Only three weeks to go until Christmas! To celebrate, I’m giving away four signed copies of The Stolen Child – one on my Instagram account, and three from my Facebook page. All you need to do is like and comment on the relevant post. Then, in a week’s time, I’ll pick the winners at random. (If you live outside the UK, I’ll send you an ebook instead).
I’m delighted to welcome fellow Corvus Books author, Holly Seddon, to my website for a Q&A with me. She’s the author of Try not to Breathe and Don’t Close Your Eyes, and has asked me some wonderful questions. Over to Holly:
HS: Firstly, I have to say upfront that I loved this book. I had been a little nervous
going into it. I used to work for an adoption charity and I’m always very sensitive to how adoption is portrayed. It was a huge relief that I could see straight away how sensitively you had handled the subject, and also how rigorous your research must havebeen.
I also loved your depiction of the constant small battles that make up a day with small children, it was pitch perfect. The drip-drip-drip felt so real I nearly cried!
HS: The Stolen Child takes place largely in Ilkey, Yorkshire. The wild moors were the perfect backdrop – and witness – to the drama that unfolds. I know you’re a fan of Emily Bronte but do you have other links with Yorkshire as well?
SK: Thank you for your kind words, Holly! I loved your second thriller, Don’t Close Your Eyes, (which is out now, people!). I love the Brontës, especially Wuthering Heights. From the age of eight I lived on either side of Ilkley Moor, where The Stolen Child is set. I spent my childhood rambling across the moor, often by myself, so I grew to know it pretty well. Now every time I go back to Ilkley, I have to run across the moor, and then I really feel like I’m back home!
HS: You’d obviously researched the realties of modern adoption very thoroughly, how much did your findings surprise you?
SK: As well as reading about adoption, I spoke to one of my friends who’s just adopted a little girl, and I also interviewed an adoption lawyer, who very kindly did some considerable fact-finding on my behalf. What I was most surprised about is that thankfully fewer children are given up for adoption now than in the past, because because there’s less of a stigma against having a baby without being married. Unfortunately, it means that many of the children who are adopted in this country could have been damaged in some way because of addiction or abuse in their biological family.
HS:. Zoe’s challenge to switch between artist and mum, to cram creativity into boxes of time really resonated. Did that come from personal experience?
SK: I think most parents can empathise with trying to balance life, work and being responsible for little people! It’s like – they’re at school/nursery/with Granny/the childminder – GO!!! But I interviewed an artist, Elaine Jones, who has two small children, to find out how she manages to be a mum and a successful painter. I still don’t understand how she does it!
HS:. Do you paint? The references to products and equipment can be researched of course but the understanding of the process of drawing and painting, the sense for the colours and movement, was so authentic I decided you must be a master painter!
SK:That’s so kind of you to say so. I used to paint when I was young, but I don’t have time now (see the life/work/parent problem!). I take photographs, as it’s quicker and you can do it on the go, and I go to art galleries when I can. I interviewed Elaine Jones, an artist who’s work I love (and I’m fortunate enough to own two of her fantastic pictures) to try and get a tiny insight into what it’s like to be a painter.
HS: Without giving anything away, the ending pulled the rug from under me! Did you know the ‘twist’ before you started writing?
SK: That’s good! I hope it surprises other readers too. I did always know what the twist was going to be, but right at the start, when my idea could have fitted on a postcard, I had a brilliant brainstorming session with Sarah Hilary, author of the Detective Marnie Rome series. She gave me the confidence to think of some other twists along the way too.
HS: Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child are set in Bristol and Ilkley, very different places but you show the wildness of both. Is wildlife and especially the countryside important to you?
SK: I’m obsessed with wildlife and nature! I studied zoology at university and I’m fascinated by animal behaviour and evolution. I try and go hiking as often as I can in proper wild places (well, wild but with a pub at the end of the walk!). In fact, my next novel, My Mother’s Secret, is partly set in the Lake District near Scafell Pike. It’s being printed as we speak!
HS: Is there anywhere in the world that you’d love to set a novel?
SK: I’d love to set a novel in New Orleans. It seems like such a vibrant mixture of Gothic voodoo, African history, blues music, urban grittiness and swampy bayou, old school charm and grim brutality. I love films like Angel Heart and the first True Detective series, and, of course, New Orleans has an eclectic literary heritage, from James Lee Burke, Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin to Poppy Zee Brite. Okay, maybe I’d better call the US tourist board?!
