Sanjida Kay talks to Holly Seddon about The Stolen Child

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!

 

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In Conversation with Holly Seddon

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!

 

Thank you, Holly, I look forward to reading your next novel ! And if you want to hear Holly, Gillian McAllister and I chatting on  Holly’s Honest Author’s podcast, here’s the link.

 

 

Peter James on The Stolen Child

Two of my writing heroes, Peter James and Peter Swanson, have kindly given me a quote for the book cover of my next thriller, The Stolen Child.

 

 

And two of my favourite psychological thriller writers Holly Seddon, and Amanda Jennings, have also said nice things:

‘Grips to the very last page… I couldn’t put it down.’ Amanda Jennings

‘The Stolen Child captivated me, terrified me and left me deeply moved.’ Holly Seddon

 

You can pre-order The Stolen Child here