Mark Edwards and Rachel Abbott: Two Kindle Bestsellers in Conversation
Last weekend, to my delight, The Magpies hit No.1 on Amazon.co.uk. It didn’t stay there long – some bloke called Dan Brown brought a book out the next day – but it was a great feeling, not least because it proved that the success of Catch Your Death, my first No.1, wasn’t a fluke. Not many indie writers have made it to No.1 in the UK. The last one, I believe, was Rachel Abbott, whose Only the Innocent was a massive hit in 2012. Rachel’s new one is currently in the top five on Amazon, and Only the Innocent is back in the top ten. Over the last year we have become good virtual friends, exchanging regular emails and sharing the stress that comes along with writing and selling books.
Last week, Rachel and I exchanged the following emails and thought it might be illuminating and interesting to share our conversation with other writers and readers.
RA: I just wanted to drop you a quick note to congratulate you on the amazing success of The Magpies. I’m really pleased for you. You’re having such a terrific run at the top, how are you managing to sleep?
ME: Thanks Rachel! It has been very exciting – but, to be honest, my one-year-old son stops me sleeping more than the adrenalin. Although I must confess to checking my Amazon ranking when he gets me up at 3am… Huge congrats to you too on The Back Road being such a huge hit, and on Only the Innocent re-entering the top ten. Having two books in the top ten is a fantastic achievement. From experience I’ve found that when you have two or more books out, even if they are not strictly part of a series, they help sell each other. I guess you’ve found that too?
RA: I actually had no idea that there would be such a knock on effect. It’s been a major surprise and I continue to be astonished daily. I have to say that I am in awe of you writers who have day jobs, small children and you STILL manage to write books. I couldn’t do it. It takes me a long time to plan a book – I’m a bit of a detail freak. The Back Road has so many interconnecting stories and twists to it that detailed planning was essential. I’m onto the next book now, and I spent an hour yesterday looking for images of flats in Manchester that work for the first part of the story. Having a photo that matches the idea in my head really helps to firm up the details – such as where the watcher in the grounds might be hiding. When I was writing The Back Road I had interior layouts – even a seating plan for the dinner party.
When you write, do you start with an idea and run with it to see where it takes you, or do you have a detailed plan? Is The Magpies the book you thought it was going to be when you sat down to write?
ME: I used to start books with no plan apart from a vague ending in my head, and would make it up as I went along. These days I plan more, working out at least the first third of the book. I also try to write a character sketch so I know something about their back story before starting – but it changes a lot as I write. I like to be able to surprise myself, which also makes it easier to surprise the reader. But with The Magpies, I knew exactly what kind of story I was trying to tell – one where the sense of dread keeps building with no let up or escape for the characters. Every time you think it can’t get worse…it does. I like to make my characters really suffer!
How about you? In The Back Road you have a rich ensemble of characters, each with their own history. I often find that the temptation is to start the novel too early. How did you work out where to start?
RA: In The Back Road it was quite easy. I needed to start at a point just before the tragic accident that acts as a catalyst to blow everything apart and expose all the secrets and lies that pervade the whole story. But I wanted a prologue that was dark – something that would make sense of what was to happen, and also cause some confusion. The prologue takes place several years in the past – but in The Magpies, I initially thought that the prologue was in the future – and the rest of the book told the story of how the protagonists had reached that point. But that wasn’t the case, was it?
ME: No, with The Magpies the prologue is actually in the past, but you don’t find out who it is and what happened until much later in the book. The prologue is in there partly to let readers know that something awful is going to happen because the beginning of the book is quite a slow burner. I want the reader to feel that trickle of dread – like when you watch the start of a horror movie, when the family moves in to the haunted house, or the gang of teens goes into the woods.
RA: It’s interesting what you say about character sketches. I do incredibly detailed character profiles – but what changes it all for me is when you put each of these characters in a room together –the way they interact with each other helps their characters to develop. I love the way that, as I write, the conversations – the lies and half-truths – just appear as if out of nowhere on the page. It feels as if I don’t think of them myself – they just happen.
Do you like to carry characters forward from one book to another – or once their story is told, have you done with them?
ME: I think readers like it when a writer carries characters forward – Louise Voss and I did this with Kate Maddox in our medical thriller series. But some books work better as standalones. Once you’ve told the story, it’s time to say goodbye to those characters. How about you? And do you have a favourite character in your books?
RA: I never intended to carry characters forward. My plan was standalone books – but so many people commented on policeman Tom Douglas in Only the Innocent that I felt compelled to bring him back in The Back Road. And now there is a hint of attraction between him and Leo (short for Leonora) – my favourite character because of her complex and conflicted nature – so they will both be back in the next book. Tom might never be the protagonist in one of my novels – but he is always there in the background, almost as if his role is to give readers the reassurance that somebody wants the truth to be out. My books don’t focus on the ‘who’ in terms of crime. They are much more about the ‘why’ – so the principal characters are the victims and the perpetrators, not the police.
Actually I think that you and I both put ordinary people in horrendous situations in our novels – and I wonder if the thing that attracts readers is the fact that they can imagine something similar happening to them, or to people they know? In The Back Road, nearly everybody has some conflict to resolve or secret to hide, let alone trying to find out who would leave a young girl to die on the side of the road. I can imagine people identifying with the characters in both The Back Road and The Magpies – driven to make the wrong decisions because the stress and pressure mounts.
ME: I’m sure you’re right about the attraction being ‘it could happen to you’. Any one of us could find ourselves living next door to neighbours from hell. Thrillers about spies and assassins are exciting but they are pure escapism. It’s much more chilling to imagine that you could be undergoing this experience.
RA: What are you up to next? Another book with Louise Voss, or another in your own name?
ME: I’m halfway through the next Voss and Edwards book, which is a slight departure for us as it’s more of a police procedural but mixed with a psychological thriller. We’re hoping it will be the start of a new series. And then I plan to write another Magpies-style psychological thriller. But I intend to make this one a lot scarier… What’s your next one?
RA: A completely new story – like you another psychological thriller. There will be police elements in it because of the crimes that are committed – all of which means that there is space of Tom Douglas again. There are fewer characters than in The Back Road, but I’m really hoping that the story resonates with readers. Another nightmare scenario that readers can relate to.
It’s been great having a catch up – good luck with the continued success of The Magpies, and it’s been good to have your company on this particular part of the journey!