What can you tell us about your new book Accidents Happen?
It’s a psychological thriller that tells the story of a woman, Kate, who is convinced that she is cursed with bad luck and obsesses about safety statistics in order to protect herself and her son. A professor of mathematics tries to help her – but when a creepy man moves next door, it starts to look like Kate might have been right all along.
The character of Kate suffers terrible loss at the beginning of the book, so what made you want to inflict so much pain on one character?
I’m interested in how grief affects us; how we cope with losing our loved ones, how it changes us, and how we carry on afterwards. Also, anxiety is on the rise in Britain, and I wanted to explore that through Kate. Anxiety robs you of the ability to take risks and have adventures. So this is a book about someone emerging from those dark places, and finding a way to embrace life again.
How did you handle writing about Kate's grief after the deaths?
As a journalist, I’d interviewed widows in their twenties and thirties who’d felt so isolated among their friends that they’d formed a young widows social support group. I wanted to capture that sense of isolation in Kate, and portray someone who didn’t know where she fitted in any more. Like many people, I have some personal experience of bereavement, and know how raw and shocking it is in the first stages. I wanted to start my book five years later, when Kate has processed some of her grief, and is trying to find a way forward.
Tell us a bit about your background in journalism for film and music magazines.
I was mad about music growing up, and played in bands at school and when I was doing a publishing degree at Oxford Poly. I was desperate to work in music magazines. So after some work experience, I started freelancing as a sub-editor on Kerrang!, Smash Hits, Just 17, Empire and the NME, writing headlines and fitting copy to the page. Initially, I just loved working with all these talented, funny writers, and being able to go to free film previews and gigs. At the same time, through fact-checking and cutting their copy, I learnt a lot about how they’d structured and angled a story, and started to think about trying to write.
You were a commissioning editor for women’s magazines; can you give us some more insight into this role?
It was hugely varied, and involved commissioning everything from fun relationship pieces to campaigning global reports. I mostly worked at Marie Claire, and my day could range from interviewing people who dressed as Victorians for sex, to arranging an armoured car for a journalist doing an interview in a conflict area. Generally, I would have an idea, brief a writer, set up their trip, liaise with the photo editor, then edit the final story. A lot of women we interviewed for reports wanted to tell their story to inform and support others, so it was often an incredibly rewarding job.
This is your second novel, your first The Playdate was published in 2012, what can you tell us about this book?
The Playdate is a psychological thriller set in London that tells the story of a single mother, Callie, who wants to go back to work and has to arrange childcare for her daughter Rae. The novel explores how much we really know about the friends and neighbours we meet in a city – and, for me, there’s no better test of trust than whether you feel happy to leave your child with someone.
You have written for many publications such as Psychologies and Stella, so which experience have you enjoyed the most?
I like writing features where you’re sent into an unknown situation, to observe what happens. My favourite piece was for Stella, who wanted a story about ‘friendship blind dating’, where one couple is set up with another to see if they click as friends. I was sent on a night out with my husband and two strangers. He was cross with me for making him do it, and it was a very intense experience. The four of us got drunk and we revealed far too much personal information in a desperate attempt to ‘connect’. There were long silences, and to make it worse, our cashpoint card stopped working, so we had to borrow money off them. Bizarrely, we did actually become friends afterwards.
How much did your writing background help you to write fiction?
Technically, a lot. For example, it’s helped me with pace, and also writing opening paragraphs that hopefully engage. But doing interviews was brilliant for teaching me that people often react differently than you might expect. For instance, recently, I interviewed an elderly woman who lives on a horribly busy three-lane road. She’d recently lost her husband, and I thought it must be difficult for her living with all this noise. She said it wasn’t – that in fact, the constant traffic kept her company. It was her ‘friend’. I try to incorporate that unpredictability in my fiction writing so that you can’t second-guess the characters too much.
Is your writing process a reflection of your previous roles?
Interviewing so many women for Marie Claire has definitely left me with an interest in how we respond psychologically to trauma, fear and unexpected, life-altering events, and is partly why I chose to write psychological suspense. Also, I’ve kept up the journalist’s habit of scanning the newspapers every day looking for topical ideas and storylines that might work as novel ideas or storyline threads. If an event has happened in real life, then I feel more confident about including it in a novel.
What is next for you?
I’m in the middle of my third psychological thriller, Taken Away. It explores how much a woman who is desperate for a child will betray her principles when the choice about whether or not she becomes a mother is in put in someone else’s hands.
Accidents Happen by Louise Millar (Pan) is out now