Author Q&A: Claire Askew

Author Photo : Lewis Khan

Claire Askew has kindly answered some of my question about being an author and her novel ‘All the Hidden Truths’ 
I hope you all enjoy and I greatly appreciate the time Claire took to answer these questions.

Claire Askew is the author of the poetry collection This changes things(Bloodaxe, 2016), which was shortlisted for an Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and the Saltire First Book Award, among others.  She is also a novelist, and her debut novel All The Hidden Truths won the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress.  The novel was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2018, and was a Times Crime Book of the Month.  Claire’s second novel, What You Pay For, will be published in August 2019.  Claire currently works as Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.

1. What made you want to become a poet/author?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little girl.  My dad was a big part of that: he’s worked in Communications for most of his career, and as a child I didn’t really know what that was, but I knew that he wrote as part of his job.  “I think knowing that meant I never internalised the message “writing isn’t a real job,” and thus managed to side-step a lot of the self doubt that new writers experience.”   I was always writing: limericks, little stories, journal entries, whatever. I took a small break around the age of about seven, when I got into reading animal stories and decided I wanted to be a vet.  Then I learned that vets have to put animals to sleep, and felt rather tricked!
2. Why did you decide to move from poetry to a novel?
Simply because the idea for All The Hidden Truths wouldn’t leave me alone.  I’ve always been strangely fascinated by mass shootings, ever since the Dunblane Massacre, which happened when I was ten and had a profound effect on schools and communities across Scotland, including mine.  More recently, as school shootings have become depressingly common in our news cycle, I’ve heard people say “this is an American problem,” or “thank goodness it doesn’t happen here.”  But to the people of Scotland, it’s important to remember that it has happened here.  I kept thinking: someone needs to write a book about this topic from a Scottish perspective.  What I wanted was for someone to write that book so that I could read it.  I didn’t think I had the attention span for anything longer than a poem.  But then no one did write it, and the idea kept bothering at me every time there was another news item about a school shooting.  In the end I started writing just to try and shut my brain up.
3. Why did you choose to write your novel in the crime/thriller genre?
I didn’t realise I was writing a crime novel until quite late on in the process.  To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to keep going (that attention span thing), or get finished, or redraft, or any of that.  I wrote in secret for quite a long time.  Then All The Hidden Truths won the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress, and a lot of people heard about it, all of a sudden.  It was a relief: I was able to say to them, so, I’m writing this thing and I’ve only ever been a poet, and I don’t know what I’m doing.  I began to get a handle on what it was I was working on — a literary/crime crossover novel — only when those early readers started to come on board.  I’m eternally grateful to those people for helping me untangle the knot that my manuscript was back in 2016!
4. Were you particularly influenced by any other authors or novels?
Louise Welsh really inspires me: she’s written in so many genres, and every single one subverts the tropes and expectations of that genre beautifully.  The Cutting Room is a masterful book.  Then there’s Jennifer Egan, whose books — especially A Visit from the Goon Squad — make my jaw drop.  Egan’s prose is absolutely phenomenal and she inspires me to write the best sentences I possibly can.  Lastly, Margaret Atwood has been a teacher of mine for a long time.  Her book Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing is the best book on writing that exists, in my opinion.  I must have read it dozens of times.
5. What sort of process and research did you have to complete when writing ‘All the Hidden Truths’?
I did a lot of reading, and am deeply indebted to the following books and their authors.  A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold — the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine gunmen — gave me insight into the most unimaginable and horrendous experiences, and allowed me to write Moira.  Another Day In The Death of America, by Gary Younge, is one of the few non-fiction books in existence that has attemped to get to the bottom of the whys of youth gun culture, and although it’s USA-focussed, it contains messages for all of us, I think.  And for the police procedural research, I’m endlessly grateful that Michael O’Byrne has written The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure.  I was also very, very lucky to be able to work with a former policewoman to ensure I didn’t mess anything up when it came to writing DI Birch.
6. Why did you choose to tell this story through three different viewpoints?
Initially, I had intended to tell it through lots more, and indeed the book’s first draft had about nine POV characters.  I wanted the book’s structure to reflect the mess and cacophony of the immediate aftermath of an event like a mass shooting, but I discovered quite quickly that the content couldn’t be a slave to the form.  It was too emotive, and I had to pursue that emotional core rather than trying to write something experimental and weird.  That meant I had to write about the two mothers, Ishbel and Moira: arguably the two people most deeply and painfully affected by the tragedy the book describes.  But one of the central questions of the book is’what the hell can we do about something like this?’, and I couldn’t answer that question without showing the ways in which our institutions respond to tragedy, or at least try to.  DI Birch, who’s tasked with ‘solving’ this unsolvable case, represents the ways in which the institutions of law and justice so often feel useless.  Birch herself feels useless, restricted by procedure and red tape.  For me, these three women provided the most interesting lenses through which to view the themes of this novel.
7. The topic for this book is very relevant and topical at the moment, why did you choose to write about this difficult event and did it make it more difficult that it is something that people experience?
It was difficult to research, difficult to write, and it has been difficult to talk about at times, too.  However, I think it’s important that we have hard conversations around the topic of mass shootings involving young people.  I think the ‘problem’ of youth violence is too often spoken about lazily: the conversations lean towards generalisation and sometimes-deliberate misunderstanding.  Young people the world over turn to violence for reasons that are complex, structural and which intersect with many other pressing issues: poverty, inequality of opportunity, gender, race, education, and many more.  I strongly believe that we don’t talk enough about the influence of toxic masculinity on young men, for example.  My hope has always been that this book will challenge people to think about the reasons behind youth violence — especially where it has a gendered element — with increased nuance.
8. Do you plan on writing any more novels?
I’ve already written the follow-up to All The Hidden Truths, in which DI Birch takes on a brand new case.  The book is called What You Pay For, and it’ll be published in August 2019 by Hodder and Stoughton.  Without spoilering either book, readers of All The Hidden Truths will know that thirteen years ago, DI Birch’s little brother Charlie went missing without a trace.  In What You Pay For he reappears, but he’s in big, big trouble.
9. Do you have a favourite book, poem or author?
Ah, the impossible question!  I’ve named a few of my favourite novelists already, but I must add Agatha Christie to that list, too!  Poetry was my first love, and if I sat and listed all my favourite poets I’d be here forever.  However, I was knocked sideways by the news that Mary Oliver recently passed away.  She’s been another of my life’s teachers and she’s a poet I believe everyone ought to seek out and read.  
10. Do you have any advice for an aspiring poet or writer?
Lots!  But the main thing is: believe in what you’re writing, believe that you’re the best person to write it, and believe that it deserves to be read.  Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is hard to do.  But I meet so many writers who end up totally stuck in the muck of self doubt, and it ends up killing their writing projects.  Until you get yourself some readers, or an agent, or an editor, you’re going to be the only person who’ll champion your work.  You’ll be the only person there to say ‘hey, I made this thing and you ought to read it.’  Like I say, it’s hard.  But the good thing about this sort of belief is it self-replicates, so if you can create just a little spark of it, or even fake it to begin with, it will grow if you nurture it.  I’m not telling you to believe that your work is perfect and you’re a genius: rather than you believe it deserves to find readers, and you’re willing to do whatever work is needed to get it out into the world.  You can do it, but you won’t be able to if you don’t believe that.

