In The Spotlight
SPOTLIGHT ON CRIME
Well I have now been lining a few in the spotlights and I am delighted to welcome Sarah Hilary for the Spotlight on Crime series whose debut novel is published by Headline today!
Big warm welcome …
Hi Sarah, tell us something about you, have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.
Hi Debz, I love crime fiction and short stories, and I write both. Yes, always. And it was tough; really, properly tough; lots of rejection, some sulking, mostly just hard graft – and amazingly worth it. Someone Else’s Skin has been bought by eight countries so far, and is the first in a series.
Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
It took me about four years to write a book good enough to get signed by the UK’s top crime agent (Jane Gregory). After that, my life got immeasurably easier. My advice would be: do your research and target one or two of the agents you really want to represent you. Don’t scatter-gun. Focus on the right one(s), listen to feedback and work hard to get better at what you do.
Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?
I belonged to two online writing groups where I made some really good friends who are also terrific writers. I was lucky enough to spend time in a group led by Vanessa Gebbie who was so generous with her time and support. And I met Anna Britten, an amazing writer, without whose friendship I’d have given up before my big break came. I shared the first draft of Someone Else’s Skin with a couple of people whose opinion I trusted. Now I’m writing the follow-up and only sharing it with my editor at Headline and my agent, so things do change, mainly because of deadlines.
Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?
Anna Britten. I phoned her up and we screamed like school girls.
What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?
It’s terrific to work with an editor who loves your writing. It is challenging too, when you’ve been writing by yourself for years, to make space in your head for another person’s opinions and advice, but the result more than justifies the effort.
Tell us something about your writing day, routine.
I don’t do anything by longhand, apart from notes. I fire up the laptop and work, for a minimum of three hours a day, more if I can manage it. It sounds very dry and dull, but it’s the only way to move forward: getting black on white.
What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?
My grandmother, and my mother, two of the wisest and bravest women I know. Terrific TV – I love The Bridge and The Returned. Great books – my current favourites are by Fred Vargas, Helen Dunmore, and Kate Atkinson.
Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?
It’s become a compulsion. Which is great, because that’s where you want to be, as a writer: compelled to do it, to get better, never stop. I want my stories to be surprising, and moving.
How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?
I’ve done a lot of blog pieces and interviews. I’m on Twitter a lot, but I enjoy that so it’s no hardship. I’m an introvert by inclination, and I do find the social side a challenge (much harder than the writing) but I absolutely see the necessity of it, and I’m lucky to be working with a great team at Headline who make it all a lot easier.
Tell us about the latest published book!
Someone Else’s Skin is a book about secrets, who keeps them and why and the cost to the people involved. It introduces DI Marnie Rome, who’s an expert at uncovering secrets, but also at keeping them. She and Noah Jake are investigating an assault when they walk into the middle of a stabbing in a women’s refuge. At first sight, it looks like cut and dried self-defence, but the ground keeps moving under them and it all leads to a very dark and dangerous place.
Follow her blog: http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.co.uk/
Find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarah_hilary
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Marnie Rome book two; I’m about to get stuck into the second draft. In ten years’ time, I’d like to be writing Marnie Rome book eleven…
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
As the song at the start of The Bridge says: “Goes back to the beginning” – it’s all about hard graft. The great thing is that the more you write, the better you write. Never lose faith with the idea that your next book/story will be your best.
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
I have a gold tooth.
Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?
Ed Belloc because he’s a rock, and Ayana Mirza because she’s brave and amazing.
Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book?
Extract from Someone Else’s Skin …
Only one inmate in the visitors’ room, sitting at a metal table under a ceiling strip of light. The light punched the colour out of everything.
Marnie sat in the chair on the other side of the table. Both chairs, like the table, were bolted to the floor; a contingency against furniture fights.
On the other side of the table …
Stephen Keele had a soap-and-water smell, with a hot metallic note underneath: prison cologne. From his pallor, it was tempting to think he’d spent the last five years in his room, without daylight, but he’d always been pale.
Marnie remembered meeting him for the first time, an oddly self-possessed eight-year-old, with an Old Testament angel’s face. Black curls, blue eyes, a mouth that curved ripely over small, even teeth. Incarceration hadn’t changed him, or not noticeably. He was nineteen, serving time for a double murder committed five years ago, when he was fourteen. He sat upright in the chair, his shoulders bleached by the light. Marnie wondered what the grey tracksuit was hiding. Whether, like Hope Proctor, Stephen was disguising damage done to him. Or to others, by him. He kept his hands out of sight, under the lip of the table.
‘I brought you a book.’ She put it on the table. ‘Short stories, I hope that’s okay.’
He didn’t touch the book. She waited for him to look at her, but he kept his eyes on the wall behind her head. ‘Jeremy says you like reading.’ She touched a finger to the book. ‘These are some of my favourites.’
‘Jeremy,’ he echoed. His voice was the same. Precise, pitched low. Not the voice of a teenage kid. More like a thirty-year-old’s. He still didn’t look at her.
‘Jeremy Strickland. Your lawyer.’
Stephen tilted his head to the left, as if he had difficulty hearing her.
He didn’t have any difficulty that she was aware of. He’d grown another inch. He’d been a skinny eight-year-old and would probably never be fat, unless he surrendered to the carb-rich diet here. As it stood, he was slim, angular at the hip and shoulders. Still with the angelic face, ripe lips.
She waited for him to take the book, or at least to acknowledge it. He did neither.
‘How are you?’ she asked, keeping the other questions at bay.
Somewhere in the secure unit someone was kicking a ball; an aimless repetitive sound like skin thumping on skin.
Marnie looked across the metal table at the boy who’d murdered her parents. ‘I asked Jeremy if there was anything I could bring you. He said he didn’t think so, that you seemed to have everything you needed.’
Slowly, very slowly, like a spider coming down from its web, Stephen’s eyes found her. He withdrew his hands from under the lip of the table and reached into his pocket.
Each movement was calculated, calibrated. From the pocket he brought out a pair of spectacles, slipping them on. Thin gold frames emphasised the fragile bridge of his nose. A smudge of white paint had dried at the corner of the right lens. He drew her book of stories towards him with the ball of his thumb, looking over the gold-rimmed lenses at the cover. Then back at her.
‘I had the whole sky in my eyes,’ he said, each word dropping like spiked honey from his tongue, ‘and it was blue and gold.’
She couldn’t breathe, all the heat shocked out of her. A world of loss in a single look and a handful of words he shouldn’t have known, he couldn’t have known, unless …
He’d seen her. Back then. Before he ripped her family apart.
He’d seen her. Naked.
© Sarah Hilary 2014 Headline Books –can not be reproduced without the permission of the author and publisher.
Thank you so much Sarah for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to drop by and step into the spotlight. I heard Sarah on the radio listening to her journey and was interested to hear this was her 4th novel, same thing happened with me and her journey has been similar to my own — except Sarah’s hard work found her an agent and a BIG publisher. I have a feeling this is the beginning of a long and successful career and the reviews have been excellent! The book it out now in paperback and Kindle is available to download I will be doing that to read on the flight to LA! Thanks Sarah.
Hope you all download it!