10 Questions With… Amer Anwar

Hi everyone, and continuing my new combined interview approach, I am chatting to crime writer Amer Anwar about his writing journey and drafting process.

Amer took some time away from writing to answer my questions on how he started writing, his writing process and what happens post representation, once your manuscript is with an editor.

Over to you, Amer…

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 always loved to read as a child and write stories but it wasn’t until I reached my teens that I knew I wanted to be an author. I’d just read a novel called “Magician” by Raymond E. Feist and when I finished that book, I really did think, “Wow!” It made me feel so many different things: happiness, sadness, excitement, fear, joy, etc. I just thought it was an amazing thing to be able to do – to make people feel all of that just by putting words on a page – and I knew right then, that I’d love to be able to do that too. Of course, back then I didn’t see many people like me being authors, so it wasn’t something I really saw myself actually doing, but the desire never left me and, 20 years later, I gave it a go. 

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

Yes, I loved English at school, reading and writing stories to me was just so much fun – and writing stories was encouraged early on but in secondary school, the creative aspect was pretty much disgarded in favour of factual writing and essays, which wasn’t quite as enjoyable.
There wasn’t any set book to read that I particularly remember loving but then, by about the age of 10, I’d already moved on to trying to read adult fiction, horror novels by James Herbert and Stephen King. I didn’t always understand everything that was going on but I really enjoyed them all the same. I had a dictionary to look up any words I didn’t know, which helped me understand better and also did wonders for my vocabulary.

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

Actually, I guess my literary agent was the one who found me.
When I started to write fiction again, as an adult, roughly 20 or so years after school, I began by taking writing classes. I’d had an idea for a crime thriller knocking about in my head for most of those two decades and during one of the writing courses, I had a go at writing the opening and didn’t think it was too bad. I’d heard of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers and decided to enter the first chapter. I had nothing to lose and, if nothing else, I’d get my first rejection, something I’d have to get very used to on the road to publication.
Anyway, long story short, that first chapter actually won the Debut Dagger award and brought me to the attention of agents, including the one I signed with.
Getting published wasn’t as straight forward. Even having one an award and with a top agent, once the book was finished it went out to about 30 publishers, all the big publishing houses and imprints – and it was turned down by every single one. Not because it was a bad book – all the feedback was good. It had great characters, a great setting, great action, great dialogue, great plot etc. etc. but no one wanted to publish it. What it ultimately came down to, and what no one really wanted to say, was that the book was just too “Asian.”

The closest anyone came to articulating that was with the comment, “I could never visualise it breaking out to a broad audience.”
I disagreed. I’d written it very much to try and appeal to a broad audience, anyone who enjoyed a fast-paced, exciting crime thriller. So I decided to self-publish it because I wanted people to read it and see what the reaction would be. Turned out, it was very favourable indeed. I was hustling the book around at various events, and at one of these, I met my publisher. I’d run out of copies that evening but I told her all about the novel and she asked me to send it to her afterwards.

I did and she read it and, within a fortnight, I had signed a two book deal with Dialogue Books.
When ‘Brothers in Blood’ was published, it went on to be picked by both the Times and the Guardian as one of the thrillers of the year.

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

I had about 20 years to work on the idea for my first novel, Brothers in Blood. It started with the location. The book is set in Southall, west London. I knew I wanted to set a book there, it’s a place I know well and a prefect setting for a crime thriller. In fact, I’d been wanting to read something like that but no one had done it, so I thought I would.

Next came the main character. Then I needed a story for them. The germ of that was provided by a news story. Once I had those elements, I worked on weaving them all together.
For my latest book, Stone Cold Trouble, I actually had two separate story ideas I’d thought up but they weren’t really strong enough individually, so I tried putting them together which worked much better.

5) When you first got your agent, how did you feel? What can a writer expect through the editing process?

It was a great feeling to sign with an agent. I’d read a lot about the whole publishing process and knew how hard it could be to find an agent, so I was prepared to go the submission route and wait for the inevitable rejections – only I managed to sidestep that whole part by winning the Debut Dagger.

I signed with one of the most well respected agents in the country, which was amazing. Getting an agent gave me a lot of confidence in the novel I was writing and it really helped to spur me on, knowing that she believed in it enough to have signed me.
But … I’d only written the first few chapters when I won the award and it took me another five years to write and rewrite it until I felt it was good enough to send to her. Well, I might have thought it was good enough, and there were many things that were good about it – but it still needed work.

