Next in our series of Q & As with writers who are appearing at this year's MLF is leading psychological crime writer Sophie Hannah, who hails from the not so far away Didsbury.
MLF: What are you reading at the moment?
'The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment' by Isabel Losada. It's the memoir of a woman who sets out to become enlightened and tries everything from 'Find Your Inner Goddess' workshops to colonic irrigation. I bought it because I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual memoir 'Eat Pray Love' and absolutely loved it, and so I thought I'd try and read about other people's journeys to enlightenment. When I'm not reading crime fiction, which is my staple diet, I like to read new agey stuff. My favourite ever spiritual enlightenment book is Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now'. I should point out that, personally, I'm not very enlightened - I still enjoy bitching about people I don't like and doing the wrong thing when it suits me - but I find the whole subject of enlightenment fascinating.
MLF: What made you want to be a writer? Who/ what is your biggest inspiration?
SH: Books have always been so important to me as a means of escape from whatever I can't control and/or don't like. When I started university, for example, I hated my course and just didn't want to be there at all, so I 'escaped' by spending as much time as I could immersed in Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford mysteries. Quite seriously, without Wexford I'd have dropped out and gone and trained to be a hairdresser. Luckily, I didn't, and so I was still at university when they started a Creative Writing course as part of the English degree, and from that moment on I was fine. But I wanted to be a writer, and still want to be, because I feel that there's hardly anything in the world that's as important as books. As Morrissey once said, 'There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more.' My biggest inspiration is real life - I wander about with my antennae permanently ready to receive, and I constantly see and hear things that inspire me. In terms of other writers, my biggest inspirations so far have been Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Tana French and Robert Goddard.
MLF: If you could meet any writer, artist, musician (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
SH: I'd be too scared to meet my idols - the writers or artists that I considered to be legends. Put me in a room with Ruth Rendell and I'd freeze completely, then worry forever that she thought I was an idiot. But, if I could guarantee the meeting would go well, I'd love to meet: Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie, Eckhart Tolle, M Scott Peck, Jerry Seinfeld - and I'd love it if Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp would come round to my house and tell me whether or not, in their opinion, I bought wisely. I should point out that I've already met my other favourite writers - Nicci French, Tana French, Robert Goddard, Val McDermid and many others.
MLF: What would you be if not a writer?
SH: A singer, or something in alternative/energy medicine
MLF: Do you ever get writer's block? If you do, how do you get over it?
SH: No, never. But I suffer permanently from an associated condition: housekeeper-writer's block. I sit down to write and then can't concentrate because I know a load of clean washing needs to be sorted and put into drawers, or we've run out of Cheerios. If I had a team of staff to run my house (or even a husband who picked up his own socks occasionally), I would write and write and write - I never run out of ideas, and I'm not scared to write something that's imperfect, which I think is what freezes a lot of writers in their tracks. I write something okay-ish and then work on it to make it good - that's always been my tactic. It's too much pressure if you tell yourself it has to be brilliant straight away.
MLF: Which piece of your own work are you most proud of?
SH: My latest novel 'A Room Swept White'. It's a psychological thriller, like my others, but, although it's totally fictional, it's based on and was inspired by cases such as Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Trupti Patel - women who each lost more than one baby in what they claimed all along were cot deaths, and who were then accused of murder by police and many doctors, on the grounds that (to quote one leading paediatrician) 'One cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, three is murder'. This issue of cot death mothers who might or might not be murderers is hugely controversial, and most people who take any interest in it at all have an axe to grind - they see it as a battle between sides, and are either on the side of the mothers or the side of the doctors. I wanted to write a balanced, non-judgemental book about this hugely important subject because it seemed to me that there aren't any bad guys here. The doctors are trying to protect children - although they might get it disastrously wrong sometimes, their intentions are good - and let's face it, a lot of children need protecting. And these women accused of murder are either innocent or have smothered their babies in desperation, often as a result of post-natal depression, or they have serious mental health issues - in either case, I don't think they can be put in the same categories as 'ordinary' murderers. It's interesting that many in the legal profession don't think mothers who smother their infants should ever stand trial in the criminal courts.
MLF: What do you see in your future?
SH: Well, my sixth psychological thriller, 'Lasting Damage' is out next February. Here's the blurb:
It’s 1.15 a.m. Connie Bowskill should be asleep. Instead, she’s logging on to a property website in search of a particular house: 11 Bentley Grove, Cambridge. She knows it’s for sale; she saw the estate agent’s board in the front garden only a few hours ago.
Soon Connie is clicking on the ‘Virtual Tour’ button, keen to see the inside of 11 Bentley Grove and put her mind at rest once and for all. She finds herself looking at a scene from a nightmare: in the living room there’s a woman lying face down in a huge pool of blood. In shock, Connie wakes her husband Kit. But when Kit sits down at the computer to take a look, he sees no dead body, only a pristine beige carpet in a perfectly ordinary room…
Beyond that, I will certainly carry on writing crime novels - and poetry, because I'm also a poet. I'm also working on a couple of ideas for TV series. And my third psychological thriller, 'The Point of Rescue', is being filmed very soon - starring Olivia Williams from 'The Ghost Writer' as Charlie Zailer. It will be broadcast on ITV1 next year. Their intention, assuming enough people watch the first one, is to make a series of all the books a la 'Prime Suspect', so if that happens I will possibly be involved in that too.
MLF: What are you looking forward to most at MLF?
SH: Doing an event with Val McDermid, at the beautiful Whitworth Art Gallery. I love Val's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels, and it's a huge honour to be doing an event with her.
You can catch Sophie Hannah and Val McDermid at our Women in Crime Fiction event, Friday 22nd October, 7:30pm at The Whitworh Art Gallery. Tickets are £7/£5 concessions. See you there!
Kirsty Young (Digital Marketing Assistant)