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John Simmons’ girlfriend disappears, but the police doubt she ever existed. Is she a hallucination, or the next murder victim of a serial killer?
What have you done/are you doing to market it?
The Missing has been reviewed by a number of bestselling authors, including Glenn Cooper, Matt Hilton, James Becker, Elly Griffiths, Scott Phillips, Patrick Lennon, CM Palov and Thomas Perry. Their blurbs have been really effective in persuading readers to take the chance with an unknown author. I’ve also used social media a lot – its Facebook following is increasing and I’ve managed to get a lot of retweets by celebrities and well-known authors. I think it’s primarily because of these that The Missing broke the Amazon UK Kindle top ten.
Do you bear the reader in mind when you're writing? If so, how does that affect the way you write?
Yes. I’m a keen reader, so I pay attention to how I feel while I’m writing. There were several moments while writing The Missing when I felt incredibly tense, so I took that as a good sign. I knew I had to keep the story moving fast, so I thought very carefully about what needed to be included in the narrative and what was superfluous. Yes, I wanted character development and a sense of place, but I didn’t want to labour any point.
Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?
I think author Scott Phillips answered this question best with his blurb about The Missing: "It's a shame Hitchcock isn't around to film it, it's exactly the kind of story he did best." Ok, so Hitchcock won’t ever be possible, so a contemporary director I think builds tension excellently is Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects).
If you were able to co-write a novel with any author of your choosing, who would it be?
There are so many answers to this question, but if I’ve got my crime thriller hat on I’d have to say Sophie Hannah, the author of Little Face, which inspired The Missing. She really knows how to put a character in a situation that seems impossible to escape from, her characters are vividly presented and the tension she builds is palpable. Hers are amazing books.
Put these in order of importance: language, character, plot, money.
The English teacher in me says language, but when you consider what’s popular, language is often one of the last things of importance. I think it starts with the plot, then you build your characters around it, then you tell their story in a way that’s as well written as possible, and if you make any money out of it you’re incredibly lucky.
How would you describe your taste in books?
Varied and unpredictable. The only thing I can say with any degree of certainty is I can’t stand Jane Austen’s books. I enjoy crime thrillers very much – Sophie Hannah, Harlan Coben and John Harvey to name a few – but I’m also a huge fan of darker character-led dramas such as Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden. I also enjoy reading plays, particularly those by Tennessee Williams. And I’m not afraid of a classic or two. Wilkie Collins is high on my list.
What are you reading now?
I always have three or four books on the go – and rarely have enough time to read them for the amount of time they deserve. At the moment, I’m reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (for the A Level course I teach), Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark (for entertainment) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (I always have a classic in the pile). I’ve just bought The Fear Index by Robert Harris to add to it. Not long ago, I finished The Woman in Black by Susan Hill – atmospheric and chilling. Susan Hill and I actually have the same literary agent and The Woman in Black plays a part in The Missing (we didn’t share a literary agent while I was writing The Missing, so this is entirely coincidental).
Which writer do you most admire?
Again, there are many, but the writer who’s had the greatest impact on me is Ian McEwan. I remember reading The Cement Garden when I was eighteen and thinking this amazing book is like a literary car crash: you know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t stop yourself. It’s a captivating story, expertly told, and it made me want to write. So I wrote my first book, Full of Sin, as a direct result. I wanted to create my own car crash; I wanted to shock the reader, yet find a way to make them want to read on. Then Harlan Coben drew me to crime fiction and Sophie Hannah inspired me to write The Missing.
What are your ambitions for the next year?
The next book has to be written. My agent, Sonia Land, and I have been discussing it recently. It has a unique selling point and we think it has the potential to be a really interesting spin on the crime genre. There will also be some elements in it that will have very close links to my family’s past. I’ve started it and hope the first draft will be completed by the end of the summer.
What are your long-term ambitions?
Be a writer. Make enough of a living out of it to survive. I don’t need to be rich from writing – I just want to see my books on the shelves in Waterstone’s and WH Smith, and abroad.
Do you write outside of the crime genre? If not, would you like to?
Yes. Full of Sin isn’t a traditional crime story, although there are elements of the crime genre in it. It’s more of a dark human drama. It follows a character, Sean, who is born into a desperate life and it focuses on his journey towards rehabilitation after he sins too much. I’d like to write more novels like Full of Sin, while also writing more crime thrillers.