With the feedback I received, I went through the whole book again, editing and rewriting. After that, it went through another thorough edit and then it was finally ready for submission to publishers.

6) Once the editing process is finished with your agent, what it is like working with an editor?

I’m very fortunate in that my agent employs a very experienced in-house editor so that, as I mentioned above, the first couple of rounds of major edits were done there. Working with the editor was a really useful and valuable experience. I really saw how a good editor can improve your writing, not by making you change things necessarily, but by showing you how you can cut and trim bits to make the whole book read better. I really learnt a lot from it.

When the manuscript was eventually bought by my publisher, there wasn’t all that much they wanted to change. There were some minor things and it went through line edits and copy edits to really try and get all the little detail right, which was all very painless. I have to say, I really enjoy the whole editing process. It’s the first draft I find the hardest part.

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

I love the whole publicity part of promoting a book. You spend so much time on your own when you’re sitting writing it, that it’s great to get out and meet people and talk about it. I was a bit nervous at first, as it felt quite alien to get up in front of lots of people and talk about myself and my work but I think I managed to get used to it fairly quickly and now I love doing events. I also have a fantastic publicist who really looks after things and makes sure everything is OK.

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

The marketing process was really inetersting. It’s really great to work with a team of people whose job it is to help promote your book. They really know what they’re doing and have great ideas.

I originally self-published my first book, briefly, before it was bought by my current publisher. The book went through edits with them and then got its new title, ‘Brothers in Blood.’ My publisher came up with the new title. I didn’t really have a hand in it – but, fortunately, I love it, and it fits the book really well. I was able to give some thoughts on the cover too.

With the second book, I came up with the title, ‘Stone Cold Trouble,’ quite early on, and everyone loved it, so it stuck and I had a little more involvement with the cover, thanks to my editor and the fabulous designer who worked on it.

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

I didn’t have any plan or process when I started my first novel. About halfway through writing it, I found I needed to know what had happened and when in the story, so I wrote out a retroactive plan. That led me to roughly plan ahead for the rest of the novel, or at least, as far ahead as I could. I didn’t know what the ending was going to be. Fortunately, when I got to the end, I managed to come up with a way to tie everything together.

For ‘Stone Cold Trouble’ I decided to plan the things out from the start. It was a very loose plan though, only a sentence or so, for what I thought might happen in each chapter. Because it was so loose, I didn’t have to stick to it and just chopped and changed it as I went along. It also allowed me to work out some of the story beforehand, so I was a bit more confident during the writing process.

I try and aim for 1000 words a day when writing, though it doesn’t always happen. Some days I manage less and on others I can keep going past the target. I don’t beat myself up about it if I don’t make the 1000, just as long as I manage to get something done.

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

I was actually in the final editing stages with ‘Stone Cold Trouble’ when lockdown happened, so it didn’t really disrupt my writing much in that sense. Once that was all done and dusted, I wrote a short story for an anthology, which was good fun. It was the first short story I’d written in about 10 years.

Then, I went back to work on a standalone thriller I’d started before ‘Stone Cold Trouble.’ Somehow I found I had less time to write during lockdown than I had before. I think maybe my routine and rhythm had been thrown off. Anyway, I was trying to make progress on the new thirller and then things came up around the publication of ‘Stone Cold Trouble,’ after which I found out that what my publisher really wanted next was another Zaq & Jags book.

So I’ve shelved the standalone again and am now working on ideas for the thrid book in the Zaq & Jags series.

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

I think I have actually been watching a little more TV during lockdown. A lot of it has been catching up on stuff I missed while I was busy working on my books, so I’m quite behind on some things. I’ve always been a massive film and TV fan, and enjoy watching a whole load of different things. I really couldn’t pick any particular favourite show but things I’ve really enjoyed and am realliy looking forward to new seasons of include; Better Call Saul, Kingdom, The Mandalorianand most recently Cobra Kai.

12) 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 need silence to write, so that my imagination can fill it with both words and pictures.

I listen to quite a lot of music doing other things though and especially when I’m thinking about writing but not during the actual writing itself. I tend to listen mainly to music without words though, so film scores, classical and now even video game scores, some of which are really amazing.

My go to radio station is an internet station called Cinemix, which plays film scores from around the world. I’ve discovered so much great music though it.

Thank you for your time this afternoon Amer, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually settled into a career as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He started taking writing classes in the evenings and wrote the opening chapters of a novel which he entered for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger competition, in order to receive his first rejection – only to win the actual award.