Many Thanks, Caitlin x

(PS please feel free to comment!)

‘No Time For Goodbye’ Linwood Barclay

‘No Time For Goodbye’ is a crime thriller novel by author Linwood Barclay that was published in 2007. The book centers around a woman named Cynthia and the disappearance of her family. She wakes up one day and her family is gone, no bodies, no crime scene, no evidence. What really happened to her family? It follows her journey trying to find out what happened to her family 25 years ago and the new clues that are appearing.

I really enjoyed this book as it wasn’t entirely based from a police procedural view and looked more and the view of Cynthia and her husbands. How they are coping with the new information and trying to figure out what happened to Cynthia’s family.

I found both Cynthia and her husband likable characters which made me more invested in finding out how it all ended. We see a flashback to the night Cynthia family went missing at the beginning of the novel which helped to show who she is today and how she has been shaped by these traumatic events. The guilt and sadness that came alongside the experience becomes apparent in her life with her husband and daughter now and how she has become more paranoid than ever. Her husband is also likable as we see how the events effect him and their daughter. We see him becoming more annoyed and suspicious which I think adds realism because if he was always positive and supportive would that be truthful to what would actually happen in that scenario.

I found that the book started off at an average pace but soon speeds up as more pieces of the jigsaw fits together and her husband becomes more and more involved in finding out the truth.

I think the ending of the book matches to the build up and is an exciting ending. There are more twists and turns up until the last page so it keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want to know what happened all those years ago and you want it to be a happy ending (as much as possible) for Cynthia and her family.

