Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: Betsy Reavley

Tell us about yourself.

I am a mother and wife. I live in Cambridge. My family mean the world to me and my husband is my rock. I have two beautiful and naughty daughters who keep me on my toes, as well as a bouncy puppy and a few quail. Not fogetting the pet frog, Frank. 

I swear too much and drink too much. I don’t always think before I speak. I love books, music, films and food. I really want a parrot but my husband doesn’t like birds. I want to travel more. 

I’ve written ever since I was tiny and it’s my happy place.

How do you go about plotting your books?

I never plot my books. They happen organically. The characters come to life in my head and I let them lead the way.

Do you ever get writer's block? How do you tackle it?

THE OPTICIAN'S WIFE, BY BETSY REAVLEY

I don’t get writers block. To be honest I’m not sure I really believe it exists. No doubt that is bound to be a bit of a controversial statement, but I believe in the power of the mind. If it doesn’t exist it can’t affect me. Every writer has good and bad days. On the bad days I write less and try not to let that bother me. I know I’ll make up for it at some later date.

Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?

The internet is a wonderful tool. It makes research so much easier. Everything is at your fingertips, which allows you to get on with the book. For my most recent book, The Optician’s Wife, a portion is set in the 1980’s. I was a toddler then so I needed to check a lot of details regarding that decade. I found that slightly tedious but then to balance that I enjoyed discovering more about the police, law and real life cases, which influence me and play a part in some of my novel.

How easy/hard was it to get your first break?

It took me nearly two years to write my first book. Once it was ready to be shown to the big wide world I sent it out to endless agents and publishers. I got close a few times but out of the 250+ submissions only two wanted to take the book on. Getting all of those rejections was difficult to begin with. When you remember that both Stephen King and J K Rowling suffered knock backs, it makes it easier to swallow. You need to have a think skin.

What's the best writing tip you've ever been given? How has it influenced you?

A lovely and very well respected agent once said to me that “writer’s write. Getting published is the cherry on top.” That was a turning point for me. I decided I’d never give up. Even if I only ever wrote for myself.

What/who are your writing influences? Has this changed over your writing career?

As a kid I devoured Agatha Christie novels. She got me into crime. Then as a teenager I read Stephen King and James Herbert. I have a soft spot for good horror. 

One of the most wonderful books I have ever read was Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. She is a huge influence to me as is Daphne Du Maurier. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is another book that blew my socks off.

If you could be a character in any book, including your own, who would you be?

A House of Knives, William Shaw

Good question. I’d be James Bond. He seems to have a lot fun.

Carrion, by Betsy Reavley

How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?

I tend to write stories that factor mental illness somewhere in them. I’ve grown up suffering from Bi Polar disorder. My father, who also had that illness, killed himself when I was 

sixteen. It’s always cast a shadow over my life. I find it cathartic to use it to my advantage for a change. 

I’ve moved around a lot and that is bound to have influenced the person I am and therefore the stories I tell. No doubt there is a little bit of me in every character in every book I’ve written.

Which scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing, and why?

I most enjoyed writing a scene, which is more or less entirely dialogue. It was an interesting exercise that was similar to screen writing I imagine. I stripped all the extra words out of the scene and let the two characters go back and forth. But I also enjoy writing the dark scenes.

What's the secret of your success?

Am I successful? I don’t know! I just write stories and hope some people who read them enjoy them.