How has the success of Elizabeth is Missing changed your life?
I'm a full-time writer. That's the most radical change. I am lucky enough to spend my time pursuing my passion. Being an obsessive literature fan feels like it's finally paid off.
Has it added to the pressure of writing a follow up?
Absolutely. Apart from the fact that I was touring with Elizabeth Is Missing for nearly two years, which meant very little time to work on book 2, there are so many people to disappoint this time round! And there's been a sense that I should have been building on the previous success and hard work, that it was a waste not to have got another book out very quickly. It seemed as though all the other writers whose debut novels came out around the same time as mine were ready with another book almost immediately, and in some cases are on to their third now, and I was being left behind. For a while that made it hard to relax enough to find the right story.
There was talk of a TV adaption at one point?
The BBC have officially announced that they have commissioned an adaptation. So it looks like a 90 minute drama will really happen.
How did you come up with the idea for Whistle In The Dark?
Lots of things came together at once. A news story from Australia had piqued my interest - about a woman lost for 17 days in the bush - then the voice of my protagonist, Jen, began to form and I realised too that I wanted to explore teenage depression, and use some experiences from my own life, but also look at the subject from the point of view of a mother rather than a daughter. Then I found that I was writing in small sections - influenced by Evan S Connell's Mrs Bridge - and that this really made sense of the subject for me.
Talk us through your writing process and your typical day.
I don't really have a typical day. I don't have a writing routine. I've tried to do the morning thing that so many other writers talk about, but I think I'm just not a morning person. I've had most success in the evenings after dinner, but that's not completely regular either. Now I have a baby to look after I'm even less organised and have to work whenever I can steal an hour. I try to read, keep on top of admin, write a bit, and leave time for thinking or exploring ideas. Sometimes that last involves going somewhere - for a walk or to a museum or even just out to lunch. I worked out a lot of the plot points of Whistle in the Dark over lunch with my husband.
Have there been any developments to your method or style since Elizabeth Is Missing?
I scrapped two projects of about 30,000 words each before I finally started on Whistle in the Dark, and I feel part of that was a kind of practising, improving my style. This new book is written in the third person, where Elizabeth Is Missing was in the first, Whistle is a little more distant too, more wry, more careful. I didn't plan quite so heavily either, so the book grew a bit more naturally. I think (I hope) it's a better book than Elizabeth Is Missing because of all those things.
Where you able to apply the skills you developed on your MA Creative Writing?
I definitely think that the analytical tools I honed on the MA helped me to write this book. Writing for an audience is good training too. Having a workshop group of people regularly read your work reminds you as a writer that there is someone else on the other side of that communication. I've always written with a reader in mind, and even more so since doing the MA.
Was there anything you missed this time about not having friends and tutors on your course to work with?
I was lucky as Andrew Cowan read and gave me feedback on an early draft, and friends I made on the MA were also early readers. I missed the rigorous reading and editing that the course can give small chunks of a project, but not having that meant I could be a bit more playful with the text too.
What are your future plans?
I have another book tour to get through before I can get back to 'real' writing. But I'm playing with the idea of a kind of treasure hunt at the moment.