What can readers expect from The Sister?
My favourite genres to read in are psychological thrillers and emotional commercial fiction novels so The Sister is a bit of a blend of both. The story centres around Grace and Charlie and is very focused on friendship and in parts is very moving, but ultimately I hope the Sister will also create that sense of unease for readers. I wanted to create characters readers would really root for, and fear for, taking them through a whole spectrum of emotions whilst reading. Hopefully the ending comes as a complete surprise too.
Please tell us how the idea for the book came about.
I went along to a local writers’ group who were hosting a talk on self-publishing as I wanted to write a non-fiction book. On arrival I was given 3 words and ten minutes to write something. In panic I wrote, what is now the opening of The Sister. The book begins with a real mystery. We learn Charlie has died and her last words were ‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace. Please forgive me.’ Grace has no idea what these words mean and in chapter one she digs up a memory box her and Charlie buried as children to see if there’s any sort of clue. Inside there is a mysterious pink envelope Charlie put there. There were so many unanswered questions once my ten minutes of writing was up. How did Charlie die? What did her last words mean? What was in the pink envelope? At home, I couldn’t stop thinking about Grace and Charlie and after about a week I knew the only way I’d find out any answers would be if I tried to write the story. At that stage I never dreamed it would be long enough to be a novel.
What are your tips for writing psychological thrillers?
I want my readers to feel scared for my characters and so I have to feel that fear for them when I write. I know if I’m getting up to check the back door is locked then I’ve got a scene right. I think when you’ve connected with your character you know what frightens them and the story will naturally evolve. I often write short scenes and stories to get to know my characters before I properly start writing a novel. I discover their innermost fear and then I use that against them!
Which authors or books inspire your writing?
At the heart of my stories there is always a real mystery to solve. Growing up I was obsessed with Enid Blyton and I wanted to write books where I leave that trail of breadcrumbs of clues. I’m also hugely inspired by my 11 year old son, Finley who is a phenomenal writer. He’s fearless in his storytelling and not afraid to take risks and experiment. We can learn a lot from children.
Everyone is talking about the twist no one sees coming at the end- so how do you lead readers to believe the opposite of where you are taking them?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to try and lead readers in a different direction. I didn’t plan The Sister at all but I did follow the advice ‘write the book you’d like to read’ and I do like several twists when I’m reading to keep me interested. I’m so pleased most readers haven’t seen the end coming though.
What are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. It was a book club read. Next on our list is The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. I love belonging to a book club – it really introduces me to new authors and different genres and I really enjoy the discussions. I always include book club questions in my books and love to visit local groups and hear their answers..
Your first two novels have been number one bestsellers, so how did it feel to be such an instant hit with your readers?
I don’t think it’s sunk in yet! Being published is such a lifelong dream and I feel so incredibly grateful to see my name on a cover but it’s also very surreal. Initially, when I got my book deal I wrote a list of people who might buy my book and told my editor I hoped to get 17 sales. To have achieved three quarters of a million sales in a year is staggering and I can’t thank readers enough.
What are your ideal writing conditions?
I do like peace and quiet when I write. Often I write at home with my headphones on. If it’s a first draft I play instrumental music so I don’t become distracted by the lyrics. Whilst editing I make up a play list of songs my characters listen to in my stories.
What is next for you?
My third novel, The Surrogate, is currently going through the editing process but that should be finished shortly and then it’s time to write book four. There’s always a period after finishing a book where I miss the characters hugely but there’s also the excitement of starting something new. When writing a first draft every day’s an adventure!