Signing with an agent, he went on to gain an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Amer’s critically acclaimed debut thriller, Brothers in Blood,was published in 2018 by Dialogue Books and was picked by both the Times and the Guardian as one of the thrillers of the year. The eagerly awaited follow-up, Stone Cold Trouble, was published in September 2020 and was a Times, Observer and Living Magazine Thriller of the Month and a Sunday Times Crime Club pick of the month.

Website: http://www.ameranwar.com

An Interview With… Julia Silk

Hi everyone, and on the blog today, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Julia Silk. Julia is a literary agent at Kingsford Campbell and previously worked at MBA Literary Agency and as an editor for Orion.

Along with a couple of questions about what she’s been up to during lockdown, she was kind enough to answer my burning questions on what she’s on the lookout for in submissions.

Over to you, Julia…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I first became interested in working in publishing in my final year at university, in the 90s. Then as now it was hugely competitive, and I spent several years working in academic publishing before I landed my first editorial job in a small trade publisher.

I then worked freelance for some bigger publishers alongside that part time job, as well as working in a bookshop two days a week for a couple of years (which was so much fun – I still miss handselling the books I love). I honestly don’t think I was even aware of agenting as a career option when I first started working in publishing – and then it was years before it occurred to me that it was something *I*could do.

But aside from wanting to be a vet aged 12, and then having no clue for the next decade, there was no career other than publishing that I ever considered.

2) You studied a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature. What was your experience like of the course and how has it helped you in your current role?

I’d been in publishing for nearly 10 years, getting shortlisted for editorial commissioning roles in bigger publishers so many times, it became very frustrating. So I looked at all the people who had been hired, and honestly asked myself what they had that I didn’t. And it turned out that was an MA. I have no idea really if that was why they got the jobs over me, but I decided to find out. I actually ended up really loving the MA for its own sake, and, as it happened I then did get a jobwith Orion at the end of that year. In terms of how it has helped in my current role, I think it made me more analytical, and I’m also very good at research, which is definitely a skill I strengthened during my MA.

3) You were an editor at Orion for 15 years. How did being an editor compare now, to being a literary agent?

I chose to make the move from editing to agenting because I was feeling an increasingly strong sense that I was on the wrong ‘side’. Ultimately, no matter how nurturing and sympathetic an editor is, they work for the publisher – they have the publisher’s interests at heart, and rightly so, but I found my sympathies and instincts always lay with whatever was in the best interests of the author, and so I concluded that I probably wasn’t in the right job! I also love the variety, whether it’s working on a project from inception, contract nitty-gritty or strategizing with my authors, I love it all. And I have a short attention span so it suits me to have so many different strands to my daily working life.

4) Where do you start with the submission package? The cover letter, the synopsis or sample writing? What would make you want to request the full manuscript?

A strong concise cover letter that speaks to my interests and tells me an author knows what they have written and has some market awareness will always pique my interest. But the voice is crucial. It can have the greatest hook in the world, but if the writing doesn’t appeal to me then I won’t want to read on. I also don’t tend to read the synopsis unless I’m dithering about asking for the full, as generally I don’t want to spoil the reading experience, especially if it’s a thriller. 

5) Can you describe the first initial phone call with a client? How do you feel when you offer representation?

I like it to feel like a natural conversation rather than a two-way interview, but ultimately the aim is to identify whether you share a vision for the project specifically and their writing and future career in general and think you would work well together. And very often there will be more than one agent who wants to work with that person, so I always say that the most important thing is to remember that it’s about who they feel is right for them, according to their priorities. Different agents have different strengths and approaches, so I talk with them about what they are looking for in an agent, and hopefully leave them in a position to make an informed decision. There’s definitely also an element of chemistry. Usually you quite quickly have a sense of whether you’re a good match. And I’ve learned not to be too attached to the outcome when I offer representation, because you can’t win them all.

6) What are your views on the crime/thriller market currently? Across the genre, what would you like to see more of that hasn’t been submitted before to you?

I’m a big crime and thriller reader and I think the genre is becoming more diversified and interesting every year. I like to see a bit of boundary pushing – my client Charlotte Philby is a good example of this, her central characters are flawed and ambiguous and she combines domestic noir and espionage in a way that you rarely see. What I’d also love to see more of is dark humour in the vein of Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer. She pulls off this incredible combination of over the top crazy in concept and elegant restraint in execution that I’m in total awe of. I also love upmarket true crime with something of the author in it –The Fact of a Body and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for example, are very human investigations into *very* dark corners of the human psyche. I’d love to see something like that, particularly if it’s set somewhere other than the US or UK.

