Thursday, August 21, 2014

{Author Interview} Rachel Abbott

Rachel published Only the Innocent in November 2011. It raced up the UK charts to reach the top 100 within 12 weeks and quickly hit the #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle chart (all categories) and remained there for four weeks.

Originally Only the Innocent was a self-published title, but since the success of the early version, the novel was re-edited and the new version was launched in the US by Thomas and Mercer in paperback, audio and Kindle versions on 5th February 2013, hitting the number one spot in the Kindle Store in August 2013. Her second book, The Back Road, was also published by Thomas and Mercer.

Her third book, Sleep Tight, was published in February 2014.

Rachel Abbott was born just outside Manchester, England. She spent most of her working life as the Managing Director of an interactive media company, developing software and websites for the education market. The sale of that business enabled her to fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions - to buy and restore a property in Italy.

Rachel now lives in Alderney - a beautiful island off the coast of France, and is now able to devote time to her other love - writing fiction. For more information, see Rachel's website, or follow her on Twitter.

Why did you originally decide to self-publish on Amazon? Is it due to enduring years of rejection from agents and publishers?

It didn’t really work that way for me. I originally wrote Only the Innocent for my own benefit – I had this idea in my head and it wouldn’t go away. I wanted to write about what set of circumstances would give a woman no other option than to murder a man. So that’s what I wrote about.

I wasn’t planning to be published. I did send it to a few agents and had some pretty good feedback about the writing. The problem that they could see was that it was a difficult book to categorize, and they thought that publishers would have a problem adding it to their lists. I wasn’t too concerned – I’d done what I set out to do. But then when it became possible to upload to Amazon, I just thought “why not?” and it was as simple as that. One decision on a rainy afternoon when I was just roaming around the internet!

I have taken the decision to continue to self-publish in the UK for the time-being, but I do have a US publisher – Thomas and Mercer – and my books are being translated into a number of other languages with publishers around the world.

We can talk marketing strategies all day, but your books clearly gained a following by word of mouth and great reviews. What is it about your books that strike such a chord in people?

That’s a really hard question, and if I knew the answer for sure, I would be able to replicate it time after time! I think it’s the fact that the story is about dilemmas. If somebody dies, it’s more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who, where or when’– if that makes sense. Personally, I’m not a fan of typical detective driven murder mysteries where the emphasis is on the evidence, with the police following procedures to eventually capture the perpetrator of the crime. I want to understand the motivations of the main characters - to see what drives them. So I think that makes readers ask – “What would I do if this happened to me?”

Tell us where you get the idea for your books.

The idea for Only the Innocent was buzzing round in my head for many years. It all started when I heard that a woman had been accused of murder – a pretty rare thing and probably the first I had heard of in the UK. It made me wonder if there was any set of circumstances that would cause me to think that murder was the only option. I had to come up with a scenario in which there was no other sensible way out for the murderer – but I also wanted the killer to be somebody that the reader would empathise with. That’s why I added the strapline – Can murder ever be justified? Should the guilty be punished, or the innocent protected?

The Back Road was quite different. I wanted to explore the possible consequences of a number of people telling relatively small lies to protect themselves. A girl is knocked over and left for dead on a local lane known as the Back Road, and nobody knows what happened to her. Because so many people are failing to tell the truth, the danger to this girl increases day by day.

I have just finished the second draft of my third novel, and in this case I wanted to explore what a woman might do if her children were in danger.

I like to give my protagonists dilemmas – problems to solve that don’t appear to have a ready solution.

How do you name your characters?

In a strange way, names have always painted pictures of people in my mind. Hugo couldn’t have had any other name, really, given his background and his obsession with wealth and position. But on the whole I look up names in lists and see which of them matches my characters. I do very detailed character profiles, which include images and information about their likes and dislikes – so the name has to go along with everything else that I’ve worked out for them. My biggest challenge was finding Romanian names for three girls in Only the Innocent. I didn’t want readers to struggle with the pronunciation – but I think I chose some that work really well.

How would you define your narrative style?

It changes between the books. I never write solely from one person’s point of view – I switch between the police and the main protagonist. In my latest book, If You Leave Me (which is still being edited), I write half of the book from the protagonist’s viewpoint, but I write that in first person, present tense. It’s a new style for me, but in this case it just seemed the most natural thing to do.

I love the way you get food into the story - is this something you personally care about?

I love food. I enjoy cooking, and The Back Road did start off with even more cooking, until my editor said it was a bit over the top! I wrote a scene in which Leo is in the supermarket with Ellie and they are buying some raw prawns, which Leo sees as grey slimy looking things until Ellie says she’s going to marinate them in lemon and garlic, barbecue them and then throw them into a salad with some avocado, feta cheese and a herb dressing. That got cut, unfortunately.

I think that for people who love food, it gives a much better feeling for the occasion. We could have had the dinner party in The Back Road without any mention of what everybody ate, but as a reader that wouldn’t have been the same for me at all. I’ve put quite a few of the recipes on my website too – and they’re all tried and tested – most of them were actually made up by me in the first place.

Let’s do some fun stuff. Favorite candy?

Favourite Candy (not that we would call it candy in England!) would be, without a shadow of a doubt, chocolate gingers. Lovely pieces of ginger coated in a thick, dark chocolate. I’m salivating at the thought of it!

Home cooking or eating out?

Home cooking – definitely. I love to cook, and in fact there are loads of recipes on my website because food plays a big part in my writing.

What’s the one question you’ve never been asked but would love to answer, and what’s the answer?

I would love somebody to ask me “If I could wave a magic wand to change one thing about you today, what would it be?” And my answer would be “make me a person who can eat anything at all, and stay slim!”

Give me five trivial facts about Rachel Abbott

I can recite the alphabet backwards just as easily as I can say it forwards

I’m really bad at parking the car – and getting worse

I’m addicted to chocolate

I love cooking and eating curry – the spicier the better (just like Tom Douglas in my books)

I once made a record – a vinyl album (an LP, for those old enough to remember) – as part of a folk singing duo.

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