Today I have a great interview for you with Rebecca James, author of Beautiful Malice, whose latest novel Sweet Damage was recently released in the UK. I heard about this at the Faber blogger brunch and was intrigued by the fact Hannah, the lovely publicist, said it kept you guessing throughout and had lots of twists and turns. I was lucky enough to get a review copy and my review will be up shortly.
Could you start by telling us a little about your writing journey so far?
My first book, Beautiful Malice, was published in 2010 and my second, Sweet Damage, was very recently published in the UK. I’m currently finishing up my third book, another psychological thriller, and will announce any forthcoming publishing dates.
Sweet Damage is filled with twists and turns. As a writer, do you prefer to have everything planned in advance or do you let the characters and story lead you? Have you ever found your plot going to a completely different direction to the one you expected?
I’ve always thought of myself as a panster (as opposed to a plotter) but I think it might be more accurate to say I’m a mix of both. I usually start with a relatively solid idea of the plot and I’m usually pretty clear on who is narrating and who the major characters are. But once I start writing things tend to get messy. This is when the characters and story start leading me around by the scruff of the neck. The plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, the characters say and do unexpected things, and I end up having to re-imagine the whole thing!
It’s a fun way to work, and it keeps me on my toes, but it can also be a bit frightening. I do sometimes think I’d prefer to be able to stick to a detailed outline.
There’s a real Gothic atmosphere to Sweet Damage, were you particularly influenced by any Gothic literature and if so, how did this manifest itself as you wrote?
Thank you. A lot of people have said that Sweet Damage has a gothic quality. As I was writing it I reread Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Manderley has such a strong and ominous presence in the book and Du Maurier depicts it so well it almost feels like another character in the story.
I absolutely loved Rebecca when I was younger but as an older reader I was less convinced. While I thought the story as a whole was brilliantly tense and suspenseful, I found some aspects of the book a bit dated. The narrator was so passive and weak and so uncritical of her husband it frustrated and annoyed me. And (–spoilers for Rebecca ahead ––) I found it quite unbelievable when she didn’t have any objection to the fact that he was a murderer.
Still, the way Du Maurier wrote about Manderly was unquestionably brilliant, and I tried to give Fairview some of that same quality of gothic menace. And the opening of Sweet Damage is a definite nod to the opening ofRebecca.
Do you have any particular routines or rituals when you write?
I have four sons so I write while they are at school. My typical day is quite boring really: I get the boys off to school, I clean up a bit and then I write until 3.
Rituals? Well I don’t do anything special, though I have to admit to some bad habits! I reward myself for words written with mugs of tea and frequent snacks. Writing is such a sedentary thing to do I should probably reward myself with a walk around the block instead of food.
The majority of the story is narrated by Tim, however we also see Anna’s perspective at times. Did you find Anna or Tim easier to write?
I found Anna much easier to write. In the first draft of Sweet Damage Tim sounded too much like me (a middle aged woman!) which was a bit of a problem really. I had to work hard to cut my voice and my way of thinking out of his narration
It’s a slightly clichéd question and may be hard to answer, but one I love to hear the answer for, what are the top five books that have inspired you as a writer?
It’s a good question but unfortunately I don’t have a good answer. I honestly don’t have a top five. I love so many authors and so very many books and they all inspire me in one way or another.
If you could say anything to your teenage self, light-hearted or serious, what would it be?
I would tell myself that curly hair should never be brushed when dry and that certain hairstyles will never ever work so don’t even bother trying! This advice would save me decades and decades of frustration with an unruly mop of frizz.
I would also try and tell myself a few serious things about life and love and work and money and friends and ambition and happiness but I’m quite sure my arrogant younger self wouldn’t listen to a word of it!
Sweet Damage is published by Faber and is available to buy now. Thank you Hannah for sending a review copy and setting up the Q&A and Rebecca for taking the time to answer my questions.