17 July 2014

Interview with Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into The Darkest Corner and Human Remains

Thanks so much for joining us at Carpe Librum Elizabeth, it’s such a pleasure to have you.
I read in your bio that you’re a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) and have participated many times to commence or continue a manuscript.  What is it about NaNoWriMo that motivates you? Is it the timeline, the network of writers?
It’s both, and other things besides. When a friend first introduced me to NaNoWriMo in October 2005, I was excited by the concept straight away. It almost gave me permission to take writing seriously for the first time, and I’ll always be grateful for that. All of my published novels originated during November and I find it difficult to write at other times of the year. I always respond best to a deadline, but I think even more than that, it’s the element of competition and teamwork. In our region we have developed good friendships and everyone is very supportive when it comes to encouraging the word count.

Elizabeth Haynes
Your debut novel Into The Darkest Corner was a gripping read and I was absolutely mesmerised by the character with OCD, Catherine.  What was your inspiration for her? Do you have first hand knowledge of anyone with OCD?  (I haven’t looked at my cutlery drawer the same way since).
Without wishing to make light of what’s a very distressing condition, I think we are all somewhere on a spectrum which begins with little superstitions and runs all the way to being debilitated by obsessions and compulsions. I remember counting steps when I was a child, trying to make good things happen by being extra-diligent with certain rituals. I think for many people these little quirks tip over into OCD when they suffer some kind of trauma; when you lose control over fundamental aspects of your own life it’s not difficult to see how exercising control over the little details can begin to provide some comfort. 

Beyond my own awareness of it, a very good friend who is a clinical psychologist recommended me some good books with first-hand accounts of those who suffer from OCD, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which Catherine also experiences.

I note that the film rights for Into The Darkest Corner have been sold; do you know when it might be coming to the big screen?  Are you planning to be involved in the script or filming process?
It’s incredibly exciting that the option for Into the Darkest Corner sold really quickly to Revolution Films. I’ve become good friends with Tinge Krishnan, who is directing and writing the script for it too. Tinge completely gets what I was trying to do with the book, and it’s important to both of us that the message behind it isn’t dumbed down by the process. It may take a long time for all the pieces to slot into place but if it all comes together and is filmed I will be thrilled.

Can you tell us more about your time working as a Police Intelligence Analyst?  Are you still working for Police?
I think being an analyst really helped me make the transition from office worker to writer! It’s a job that requires creative thinking as well as attention to detail, as the analyst has to interpret intelligence in order to recommend the most effective use of police resources. I’ve always thought it would be possible to write an entire book using police documents; as evidence comes in, you build up more of the story of what actually happened when an offence was committed.

I took a career break from the police in order to write; sadly that’s come to an end now, but it does mean that I’m writing full time. Luckily I still have good friends in the police service who can check I’ve got things right.

I recently read Human Remains, and the protagonist Annabel is a civilian working for the Police in an analysis role.  Is her character inspired by your own experiences?
Yes, in quite a few ways. The job Annabel does is pretty much exactly the role I had as an Area Analyst, looking at things like burglary, criminal damage and vehicle crime and trying to spot patterns in offending behaviour. There are many analytical roles, not just in the police but further afield in the military, financial and retail services, for example. In the current economic climate analysts are often performing more than one role, and Annabel ends up working for the Public Protection Unit doing reports on sex offenders too. 

In Human Remains, Annabel receives the daily Chief Constable’s Report, and notices from that the apparent increase in her local area of people dying alone and not being found for some time. This was inspired by a real report that goes to certain officers daily, giving details of significant events over the past twenty four hours, including any unexplained or sudden deaths. We would see such cases fairly regularly – people being found in a state of advanced decomposition – and I found myself wondering what I’d do if I analysed these incidents and noted a sudden sharp increase. Would anyone be able to investigate, given that no apparent crime had been committed? And what could possibly be the cause? The whole plot came out of that idea, including the character of Colin – who may or may not be directly responsible for all these people remaining undiscovered in their homes.

