The Crooked House is your latest novel, can you tell us a little bit about it?
The Crooked House opens as a fourteen year-old girl, Esme, comes home from a failed night out, stomps up to her room past her family, and lies on her bed at the top of the house, situated on the edge of a remote Essex sstuary, to rage about her life, the house in the middle of nowhere her dad has moved them to, her attempts to negotiate friendship and love. Then she hears noises from the house below: as she listens she realises that something terrible is happening, has happened, and she needs to hide. When she emerges, hours later, she finds her family has been blown apart, all of them dead except her father, lying brain-damaged with the gun in his hand.
She tries to build a new life anonymously, then circumstances – and love – conspire to bring her back to the isolated village where her family died, and soon she realises that it was not her father who killed her family, that whoever did do it is still out there, and may be waiting for Esme to return.
Where did the inspiration to write about someone trying to escape from a traumatic event come from?
My mother died when I was fourteen, of cancer, and my family changed abruptly. My father remarried almost immediately, a woman with four children, we all (eight children, plus father and wicked stepmother) moved to a Thames barge on the Essex coast and chaos and misery ensued. No-one died, but it was horrible, and I certainly used it to convey that sense of isolation and alienation from one’s past, also the potential for violence.
What can we expect from you next?
I am writing a novel set in the Fens, a part of the country I find even more bleak and sinister than the Essex marshes. It’s about a woman there – a mother of young children - whose husband is murdered while she sleeps: after his death she realises there is a great deal she didn’t know about him – and we realise there is a lot he didn’t know about her..
How did your writing journey start?
I worked in publishing for more than a decade, which is a good deterrent, because you realise how many people want to write, and how few of them succeed. Then I had my children and finding myself unemployable, when they were pretty much all in education I thought, now or never. Miraculously it worked.
What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Sit down and start writing. Keep going till you get to the end.
Do you set yourself a daily/weekly writing target?
I try to write 1000 words a day minimum.
If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with?
I don’t think I could do it. Maybe a dead writer of genius, like Edith Wharton, whose sensibility I absolutely recognise (by that I mean we wouldn’t write but talk about love and drink champagne). Or Sarah Waters, because she is so utterly brilliant she could teach me how to research and still make words sing.
If you could write another style of genre, what genre would it be and why?
I’d love to be able to write historical fiction – not bodice rippers, twentieth century stuff, but pre-mobile phones and computers. They spoil everything, fictionally. And the mid-twentieth century is fascinating to me. But I am not good at research, it feels like it is deadening the writing whenever I do it.
Alison is as close to anonymous as she can get: with no ties and a backroom job, hers is a life lived under the radar. But once Alison was someone else: once she was Esme, a teenager whose bedroom sat at the top of a remote house on a bleak estuary. A girl whose family, if not happy, exactly, was no unhappier than anyone else's - or so she thought.
Then one night violence was unleashed in the crooked house, in a nightmare that only Alison survived and from which she's been running ever since. Only when she falls for the charismatic Paul does Alison realise that to have any chance of happiness, she must return to her old life and face a closed community full of dark secrets.
As she seeks to uncover the truth of what happened that terrible night, Alison begins to question everything she thought she knew. Is there anyone she can trust?