In conversation with... Holly Seddon (#3)

Hi Holly! I have just finished reading your debut novel, Try Not to Breathe, which was first published in UK in January 2016. I have now read every novel you’ve written and I look forward to more! Before I let you go back to writing your next book, can you please briefly tell us what it is about? 

A: Try Not to Breathe is the story of Amy Stevenson, a girl left for dead in 1995 when she was aged 15 who has remained in a form of long term coma ever since. She would likely have stayed like that, forgotten, if not for Alex Dale, a disgraced journalist who stumbles upon Amy while writing an article about the work of the hospital. The story follows Alex’s attempts to find out what happened all those years ago, opening up and tipping out several cans of worms in the process. 

Right now I’m actually working on an Alex Dale Christmas story. I’ve written them each year since Try Not to Breathe was published and you can read them on my website

What was your journey to becoming a published writer like? 

A: Hmn. Long! I’d always wanted to write books, which I know is a cliché, but it also seemed highly unlikely so I focussed on writing in other ways. I had an enjoyable career working in journalism and online communities but I couldn’t help writing fiction on the side.

I started writing Try Not to Breathe in 2010 but had to pause a lot because of ‘life’, eventually sending it to agents in January 2014. After working on it with my agent, we submitted it to publishers in Autumn 2014 and, in October 2015, I signed with Corvus Books. It came out in January 2016. Six years from start to finish! An overnight success!

Try Not to Breathe is mostly narrated from three main points of view. How did you manage to create three distinctive voices? You made it sound natural but that can’t have been easy!

A: Thank you. I wish I had a good, academic answer but the truth is that it was all instinct. If anything, I’ve found this harder as I’ve gone on and had to really stop and think about who I’m writing. The characters in Try Not to Breathe sort of appeared fully formed. That doesn’t always happen so I’m glad when it does. 

What kind of research, if any, did you have to carry out while you were writing this novel? In general, is research something you enjoy or a means to an end?

A: Because Try Not to Breathe features quite a lot of medical situations, I wanted to get those aspects as realistic as possible. Not just for accuracy but out of sensitivity for people affected by alcoholism or long term illness in real life.  

I love researching but I have to curb myself or I’ll get sucked down a rabbit hole and not actually write anything. I read an interview with Ian Rankin recently where he shared some advice that he’d once been given (to paraphrase): don’t stop to research, keep writing your first draft and then do research for the next draft. I think that’s good advice and I’m trying to follow that going forward. I’ve been known to research myself crazy. One summer I devoted many, many hours to learning all about pre-fab post-war housing and used it precisely nowhere. So that was a lesson learned! 

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: The very first scene, where we see Amy in 1995 walking down the road with her Kickers shoes and her heavy schoolbag. Maybe I’m just retrofitting but I very clearly remember getting a little shiver down my spine when I wrote this line: Later, the newspapers would call fifteen-year-old Amy Stevenson a ‘ray of sunshine’, with ‘everything to live for’.

I knew this book could be ‘the one’. 

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: So much! Including a big section where Alex Dale went to see Amy’s old house and met the woman now living in it. She was an agoraphobic and without realising it, may well have influenced my writing of Robin in Don’t Close Your Eyes (who is also housebound). 

If this novel could be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Alex and Jacob?

A: Kristen Ritter (Jessica Jones, Breaking Bad) would be perfect for Alex. James Norton (Happy Valley, McMafia) would kill it as Jacob. 

Do you read fiction while you’re in the process of writing a novel? If you do, what are you reading now?

A: I do, I read a lot, but I have a very rigid set of parameters! I read every night in bed and always on Kindle so it doesn’t disturb my husband. My bedtime book is generally part of a long running series. Having finished the last Lee Child, I’ve started on Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. Every December evening, I pick back up with The Complete Sherlock Holmes collection. It’s just for December so it’ll take me decades to finish (it’s over 1,000 pages). I sometimes read preview copies of thrillers but I struggle to do so when I’m writing as it can get in my head. And then I always have a non-fiction book on the go too, which is generally about European History, often Soviet era. I realise that’s not really a banger of an answer to end on, and makes me sound quite odd… but it’s true. 

Thank you for your time!

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