An Interview With… Cara Hunter

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Cara Hunter. Cara is the author of the DI Adam Fawley series, featuring the bestseller novel Close to Home. I was delighted when she agreed to answer some of my questions for an interview on her journey to publication.

Over to you, Cara…

1) Did you always want to be an author? As a child, did you have a turning point with a novel that made you go ‘Wow!’

I didn’t have being an author as a clearly articulated ambition when I was a child, but I did always love reading and writing, and then read English at university, so books have definitely always been my overriding passion. The book that changed me most as a child was The Lord of the Rings. It informed my values at a formative age, as well as showing me what wonders can be wrought with words. So if I had a ‘wow’ moment, that was definitely it.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? Was there a set book you had to read that you loved?

Yes, yes, yes! I suppose we always tend to enjoy things we’re good at, but I can’t ever remember not loving reading (I learned at three years old!). Pride & Prejudice was a set book when I was about 13 – it was the first ‘classic’ I’d read, and it was just delicious. The style, the irony, the characters – everything.

3) How did you find your literary agent? What was your journey like to becoming published?

I’ve had my current agent for about five years. I suppose I was very lucky – we get on very well and she has excellent literary judgment as well as a strong commercial sense. The whole Close to Home experience was the stuff dreams are made of, if you’re an aspiring author. It ended up going to auction, and resulted in a three-book deal (since extended to six). And then it got chosen for Richard & Judy and things just went a bit crazy!

4) When you sent your book out for representation to a literary agent, do you have any tips for any authors looking to pitch to agents?

First of all do your research before you approach anyone. Make sure you know what types of books the agent is interested in, and have a look at who else they represent. Write a strong, concise synopsis (no more than a page), and make sure you bring out what makes this book different and eye-catching. And include the first chapter. An experienced agent will know within a paragraph or two if the book ‘has something’ so make sure you have a really compelling opening.

5) What is your idea generation? How do you think up your ideas?

I’m a bit of a magpie! I collect all sorts of bits and pieces – from true crime TV and books (my guilty pleasure), from the news, even from dreams. I just tuck it all away in my brain and eventually one snippet will come together with another and another, and a plot is born. At least it’s worked so far!

6) Your DI Adam Fawley novels have been bestsellers! I particularly loved Close to Home. What was the inspiration for the storyline?

Close to Home was all about the twist – if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean but no spoilers here! The idea for the twist came to me on a holiday in the Caribbean in 2016, and after that it was about coming up with a convincing narrative that would lead up to that twist.

7) When you first got your agent, how did you feel?

Excited – in a word! It’s a great moment, because very few writers get published without an agent these days – at least in the conventional sense of ‘being published’.

8) What it is like working with an editor?

My agent is a great sounding-board for new ideas, and always has something useful to add at the start of the process. My ideas are always sharper as a result. Then once the new idea is reasonably fully developed I talk to my editor as well, and we agree the broad shape of the book. This usually means extending the ‘pitch’ into a lengthy synopsis – anything up to 30 pages. Then it’s head down for the first draft – always the most painful part, but as I always say, it’s more important to get that done than t get it right. Polishing comes later.

My editor and agent will look at that and give feedback, and we’ll then go through one or possible two more further iterations. Any sort of editing process always has its irritations and frustrations, as well as its plus points – I advise every new writer to grow a thick skin and get used to showing people their work, so you get accustomed to taking criticism on board.

9) What is the publicity process like? How do you feel when you go on tours promoting your novel?

Time-consuming! But I love it, so I don’t mind. Authors are expected to do a lot of the PR themselves these days, especially when it comes to social media, but there’s nothing nicer than engaging with people who’ve read your book, so it’s always a joy to do it. I love meeting other authors and readers at festivals and bookshops, and I’ve really missed face-to-face events over the last few months, though everyone has been very creative about using Zoom. But here’s hoping we can all ‘meet again’ next year.

10) What is the marketing process like? Do you get given covers and titles to choose from for your books?

I’m really lucky to have a fabulous marketing machine! There’s so much that goes into that, especially on the digital side. I always choose my own titles, but jackets are a different matter. The standard publishing contract provides for the publisher to show you the proposed cover, but you don’t have a veto. Obviously they would much rather you liked the design, but they’re the ones who know the market, so you have to trust their judgment.

11) When you sit down to write, what is your planning process? Do you have a set word count?

As I said I have a very detailed synopsis, which I gradually expend to a scene-by-scene plan. And 2,000 is a good wordcount to achieve on a day, but I don’t fret too much if I don’t meet it, as long as I’ve made progress and the book is moving forward.

12) During lockdown, how has your writing changed? Are you currently working on a new project or editing your last novel?

Like many writers, I found it hard to concentrate at the beginning of lockdown. Luckily I was in the last stages of finalising The Whole Truth, the fifth Fawley book, and that was a lot easier to do than it would have been to embark on something new. And now I’m planning to start the next one!

13) During lockdown, what have your TV habits been like? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I watch *loads* of true crime, and like many people I went back and watched some old favourite films and series in lockdown. Something comforting and familiar, even if the subject-matter was murder!

14) When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence? If you only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

I listen to music sometimes, but not that often. It’s all about what suits you – everyone has their own way of working.

Thank you so much for your time today, Cara. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Close to Home, her debut featuring DI Adam Fawley and his team of detectives, was published by Viking in December 2017, and nominated for the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The four novels in the DI Fawley series have to date sold over 950,000 copies in the UK, and been published in 25 territories.

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