The Woman Before Me, i’m pleased as punch to say has just been re-released by Legend Press after selling 45,000 copies!
When it was first published in 2010 I didn’t know if readers would warm to the story, which is about a new mother, Rose, who is accused of killing her boyfriend’s ex-wife’s son. It is set in a prison environment and looks at themes of motherhood, jealousy, loss and justice.
You can imagine, then, that its runaway success was a surprise to both myself and my publisher hence the re-launch. It now has an author q & a, as well as an alternative additional ending.
What I’ve found is that readers have really connected with Rose’s vulnerability and also with her life story. More than one new mum has e-mailed and said, “I know just how she feels!”
This was your debut novel, so is novel writing anything like you imagined?
I cut my teeth writing my first novel, THE JAMES VERSION, although as a historical fiction it was a very different book to write. It is a fictional re-telling of the notorious murder of Maria Marten in the Red Barn and required a great deal of research. I had to think about the shape of a novel, and viewpoint as well as finding my voice. It was purely a hobby and I self-published it in 2005.
Legend Press have now re-published The James Version and I’m finding that it appeals to a different audience to my crime novels; for a start it attracts male readers as it’s historical and also those readers who prefer a gentler read.
This book is based on some of your experiences so can you expand on this for us?
In The Woman Before Me there are two central protagonists, Rose and Cate. Cate is a young probation officer, on secondment in the prison and struggling with the macho culture as well as the emotions Rose’s case rise in her.
I was a probation officer, and spent 2 years on a high security wing, so there is definitely part of the novel that draws on that experience. Also, we are in the criminal’s head or more time than is usual in crime fiction and I think this is a reflection on the years I spent sat across from clients, delving and questioning and wondering what had made them do what they did. Writing, for me, is a very similar process.
Your book has been praised for being authentic and credible, so to what extent do you believe you need to have lived some of the experiences to make any book unique?
Chuck Palahniuk uses the phrase `method writing` to describe his novels, and I think I’m in the same school. Sometimes a reader will tell me that the book moved them to tears and I tell them that I was crying when I wrote that section. I write when I’m sad, happy, drunk, ill – it gives the writing layers and when I’m working on a book it becomes part of my life.
You worked as a probation office for nearly a decade, so what made you want to write instead?
I’ve always written, and I first worked in a prison when I was nineteen, so the two interests existed in tandem until 2005 when I won the Debut Dagger and decided to see if I could make a career of writing.
As a child I kept diaries, and I studied English at university, so writing has always been part of my life, I just haven’t always considered myself to be a writer. That took a leap of faith!
Why was the psychological element so important to this novel?
A large part of it is that I chose a career that involved dissecting people’s thinking and behaviour, so it was natural that my writing would do the same. It’s very much personality driven, as I get bored by small talk, and I like talking about odd, bizarre, or concerning things. I can be great at a dinner party but rubbish at a wedding!
What were your biggest highs and lows of being in the prison service?
Experience is golden, and even difficult times are a chance to grow and learn, so I’m glad I had the chance to work in a prison. I especially enjoyed working with children who’d committed grave crimes, and I became quite attached to several of the inmates, which is natural when you are with them all day every day, birthdays and Christmas.
The lows came when I realised what a massive beast the prison culture is, and how powerless one individual can be against its lumbering weight.
What is next for you?
My Sister & Other Liars is my next novel, and I’m at the final stages now. It’s about a teenage girl, Sam, whose sister was attacked and left brain-damaged several years ago. The police have decided to close the case, as they have no leads, so Sam is going to find the man who hurt her sister and wreak her revenge.