Thank you, Holly, lovely talking to you!
I’m delighted to announce that Keshet UK have bought the TV and film rights to The Stolen Child. Keshet International are the company behind Prisoners of War, which became Homeland. I loved this series – it’s gripping, intelligent, controversial and current – and if anyone has read The Stolen Child already and is a fan of Homeland, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a fantastic fit.
Producer, Catriona McKenzie, says, ‘Sanjida is a brilliant storyteller and this is an exceptionally compelling work. (If I had all the time in the world, I’d have read it cover to cover in one sitting – and was intensely frustrated every time I had to put it down!) In addition to that, I love Sanjida’s characterisation – the dynamics within the marriage, the question of how we relate to our children, the politics of the school yard and the wider community are all really well observed, and instantly recognisable. The setting is fantastic too.’
Keshet have already hired a writer to turn The Stolen Child into a screenplay. Suhayla El-Bushra is currently working on The Arabian Nights for the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and a screenplay for Film4.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Who do you think should star in a film of The Stolen Child?
And if you can’t make it, I do hope you’ll tune in to the Steve Yabsley Show tomorrow on BBC Radio Bristol & BBC Radio Somerset at 12.30!
I’ve just come back from being on panels at three literary festivals and talking to authors published by Silverwood Books. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind mini tour, juggling childcare (Asian Literary Festival combined with dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum), meeting old friends (my chemistry teacher at the Ilkley Literature Festival) and logistics (candles, camping chairs, no toilets!) at Bristol Festival of Literature where I was reading from my thrillers in a cave beneath the city centre!
I thought I’d share with you the five writing tips that I shared with my fellow writers at these events.
1. Never give up! Remember the story about Enid Blyton papering her study walls with rejection letters? It is HARD to get a novel published. It takes determination, perseverance, humility, self-belief and stamina, as well as a hefty dose of luck. Just keep going!
2. Keep going. If you do get a novel published – celebrate for all you’re worth – but don’t think that just because you’re a Published Author, it’s always going to be easy, straight-forward and lead to repeated book deals, champagne at publisher’s parties and that MGM will be beating a path to your door. Each book has to be as good if not better than the one before.
3. Have empathy. For yourself and your long-suffering family, of course, but mainly for your characters, and especially your villain. No one (well, almost no one) thinks they’re doing the wrong thing. We can all justify most of our actions most of the time. So get in your characters’ heads and see the world as they see it, particularly the person who is the antagonist in your plot.
4. Write. Preferably every day. You know those people who tell you they’ve got a novel inside them? Uh huh. I’ve got a violin concerto inside me. I’ve never picked up a violin, but I know it’s in there. Practise. You need at least 10,000 words under your belt before some of them are any good. Remember those overnight successes you read about? Most of them took a decade to be an overnight success.
5. Publicise yourself. Even if you have a book deal with a major, mainstream publisher, your editor will still expect you to do some publicity. Writers are often introverts so if you don’t like, you know, reading your work out loud to complete strangers, networking in bars where you know no one, or shouting about how great you are, do what you can in whatever form is most comfortable for you. Don’t want to organise a book launch? Have a Facebook one instead.
Bonus tip: Keep learning. Talk to other writers, join a writer’s group, do an online masterclass, read books about your craft and read. Just read. Anything and everything.
I love this Tedx Talk by Nathan Filer: How to write an award-winning best-selling first novel (in seven easy steps).
My first thriller, Bone by Bone, begins on 26 October…
It wasn’t until the train went past that she saw the small body lying in the long grass by the side of the wood.
She couldn’t tell how long she’d been searching for her daughter. It was dusk, but it had seemed darker as she ran through the wood, tripping on hooked tree roots, her feet crunching through crisp, curled ash leaves….
…and ends on 9 November. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Bone by Bone. To enter, please head over to my Facebook page and like and comment on the post about the competition.
I’m excited about this one! I’m joining fellow writers, Vaseem Khan and AA Dhand, to discuss how to write good crime fiction. As I grew up near Bradford, where AA Dhand lives and where Girl Zero is set, I’m intrigued to hear more, and I hope to pick up tips from both of these brilliant authors. Do join us!
Tickets from The Asian Writer.
I was at Ilkley Literature Festival last week on a panel chaired by Dawn Cameron (left) and with writer and poet, Carmen Marcus. It was particularly poignant for me as, from the age of eight, I lived on either side of Ilkley Moor, and The Stolen Child is set in Ilkley.
