome to it’s a Book Thing’s first author interview!  We hope you like it!
Find the Review of Lasting Damages here
KA:You are mostly known for your “Psychological thriller” novels why & when did you decide to write this particular genre?
SH: I have always loved reading crime fiction and I just found myself drawn to the psychological crime fiction most and so eventually I just thought well I really would like to write books like this.  I had written three other novels which weren’t crime at all, probably because it seemed crime was my favourite genre and I probably would be able to do it. It is like someone you really fancy, he might not fancy you so you go for the slightly less impressive man; it’s that kind of thing but in book terms.  I thought I would never be able to write a crime novel because others are just so good.  One day I thought actually, I had read so many crime novels now, I have read everything and every popular crime novel.  I thought, well I know what works and what doesn’t work, I have to try it.  I got hooked basically, I cannot imagine writing anything else.  It is the one genre I can write the most naturally in. 
TT: There are a few dysfunctional set ups especially Simon & Charlie? Tell us about that...
SH: Simon & Charlie and all the police characters are in all my books so what you have in Lasting Damage is the latest in their lives and because they are going to be in the next book, that is why it isn’t tied up too neatly.  The Main story is based around Connie & Kit, who have a beginning and an end they won’t come back but Simon & Charlie have been going along in all my books and their story goes along and carries on in the next book.  I quite like mixing the two different narrative structures really, within the same book but you are right Simon & Charlie’s relationship is weird & dysfunctional which is something I do maybe more than most crime writers.  The police are trying to figure out if there is a body on this website, if so why? And then has a murder been committed but the police themselves aren’t well adjusted, normal people so they aren’t coming at this at a position of we are the ones who are sorted and you are the ones who aren’t.  In a way Simon & Charlie’s relationship is as problematic as Connie & Kit’s which again makes a good mirror.
TT: When writing a novel do you become attached to your characters?
SH: I certainly become attached to the characters while I am writing the book, of course Simon and Charlie and the characters that have been through each book are the ones I am closest too because I know them so well.  While I was writing Lasting Damage, I was absolutely identifying with Connie.  In a way, Connie is the person I would be if I was in that situation and to a certain extent all the heroines are like that. In that sense I am attached to them but I also get attached to minor characters, the killer in each of my books I can to an extent empathise with or else I wouldn’t be able to write the character and flesh out the motivation.
KA: Who is your favourite character from any of your novels? And Why?
SH: I really like Detective Inspector Proust, who is Charlie & Simon’s Boss, he is not that prominent in this book [Lasting Damages] he is only in one or two scenes but I don’t actually like him – he is a horrible guy but as a character because he is so horrible and he either doesn’t realise it or doesn’t care and that is what makes him a good character to write.  I can write such funny lines for him because he just turns up at a certain point and is just absolutely vile to everybody and actually fun to write especially when things are really tense and full of self doubt, Proust just turns up and insults everyone and wanders off.  I am very attached to him.
TT: Do you base characteristics/habits of your characters on anyone you know?
SH: Occasionally, but I generally don’t base a character on a whole person.  What I do often is use little character traits and tendencies and put a few things together.  The character Simon is partly my husband, partly one of my ex-boyfriends and partly another one of my ex boyfriends.  Occasionally, there is a character based on someone but they never recognise themselves.
KA: How would you describe your writing style?
SH: I can compare my writing to Ruth Rendell and Barbra Vine (Same Person).  I have been compared to Patricia High-Smith, who writes dark psychological thrillers.  I describe it as well-written commercial fiction.  My main aim is to write a story that is as gripping as possible to give the reader no excuse to stop reading the book.
TT: First impressions are big when meeting someone for the first time. Do you think it is equally important with book covers? What do you think of your latest cover?
SH: I love it.  I Love all my covers.  I think they are perfect for giving an accurate insight of what the book is about.  I don’t think anyone would see one of my book covers and say “I didn’t expect this”.  The covers are sinister and they make clear that there isn’t something quite right.  They look like suspense novels but also the images on the cover are very domestic, it is always a room, a staircase, a bathroom.  It gives the impression of sinister “going-on” behind closed doors, which is really what is going on.
KA: Do remember what you were doing when you found your first published novel on a bookstore shelf