Overall, I would highly recommend this thriller as it keeps ypou on the edge of your seat throughout with a realistic story. I am excited to read the sequel ! ‘No Safe House’

Many thanks, Caitlin x

(PS please feel free to comment your opinion on this book or any others by Linwood Barclay)

Perfect Silence Mini Review

Perfect Silence by Helen Fields is the forth installment of her DI Callanach series. Each book in this series currently has an over 4 star rating on good read and is one of my favourite series.

perfect silence

I have previously written about the previous 3 books as well as an Author Q&A with Helen Fields that you can check out before or after reading this.

I thought that this book was really good and I enjoyed reading it. It delved further into the lives of DI Callanach and DCI Ava Turner. I think that there friendship in this book carrying on from the previous booked created a ‘will they, won’t they’ sort of anticipation throughout which engaged me as a reader.

As with the previous book it is based upon a crime that has taken place and the ivestigation into these crimes. This is perfect for those interested in crime and police procedure books but in this novel there is extra depth and almost a second plot with the characters.

I find both of the main characters likable and having both been through tough times you see them develop and cope with these. In this book I believe that Ava Turner was a bit more unlikable due to the superiority in the book however the previous books really help to add to her character. In this novel she is a strong and determined Detective Chief Inspector who isn’t scared to stand her ground to ensure that the victims of these crimes are treated with the respect they deserve and find justice. I find this quite inspirational as a female also. DI Callanach is also still very likable and I think they way he has been written and interacts with the other characters really aids this. He has been through a trauma in his life and that wasn’t just forgotten about in this book so we were able to see how he has coped and progressed in his life after this. These two characters themselves make the books worth reading.

There were two main investigations in this book; one where the bodies of young females are being found alongside dolls made out of the victims skin and one where the letter ‘Z’ is being carved onto the drug users of the cities faces. Both these crimes are gruesome and gory which isn’t what everyone would want to read but I found that there was a good balance between the crimes themselves and the investigation. This made it a good read as we get to see what these police officers are doing to help these poor victims.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and upon reading other reviews people were saying that this installment was not as good as the other 3. I have to say I agree with this on a certain level as I feel that the characters developed less throughout the novel however I would let this stop you from reading this book. It is a great installment within a series and although you don’t necessarily need to read the previous books before you read this, I would highly recommend that you do as it gives background to why the characters are like how they are.

There is also a fifth installment of this series due to be released in April which I am so excited to read!

Many thanks, Caitlin x

(PS please comment if you have ever read this series or would like to)

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

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Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is the first instalment in the DS Manon Series. It focuses in the investigation into a missing woman, Edith Hind, and how the police are dealing with this investigation with little leads and personal circumstances. This book features a police preocedural storyline however the characters are explored and can be seen as the main focus of the book. I agree that the character development is important in this book and seeing how the different characters deal with every situation is both intriguing and engaging. I like how the book isn’t necessarily set out in chapters but rather in character based sections. Each section is from a different characters viewpoint throughout the investigation which I feel was a great way to structure this book as each characters experience is important to the way the story is portrayed.

I find that character development is one of the most important things to me when reading a book. If the characters are not realistic or explored I feel as though the book is less engaging and enjoyable and I am glad this book features good characters with depth with likable and realistic characters.

DS Manon was the most developed character and I found her very likeable as a character and police officer. I think she is a strong character and she is realistically portrayed. She has realistic qualities which is relevant and relatable. She is affected by her job whilst dealing with her own personal circumstances and relationships. She is a strong character however she does show a vulnerable side which I think also makes her relatable and likeable as a character. Davy is also a likable character and seeing him through Manon section and viewpoint was good as you could see their relationship and friendship as he can see through her hard and negative exterior.

Even although I loved this book and would totally recommend it to anyone who is interested in police procedural novels that also features great characters. I do feel as though the ending was slightly rushed and not explored in a way that gave me a satisfying conclusion. The book explores the investigation and characters a lot throughout the majority of the book which I love whilst exploring new leads and twists however I feel that the concluding sections were as if the ending was not fully developed and I was slightly confused on first reading. I personally would have preferred for the book to be slightly longer to allow for further development of the ending sections as I loved the book and feel as though another section would strengthen my opinion.

Overall, I would say that this book is excellent at providing a book that features a police procedural storyline whilst giving a character development on multiple people. I would highly recommend this book and I am excited to continue reading the further books in the series and further books by Susie Steiner.

Many thanks, Caitlin x

(PS please comment if you have read this series or one that heavily features police procedure and character development)