Welcome to my first author Q&A! I have wanted to do one for my blog for some time, but have only recently found the confidence to approach an author and send some questions.
As well as being a journalist and non-fiction writer, Lucy Atkins is the author of three suspenseful thrillers. I have read two of them, and have really liked her style and her ability to create tension.
I was delighted that Lucy agreed to answer my questions, especially at a time when she is currently very busy on the final draft of her next novel!
1. What made you want to become an author, and how did you eventually manage to achieve it?
I always wanted to write – I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was eight and always wrote short stories in secret, and I had a couple of failed novel attempts too.
When I turned 40 I decided I had to come out of hiding and give it a go or I’d always regret it. So I enrolled myself on a creative writing course and, from there, I produced The Missing One, my first novel.
2. How does your approach differ when writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction?
It’s a completely different skill! Like woodwork versus cookery or something. You have to learn different writing techniques, and also of course tap into your imagination.
3. I have read two of your books and they were both excellent at building tension. Are there any writing techniques that you specifically use to create tension and suspense?
I think the main lesson is to make the stakes very high. When I wrote the first draft of The Missing One, my character, Kal, was pregnant. My agent loved the story but asked me to rewrite it before she sent to out to publishers – she said to ‘raise the stakes’.
I had no idea how to do this but then my husband suggested I ‘get the baby out’. So I rewrote the novel so that the baby that was inside Kal was instead a little cute blond toddler who then was in jeopardy. This version of the novel sold straight away.
4. Do you think it is becoming more difficult to find originality when writing a thriller?
I think you have to write what YOU are interested in and forget about the marketplace or what people may or may not want. This is probably why my last book The Night Visitor has a big theme about dung beetles.
5. The Other Child is largely set in the USA, where you have previously lived, and the protagonist has recently emigrated from the UK. How much did you draw on your experience when writing this book?
Totally – The Other Child is set in the house where I lived, in the street and Boston suburb where I lived. The feeling of that was central to the whole claustrophobic atmosphere of the book.
6 Your latest book, The Night Visitor, had an abrupt ending that was very much open to interpretation. What made you decide to end the book in this way?
I am very keen for the reader to have an active role. I wanted the reader to be able to project their own feelings about the characters onto the ending (and one of the other major events in the book) because in a sense The Night Visitor is about the blindnesses and prejudices we have about others. I don’t like being spoon fed myself, as a reader.
7. The character of Vivian in The Night Visitor is one of the most interesting and unique I have ever come across. She totally intrigued me! How did you create her point of view, and what was it like to write?
Thank you! I was very interested in writing about a woman of late middle age who is on the autistic spectrum, but is undiagnosed and has gone through her life alienating people and not quite fitting in.
I have some family members on the spectrum and have done a fair bit of reading so I really feel for Vivian – though a lot of my readers find her really scary…
8. How would you describe your writing process? How long does it take you to write a novel from an initial idea?
Chaotic. I tend to rewrite all the time. I’ll do a crazy stream of consciousness ‘terrible first draft’ then spend up to 18 months rewriting and rejigging over and over. It’s very inefficient but I can’t manage to plan as some other writers do.
9. Are there any books that you have enjoyed recently and would recommend to others?
I’ve just read and absolutely loved The Friend by Sigrid Nunez – it’s about writers and dogs. I love dogs.
10. Do you have any writing tips for aspiring authors?
I think it’s important to view writing as a skill, that you have to learn and constantly develop – it’s a real craft. I’d also say persevere and EXPECT rejection. All writers have rejections.
Also, don’t rush to send to an agent. Really perfect it, and step away for a few months before you re-edit then send. I truly believe some writers don’t make it, not because they haven’t got talent but because they are in too much of a hurry to get published so they sent it out before it’s really ready.
What did you think of Lucy’s answers? Have you read any of her books? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