I read a couple of extracts from The Stolen Child and we discussed adoption, the themes of race and class in the book, as well as, of course(!) Wuthering Heights.
I’ll be doing a number of events over the next couple of months in Bristol and London if you can join me there! And if you have any writing questions for me, I’ll do my best to answer them!
7.30pm Thursday 26 October
Tickets from the Bristol Ticket Shop
I’m delighted to be able to share an interview that Audible are featuring with me. I’m talking about juggling writing and parenthood, the transition to being a thriller writer, and, of course, The Stolen Child.
If you do like it, please post a review on Amazon or Goodreads – even if it’s only a line, it all helps. If you hate it, please scream into your pillow and / or email me. If your feedback is constructive, it will hopefully help me become a better writer!
Thank you! Sanjida x
I’m delighted I’m going to be speaking at the Ilkley Literature Festival this year.
I grew up on either side of Ilkley Moor, and my second thriller, The Stolen Child, is set in Ben Rhydding, in Ilkley.
I’ll be in conversation with fellow author, Carmen Marcus, author of How Saints Die. I do hope you can join us.
It’s on Sunday 8 October at 4.30 pm at St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley. Just enough time for a quick romp across the moor beforehand! Tickets on sale from the box office.
‘I like writing and reading about dark subjects…’ Farhana Shaikh interviews me for The Asian Writer
Q. Where did the inspiration for The Stolen Child come from?
A friend of a friend wanted to adopt a child. She’d heard of a woman who was being forced to give up her baby because the mother was a drug addict. I thought, what if that child was adopted and went to a lovely home, but then the father finds out what has happened and he wants his child back? What lengths would he go to, in order to find the daughter he believed had been stolen from him? Hmm, guess that’s the thriller writer in me, turning what could have been a happy story into something darker!
Q. It’s a credit to your writing that I actually had nightmares reading The Stolen Child. Was it difficult to write?
Thank you and sorry about that! Parts of it were certainly difficult to write, read and edit, particularly what happens to both the children, Ben and Evie. (Or could have happened, I don’t want to give anything away!). Because I found thinking about abducted children so traumatic, I concentrated on the facts when I was doing my research – what would the police do if a child was reported missing? After I’d done the first draft, I did a bit more research into what might happen to a missing child, and that, I feel, has scarred me in some indelible way. But then again, since becoming a mum, I’ve turned into a complete softie.
Q. You wrote about writing from a place of fear for us earlier this year. What draws you to this type of writing?
In real life, I’m a pretty cheerful, optimistic sort of person, honestly! But I like writing and reading about dark subjects. I suppose in a way, for all of us, it’s a form of escapism: There but for the grace of God go I…
Q. I loved the setting of Ilkley Moor. It was haunting and added to the sense of impending danger that never quite leaves you as you read. Did you visit the Moors when writing and why was it your chosen setting for the book?
Thank you! From the age of eight, I grew up living on the edge of Ilkley Moor and it exerted a powerful hold over me. I was captivated by that wilderness – I’d wander over it by myself. Right next to Ilkley, you can find ancient Neolithic sites, such as a stone circle, and stones with strange markings on that could have been used for blood sacrifices, which have, of course, ended up in my novel!
Although I left home when I was 18, I visit frequently, and I’m looking forward to heading back up there for my Ilkley book launch at the Grove Bookshop on the 27 April and then to the Ilkley Literature Festival in October.
Q. Zoe and Harris are both artists and I enjoyed reading about the struggle to be understood as an artist and overcome self-doubt. What research did you do to ensure that their experiences were true to form?
I interviewed Elaine Jones, an artist whose work I love (I’m fortunate enough to own two of her beautiful pictures) to try and get a tiny insight into what it’s like to be a painter. Although I’m not like Zoe, I think most writers and artists of any form, can empathise with wanting to be creative and being crippled by self-doubt.
Q. What personal experiences did you draw from when writing The Stolen Child?
The setting of Ilkley Moor is like another character in the novel, and I used my own personal experience of wandering about the heath to help me write about that wilderness and desolation. As well as being a potentially lethal backdrop, the moor also works itself into Zoe’s paintings, Harris’s sculptures, and into the antagonist’s point of view, because they grew up there and are inspired by its beauty and its savagery.