Can you tell us about the research you undertake? What is some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?  (Human Remains contains much scientific information).
I ordered a book on forensic biology for Human Remains and opened it to start my research, full of good intentions. About a minute later I put the book down, carefully removed my glasses (because I have terrible eyesight) and went through the book covering all the images with sticky paper. I can read the most gruesome details about decomposition but I cannot bear to look at it, as I’m really squeamish!

That was pretty straightforward, though. My second book, Revenge of the Tide, is about a former pole dancer who leaves her old life behind to renovate a Dutch barge, a houseboat. For that book I took pole fitness classes so that I got a sense of how physically strenuous pole dancing is. Even after six weeks I only ever got to the most basic of moves. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can invert.

What can you tell us about your writing area?  I read in your bio that you used a second hand typewriter from the age of 13; do you still have it? 
You know, it may well be in my Mum’s house somewhere. I hope it is. It was supposed to be portable but it weighed the same as a small car.

These days I have a writing shed in the garden (which is small, so the shed takes up half of it). I have everything I need in there – a coffee machine, laptop, music and company in the shape of my Spanish rescue dog, Bea. If I find myself procrastinating too much I go to a coffee shop which usually helps my focus. I think it comes from so many years working in an open-plan office, it’s easy to be distracted when you’re on your own.
Elizabeth recommends
The Night Watchman
by Richard Zimler

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished two excellent books – The Second Footman by Jasper Barry, about intrigue, love and machinations above and below stairs in 19th Century France; and The Night Watchman by Richard Zimler, about a most unusual detective uncovering corruption at the highest level in contemporary Portugal. Both of them very highly recommended.

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I’ve always loved reading crime, and I have particular favourites that I will always buy as soon as a new book comes out. These include John Harvey, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Mo Hayder and Stuart MacBride. They are all geniuses and I am, and will remain, in awe of them.

Do you have any literary influences?
I was influenced by studying Literature at A level and University (I studied English, German and Art History), and realised the beauty and perfection of good writing whilst reading Jeanette Winterson, T S Eliot, Orwell, D H Lawrence and countless others. The trouble with that was that these writers became god-like to me; as much as I loved writing myself, it felt like what they achieved with their words was on a completely different, and insurmountable, plane to what I was doing with my hefty little typewriter. As a result I never even considered the possibility of publication one day for myself, and never bothered to show anyone what I was writing.

I am happiest when…?
…I am about to start a new story in November! So full of promise! So intriguing, too. By that point in the year I will have an idea of what I’m going to write, without planning it. There will be some challenge or mystery that I will investigate during the writing process. But before it all starts I find the excitement building, because I want to find out what happens and the only way to do that is to write it.

What's next? Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I am editing my fifth book, which is the second in a police procedural series – the first book in the series is called Under a Silent Moon and it came out earlier this year. After that, I have an idea of the third book which I will write in November. I also have a couple of books half-finished, which are different genres and therefore a bit experimental for me. I am easily bored so I use these projects to dip in and out of, until the inspiration returns for the main book I’m working on. Occasionally I write a bit of fan fiction, too, just for fun.

What would you like to tell your readers?
If you want to write, go right ahead and do it. Don’t let anyone, including your own inner voice, tell you not to bother. Write because it’s fun, and if you’re enjoying the process then the results will be better too.

I’m always trying to recruit people to write more; because it almost feels like a hobby you have to permit yourself to do. It feels very self-indulgent to go off and write for a few hours, but it shouldn’t be. I think more readers would be writers too but they stop themselves because there is this pressure to be a ‘good’ writer. I don’t think any successful author was ‘good’ when they first started. The successful authors are the ones who just wrote and wrote because it was fun, and sooner or later it turned into a career when they weren’t paying attention.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Just to say thank you so much for asking me these fabulous questions! It’s a great honour to be asked to do something like this, and I’m most grateful. 

Thanks so much Elizabeth!  Click on these links to buy Into The Darkest Corner and Human Remains from Boomerang Books.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Great story, good writing, and a nail-biting finish. It was very compelling reading.

  2. Thanks, I completely agree with you :-)


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