Interview: Sophie Hannah

I recently saw Sophie Hannah at a book signing, and found her very funny and silly and intelligent. A great combo! I picked up her book, The Wrong Mother, and really enjoyed it. I knew she’d be a great addition to our interview series. Enjoy.

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I saw you recently at the Next Chapter Bookstore in Wisconsin for a signing of The Wrong Mother. How often do you get to the states to promote your work? Any favorite spot you’ve hit so far?

I’ve so far been to America twice to promote my books. The first time was October 2008, when my first psychological thriller Little Face came out. I went on a tour that involved about seven cities. This year I did another tour to promote my new thriller The Wrong Mother, and I was in five cities: Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Oakland and Houston. I liked them all in different ways! Each one was almost like a different country.

You’ve had several books published in different genres. How did you gravitate toward crime thriller from your earlier works?

I’ve always been an avid reader of mystery/thriller stories, but for a long time I didn’t think I’d be able to write them because I’m not a detective or crime-solving professional, and I didn’t think I’d be able to write realistically about people whose job it was to solve crimes. So I wrote a lot of other things: poetry, mainly – for a while I thought I was only or mainly a poet. But then I had an idea that was clearly an idea for a psychological thriller, not a poem, and it simply wouldn’t go away. So I did some research into police procedure and just did it – and that book turned out to be Little Face!

I really enjoyed reading The Wrong Mother. What kind of feedback have you received from readers? Specifically, how did people react to the reality of Geraldine Bretherick’s motherhood confessions?

Aside from being a (hopefully) gripping mystery, The Wrong Mother is a story about mothers who cannot cope with the demands of motherhood, and who feel their lives have been ruined by having children. There is one character in the book in particular who feels this way, and the sections in which she expresses her views are fairly no-holds-barred in their negativity about motherhood! But I’ve had overwhelmingly positive reactions from readers, some of whom have said, ‘I thought it was only me who had moments of feeling that way’. I felt, when I was writing the book, that it was important to show how tough it can be to be a parent – it was a huge shock to my system when I had kids, and I got quite angry that no books I’d read about women with children described quite how unpleasant it could be to find yourself suddenly at the mercy of an unfathomable screaming baby! I really wanted to tell the truth about parenting and what it involves, which is why the book contains several mothers as main characters – some who love it and some who loathe it.

What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

I have just finished my fifth psychological thriller, which is called A Room Swept White in the UK. It’s coming out next year, and is about (another cheerful subject!) a series of controversial cot-death murder cases. Here is the blurb:

TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four – numbers that mean nothing to her.

On the same day, Fliss finds out she’s going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hind. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four…

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

Gosh, that’s a hard one! A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of them. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch is another.

Favorite authors?

Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Douglas Kennedy, Val McDermid.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

Someone who continues to write good book after good book, so that you can rely on them and trust them to produce work of a certain standard, and not have to worry that the next novel will be hopeless.

Advice for other writers?

The most important thing is to have a really good story to tell, and then don’t let anyone put you off telling it. When I was trying to write my first thriller, Little Face, which is about a woman who claims her baby has been swapped for another baby, a few people discouraged me and said I should give up on the book because a situation in which one baby was swapped for another ‘wasn’t very realistic’. I completely disagreed with this point of view. Even if baby-swapping isn’t an everyday occurrence, it’s of course possible that it could happen once, in a particular situation, involving a particular group of people. My plausibility test is: could it happen once? I don’t want to read, or write, about ordinary things that might happen all the time – I like unusual, weird plots that make people think, ‘What on earth could be going on here?’ And Little Face was exactly the sort of story I knew I’d want to read, as a reader of mystery fiction. So I ignored the person who told me to give up on it, and it went on to be published in 20 countries, and it’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. That’s why it’s so important not to let other people tell you something can’t work when you know deep down that it can.

Where can we learn more about you?

On my website: www.sophiehannah.com.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, while I’m here, I might as well tell you about my novel that’s being published in the US next year. It’s out now in the UK, and the English version is called The Other Half Lives, but in the US it will be called The Dead Lie Down. Here’s the blurb:

Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn’t believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he can’t bear to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease.
Ruth is confused. She’s certain she’s heard the name Mary Trelease before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen – because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive…

Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn’t believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he can’t bear to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease.
Ruth is confused. She’s certain she’s heard the name Mary Trelease before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen – because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive…

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