SH: When Little Face came out, I was in Leeds city centre and went into Waterstones  and then to the crime section and there was a pile of my books; it was really weird but now I am used to it.  I go into bookstores and my books are always there.  The first time I hovered around to see if anyone had picked it up, which is crazy because in the 5 minutes you are standing there no one will pick it up and you stand there thinking “Oh No! No one is picking up the books!”
KA: Tell us about when you found out you were going to be published
SH: Now that is a good story! My agent at the time didn’t want to write crime fiction they wanted me to write poetry, so after constant changes to the manuscript (short of sending it to Salmon Rushdie), I had had enough of these flamboyant agents and so I wanted to find a surly male.  When I found a monosalabic male and he sent the book to Hodder & Stoughton.  They asked me to come in for an interview (sort of job interview).  I was on the train to the Bath Literary fest for a poetry event, and I kept checking my phone, moving it around to see if there was any message. Eventually, he called and said “Hodder have made an offer” and then the phone lost signal. So I ran out of the carriage and was dangling out the window trying to get signal and he called back and we kept getting cut off for about half an hour.  I am never normally there, but that day I went into this ordinary cafe and my agent called back and said that Hodder had offered more money; double the first offer.  There wasn’t any other day that would compare to that day.
KA: Your novels are incredibly chilling.  Where do you get your inspiration for them?
SH: Everybody always says my books are chilling but to me they aren’t because I am making them up.  For me, it’s me in my pyjama’s sitting making them up.  The inspiration comes from real life.  Well not the murders!  For Lasting Damage we were moving and I became obsessed with property websites, I spent hours looking at the houses and the floor plan.  One night I couldn’t sleep, and my husband was on the brink of sleeping and I thought I will wait till he is sleeping and then tip toe and look at houses on the internet.  I thought this is how someone in one of my books would behave and that is where I got the idea from then I thought what would you do if you saw a dead body?  That is where it came from.
TT: Are there any exciting projects you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
SH: The website has a page called “Work in Progress page” has all the details of the new book called Kind of Cruel.  I wanted to start the novel with a rather intriguing weird situation.  It starts with a woman who goes to a hypnotherapist to help her with her insomnia and while the hypnosis she finds herself saying this strange thing... “Kind Cruel, Kind of Cruel” and the moment she says it she doesn’t know where it came from and when the therapist asks where this comes from.  She goes home and a couple of hours later the police arrive and arrest her for the murder of a woman she has never heard of and the only piece of evidence to the crime are the words “Kind Cruel, Kind of Cruel”....
KA: What has been the “stand-out” moment of your South African tour so far?
SH: One of them would be just staying at this hotel!  There have been many stand-out moments; I have met so many interesting people – that is what makes a really great book tour if you meet different people in makes such a difference especially if you are in a country you haven’t been before and when you meet so many friendly people I could say “I could live here now!”
TT: Do you have any habits when you are working on a novel?
SH: No I don’t really have any habits.  I listen to the rhythm of the sentence in my head so I can’t play music in the background.  I write in my attic when I start writing at 11h30.
KA: What is your favourite book?

SH: The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch, its literary crime novel about ambition.  What is brilliant about the book is that it has everything you could possibly want is in that book.  Amazing BOOK!
KA: What are you reading at the moment?

SH: I haven’t had time to start anything new. I finished Night Waking by Sarah Moss by the pool the other day.  It is brilliant and absolutely perfect!
TT: Do you have any advice for any aspiring South African authors?
SH: You have to able to be objective about your work and take advice when you need to.  Try to write something from start to finish because it’s easier re-write a flawed novel than keep changing/rewriting each chapter
TT: What does a bestselling author have for breakfast?
SH: (Laughs) I hope you mean me? Because I cannot tell you what other authors eat.  My break would be remains of a curry from the night before, Danish left on the counter, cake?  I am a bad eater!  If I am in a restaurant I do make up my nutrition balance from that healthy meal.


thebookfairyhaven said...

I really, really loved reading this interview. I was very sad about not being able to meet her myself, but glad that both of you got to meet and interview such an obviously fabulous author! :)

Katie said...

This whole interview is just too much fun :) I love that you actually got to interview her in person!!

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