Happy Saturday everyone,
I am very excited to be sharing a new author Q&A! Thank you very much to John Marrs for taking the time to answer my questions; I was thrilled that he agreed to take part.
John is the author of a number of highly acclaimed thrillers including The Passengers, which is arguably the most gripping book I have read in 2019. Having self-published his first novel after receiving numerous rejections, he has achieved a lot of success, and another of his books, The One, is being made into a ten part series for Netflix.
So without further ado, here are my questions and John’s wonderfully insightful answers!
1. What made you want to become an author, and how did you set about achieving it?
I worked as journalist for 25 years, mostly based in in London, interviewing celebrities for a broad spectrum of publications, such as The Guardian, OK Magazine, Nuts and Q magazine. But I didn’t set about trying to be an author.
I read an article in a newspaper about a woman who’d been abandoned by her husband and how for the last 15 years, she didn’t know if he was alive or dead. It made me think what an interesting book it might make. And as simple as that, I started writing my version of it. There was minimal plotting and no research in how to write a novel. I just got started to see what might happen.
2. You self-published your first novel (The Wronged Sons) after initial rejections. What enabled you to achieve success with this book and eventually be signed with a publisher?
I assumed that with many years as a journalist behind me, I might have had a slight advantage over other new writers on the hunt for an agent. How naive I was! I got 80 rejection letters.
The novel sat in a folder on my laptop for the best part of six months before I decided to self-publish on Amazon. My goal was to get 100 people I didn’t know to download it. It took a lot of self-promotion online and on social media, but it did pretty well, shifting 28,000 copies in the end.
Eventually it came to the attention of an editor at publisher Thomas & Mercer. She got in contact asking if I’d be interested in them taking it on, I accepted and the book has since sold more than 320,000 copies under the new title When You Disappeared.
At the same time, I self-published my third novel, The One, and in exactly the same way as The Wronged Sons, it was discovered by an editor at Penguin who asked to take it on. It has since been translated into 28 languages and is being made into a ten-part series for Netflix. I’ve been very, very lucky.
3. The Passengers has a plot that gripped me right from the first chapter. How challenging is it to create a thriller with multiple twists and POVs?
It’s not easy, as you are constantly juggling past and present and many different viewpoints and storylines. I don’t write in a methodical way, I do bits here and there when the mood suits me, so I’d write chunks of one character one day, chunks of another character the next day.
Then I’d cut and paste and weave it all together so that it made sense. Well, at least I hope that it made sense…
4. The characters in The Passengers are forced into making impossible decisions that concern life and death. Did you intend for the reader to consider what they would do in that position?
Yes. Most of us use social media, and most of us have either seen or read about horrible attacks on others by bullies and trolls and seen witch-hunts play out.
For that reason, I am sure they will be able to identify with some of the scenarios as the Passengers’ plight escalates. I hope that they put themselves in the Passengers’ shoes and question how they might react to being placed in a life or death scenario.
5. I thought Libby was an excellent protagonist. Did the plot of The Passengers make it essential for Libby to be someone that the reader could identify with?
Thank you, and yes. The reader needed someone they could identify with throughout the whole story. Each of my main characters – with Libby being the exception – has back stories that twist and turn so you never know where you stand with them. She is the one constant, the one normal one of the bunch.
6. How would you describe your writing process? How much research and expertise goes into your books?
Very little expertise on my part! But if it’s a book for Penguin, then a lot of research goes into it. For Thomas & Mercer, my books are straightforward psychological fiction, but for Penguin, they have a ‘five minutes in the future’ element to them. I knew nothing about driverless cars before I wrote The Passengers.
My husband and I spent a lot of time researching them along with other future technologies to set it in a time when these would be the norm. But you don’t want to bombard the reader by being heavy handed with information dumps. They need to be sprinkled liberally throughout.
7. The Hacker is a fearsome entity, and his campaign soon dominates social media. Could you tell me more about how social media is portrayed in The Passengers?
Not favourably! I use Twitter and Facebook myself but I refuse to argue with anyone there or become involved with debates with people who are not willing to listen to both sides of an argument. Life is too short to be shouted at by a homophobic, evangelical bigot who’s trying to tell me I’m likely to burn in hell for my ‘lifestyle choice.’
But along with the dark side, social media can also be a force for good. It was how the word spread about The Passengers when I first started writing. I decided for the benefit of my book to focus on the negative side of it. And I threw mob mentality into the mix to explore how far people might be willing to go.
8. Are there any books that you have enjoyed recently and would recommend to others?
I have a few books on the go at any one time and always promote them on my Instagram page. Current reads and recently listened to audiobooks include Sarah Vaughan’s Little Disasters, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, CJ Tudor’s The Other People, CJ Skuse’s The Alibi Girl and Peter Swanson’s Rules For Perfect Murders.
9. Do you have any writing tips for aspiring authors?
I think it’s important to decide why you want to write. Is it for pleasure, is it to get something out of your system, or is it to start a new career?
If it’s the latter, then work out what genre you want to write in, study the competition from other books and make yours every bit as good as theirs. There’s no point in hoping to make a living from writing if the category you choose is something with very limited appeal, such as fifteenth-century Peruvian clown erotica!
What did you think of John’s answers? Have you read any of his books? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