Do you like books where the pages turn themselves and where your cats / dogs / kids don’t get fed ‘cos you can’t put the damn book down? Do you like books where you’re sure you have it sussed and within the turn of a page, another plot twist blows all your theories out of the window? If so, you’ll love pyschological thriller writer Sophie Hannah.
Sophie Hannah was (according to Wikipedia) born in Manchester to parents who are also authors – Norman Geras and Adele Geras. She now lives in Cambridge with her husband and children after re-locating from West Yorkshire (that’s where I live!!!). She started her writing career in the ’90’s when she published five collections of poetry and in 2004, Sophie won first prize in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition for her suspense story The Octopus Nest, which is now published in her first collection of short stories The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets.
Sophie Hannah is now also the author of five internationally bestselling psychological thrillers – Little Face, Hurting Distance, The Point of Rescue, The Other Half Lives and A Room Swept White and her latest book Lasting Damage which I reviewed here yesterday.
Without further ado
Boof – Your sixth book in a series of pychological thriller books, Lasting Damage, has just been published. What made you pick this genre to begin with?
Sophie – Psychological thrillers are what I most love to read – I’m addicted to them! I love crime novels in which the motive turns out to be something really psychologically unusual, rather than the sort of motive that would make sense to everyone, such as inheriting money or freeing yourself from blackmail. Which is why my baddies tend to commit crimes for reasons that make perfect sense according to their own twisted internal logic, but wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else. My favourite kind of thriller is one where the key to the mystery lies inside someone’s mind.
Boof – What process do you use to write your books: do you have a plot all mapped out from the beginning or do you see where the plot and characters take you? Have you ever been surprised how a book has turned out?
Sophie – I write each book in a slightly different way. I like to vary some aspect of the process each time, because novelty inspires me. So with some books (Hurting Distance, The Point of Rescue, Lasting Damage) I plan out the entire plot from start to finish, whereas with others (Little Face, A Room Swept White, and the one I’m writing now) I feel my way from chapter to chapter, with no firm plan. For my fourth novel, The Other Half Lives, I planned the first three quarters in great detail, but found, when it came to planning the final quarter, that I just didn’t fancy it – I wanted to leave it open and see where the writing took me. Though with each book, I know my starting and finishing points before I start writing – who did what, and why.
Boof – Having author parents, were books a big part of your life growing up? Which books were your favourites as a child?
Sophie – Books have always been massively important to me. My first favourite authors were Enid Blyton, whose Secret Seven and Five Find-Outers mysteries I adored, and E W Hildick, who wrote a series of books about a gang of child detectives called The McGurk Mysteries. At around age 12 I discovered Agatha Christie and fell in love with her books too.
Boof – Who are your literary heros now?
Sophie – My current favourite authors are Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Tana French, Susan Hill, Geoff Dyer and Val Mc Dermid. And my favourite poet is Wendy Cope.
Boof – Have you ever read a book and though “damn! I wish I had written that!”?
Sophie – The book I wish I had written is Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson – it’s a debut thriller, out later this year, about a woman whose mind erases all her memories every night while she’s sleeping. Every morning she has to be reintroduced to her entire life and history by her husband Ben…and then one day she finds a secret journal, full of her own handwriting, in which the first thing she’s written is ‘Don’t trust Ben’. The plot is a work of genius.
Boof – You’re stranded on a desert island for a year: which 3 books do you take with you and why?
Sophie – I would take Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer and Coming From Behind by Howard Jacobson, the two funniest books I have ever read, and The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch, my all-time favourite novel.
Sophie – I don’t think I’d want to visit any part of the past, to be honest. I like the present. I even find it hard to read historical fiction. My husband is always saying he’d like to go back to Roman times or the late nineteenth century, and whenever I hear him say it, I think, ‘But that was before you could watch back-to-back episodes of House on DVD, or do all your Christmas shopping on Amazon, or have a takeaway curry delivered to your door.’ I really do love the present!
Boof – Do you have any famous fans?
Sophie – Yes, I have two very famous fans that I know of, but I don’t feel it’d be fair to say who they are. One is a comedian and one is a politician.
Boof – You are working on a new book now, Kind of Cruel: can you give us any sneaky previews or tidbits?
Sophie – When Amber Hewerdine consults a hypnotherapist as a desperate last resort, she doesn’t expect that anything much will change.
She doesn’t expect it to help with her chronic insomnia…
She doesn’t expect to hear herself, under hypnosis, saying words that mean nothing to her: ‘Kind, cruel, kind of cruel’ – words she has seen somewhere before, if only she could remember where…
She doesn’t expect to be arrested two hours later, as a direct result of having spoken those words out loud, in connection with the brutal murder of Katharine Allen, a woman she’s never heard of…
That’s about all I can say at this point, because it’s still very much a work in progress. I will say this, though: one of the things I love to do is take a staple – almost a cliche – of crime fiction, and twist it slightly so that it becomes something very unusual. So, I was inspired to write about hypnotherapy because I have an ardent fan in Canada who is a hypnotherapist, and in my head there was this idea of the standard, cliched use of hypnotherapy in crime fiction: a witness who thinks he doesn’t remember anything suddenly produces, under hypnosis, crucial clues that solve case. I knew I didn’t want to write about hypnotherapy in that same old cliched way, but I loved the idea of a woman going to see a hypnotherapist for an ‘ordinary’ reason, and then getting dragged into a baffling murder case tangentially.
Boof – Is there a question you wish I had asked and if so what is it?
Sophie – I’d like you to ask me about my TV series, which I’m really excited about! Hat Trick (makers of Father Ted and Have I Got News For You) are adapting my thrillers for TV, and the series title is Case Sensitive. The first one they’re doing is my third novel, The Point of Rescue, which will be broadcast on ITV1 in early May, possibly over the bank holiday weekend. I’ve seen the DVD already, and it’s amazing – they’ve done a really brilliant job. My series detective charcters Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer are played by Darren Boyd (Los Dos Bros, Whites) and Olivia Williams (The Ghost, An Education, The Sixth Sense), and they are both perfect, such fantastic actors. All the actors in it are brilliant. I feel so lucky that they’re willing to pretend to be people I made up!
Boof – Quick fire round:
Favourite colour: green
Favourite animal: elephants
Favourite food: curry – very hot
Favourite song: Hymne a l’Amour by Edith Piaf
Favourite film: Twelve Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)
Favourite holiday destination: Hotel Les Sources Des Alpes, Leucherbad, Switzerland
Favourite childhood memory: Assuming childhood finishes when you turn eighteen, my favourite childhood memory is of the day before my eighteenth birthday, and realising that very soon I would no longer be a minor, and therefore I wouldn’t have to do what my parents told me anymore. I wasn’t well suited to childhood – from the age of about thirteen, I was very strong-willed and hated the idea that, just because I was unfortunate enough to be young, I had to live according to someone else’s rules. Even now, aged 39, I never take for granted that I can do what I want to do most of the time – it’s something I appreciate every day, every time I make even the smallest decision.
A big thank you to Sophie for such great answers!
I especially love that her favourite authors are Val McDermid and Tana French (who are two of mine) and I HAVE to get myself a copy of that book called Before I Go To Sleep – how great does that sound? And I cannot WAIT for that TV series. Anyone else plan on watching that? Finally, although there are so many places I would like to go back in time to, Sophie does offer a compelling argument about why it is better to stay firmly planted in the present (no shopping on Amazon is surely reason enough!)