Today I’d like to welcome Rachel Abbott, who has dropped in to the CTG blog to answer a few of our questions. So, to business …
Your new book, SLEEP TIGHT, came out last month. Can you tell us a bit about it?
SLEEP TIGHT is a psychological thriller, which poses the question “how far would you go to hold on to the people you love?” It’s a story of obsession, deception and retribution.
The story opens when Olivia Brookes calls the police because her husband took the children out for a pizza, and he hasn’t come home. Has there been an accident? But the police don’t think so.
The problem is, this isn’t the first time that Olivia has had to contact the police. Seven years earlier her boyfriend and father of her first child called to say he was on his way home. But he never arrived.
To say any more about this story would give too much away. It was incredibly difficult to write the blurb for the cover for that very reason. Just let’s say that things are not always as they seem, and some times good people are forced to do bad things.
Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
I am a huge planner. I don’t always stick to the plan, but I have to really understand my characters and what is motivating them before I start. So I have detailed character outlines for each of them usually including a picture that I find on Google images. I know what their favourite drinks are, what colour lipstick they wear (when appropriate, of course), their hobbies, the biggest thing that has ever happened to them, and what their story goal is. It is so easy to write books in which the characters can’t be differentiated, and to avoid that I want to get to know my characters really well.
In addition to having a plot timeline, I also have character timelines. I need to know what year they were born, when they met their partners, when their children were born – things that happen outside of the story, but may be referenced. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought “that’s not right – the child would have only been two at the time” or something similar.
And then because my books tend to have complex plots, I flowchart the main themes. This is the bit that sometimes goes to pot when I’m writing because the story starts to have a life of its own. But I use a piece of software called Scrivener to write my first draft. With that, I can attach keywords to individual scenes, with each keyword relating to a plot point in the story. I can then search on these keywords and reveal only the scenes that are relevant. That way, I can check each element of the story to make sure there are no loose ends or inconsistencies.
What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer?
I think my early inspiration came from Daphne du Maurier. I would say that Rebecca is one of my favourite books of all times – and of course, just like my books, in Rebecca you could say that good people are moved to do bad things. It was the whole sense of suspicion and threat that had me hooked, but a great love story at the same time.
Writers like Val McDermid are responsible for raising my interest in thrillers, and Harlan Coben’s early stand alone books made me think about writing from the perspective of the protagonist instead of always from the point of view of the police. I am now a fan of Sharon Bolton’s books too, which can be really dark. I am a member of a book club now, though, and trying hard to read as many non-thrillers as possible.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?
Make sure you do your research. Even if you decide to stretch the truth, be sure you have your facts right. There was one point in SLEEP TIGHT that I thought was a pretty safe bet – part of the book is set on Alderney, which is classed as the UK (it’s a Crown Dependency) and I assumed that – should it be necessary – a British policeman could arrest a suspect on Alderney. Not true! Fortunately, I happened to mention in passing to one of the two Alderney policemen, and he put me straight. So it really is important to check every detail.
Other than that, I would advise any writer to have their book professionally edited. I always believed that editing meant proof reading, and had no idea what it REALLY meant. There is the structural editing in which you might be told to cut things down, reorganise them, change points of view – and that can be expensive. But as a minimum you need a proper copy-edit – somebody to tell you about inconsistencies as well as typos. My copy edits are more red than black when they come back – but it’s all really good stuff. My copy editor picked up things such as two different people being described as deranged, even though the descriptions were a hundred pages apart. Repetition of words is a huge thing that they can help you to improve on, and I would seriously consider this.
But other than that, make sure your book is as good as it possibly can be, with a great title and then if you can’t find an agent or a publisher, don’t be frightened to self-publish. But if you do, you need to ask yourself a question: why are you publishing your book? The three most obvious answers would be:
I just want to see it in print (or virtual print). If that’s the case, stick it up there, and admire your Amazon page from time to time, and get on with the next book
I want as many people as possible to read my book, but I’m not concerned with making money.If that’s the case, consider using Amazon’s free posting and just make sure you let as many of the free sites know as possible.
I want my book to be a commercial success. If that’s what you want, then not only do you have to be sure your book is the best it can possibly be, but also you need to learn about marketing, and you are going to have to dedicate some time to getting it noticed. And you are probably going to have to pay for a really good cover design.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I am really looking forward to the rest of this year. I am starting on my new novel, and I am going to be attending a few events in the UK over the course of the year, including the London Book Fair, the Literary Festival and the Crime Festival at Harrogate, so I’m hoping to meet a lot of people that up to now I have only spoken to on Twitter or Facebook.
I’m also hoping to move in to a new place to live, which, if I can reach agreement with the current owners, will be a spectacular home overlooking the sea. I’m also hoping to take a trip up the Irrawaddy River in Burma – but that’s gone on the back burner a bit because of the move and the new book. But there’s certainly plenty to be excited about.
It sounds like it’s going to be a busy year!
A huge thank to you Rachel Abbott for dropping by and answering our questions.
You can find out more about SLEEP TIGHT and Rachel’s other books on her website over at http://www.rachel-abbott.com/ on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RachelAbbott1Writer and follow her on Twitter as @Rachel_Abbott