10 Questions With… Sophie Bane

Hi everyone, this evening I’m delighted to welcome Sophie Bane to the blog. Sophie is a crime writer, and resides in Leeds with her family.

As a fellow subbing writer (where you are preparing your very much loved novel for agents, although mine is now back at the drawing board until I get it right), she was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me.

Over to you, Sophie…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I was a big Roald Dahl fan when I was younger, and before I knew he wasn’t the most pleasant person! Matilda was my favourite, but having read it since I started working in children’s services, it’s really very dark.

The first book I remember really, really loving was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I lost count of how many times I borrowed it from West Heath Library (RIP)…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I absolutely loved it, it was easily my favourite subject. Until I got to A Levels, and my teacher managed to make one of my all time favourite books, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, dull. I still don’t know how she managed it… That gave me a bit of an epiphany, and I decided I didn’t want to do English at university because I didn’t want to turn reading into work, I wanted to keep it as my stress relief and my escape.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

Absolutely. I write a lot of documents, and quite a few require synthesising information from different sources, and simplifying complex information, which is really helpful – at least, it is by about draft three, when I’m more willing to think ‘that’s over-written, lose those three sentences’. It can also help with the content of my writing. I work in children’s social care, and some of the things I read through my work give me a better understanding of things like the dynamics of exploitation, and how trauma can affect people, which is very useful for writing – I hope – compassionate and authentic crime fiction.

And the benefits are mutual – I can type really quickly when I’m in the writing ‘zone’, which means I can keep up in meetings and take nearly verbatim notes. Very useful during inspections, when you want to capture absolutely everything that’s said! 

4) Are you on the lookout for an agent? If so, how is your submission process going?

Yes, I’ve just started doing my research. I finished the final edits and read-throughs about a fortnight before COVID-19 lockdown, so that threw me quite off course; my daughter’s nursery closed and my wife is a keyworker, so I ended up trying to juggle childcare and my day job for a few months, and it just wasn’t possible to commit to anything else. Now I have a bit more time, I’m reading through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and working on a spreadsheet (I do love a spreadsheet!) of agents to approach. I came up with my one-line pitch/ tagline the other day as well, so feeling pretty good about that.

I’ve had a bit of practice with pitching, as I did Dragon’s Pen at Harrogate a few years ago with this novel, and got some really useful feedback and encouragement, particularly from fellow Pen victim Sarah Linley (I recommend her debut, The Beach – exactly what I wanted it to be from the pitch!). I’ve done a few more drafts since then, and got a manuscript assessment through the Crime Writers Association, so I hope that what I’m submitting now is much tighter. I also got rid of the prologue in italics – thank you to David Mark for that advice!

It’s such a shame that Harrogate can’t happen this year, I always get so much inspiration from it, and encouragement and support from writers I’ve met through the festival – Mark Billingham, Mari Hannah, David Mark and Elizabeth Haynes. Crime writers are generally awesome people, it would be great to join their gang at some point!

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

Not really. I think my best ideas come from little throwaway thoughts, rather than big concepts or themes. The novel I am about to submit was initially sparked by a tiny, two paragraph newspaper report I read while on my gap year – lots of ideas come from the ‘what if…’ thought. I think once this one is out for submission, I might read through all of my paperwork from my MSc – I studied Investigative and Forensic Psychology, and was constantly frustrated that the really interesting cases or research studies weren’t the ones I had to write essays about, so I might go back and see if anything makes me go ‘ooh, that’s a story!’ I do enjoy books which take real-life cases as inspiration – Alex Marwood does that brilliantly.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?

This is really difficult, because I have so many favourites and so many that I like for different reasons, and it changes over time as well. I don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out!

I had a big Erin Kelly phase last year, which I really enjoyed. I like her style of writing, and her books often fit into my favourite sub-genre of ‘secrets from the past coming back to bite you’. That’s the sub-genre of The First Cut, the novel that I’m about to start submitting. It’s set in Birmingham though, so the characters are a bit less posh… For a city that is so well represented in other forms of the arts, Birmingham seems to punch below its weight with crime novels set in the city. I’d like to see that change and, in a few years time, to be on a festival panel on Brummie Noir. It’s about time!

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)

I’m definitely more of a pantser than a plotter, and it wasn’t until about draft three of my current novel that I had the realisation that I needed another villain, and had already half-written one in one of my minor characters. I find that really satisfying though, to let things percolate and then think ‘ah, but what if they did this…’ It probably means more drafts, but it keeps me more interested throughout each one.

I’m not really drawn to writing police procedurals, and I think they probably require the most research. I prefer to write whatever serves the plot and the characters the best, and then check out whether what happens is plausible afterwards. Sometimes I find out that it isn’t and then there’s a bit of swearing as I rewrite, but it generally works for me.

8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?

I just finished The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, which I enjoyed. I am a sucker for a death row story as I find the inhumanity of the whole system horrific, and the book also looked at the after-effects of trauma, which interests me a lot. I haven’t seen the latest instalment in the Halloween film series, but that covers the same kind of themes, and I listened to an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis who was talking about how her character left school on 31st October, a completely normal day, and by 1st November all of her friends had been killed. I like stories that explore the impact of these extreme situations, rather than the horror being the point.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

The very first thing is to pick my daughter up from nursery and walk her home, usually as she chatters all the way! Then when she’s in bed, have something comforting and easy for tea, and pick something similarly comforting and easy on TV. My wife and I both have fairly demanding jobs which, when combined with looking after a toddler, leaves us knackered by the end of the week, so Friday nights, boring though it sounds, are just for unwinding and switching off.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

This one’s not even a question – Freddie, always Freddie. I’m a huge Queen fan, I have all of their albums, all of their solo albums (including Roger Taylor’s other band, The Cross – fairly obscure) books, DVDs, and I think I even have a few VHS tapes somewhere. I think Freddie was the greatest frontman there ever was, and I’m sorry we never got to see him grow old disgracefully and turn into a proper National Treasure, swapping outrageous anecdotes with Judi Dench on the Graham Norton Show.

My mum is a big Rod fan, and she once convinced me to go and see him at Elland Road. Worst gig I’ve ever been to! He was like the Kenny Everett parody version of himself, but for about two hours and without the humour… No thanks!

Thank you so much for your time Sophie, it was a pleasure to interview you! I wish you all the best with your submissions! Good luck!!

Bio: Birmingham born Sophie Bane lives in Leeds with her wife and daughter, and works in local government. She would like to turn Brummie Noir into A Thing, and is about to start submitting her Birmingham-set debut The First Cut to agents. She first started writing this on her gap year, but it has turned into a Trigger’s Broom of a book and bears no resemblance to those first terrible, incomplete drafts. She had the pretentious notion of beginning the very first attempt at the book in Stanley Park in Vancouver, and copying the inscription of the bench she was sat on into her notebook, so that it could be included on the dedication page when (not if – teenage arrogance) the book was published. However, in a fitting metaphor for the idealised version of writing versus reality, she forgot to bring a pen. She is now more realistic, and carries more pens.

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