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

Pick up my youngest daughter from school then come home and either cook for the evening, try to do some more work or relax with my children. Weekends are mostly taken up with family stuff, seeing friends and trying to cram in some reading. I’ve found this year I’ve had to take up regular exercise in order not implode, so I either run or do yoga (or both) most days and that means I’m actually capable of relaxing for brief periods, rather than being an irascible, jittery mess.

8) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I love watching teen/YA drama with my oldest daughter – we are very into Ackley Bridge at the moment. She is obsessed with Stranger Things, which I introduced her to (all the tweens watch it round here – we’re very sophisticated in Lewisham). And Dead to Me and Schitt’s Creek have also been favourites over the past few months. (Please don’t tell the TV police, though – she’s only 11!) I’ve also been watching Harlots (not with my daughter!); I’m obsessed with Samantha Morton. I love TV – I would watch for hours a dayif I could.

9) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found that your habits have changed?

Apart from the first couple of months of lockdown when I couldn’t focus very well, I don’t think they have changed that much, apart from the fact that I have been buying more hardbacks direct from independent bookshops and small publishers in an attempt to keep the industry afloat. Onehappy result of that was my discovery of the writing of Heidi James, when I bought The Sound Mirror straight from her publisher, connected with her on Twitter, discovered she was unagented and took her on. She is an astounding writer; The Sound Mirror has been my favourite read this year and I am beyond excited to be working with her. I’ve read a bit more non-fiction that I usually do as well – I fell in love with Hadley Freeman’s House of Glass, a memoir of her Jewish family, in which I saw some of my own family history. It’s a wonderful book, full of heart and the result of a decade of research, detective work and huge empathy, and I felt bereft when I’d finished.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Is that a trick question? Errm, Freddie Mercury because my best friend at school and I used to listen to Queen’s Greatest Hits when we were 13 or 14 (it was 1986) and I am sentimental like that. But I do secretly quite like Rod Stewart. My aunt had a thing for him and he reminds me of her. Are you only asking Gen Xers this question? 🙂

Thank you for your time to visit my blog this afternoon Julia. it has been a pleasure interviewing you.

Bio: JULIA SILK was an editor for 15 years, latterly at The Orion Publishing Group, where she worked for nine years. She has an MA in Comparative Literature from UEA and loves to read stories that expose universal truths in new ways. She has broad-ranging taste and welcomes submissions of fiction across the spectrum from commercial to literary, particularly when they feature unpredictable characters making unexpected choices.

Julia is currently particularly keen to see reading group fiction with a strong hook, upmarket crime/thriller and narrative non-fiction/memoir. Please don’t send her children’s, YA, or SFF. She regrets that she is unable to respond to every submission but aims to be in touch within 8-10 weeks if she would like to take your submission further.

Her favourite recent reads include Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, The Dry by Jane Harper and Lullaby by Leila Slimani.

An Interview With… Clare Coombes

Hi everyone, and on the blog this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome author and literary agent Clare Coombes. Clare founded the Liverpool Literary Agency in August 2020 and I was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions for me – one part as a literary agent, one part as an author on her writing journey.

Over to you, Clare…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the publishing industry? Did you have any other career plans?

I trained as a writer and editor first, and through this, I discovered inequalities in the publishing industry, and thought, what can I do? 

When I say, ‘trained as a writer and editor’, this can be different paths for different people – from beta reading to writers groups, short courses to masterclasses or formal education. If you look around, there is always some support, and I think this is getting even better now that more publishers are opening offices in the north. I was lucky that Writing On The Wall (WoW) has been there throughout my career, helping me to get published and giving me editing experience. They are the reason so many underrepresented writers and editors from Liverpool and the north get published and have creative careers.

2) What prompted you to set up Liverpool Literary Agency?

We were editors first, and our writers came from many different walks of life, with accountants, security guards, taxi drivers, labourers, sport scientists, NHS workers, hospitality sector workers, parents and retired grandparents among their number. But even those who had degrees in creative writing or literature-based subjects often felt that they have no real way into the world of publishing. We wanted to do something about this and then I saw the Common People: Breaking the Class Ceiling in UK Publishing report and many of the points it made, including this one, gave us the confidence to start up an agency: …there has never been a more vital point at which working-class stories and voices needed to be heard in mainstream culture… It talked about Imposter Syndrome as a big part of a working-class background, even through your parents and grandparents. We realised that through our experiences, we could help to address this within the UK publishing industryby acting as agents, mentees and delivering training to underrepresented groups.

