In conversation with... Kate Bradley

Hi Kate! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of To Keep You Safe! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thanks! I’d love to. It’s a story that poses the question: how far would you go to save a child that isn’t yours? Jenni is an ex-army, recently trained teacher, who becomes concerned about a student in her class. Destiny is brilliant, 15 years’ old and in care. When a gang tries to take Destiny at the school gates, Jenni faces a dilemma. Social services don’t seem to trust Destiny, so instead she agrees to help Destiny escape to a place of safety. But what should be a short journey starts a series of events that Jenni couldn’t have foreseen. To Keep You Safe is a psychological thriller. The e-book is out now on Kobo and Amazon for just 99p. The audiobook is also available, read by the fabulous Lucy Dixon. The paperback is due out in March 2020. After a decade of writing, you can imagine how I feel! 

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: A bit of both. I like to start with a central question – one that I would like to see answered myself. For this story, I wondered how far someone would go to save a child that wasn’t theirs. Like lots of people, I see tragic stories in the news and I wish I could’ve done something. But ultimately, none of us know how we would act in an unexpected situation. And how someone might act, leads me to character. I can’t start plotting until I have a clear understanding of my character, because I think characters drive plot, not the other way round.  

Because bad things happen when good men do nothing, I wanted to have a female hero who was a good person who wouldn’t stand by and do nothing, but would take action. Someone who would have no limits, no boundaries, who was free to take kick-ass action in a way that I can’t. I love the strong female heroes depicted in some of my favourite films like Alien and Terminator and wanted Jenni to be just as daring for what she feels is the right cause.  

After I have a clear idea of my protagonist, I do plot to have a clear understanding of where the plot starts and how it finishes. The bit in the middle I’m happy to leave a mystery… there’s got to be something for me to discover. The twists I don’t know. I like to keep chucking in the ‘what if’s’ into the plot just to keep it interesting for me. I hope that if it’s interesting for me, then it might be for just one other person. That’s how I write it: for me and one other person. I don’t know who that one other person is… you, I hope!

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: I currently work in secondary education. Some of my political views are evident in this novel, but I don’t worry about that, as I think that most people who work in the public sector would agree that funding cuts have caused huge problems. It’s certainly not designed to be a documentary though – this is a story first and foremost, and one with deeply flawed individuals in it. Functional people going about their daily business in a professional way do not provoke the best entertainment!

Also, some of the mental health issues explored were also already in place for me. I’ve worked for years in various capacities with adults who have complex histories of offending, substance misuse, mental health problems and homelessness. After nearly two decades, I’ve understood just how many of those people felt damaged by their childhoods.    

A long time ago, I worked with a vulnerable man who was subjugated to enforced labour, but to help me understand the more modern issues around slavery and trafficking, I received support from an amazing charity called Stop the Traffic. They helped me understand ‘the boyfriend model’ where vulnerable girls are at risk of grooming from gangs. I’d urge people to take the time to read Stop the Traffic’s material, as if we are aware of the issues of trafficking and modern-day slavery, then it might just make a crucial difference to someone.  

Additionally, I needed specialist help with the army scenes. I was very fortunate to have support with someone with a very prestigious and long career in the British Army. 

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Jenni and Destiny?

A: I’m not sure about Destiny, but an editor first pointed out how perfect Gwendoline Christie would be as Jenni, and I agree. I’m going to send her a copy of TKYS when it comes out as she is so perfect for the role. Please Gwendoline!  

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: Oh I can do both! For some reason, I loved the scene where Destiny meets with her social worker. It felt especially real to me and I loved the social worker and what she gave Destiny. Near the end, there’s a scene that I found really difficult to write and I’ve not read it through more than twice. It gives a glimpse into the reality of Destiny’s childhood.  I debated leaving it out. In the end, I felt that if I didn’t include it, it would undermine the whole point of the story. Also, it would be dishonest and unfair to Destiny. If I couldn’t be fair to her, how could I suggest that readers should be?  

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

A: No, I don’t think so. I’m an adder, not a deleter, so I build-up and rarely would have extraneous scenes.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: Oh good question! The working title is Into The Night, We Run and I’m very excited about it. A woman who wakes up on her kitchen floor; she’s been knocked out and her hands are bound behind her back. Her little boy is upstairs in the remote cottage the two share, but now his father has found their hideaway home. It’s a tale of the complexities of domestic violence; parenthood; identity and love.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m reading Michelle Paver’s THIN AIR at the moment. It’s beautiful, atmospheric and deliciously creepy. I’m fascinated by her writing: she personifies beautifully and her verb choice is seductive. 

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram 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 only on Twitter. I love talking and I’m easily distracted, so yes, it is a bit disrupting. But to be honest, if it wasn’t that, I’d only be on WhatsApp or picking up the phone to a friend, so it’s no different. Anyway, it’s mostly about writing, so what’s not to like?  

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: I nearly gave up. I’d been writing for years; I had an agent, lost an agent, had done well in competitions, stopped doing well in competitions. It’s like climbing a mountain where you can’t see the summit. It’s tough not to know if you’re going to make it, but I promise you, the struggle is worth it. Please don’t give up.

Thank you for your time!

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