Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: SE Lynes

Tell us about yourself...

My name is Susie Lynes and I mostly write psychological thrillers as S E Lynes. I am married to Paul, who I met when I was eighteen and have three kids and a miniature schnauzer called Lola. I am originally from the north of England but settled near London after living in Scotland and Italy. To relax, I like reading and cooking for my family and my pals.

How do you go about plotting your book?

I have a central event, usually the inciting incident or the reversal and then I plot backwards and forwards from that, usually on one sheet of paper with an arc drawn across it. I try and think of a twist or two but often a better twist comes to me later on and, weirdly, there’s never too much in the way of backfitting it into the book … as if it was there all along dern dern derrrrrrrn. I hand write character notes, a few pages for each person – much of it doesn’t go in but it informs everything they say and do. The rest is in my head, no wonder my husband can’t get a word of sense out of me.

The characterisation comes from what I need to happen and how I need the character to react, and that comes from their backstory, their childhood, their motivations. In my next book CAN YOU SEE HER? the main character is traumatised when she realises one evening that no one really sees her anymore. She is actually going through all sorts of other stuff but it is this very small thing that tips her over the edge. There is an almost throwaway line later on somewhere about her parents more or less ignoring her when she was little, so her experience of not feeling seen is triggering for her. She doesn’t know this but I do. I also like writing from the perspective of someone who is not reading their world correctly … the reader can see the dangers or the dishonesty but the character can’t because she is too close to the action and she hasn’t read her own book jacket and doesn’t realise she’s in a thriller. That creates a kind of pantomime ‘he’s behind you’ kind of vibe, which I like.

Where do you most like to do your writing?

In my study facing the brick wall of the next house. No distractions, no view. 

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

Not often. By which I mean, I’m a block refuser. I sit down at my desk with the belief that something will come out if only from sheer boredom. I believe that sometimes it all flows and other times, it’s tough, but it’s more about the act of sitting down and doing it. 

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

Very hard because whilst I’m very outgoing I’m not a particularly confident person and I don’t have a big educated family behind me or contacts in the publishing world or anything like that so I didn’t submit to many publishers and I didn’t keep submitting when I got rejected. My debut, VALENTINA, was actually my fourth novel and I’d been writing for ten years and done an MA in creative writing. A friend said to me, look, you can write, you just need to figure out what publishers want. I looked and it seemed that publishers wanted psychological thrillers. I read a lot of them – Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, Before I Go to Sleep -  then tried to write one. I was very aware I’d have write it in a way I wanted to, because I knew that if I broke through, that would be my gig. Even now, as far I understand it, I am less about writing psych thrillers and more exploring what is troubling or preoccupying me at that moment through using the tropes of the genre as hooks upon

which to hang my ideas and themes. Often, I realise what I was writing about at a deeper level only afterwards. With VALENTINA, I only submitted again because Stephanie Zia from Blackbird Digital Books, an indie publisher, came to talk at the adult college where I was teaching creative writing and said she was looking for a novel to publish. I sent three chapters the next morning. By the afternoon, they wanted the whole manuscript, a week later they wanted to publish it. Jenny Geras at Bookouture saw reviews for VALENTINA on Twitter and read it and then asked me to submit my next one to Bookouture, where I have been ever since. Even then, I wrote MOTHER, which was the novel I wanted to write, an incredibly dark coming of age novel about a man with borderline personality disorder set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper, very much in the spirit of saying, here, this is what I do – if you like it, great. And she did, phew. 

How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing? 

Writing novels is easier and quicker now, I think. It is still hard and always such a massive undertaking and I still get emotional when I finally hand one in. I am also better at extrapolating from a relatively small idea. CAN YOU SEE HER? came from an article on the invisibility of the older woman combined with an incident in which my husband went to make a cuppa while my teenage daughter was having a party. He tried to get me to go and make it because he was embarrassed at the thought of all the girls stopping talking and staring at him – he didn’t want to inhibit or disturb them. As it was, when he came back into the living room, I asked him if they’d stopped and stared or gone all quiet and he say that no, it was much worse than that. They didn’t notice him AT ALL.

What/who are your writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?

Pat Barker is probably the main one. Gillian Flynn showed me that thrillers can be beautifully written and funny and I aspired to that. Patricia Highsmith is also a massive influence – she is truly dark and has truly disturbing characters. I took Strangers on a Train as my point of departure for THE PROPOSAL. I wanted to write a ridiculous proposition between two people, one of whom is a little repulsive, which the reader knows will ultimately come to pass but they read to find out how.

What book do you wish you had written? 

Great question! The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train. Currently, I am pretty jealous of Daisy Jones and the Six. Brilliant idea, gloriously executed. I wish I’d written Gone Girl, but at least when I read it, I was inspired.

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

Quite a few. But I have control over how much goes in. I am able to choose and think, yes, that’s OK to put into the public domain. I have teenage kids but my fictional teenagers are never my actual teenagers. In THE PACT, the daughter gets the main part in a play in a local theatre and is scouted by an agent. My teenage daughter was in such a play and was approached and my daughter helped me with the teenage language but the teenage girl and the relationship was not my daughter and myself – I got her to read it to make sure she was comfortable and she was, absolutely. Being a BBC radio producer informed Shona in VALENTINA, who worked as a journalist. And I love lighting fires like Shona does! I take small things which were funny or noticeable and inflate them and darken them. I’m sure the experience of working to deadlines informed THE PROPOSAL but I won’t say how!

What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?

The best thing is the people I have met, both writers and readers. The worst thing is possibly the stress of putting something that you have put so much into, that is a part of your soul or whatever, out there. It can feel a bit like having no skin. Being a writer is a bit like having no skin. Feeling things intensely is something most writers have had to learn to live with and writing can help with that, I think.

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