Q. As Zoe begins to question her relationships and begins to mistrust those closest to her, as readers we also grow increasingly suspicious of each character. Do you think we can ever really trust anyone?
My gut answer is no! I completely trust my husband (if he’s reading this!) but that is the joy and the pain of relationships in life and in fiction: you can’t ever truly know another person.
Q. Did you always know who was ultimately responsible for the kidnapping of Evie or did it come to you as you wrote? How did you keep a handle of all the loose threaders and possible suspects?
I always knew who was going to kidnap Evie and I wanted to make several other characters in the novel suspects. I plotted out the story before I started writing, but aspects of the characters – or how I was going to make them appear more or less suspicious – came to me as I was writing. It’s a fine line, because as I writer I want some characters to be suspicious, but I also need them to be sympathetic, not just for the reader, but to make it believable that Zoe would love or like them.
Q. On a deeper level, you explore this idea that no one is ever really innocent, each character bears some responsibility for the kidnapping. What message were you hoping that readers take away from reading The Stolen Child?
We’re all fallible. We might love our kids, our friends and our family, but we also all make mistakes, and those mistakes have consequences. Fortunately, they’re minor most of the time, but in thrillers, it is all about ‘what if….’ The Stolen Child, though, is really about love, the love that parents have for their children.
Q. Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing my third Sanjida Kay thriller for Corvus Books. It’s called My Mother’s Secret. It’s about a mother, Emma, and her teenage daughter, Stella. Stella starts to suspect her mum has a secret. When she finds out what is is, it’s much worse than she could ever have imagined… So far I’m finding it really therapeutic to write from the point of view of an angry fourteen year old.
The Stolen Child is out in paperback in one week! It’s available to pre-order and it’s also on ebook and audio book already, if you’d rather not wait! I, meanwhile, am already planning what I’m going to do to celebrate!
I’m delighted to reveal the new trailer for the paperback version of The Stolen Child. What do you think?!
Today I’m delighted to be joined by best-selling psychological thriller writer and fellow Corvus Books author, Holly Seddon. Holly’s first book, was Try Not to Breathe, and her latest, Don’t Close your Eyes, has just been published.
Don’t Close Your Eyes tells the story of twins Robin and Sarah who were torn apart in their youth. Now in her early 30s, Robin lives alone in Manchester. Too scared to leave the house, she spends her days pacing the rooms or watching. Watching the street, the houses, the neighbours. Until one day, she sees something she shouldn’t…
And Sarah? Sarah got everything she always wanted, only to be accused of the most terrible thing. She can’t be around her new family until she has come to terms with something that happened a long time ago. And to do that, she needs to track down her twin sister.
I enjoyed reading Don’t Close your Eyes. I had no idea where the story was going or what the twists would be, and loved the portrayal of 1990s England and the pin-sharp characters.
Thank you so much!
How did you get the idea for Don’t Close your Eyes?
The initial idea was to focus on someone who was once very successful and outgoing, but who now lives in seclusion, watching the neighbours and licking their wounds. I also really liked the idea of looking at siblings – those born and those created through blended families – and how friendship can be a more powerful link than blood.
It’s such a nostalgic book in many ways – you’ve got the details for the 1980s and 90s spot on, from the Joyriders travel sickness tablets, to the SodaStream, back in the day when we thought an en suite was the height of sophistication and our mums sunbathed, coated in oil, whilst eating a Twix!
Are you nostalgic for the 1990s?
Ha, thank you! I think books with a recent but historical setting have to walk a fine line between detailing and overdoing it. It can feel a bit like a flashback episode of Friends which, while hilarious in a sitcom, can pull you out of a story in a novel.
I think I am a bit nostalgic, even though I love my life now. I compare my tweens and teens to those of my older children, and there was a certain simplicity that I now find comforting. I went to see my best friend of 26 years the other day and she dug out a tub of letters from when we were teenagers. That was our social media, writing each other letters at night and swapping them the next day. I realise I sound like a right old codger!
Did you find this era hard to research?
I researched to be sure of dates and details. Although I was born in 1980, and the landscape of the recent past feels very fresh to me, I couldn’t tell you by memory when certain shows were on TV or in which order a band’s singles were released.
You’re now living in Amsterdam, and I notice, every so often, Instagram posts of Marmite, chips in Ketchup and red phone boxes. Apart from your friends and family, what do you miss most about the UK and what do you like best about Amsterdam?
