What can you tell us about your new book The House on the Cliff?
It’s about a psychotherapist who discovers a murder in her client’s past. At the same time, her marriage is in crisis. In the process of dealing with these problems, she endangers her life, but learns from her mistakes.
Jessica's character is a psychotherapist, so how much of your training as one has gone into this book?
I learned a lot in my training about the techniques psychotherapists use in their daily practice. Today, psychotherapy is a well-known type of treatment, but people still don’t really know what it entails. So I wanted to explain the approach in a fictional setting.
You were a journalist out of University, so how has this affected your fiction writing?
I have a down-to-earth approach to it, I think. It’s a craft, as well as an art. You have to be prepared to revise, rewrite, and listen to criticism. It’s not just about inspiration – although that comes in to it, of course.
You have been making documentaries more recently, so tell us about these experiences.
I work for BBC radio, making documentaries, and more recently, writing radio drama. With radio scripts, you have to make the words work as speech, not just on the written page. I think this has helped my fluency as a novelist.
You have been compared to Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, so how does this make you feel a writer?
This is your first book so can you tell us about the next in the series?
This is my first crime novel. The next one is another Jessica Mayhew story, in which her client leads her into uncovering a scam in the art world. And another murder, of course.
Did you always know that the character of Jessica would be the basis of more than one book?
Definitely. I conceived this from the start as a series. I liked the idea the central character is a psychotherapist, and with each new client, a new story unfolds.
What is your favourite novel?
That’s a hard question. Probably Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys.
Which authors do you feel have affected your writing?
Too many to name, but particularly Jean Rhys and Raymond Chandler.
Which authors do you most admire?
All the obvious ones like Dickens, Conrad, Scott Fitzgerald, Camus, and so on. But I also like comic novelists like P.G. Wodehouse. Of more contemporary novelists, I’m a fan of Barbara Vine, Kate Atkinson, and Gillian Flynn.
What is your writing process?
After breakfast, I write solidly from 9am to 1pm. I try not to look at emails or take telephone calls during this period. I start by going over what I’ve written the day before, then consult my plot notes and decide what’s going to happen next. After I’ve written a thousand words, I stop and go for a walk or a swim, then have lunch. In the afternoon, I deal with the emails and phone calls. I always take evenings and weekends off.
Which author would you have dinner with if you could?
The novel touches upon some rather taboo subjects so what was the hardest part to write?
Sex scenes are always difficult. It’s hard to be original, so I’ve made a rule that the scene has to advance character or plot. In the past, it was acceptable to have no sex at all in the book (look at Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier), but nowadays, readers are not content with dot dot dot!
What is next for you?
I’m in the process of writing the next Jessica Mayhew novel, provisionally entitled Mirror Twin.
Female First Lucy Walton