3) You did a Masters in Creative Writing. What was your experience of the course like?

It was life-changing. I improved as a writer, and picked up so many skills, but it was also about friendships with other writers, connections and publishing industry insight. 

4) When did you have that moment with a book where you thought ‘Wow!’ Did you know that you always wanted to write? 

I’ve had so many wow moments with reading! Most recently was another local writer, S.E. Moorhead, with Witness X, when I was (nicely) jealous of how clever the plot and themes were. Being a literary agent now, I also have the chance to sign up and represent the books that make me feel like this. Working with the writers that I do, can be summed up in this JoJo Moyes quote from One Plus One:

“You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office or some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.” 

5) What is your reading taste like? Has it changed since you did your Masters?

I read all genres. I like to stretch my own reality when I read and write, going beyond my own world and experiences. That’s the best thing about writing – however difficult the subject is, you feel like you’re learning more about life as you go along. 

6) Do you have a favourite genre, or a guilty pleasure genre?

I love historical fiction, especially World War Two resistance stories. It’s where I found my voice as a writer. I think it’s because that period in history shows the life and death decisions people had to make, and raises that question of – what would you do? There are too many parallels of war, refugees and prejudice, between then and now, and I think writing in this genre can help to open people’s eyes. 

7) What is your drafting process like when you write? How many would you do before that final edit before sending it out?

I’m a plotter. I have a spreadsheet, colour codes and character sheets. I start each chapter with a short overview of what I want to do and extend that into bullet points, which I then start filling out.

I advise the writers I work with to put together a synopsis first (not a book blurb but an account of what happens with all the spoilers). It might change but having a plot outline makes such a difference and can be what’s needed for a book to get finished.

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

There’s no leaving the office on a Friday for me anymore, but I really like having a more flexible way of working. I can choose my hours. Well, the kids choose first and then I do, but it’s so good to have the freedom to break up work time. 

I still read to relax (it’s the dream day job), going on family days out  – parks, farms, beaches, cafes – all the classics, but it helps you switch off. I talk about starting regular running again a lot, and one day I’ll go back to tapdancing. 

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I re-read Adrian Mole because I will never get bored of Sue Townsend’s books; she was a genius. I loved the political and social commentary, alongside how funny they are. The Mrs Thatcher poem is a great example: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/11/5-political-lessons-learned-from-sue-townsends-adrian-mole-books

I discovered local writers Caroline Corcoran and Hayley Doyle, continued reading Andie Newton who has a new book out and found the brilliant Boy Parts by Eliza Carr.

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

This Is Us. Best series ever. The way multiple storylines from different time periods are managed is amazing. I’m learning so much from it as a writer and editor.  

I also thought the new The Babysitter’s Club was a great interpretation, with some pertinent political and social points.

I’ve re-watched The Gilmore Girls and discovered The Marvellous Mrs Maisel

I’m working with a team on a TV adaptation of my book, We Are of Dust, following a grant from the Liverpool Film Office, so I’m studying a lot of what works in a popular series.

Thank you for your time today Clare. It has been a pleasure to interview you. I wish Liverpool Literary Agency all the best!

Bio: With more than 15 years’ experience of writing professionally, including the publication of my debut novel Definitions in 2015 and my second We Are of Dust in 2018, I have developed an in-depth knowledge of what commissioning editors and publishers expect to see from a submitted manuscript. I have been through the full process of drafting, editing, pitching, publishing and marketing a novel; using my background in PR and marketing to analyse what a book needs to get the attention of a publisher and reader.

My creative writing Masters and postgraduate teaching included how to pitch to agents and publishers, as well as good social media practice for writers. I have judged fiction competitions and spoken in schools and at high-profile events on writing as a career. I received development funding from the Liverpool Film Office in July 2020 to adapt We Are of Dust for TV, working with award-winning television drama writer, Roanne Bardsley, and award-winning creative producers, Julia Berg and Ruth Spencer, of Untamed Stories.

My commended short stories and novel extracts feature in a number of publications, competitions and journals. In my PR roles, I have worked on everything from art to astrophysics, used by national media, with nominations including ‘Breakthrough Story of the Year’ from Science News. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

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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