Today's Roving Eye interview is with the international best-selling psychological crime writer, acclaimed poet, short story writer, and children's author, Sophie Hannah. Her novels, which include Little Face, Kind of Cruel and The Other Half Lives, have been published in 24 countries, short-listed for several awards, including, most recently, Kind of Cruel for the 2012 Specsavers National Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year, and adapted for television.
When did you first realise that you wanted to write for a living?
I've known I wanted to write since I was quite a young child, maybe about age 7 or 8. I started writing rhyming, metrical poetry and mystery stories at around that age and quickly became addicted to both - and still write both! I never decided that I wanted to write for a living, or as my 'real job', because I simply assumed it wouldn't be possible. Although I knew some writers made a living from writing, it didn't even occur to me that I might be one of them, and I was actually quite happy with the idea of having a day job to bring in the money and writing in my spare time or when I could sneakily do it at work without anyone noticing! It was only when I wrote my first crime novel, Little Face, and was offered a two-book deal that I realised I no longer had time for a day job and became a full-time writer.
What made you chose crime fiction?
On a structural level, I am fascinated by the shapes of plots, puzzles and solutions, the planting of clues, red herrings, and, of course, devastating final twists. I love the architecture of crime fiction - everything has to be perfectly balanced and slotted in at exactly the right point and pitch in order for the whole structure to work. I love the technical challenge. I am also a big believer in plot-as-driving-force, and I think crime is the genre that does that best. I'm fascinated by character, psychology and atmosphere as well, but none of these three wonderful things can do their stuff properly without a brilliant plot underpinning them, in my opinion. Finally, in crime fiction, people behave terribly badly (murder's a bit out of order, isn't it?) because they are either in unbearable psychological pain, terrified, desperate or out-and-out bonkers, addicted to alcohol or drugs...and this causes great harm to others. All of this strikes me as a very realistic portrayal of the world and chimes in strongly with my overall world view. Even though most of us normally don't murder each other, I believe there is a huge amount of pain and desperation lurking beneath the surface of most lives and...it has to be analysed and tackled and written about! We can't just ignore it and write about lovely things. Well, I can't, anyway.
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
I would feel it was an intellectual property boundary violation to wish I'd written someone else's book. But if you're asking what do I think is the best crime novel ever written? Probably A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine. Another strong contender for the slot would be Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson.
Who is your favourite author outside of crime fiction and why?
Iris Murdoch - because her novels brilliantly convey the chaos and absurdity of human beings. And, she believes in plot and incident, but also has great depth and many layers, and that extra magic that makes her books so much more than the sum of their parts. She's the perfect novelist.
What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?
I wrote a mystery story in which the murder victim turned over a waste paper bin while he was lying on the floor dying. This was his way of leaving a clue: the murderer's initials were NIB - 'bin' in reverse. God, I thought I was clever!
If you weren’t a writer, what else could you see yourself doing?
I would love to be a country singer, but obviously that's ridiculous. So, more realistically, I'd love to be a psychotherapist. Except I'm a bit bossy, and a rebel - show me almost any rule and I'll want to break it - so I might occasionally give deliberately crazy advice and try to insist that my clients follow it. Hmmm... Oh, I know. I would like to be a defence barrister. Or a probation officer. Something to do with giving people a second chance. One of my driving obsessions - in life and in my writing of crime fiction - is the idea that we cannot divide people into goodies and baddies. We are all a combination of both, and if we are condemned in the round for our bad actions, we then have no incentive to be better people. I learned this when I went to see my first ever psychotherapist - every time I told her about something unfortunate that I'd done, challenging her to disapprove and condemn me, she just insisted that I was probably lovely and had the best of intentions. Eventually, I couldn't help but try to become lovelier, because she had such faith in my essential goodness. Whereas, I guarantee, if she'd said, 'Goodness, what an immoral bitchy slapper you are!', I would have dug in my heels and thought, 'Right - you want bad? I'll show you bad.' So, although in each of my crime novels, there is a very dramatic (I hope) battle fought between good and evil, those battles take place within each character, not between good characters and bad characters. In my latest thriller The Carrier, the murderer is undoubtedly a better person, ethically, than the victim, and the question the book asks is 'Who is really guilty here?' Because it's not always the person who's done the visible bad thing who is the guiltiest.
What is your least favourite part of the writing process?
The worry. Will it be good enough? Will I get it finished by the deadline? I'd enjoy writing a whole lot more if I could do it without anxiety.
One record and one book to a desert island, what would you take?
Book: The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch, for reasons explained above. Record: Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. Idiot Wind (from this album) is my all-time favourite song. Bob Dylan knows a thing or two about complicated relationships.
With the rise of ebooks and self publishing, what are your thoughts concerning the current state of the literary world?
Personally, I prefer paper books and can't see myself ever reading ebooks. You don't have to turn off a paper book for take-off and landing. I also prefer to read books that someone other than their author has deemed worthy of publication. (I expect to be hounded, vilified and, after a short period of internet hounding, strung up from a lamp post for that last confession.) I do make regular exceptions to this policy: if someone I adore beyond reason has self-published an ebook, I will read it. Same applies in the case of someone I already know is brilliantly clever or funny or insightful because I've read them in another context, or someone who has suffered greatly and might need the support of an extra reader, or a good friend, or someone whose self-published book has been a huge word-of-mouth success...if any of those people self-publishes an ebook, I make an exception to my usual policy. Oh, God, I forgot the most persuasive exceptional case - if anyone who is even vaguely similar to Dr Greg House in any respect self-publishes an ebook - so, actually, I might as well not have a policy because I don't really stick to it.
Sum up your latest novel in less than 20 words.
The Carrier (that doesn't count as two of my words - that's just the title! Nor do these words count.) The love of Gaby Struthers' life has confessed to murdering his wife - but he claims he had no motive.
And, lastly, just for fun..
Have you read or would you ever consider reading 50 Shades of Grey?
I have, I would again, and here is what I had to say about it: www.sophiehannah.com/fifty-shades-of-grey/