Safe And Sound… A Q&A with Philippa East

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Philippa East. I’m chatting to Philippa about her new novel Safe and Sound which is released TODAY!!! Today, people!! Go to Amazon!

I was delighted when Philippa agreed to answer some questions on her writing approach.

Over to you, Philippa…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

Safe and Sound centres on the discovery of a young woman’s body in a flat in the middle of London. All indications suggest this tenant was pretty, charismatic, sociable. But somehow, her body has lain there undiscovered for ten whole months.

Through my protagonist, Jenn, the book explores how such a heartbreaking situation came to be.This book was actually inspired by the true-life story of Joyce Vincent, a charismatic and attractive woman in her late thirties who died and lay undiscovered in her bedsit for almost three years. A very moving docu-drama (called Dreams of a Life) was made about her by Carol Morley; the film stayed with me for years, and eventually became an idea I wanted to explore in my own writing. However, fleshing out the idea has involved a lot of trial and error, and false starts! I ended up writing three completely different outlines, and the manuscript has already gone through at least one major rewrite. I think I had to work out what themes I was trying to explore in the novel in order to settle on the shape the story would eventually take.

2) How did you create your main character Jenn? Did you enjoy writing her?

My protagonist Jenn is the housing manager who discovers Sarah Jones’ body in the bedsit, and takes it upon herself to investigate the circumstances around this tenant’s life and death. In doing so, she finds her own life unravelling as she is drawn to confront her own painful past. Jenn’s character developed over a few drafts, as I tried to work out exactly what made her “tick” (lots of brainstorming and musing and trying-on-and-scrapping ideas). But I remember writing one scene where Jenn deals with her feelings of guilt and anxiety in a rather extreme way – and that’s when she came alive for me. I have enjoyed writing her, though she is a complicated character, so it has been challenging at times.

3) How is Safe and Sound different to your previous novel, Little White Lies?

Both books focus “one step to the side of a crime”, exploring on the fallout of an event on the characters surrounding it. My focus in both is the psychology of the characters, their relationships, and the way they handle the most difficult aspects of themselves.

In terms of differences though, Little White Lies (which is about a missing child being found alive and coming home) is set in Lincolnshire in the claustrophobic environment of the family unit, whereas in Safe and Sound is set in the anonymity of London, and Jenn is a fairly isolated character, who struggles to make connections in the world. Hopefully though both are exploring complex situations and characters while also having that great page-turning quality!

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

I got a lot help on the police procedural side of things from a local ex-police Detective, which was extremely helpful. I also had to do a lot of Googling into what exactly happens if a tenant dies in a property – something that happens more often than you might think. For Jenn’s character, I drew on my own background as a Clinical Psychologist: Jenn suffers from an anxiety disorder and must grapple with this as she is drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding Sarah’s fate.

5) How did your writing process for Safe and Sound differ from Little White Lies?

To be quite honest, with Little White Lies, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! I wrote completely blind, created a horror of a first draft, and had to go through about 20 further drafts before it was finally ready to publish. I really didn’t want to go through the same pain with Safe and Sound – plus I now had a deadline. So, as mentioned above, I wrote a detailed outline for Safe and Sound before embarking on the writing itself.

However, when I showed that draft to my agent, we both agreed that it wasn’t working, even though it matched the outline! Cue a major rethink and rewrite… I’ve come to accept that I can only really discover the story I’m telling by exploring it on the page, so multiple rewrites will probably always be inevitable for me.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I use both actually. I often use Scrivener for a first draft, because it is so easy to move scenes around. For example, with Safe and Sound, I wrote 2,000 words – roughly one scene – per day and plugged each day’s writing into Scrivener, without worrying too much about their order. Once I have a complete Scrivener draft, I generally work in Word from then on. I still haven’t worked out all the functions on Scrivener, and tend to do things like my scene index cards, character profiles etc. by hand – lots of scribbles and crossings out 🙂

Thank you for visiting the blog today Philippa, it has been a pleasure to interview you! Happy Publication Day for Safe and Sound! I can’t WAIT to read it!!

Bio: Philippa East is a fiction writer who lives in Lincolnshire with her husband and cat. Her debut novel Little White Lies was published by HQ/HarperCollins in February 2020 (http://b.link/littlewhiteliesamazon) and her second novel, Safe and Sound, will be released in February 2021. In her day job, Philippa works as a Clinical Psychologist and therapist, and her writing draws deeply on this psychology background. You can find her on Twitter: @philippa_east.

Little White Lies:

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