Hello Sara! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your latest novel, Brighton Belle. Can you tell us what it is about?
A: Thank you! Brighton Belle is the story of an ex-Secret Service agent, Mirabelle Bevan. At the end of the war Mirabelle feels her useful life is over – her skills are no longer required. Her boyfriend is dead and she moves down to Brighton to retire. Then she gets a job working for a debt collection agency run by the charismatic Big Ben McGuigan and before she knows it she finds her skills are useful because a mysterious case comes in….
Brighton Belle is set in Brighton in 1951. Why did you choose this particular time and place and how much research did you have to carry out?
A: The book had its genesis in a boozy lunch with my parents. My father was brought up in Brighton and London during the 1950s and he has some great stories of what that was like. It prompted me to look at setting a story there – I had a couple of months on my hands initially and once I’d started writing I didn’t stop. The research was very different from the kind of historical research I’ve done before but there is fabulous material available from the era – film footage, photos, eyewitness accounts etc. I delved right in!
Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did something that you were not expecting?
A: I knew immediately what I wanted the book to feel like but it’s a mystery story so it wouldn’t have been right to work out everything in advance (I’d have ended up giving things away too soon) so I let it come naturally. Agatha Christie used to write the whole story, you know, and then go back to fit in the clues (you can’t do better than that!)
Brighton Belle is the first instalment in your new Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries series. How many more adventures are we to expect? Will the second book in the series be your next novel or are you going to publish something different between one and the other?
A: It’s an 11 book series (running from 1951 – 1961). Mirabelle is recovering from the War and from losing Jack, just as the whole country is recovering from the War, I suppose. It’s such an interesting decade, each year has a very distinct character. I’ve just finished the second book in the series – London Calling – which is set in the world of seedy jazz clubs. That’ll be out next summer, which will make it my next novel (though there is another historical novel that isn’t part of the series coming after that….) and then the third Mirabelle Bevan book, England Expects.
You sit on the Society of Authors Committee for Scotland. What does this role involve and what does it mean for you?
A: Writers need writers! I enjoy taking part in the Society of Authors’ work representing the rights and needs of the writing community. I’m currently working with Publishing Scotland on a writer/publisher service agreement – it’s nice to be able to make a difference.
Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?
A: I’m fascinated by readers so no, I don’t think being online interferes. It’s just part of what I want to do with my day. I’m actually blogging about this very issue on the Scottish Book Trust’s site very soon. The whole reader/writer relationship has changed and that’s very exciting.
How did your first book deal come about and what one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A: All writers have a different tale to tell about how their writing works for them – every single person makes a different deal, has a different schedule. Being a writer is not like being an accountant or a solicitor – there really isn’t a career path. My first book deal came from me sending out a manuscript myself. It was a first draft, I knew nothing at all and I got my first offer in about 3 weeks. It’s ridiculously jammy, I know! So my fundamental piece of advice is to look at how things have worked for other people and see if you can adapt any of that to work for you. There are no rules.
And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked? Any coming events that your fans shouldn’t miss?
A: I’m looking forward to the Harrogate Crime Festival this summer and of course the Edinburgh and Wigtown Book Festivals (both have been massively supportive of my career over the years).
Thank you for your time!
A: Thanks so much for having me!
To win a copy of Brighton Belle, please fill out this form. The competition will end on the 30th April.