Mark writes: My favourite novel of 2011, by some distance, was Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. A pulse-pounding tale of a young woman suffering in the present from OCD and suffering in the past at the hands of a psychotic partner, ITDC is a brilliant read. It’s deservedly been a massive success, and is currently one of the books featured on More 4’s TV Book Club. I befriended Elizabeth on – where else? – Twitter and she kindly found some time to answer my questions. Even the daft ones.
Was becoming a published novelist something you always dreamt of? And how did it feel to achieve that dream?
It was always a dream, yes – but it always felt completely unreachable, definitely something that only happens to other people. Now that it has happened I still have several moments a day where I shake my head in disbelief! There are several more parts of the dream that I’m working on, though – as a teenager I fantasised about living and writing in a converted lighthouse on a windy cliff top, but for now I’ll settle for the next step, which is a writing shed – in many ways just as exciting.
Is it true that you wrote a large part of ITDC during Nanowrimo? Can you tell us more about that?
The whole dream-come-true thing is largely thanks to Nanowrimo because I would never have written anything full-length without it. Writing is something that very easily takes a back seat in our hectic lives unless we can dedicate proper time to it, and even so it feels like an indulgence: something done purely for fun when you have a job, a family and other commitments feels like a selfish thing to do. Nanowrimo compensates for that by giving you an excuse to write. It’s only for one month out of the year, after all.
When I started doing Nanowrimo it felt good to be able to give myself permission to write for a whole month, and to put everything else (within reason!) to one side. I found that I write best under pressure, and although I end up doing a whole year’s worth of editing afterwards, at least I come out of every November with a first draft, and an annual wish that I’d done the Christmas shopping in October.
Do you still have a day job, and what is it?
I’ve just started a two year career break from my job as a police intelligence analyst – the perfect job for a crime writer and a role that has been sadly overlooked by procedural writers! Taking time out from was a hard decision to make, as I’ve loved it so much and worked with such an amazing team of people. Thanks to government cuts and redundancies in the organisation, it’s highly likely I won’t have a job to go back to in two years’ time, but I have this amazing opportunity to try and make my writing the best it can possibly be, and this isn’t a chance that comes along every day.
When do you get time to write?
When I started the career break I had plans for being really organised, having two writing days per week with no interruptions, making sure meetings all happened on one day of the week, doing one blog post a day – all of which collapsed almost immediately. I’m hopelessly disorganised and I haven’t found a decent routine yet. I still feel like I’m on holiday two months in. So when do I write? When I have an urgent, scary deadline. Miraculously I can then focus and get things done.
ITDC has been incredibly successful, winning the Amazon Book of the Year 2011 and picking up tons of 5 star reviews. Do you ever feel like pinching yourself?
Yes, all the time! Every single day. Although I loved my characters and still do, I’m aware that it’s a very difficult, challenging story at times and I was fully expecting people to say that it wasn’t for them. I’ve been constantly surprised at the broad spectrum of readers who have told me they loved it. Even 500+ Amazon reviews later I still check for new ones several times a day, greedily read each one and wish I could reply to them and say thank you to everyone who has made the effort to post their reviews – favourable or not. People go to a lot of trouble to tell me what they think, and I appreciate it very much.
What do you think of the ebook revolution?
I think it has the potential to change things dramatically for the next generation, and whilst it’s shocking to consider the future of print books, there are so many positives too. Literature has suddenly become much more accessible, and from a purely practical point of view I can take over a hundred books away on holiday and still have room in the suitcase for clothes.
Into the Darkest Corner was in the Amazon Kindle sale for two months in the summer, and this had a dramatic effect on sales thanks to the number of reviews; people were then writing reviews saying that they thought 99p was a bargain for the book, more reviews helped the sales, and it was almost creating an upward spiral – all thanks to the Kindle sale. For a long while my ebook sales outnumbered the print sales, largely thanks to these two months at a lower price.
If you hadn’t got a book deal, would you have considered self-publishing?
Quite possibly. Self-publishing has changed a great deal in a short space of time and become potentially very profitable – it’s exciting. However I should point out that Into the Darkest Corner was only successful thanks to the editing skills of Vicky Blunden at Myriad. The first draft was very different, messy and not good at all. I am useless at editing, and therefore if I had self-published it would have been a disaster.
What’s the most exciting experience you’ve had as a writer so far?
There have been several – I think I can only cope with it by being in denial about until something else exciting happens, and then I realise I’ve processed the last thing. Being told that Myriad were going to publish my book was one of the first, and it was a complete surprise – I honestly thought Vicky was just looking at my manuscript to give me some feedback on it. Getting a publishing deal with HarperCollins in the US was another big moment. Being invited to the film premiere of Junkhearts was another one; it’s Tinge Krishnan’s first feature film, and she is going to direct the film version of Into the Darkest Corner. The most recent I think was being filmed for the TV Book Club – quite traumatic at the time but in retrospect it was great fun!
Can you tell us something about your next novel, Revenge of the Tide?
It is a psychological thriller like my first book, but the heroine is much feistier than Catherine – she isn’t scared of anything. Genevieve is a former pole dancer who has moved to Kent to renovate a boat on the river Medway – but her past catches up with her. Revenge of the Tide is being launched on 15 March in the UK and I’m very excited about it!
What is your favourite ever novel?
That’s an incredibly difficult question. I think if I had to pick one I would have to say William Brodrick’s The Sixth Lamentation. It’s absolutely perfect and I wish I had a tiny percentage of his talent.
Who are your favourite writers?
I have an enduring love of crime fiction and I could list many favourites. In particular, though, I would like to recommend John Harvey – his Resnick series of novels are the best procedurals I’ve ever read.
What’s best – The Wire, The Killing or The Sopranos?
I have to confess out of those I have only seen the first series of The Killing. I find it very difficult to watch police TV because it’s so far removed from anything I’ve experienced working for the police. I realise that dramatic license has to be used but it’s absolutely ridiculous at times. For instance, as much as I loved The Killing because of the dramatic tension and characters, they arrested almost everyone with no shred of actual evidence, had family members and potential suspects wandering freely around the police station and interviewed people in the most unlikely places – for instance, next to the open door of the incident room, complete with crime scene photos on the wall! I realise police procedure in Denmark may well be quite different to here in the UK – but even so it’s frustrating to watch.
Visit Elizabeth’s Amazon page to buy her books.