Sophie Hannah at Ormskirk Library

I mentioned in my last post that things have been bedlam here in Preston. As well as racing to finish Cold Light (I’m on the dull parts of editing now… tweaking sentences and figuring out if it’s Woolworths or Woolworth’s or Debenhams or… you get the gist) I was out in Ormskirk Library at the weekend hosting an event with Sophie Hannah and Martin Edwards as part of the work I do putting on events for the Lancashire Writing Hub.

Martin Edwards unfortunatley found himself unable to join us, but Sophie read and talked to us all about her first four novels, her forthcoming novel and even her plans for her sixth – which sounds intriguing.

Sophie is a writer who I’ve been following for a while – I read Little Face when it first came out, and have since read the rest of her novels – as well as her short story collection (although not, to my shame, any of her poetry). I love the impossible scenarios that kick-start her plots and the way that mystery, secrecy and suspense are always the main narrative motors of her fiction. We read on because we want to find things out. As Sophie said in her talk, books that have mysteries in them are always far superior to books that don’t have mysteries in them. I also love the way she portrays motherhood in her work (truthfully, and without sentiment would be one way of putting it) and the fact that the women in her plots take centre stage without ever becoming crime-fiction stereotypes.

During the event, I got to ask Sophie questions and so did the audience. After hearing how she starts her novels – with an intriguing, mysterious situation she isn’t quite sure how to resolve… (what would happen if a woman insisted the baby lying in her daughter’s cot was not her own, and her husband insisted that it was… or this one here) I had to ask her if she’d ever concocted one of these opening conundrums and been unable to resolve it. Partly because I thought the audience would be interested in any bottom-of-the-drawer novels Sophie had not published, and because I wanted to know for my own writing. What happens when you get a great idea, but just can’t make it work?

She said no. Nope – no conundrums she’s been unable to resolve, because she doesn’t let herself consider that an option, and the rigour and limitations involved in writing a plotted crime novel that must resolve the situation evoked over the first few chapters is actually an aid to her creativity, and not a barrier to it. That struck a chord with me – both the confidence and the refusal to do failure, and the way that in my own experience of writing Cold Light and struggling, as I always do, with how to resolve the ending. Once I’d decided to jettison part of an idea that would not work, and concentrate on the characters and plot points that did make sense, resolving the whole thing became much easier and more enjoyable. I’ve given up a novel in the past – although in retrospect, this was because the characters and the theme quickly lost their appeal, rather than anything tricky about the plot getting the better of me. 

That’s all. I don’t do book reviews on this blog, or anywhere, in fact. What I do is recommendations. If you like dark, literate crime fiction, then you’ll probably like Sophie Hannah’s novels. 

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