Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book Three Steps Behind You?
‘Three Steps Behind You’ is a psychological thriller about toxic friendship, psychopathic fixation and author identity. The protagonist, Dan, is a crime writer who believes he has to experience everything in order to write about it. But underlying his writing is the obsessional need to get closer to childhood friend, Adam, and Adam’s wife, Nicole. And he’ll keep trying until he achieves it – whatever steps he has to take.
Where did the inspiration come from to write about a writer obsessed with his friend’s life?
It was a bringing together of three different ideas, really. I wanted to write a piece exploring obsessional male friendship and hero worship. I was also interested in the challenge of writing from the point of view of a stalker. Plus I began wondering if authors could do ‘method writing’ in the same was as actors do ‘method acting’. Melding those three thoughts together gave me the character of Dan. The combination of the ideas also means there is a dichotomy between the secret world of the obsession and the very public act of sharing written work – and what’s ultimately chilling is when those two start to interact in Adam and Dan’s lives.
Both this book and your debut Yours is Mine are psychological thrillers, have you ever been tempted to write in any other genres?
My work with Carina UK is very focussed on psychological thrillers and I’m really enjoying exploring that genre. Suspense brings together the skills you have to hone as a writer: keeping a reader hooked, crafting a tightly plotted story, and developing characters with solid motivations. I also enjoy stretching myself, and taking new approaches to structure and narrative within the genre, so I’m not just following a solid set of rules. But I do enjoy writing a good bit of dark comedy or straight drama too.
Are you currently working on a new book? If so, are you able to tell us anything about it?
I’m about to start work on my third book for Carina UK. I pitched the idea to my editor and (thank goodness) she loves it. So very soon, a whole set of new characters will be born. But it would be premature to share them with you now, save to say it will be another psychological thriller.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved writing. When I sat down and started writing my first novel, ‘Yours is Mine’, I wasn’t thinking about ‘being a writer’, just that there was a book that needed to be written. That’s been the same for all my subsequent work. I have the privilege of enjoying two careers – as well as writing, I also work part-time as a solicitor. So I don’t need to be defined by just being one or the other.
Have you ever had writer’s block?
I get the opposite – agitation when I’m not writing. As soon as I actually sit down with my laptop and start to write, it all falls into place. Sometimes I will have plot or character challenges, puzzles I have to work out in order to progress. If that happens, there is no point just sitting and staring at a screen. I bang out the issues, rationalising them myself, or talking to my husband or my editor. Then I’ll go to the computer and write.
Would you say that any of your characters are like you? If so, which one(s)?
In Three Steps Behind You, I seriously hope not! I suppose we all have our little neuroses or mild obsessions, and maybe even a cruel or vulnerable streak, or more positive qualities such as loyalty. As a writer you are drawing on those elements of your own character, as well as imagined emotions. But for the three characters in ‘Three Steps Behind You’, there is an unhealthy accentuation to those traits. That’s what makes the characters interesting – but why I wouldn’t want to be like them.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Write what you love and then find someone who shares your passion for that work. Together, you will champion it.
Being a writer appears to be such a solitary lifestyle, especially when you’re in the midst of writing, so do you consider the influence of social Media, Facebook and Twitter, a blessing or a hinderance?
Social media would only be a hindrance if you allowed it to take over. It’s a fun way of conversing. It’s also a great tool for sharing news. I love that you can connect with people all over the world, and sometimes get genuine banter going. But when I have my head in a book, I love that writing is a solitary activity. In the same way as I wouldn’t want suddenly to interrupt my flow to phone a friend, I don’t tweet while I’m in the middle of a chapter. And (shh, don’t tell anyone!) authors are actually allowed to leave their garrets occasionally to go out
into the real world and engage with readers there. So while I shut myself off when I’m having a writing day, the existence overall is not a solitary one.
If you could invite any three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party who would you choose and why?
Graham Green, because I’m reading his ‘Ministry of Fear’ at the moment and the suspenseful mood he creates out of the simplest of things is really impressive. Plus as a fellow writer of London-based thrillers I would love to compare notes about the most eerie locations.
Mark Edwards, writer of ‘The Magpies’, and co-author of ‘Forward Slash’, because he is emerging as a real star of the thriller genre, and found a really interesting route to market with Louise Voss, so I would quiz him about that.
Dostoyevsky, because ‘Crime and Punishment’ is still amongst the most morally disturbing and rich books I’ve read. Plus my husband is learning Russian so could practice on him…
Do you prefer to read physical copies of books or e-books?
I don’t really see the difference now – the story is the same however you read the words. I just mix it up and use whichever I feel like at the time. If I find out about a book while I’m browsing on-line, or it’s the latest cool thing and I need it URGENTLY, I’ll probably buy it for my Kindle. If I’m in Waterstones, I’ll buy the books in hardcopy. I do veer towards Kindle at the moment, though, because if I keep filling the house with books, we will need to move.
Are there any books you’ve read that you wish you’d written?
From a mercenary point of view, probably Harry Potter… More seriously, on one creative writing course, a guest author said, ‘If someone else could have written your book, you shouldn’t be writing it.’ I think that’s true. There are books that I admire as clever or compelling, ‘Gone Girl’ being an obvious example. But I like writing my own books – the point is to craft something that is unique and special to you, and share that with your readers.
What’s the last book you’ve read that has made you cry?
Books don’t make me cry. I find it impairs my ability to read if the words are blurry. I’m not emotionally dead, just utilitarian. But the last book I was deeply moved by was probably ‘What I Loved’ by Siri Hustvedt.
When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
I treat myself with a weekend away from my computer. I love writing the books but sometimes you need to go out into the daylight and just chill out. Then when it’s published I throw a damn good launch party!
Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
Somewhere with lots of open space and tranquillity. My parents have a cottage in Dorset which I’m lucky enough to borrow from time to time. I also wrote a large chunk of ‘Three Steps Behind You’ on a boat in the Norfolk Broads. That said, a proportion was written curled up in hotel rooms or on a crowded tube train. So maybe the book is a writing retreat in itself.
If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take 3 books with you, which ones would you choose?
I keep meaning to re-read ‘1984’, so I guess I’d take that. And I’d take ‘Wuthering Heights’, so if the sun got too oppressive I could escape to the Yorkshire Moors. Plus I should read something I haven’t read yet. My publishers are insistent I read ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tart – so that can come too. It will be the most highbrow desert island ever!
Three Steps Behind You is available now from all good e-retailers, including Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Three-Steps-Behind-You-Bird-ebook/dp/B00IG9Q2EA) Kobo (http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/three-steps-behind-you) and iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/three-steps-behind-you/id823643776?mt=11).
You can follow Amy’s progress at http://www.amybirdwrites.com or https://www.twitter.com/london_writer or https://www.facebook.com/amybirdwrites