I love Amsterdam. It’s so small I can cover it all on my bike, and I have so much on my doorstep compared with where we lived in semi-rural England. But yes, you’ve noticed that food plays a large part in my nostalgia for the UK! Every few months we order a huge box of food from an expat online shop!
I think what I miss most is the seamless understanding of situations though. Not just language (because Amsterdam has a really high percentage of English speakers) but more the unspoken stuff. The expressions and unwritten etiquette. I love it here, but I don’t fit in the way I do when I’m in Britain.
I love the idea of the main character, Robin Marshall, being a female rock star! There’s some gorgeous descriptions of music and guitars – ‘‘Caribou Narvik Blue’, a cross between a mad cowboy’s shirt and a tropical bird’. Are you a musician?
I wish. I’m a music nut and music was a huge refuge and obsession when I was growing up and naturally I wanted to write and play music. But it just never happened. I slogged away for years trying to learn guitar and I wrote the most pretentious lyrics you could ever imagine, but I’m all thumbs. I’m a music consumer rather than producer! I started out as a journalist by launching my own music website – I don’t run it any more but it’s just turned fourteen!
I’m always loved guitars though. My husband has several (my daughter has inherited mine) and we have a lovely guitar shop in the next street so I went in there for inspiration.
How did you go about creating Robin’s fierce, feisty, loyal and sometimes exhausting character?
She came to me fully formed, that’s the only way I can describe it. I originally had the idea for the housebound character to be a man, called Rob. But that only lasted in the ideas stage and as soon as I started to properly outline, I realised Rob was Robin and I could picture her so clearly, I could have painted her. She’s a pain in the bum at times, but I know I’d like to have her on my side.
Do you plot your books in advance, or feel them unfold as you write?
With each book, I plot more. Never in exhausting detail as I’d get bored doing the writing, but the shape of it, the main characters, the beginning, middle and end.
Your debut novel, Try Not to Breathe, was a national and international success. Did you feel pressure to live up to that book and even to surpass it and how did that influence your writing of Don’t Close your Eyes?
Yes! From myself, mainly. It did get in my head a little. When I wrote Try Not to Breathe, I didn’t have Goodreads reviewers picking my previous work apart! Although the reaction to Try Not to Breathe was amazing, you can’t please everybody and in the end I just thought “f*** it, I have to write the book I want to write”.
I did have some false starts, I rushed a little at first, which cost me more time in the end because I just had to redo it. As soon as I calmed down, shut out the noise and just let the book take the form it wanted to take, it fitted into place. I’m very proud of it.
You have a bundle of small people – how do you juggle writing and children? Do you treat it as a job and go to an office, or do you fit it in around your family? What’s your typical writing day like?
It’s a juggle, but one I feel privileged to do. I have an office in my house but I mainly work at the dining table or on the sofa. I write when my youngest is in part-time daycare, or when he’s napping in the afternoon before the others come home. When my husband travels, I work all night. It’s not punitive, I don’t really have to, I just relish the chance to carry on. I really do feel lucky that I get to have this career. I want to give it my all, whenever I can.
I’m feeling slightly discombobulated as my second thriller, The Stolen Child, has just been published, I’ve handed the third one in, and I’m plotting the fourth. My head is somewhat crowded with characters from my books! What are you working on next?
I know exactly what you mean and I can’t wait to read your third! I’ve just sent back the latest edit of my third book, which will be out next year. I’m excited to see what people think of it, it’s new ground for me as a writer – although friendship and the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s feature prominently. I should probably have said “I’m very nostalgic” earlier.
Now I’m at the first draft stage of book four and I’m totally in love with it as it’s still mostly an idea!
I’m delighted to reveal the paperback cover for The Stolen Child! It’s out on 7 September 2017!
What do you think?
I find that reading out loud really helps me edit my work – plus, it’s good practise for book launch readings! Here are a couple of extracts from the antagonist’s point of view, and one (read when I was writing The Stolen Child) from Zoe’s point of view (she’s the main character).
If anyone would like to discuss The Stolen Child in their Book Club, do get in touch, as I’d be very happy to FaceTime with your group! I’m sure you’ll have your own questions, but if you want some suggestions, here are some Book Club questions:
And if you’d like to know any more about the inspiration behind The Stolen Child, do have a look at the Q&A:
Or the video Q&A:
Let me know how you get on!