Well, there’s a title I never thought I’d write. If I’m honest I do still feel a bit like I’m living in a dream or I’m in an episode of the Truman Show where the whole world has convinced me not to leave my house or terrible danger will befall me. But yeah, it’s true, horribly, scarily true and we’re all trying to adapt to a new way of living whilst trying not to fixate on how long this will last or how bad it’ll get.
And today I have a book out. A book I spent the best part of a year writing and that I’m really proud of. It’s a book about loneliness and isolation and how a crime brings three strangers together and changes their lives forever. It’s set in Bristol and a lot of the action takes part in a shopping mall. I was inspired to write it after I visited the shopping mall near my house and wondered how many of the people shopping alone were lonely. Then I thought about the other people whose lives centre around the mall – the security guards, the shop assistants and the shoplifters – and my three main characters Gareth, Alice and Ursula were born.
The book is a three-hander. It starts with the aftermath of the crime, with Gareth, Alice and Ursula standing around a dead body then goes back in time by a week and follows each of their lives in the run up to the crime. They each have a mystery to solve – for Gareth it’s the postcards that arrive from his dead dad. For Alice it’s the stalker who is determined to put her off her knight in shining armour. And for Ursula it’s her new landlord’s locked basement door. And then there’s the small matter of the Harbourside Murderer, who may or may not be pushing people into the river Avon in the early hours.
The thing that I think sets this book apart from some of my previous books is that, with Strangers, the characterisation is what I worked the hardest on. I’ve written some twisty books over the years but I think what stays with a reader after they finish a book isn’t so much the intricacies of a plot (although that can happen if the twist is OMFG!) but the characters. What would The Silence of the Lambs be without Hannibal Lecter, or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine without it’s quirky main character? With Strangers I deliberately set out to write likeable, relatable characters that the reader would root for and, with Ursula in particular, I hope I created a character who’s perplexing initially but the reader slowly grows to love.
Some book ideas sit in the back of your mind for years and it isn’t until they completely meld that you can sit down to write them. Ursula is a character who’s been with me for years but didn’t fit any of my previous books. I wasn’t entirely sure how she’d fit this book either – I couldn’t work out what job to give a kleptomanic that would allow her to steal so readily – and then one day there was a knock at my door and a tall woman handed me a parcel and asked me to sign it. I stared up at her (I’m nearly six foot and this woman was much taller than me). She was Ursula, almost exactly as I’d imagined her.
So Ursula became a courier in Strangers. And weirdly, the delivery woman who inspired her, has never knocked on my door again…
You can buy Strangers from the book aisles of Tesco and Asda or order it online from Waterstones, WH Smiths and Amazon. You can also ring up your local independent bookshop and ask if they can order a copy to be send to you.
I hope you enjoy reading Strangers as much as I enjoyed writing it and if you’d like to celebrate publication day with me I’ll be doing a live launch on Facebook at 8.30pm this evening (2nd April). We’ll be playing games and I’ll be giving away over twenty-one prizes. See you there.