Can you introduce us to ‘The Breakdown’; what can we expect?
Like Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown is a psychological thriller although the story is very different. It centres on Cass who, while driving home through a terrible storm one night, sees a young woman parked in a small lay-by. Thinking she has broken down, Cass stops. But after, the guilt she feels in relation to her actions that night begins to affect her profoundly. The problems she’s been having with her memory become worse and when she starts to receive silent calls, they only add to her fear that someone saw her in the woods that night, and is now watching her every move.
What inspired you to write this story? Where did the idea come from?
I was inspired to write The Breakdown from an experience of my own. I was driving home through some woods one afternoon when the sky suddenly darkened, the heavens opened and I found myself in the middle of a huge storm. There was no one else around and as I crawled along, I began to wonder what would happen if it saw someone stopped at the side of the road. It was only the afternoon but what if it was the middle of the night? Would I dare to stop in such an isolated place? Would it depend on whether it was a man or woman sitting behind the wheel? I thought it was an interesting dilemma and one which would make a good starting point for a story. I was also interested in exploring the subject of early onset dementia so I was thrilled when I managed to combine the two themes.
Your excellent debut ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was both critically acclaimed and phenomenally well received by customers too. Has this affected writing your second book?
When I started writing, all I wanted was to be able to walk into WHS and see one of my books on a shelf, so everything that has happened since behind Closed Doors was published last year has been more than a dream come true. However, its success made writing The Breakdown more of a challenge because there were certain expectations, to deliver an equally gripping story, and certain responsibilities, to provide those who loved Behind Closed Doors with a similar experience. So the pressure was definitely on.
Have you had contact from readers of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ about domestic abuse? If so, what has it been like to be contacted on the subject?
The thing that has touched me the most since Behind Closed Doors was published is the number of messages I’ve received from women who have gone through something very similar to Grace. All of them speak of the desperation and hopelessness they felt, and the fear that no-one would believe them, and their gratitude – that Behind Closed Doors has helped bring the subject of psychological abuse into the open – has often moved me to tears. I never imagined that Grace’s story would touch so many people or give hope to those in similar situations. I was especially delighted when Surrey police interviewed me as part of their campaign against coercive control.
You’ve mentioned in interviews that when writing ‘Behind Closed Doors’ you felt like the characters were writing the story for you. Has the same been true for ‘The Breakdown’?
To a certain extent. There were times when I definitely felt that Cass had taken up residence in me – and I was also able to call on some personal experiences when writing about her problems with her memory!
It’s an interesting notion, and one I’ve heard other authors mention too. Do the characters only appear when you sit down to write, or are you ever rudely interrupted by them when you’re doing something else? Do they leave once the book is finished?
I’m afraid they interrupt at any time of the day or night. In fact, while I’m writing their story I’m not sure they ever really go away. I always feel that I function on a day to day basis with only half my mind – my family will definitely back me up on this! – because the other half is constantly writing. But my characters are polite enough to leave me in peace once I’ve finished writing to make room for the next ones. That said, I think Jack, Grace and Millie will always be with me.
You have a Franco Irish background and have lived in England and France. Do you think your background has affected your storytelling and writing style?
It’s an interesting question – if I wasn’t Franco/Irish, if I hadn’t moved to France, would I be the same sort of writer? I’m afraid I have no idea!
Do you read English and French novels? If so, what do you enjoy most about reading books from the different countries? Have you discovered any interesting insights?
When I first arrived in France, I read a lot of the French classics, in French. But I much prefer reading in English and as I don’t have as much time to read nowadays, because I’m too busy writing, I tend to stick to English novels. It’s not really an insight but the one thing that I have discovered is that a novel translated from English into French will be about 25% longer, because it takes more words to say the same thing.
What is your approach to writing, do you start knowing the ending?
Yes, I usually have a good idea of how the book will end, the hard part is writing the 80.000 words between the beginning of the story and that end!
What sort of research did you carry out for this book, and what was the most interesting part of it?
The subject of dementia is an integral part of The Breakdown and I have many friends who unfortunately have first-hand experience in this field and were kind enough to share their knowledge with me and allow me to use some of their stories. These were often harrowing, sometimes amusing but always interesting. And of course the internet is a mine of information.
What have you been reading lately that you’ve enjoyed?
The book that has made the most impression on me recently is You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood. Just before the end of his trial, a young man accused of murder decides to sack his lawyer and give his own defence speech, which makes up the whole book. It will be out this June and deserves to be huge.