Richard and Judy Interview: Susie Steiner on Missing, Presumed

Richard and Judy Interview: Susie Steiner on Missing, Presumed

You’re a journalist with a traditional background – reporting for local papers, then what used to be called Fleet Street. How much of what you covered on the news beat informs your writing and particularly the plotting?

I’m a news junkie (it’s a battle to tear myself away from the headlines and start work in the mornings). When I was a cub reporter, I went to my fair share of police briefings and covered courts, and I always found that side of home news riveting. It’s not so much that the stories I covered back then have made their way into my writing, more that being a journalist means I’m in the habit of informing myself via research and then re-framing that information in my own words. In the case of Missing, Presumed, my raw material was spending time with Cambridgeshire’s major crime unit, and researching high-risk misper investigations or life in Whitemoor prison. Difference is, re-framing it in fiction is really enjoyable.

Manon is a terrifically rich, layered, and warm character. We loved her toe-curling blind date at the beginning of the book. Sorry for the clichéd question, but here it comes anyway: how much is there of you in her?

Manon is only 98.34% me – the rest is pure invention.

I think what freed me up in writing her, is I realised characters do not need to be good or perfect to be loveable. They can have quite ugly, conflicted parts and one doesn’t need to apologise for this or mask it. One critic described Manon to me as ‘hard going’. I took slight umbrage, but I wasn’t so narcissistically attached to her that I couldn’t see his point of view. So she is ‘of me’ but she isn’t me. I’m not a police officer, nor am I Internet dating, but I have been there (dating, not the force) and it was no picnic. I wanted to express my sympathy, I guess, for both my former self and all the other people ‘out there’ at the dating front line.

It’s a very pacey novel with quite a strong journalistic undertow – we sense you wrote it quite quickly, rather like meeting a tight news deadline. Is that the case?

I wrote it in two years, which felt fast for me, but isn’t fast at all for some authors. I’m not someone who writes in a burning-the-midnight-oil pelt to the finish line and then it’s done. I write draft upon draft, I throw a huge amount of material out, I undertake seismic restructuring at quite late stages, and my early drafts bear very little resemblance to the final book. So the ‘pacey’ feeling you’re talking about was achieved through structuring and restructuring, back-laying clues, removing them, changing and splicing – rather than pounding away at a keyboard at 2 a.m.

You’re not going to abandon Manon now, are you? We want more.

I’m definitely not done with Manon – she’s back at full chaotic tilt in my next book. I’d love to give you a taster of what’s going to happen to her, but as I’m still working on it and as I have form for making massive late-stage changes, it wouldn’t be safe to say. You won’t have to wait long though.

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