I have been attending Essex Book Festival events for several years now and have been lucky enough to see some wonderful authors interviewed, including Jodi Picoult and Jessie Burton. Always inspired, I eagerly await the release of the line-up of fine artists and this year I was thrilled to see Clare Mackintosh among those listed.
The evening took the format of a guided question and answer session and for an hour, Clare and the host held a captivated audience. Clare is as confident and bold as her writing and I felt we were allowed an honest and true insight into her literary world. There was no shying away from answering any question with Clare admitting that prior to becoming an author, while she was in the police force, her work came first and her family got the exhausted left overs.
A moment of clarity arrived for Clare one evening when she showed her husband a copy of her recent work appraisal, of which she was extremely proud. Her husband responded jokingly and asked who the wonderful, approachable, happy women in the appraisal was. Clare realised, at that moment, exactly what he meant and although not said to hurt or offend she knew her priorities had to change.
After a career change into freelance writing Clare took work that paid the bills, but was ultimately quite soul-destroying. However, several things started to form together in Clare's mind which in turn developed into the debut novel we now know as the hugely successful, I Let You Go.
The audience, obviously eager to know more about the book and it's creation, were not disappointed. Clare confirmed she does not write characters similar to anyone in the police force she worked with, although she has been asked by previous colleagues more than once if they were the inspiration! She does however use collar numbers as a little nod to certain friends.
She also revealed the original plan was to have Jenna based in Cornwall, however, to fit with one part of the plot she realised the distance between Bristol and Cornwall was too far, so then had to source a different location that still fitted the idea of the sandy beach, the cliffs, the caravan park. To this end her thanks go to Google Earth, for that was how she found the spot in Wales. And no, she didn't get to physically visit the location until after the book was written. And why Bristol for the other main locale? Well, Clare has a soft spot for Bristol because that was where she was born, although not raised.
When asked about police procedure, Clare referred to a recent meeting with the author Sophie Hannah. She uses the rule - 'If it could happen once...' and Clare said that is a good rule to go by when it comes to procedural work, because it allows for a little more freedom and creativity. Clare's personal opinion is there is too much police procedure in I Let You Go, and if she was re-writing with the knowledge she has now, she would thin it out more (I can't find any fault with the book so I would say there wasn't too much for me).
Of course, after the book comes the movie, right? Well, it has been optioned for a movie, but personally Clare see's it working much better as a serious, two-part TV crime drama (Sunday evening, prime-time) and I must say the audience was whole-heartedly in agreement on that point.
The questions then moved onto the very exciting news of Clare's second book, I See You, due to be published in hardback and kindle in July this year. Clare is very happy with the cover for the new book, which was revealed on Twitter just last week (go to @claremackint0sh to see it) and to the audiences delight we were treated to a live reading of the whole first chapter. You could have heard a pin drop, everyone was so eager not to miss a word. All I can say is - it is a gripping opening, leaving a million questions running through your mind.
Of course, a book event such as this will always attract writers, who want to know just how a published writer spends their day. Clare was happy to divulge. After getting her children off to school, the day starts with a dog walk, during that walk she plays out in her mind the scenes she intends to write. Some days getting them down onto paper comes easy, others not so much and she admitted she gets easily waylaid with the temptation of social media. Her writing time is scheduled by the school day and terms. In general, it is not possible to get much done in the holidays as she is too busy with the children, however she did point out publishers are not so worried about this so on occasion it doesn't always work out.
Clare was also asked about inspiration (if you want to know the inspiration behind I Let You Go, be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book - it explains it all there). She said she plays the 'What If?' game (What if someone donated an organ and then wanted it back?) and looks out for interesting and unusual stories (A disused building is purchased, it has been made into dozens of little bedsits, when they start to strip it out they find hundreds of hidden camera's everywhere...then her mind can create what individual stories the camera's hold, for example.)
As always with these events, time goes quickly and the talk came to an end. However, Clare was kind enough to offer to sign copies of her book. Usually with events like these you get in a huge queue, hover awkwardly in front of said author and (in my case) either fail to speak (other than prove I can actually spell my own name) or go on a nervous verbal diarrhoea assault leaving a confused looking writer behind. And you feel time pressure, you are holding up the long queue even further while you are spelling out your name! But that wasn't the case at this event. A table had been set up with two chairs, one for Clare and one next to her for you to sit. Actually sit! So each person sat, and chatted, and somehow it didn't seem to hold up the queue - I guess people didn't mind waiting for their chance to converse with someone who's work you hold in high esteem. Clare's own comfort with this situation made everyone else feel at ease, and for once, I chatted. About this blog, praise for the book, excitement about the new one, about signing a book for a giveaway event...
So, if you would like to win that signed copy of : I Let You Go ... look out for details on how you can in the next few days.