Guest post: In conversation with Elodie Harper


Probably best known as a reporter for ITV News Anglia, Elodie Harper is also an award-winning author. As she gets ready to launch her second novel with an event at Jarrold in July, book buyer Chris Rushby catches up with her and discovers that fact can really influence fiction.

This is your second novel. How did you find the experience of writing the second – as distinct from the first – book?

Contrary to the 'difficult second album' cliche, I found writing my second novel easier than the first - with the proviso that 'easy' is not a word I would use to describe writing ANY book!  With the first you are only writing for yourself and so can take all the time you need.  Although this means the pressure is off, psychologically it can also be a strain spending all these hours on a project that might never give you a return on your time.  It's also a very lonely process - no agent or editor to give moral support or advice.  With the second I found the fact the book was 'wanted' - or rather under contract - gave me enormous confidence and a giant shove in the backside to finish it.  There was also a deadline so I HAD to put time aside each day to write and also felt I had the right to take that time off from other commitments and to ask for support from my family.  Confidence is a huge issue for me as a writer and I think the boost I got from knowing I was going to be published - plus the amazing moral support of my agent Juliet Mushens and editor Ruth Tross - made the whole experience of writing the second book much less agonising.

Can you please tell us about the new book – without giving anything away, of course?

The Death Knock is a serial killer thriller.  The narrative is a split perspective between the killer's latest kidnap victim, Ava, and a journalist, Frankie, who is covering the case.  Their story lines increasingly overlap as the action unfolds.... 

The Death Knock

By Elodie Harper

Your books are set firmly in East Anglia. Can you tell us what the region means to you and why you think it lends itself to being a setting for your kind of fiction?

East Anglia is a key character in both books, and as a place it feels both familiar and strange to me.  It's familiar because I lived in Norwich for some years due to my reporting job at ITV Anglia.  Thanks to my lovely colleagues, it's somewhere I felt welcome immediately!  The landscape though is something else.  As a Londoner by birth I was struck by its eerie quality and by how remote it can feel from the rest of the country.  To me both those qualities made it the perfect setting for a sinister tale.... 

You won first prize in a short story competition judged by Stephen King! Does being a writer get any better than that?!   

Winning that short story competition was such an unexpected joy at a pivotal point in my life.  I got the news I had won at exactly the point Juliet sent The Binding Song out on submission to publishers - and a couple of weeks before my son was born.  So within a short space of time I went from being an unpublished writer with no agent to a new mother with a two book deal and an endorsement from Stephen King!  He is a writer I admire enormously, and so knowing he had read and liked my work was - and still is - an incredible feeling. 

Your books are dark and gripping stories. Do you ever frighten yourself whilst writing? What do you turn to for light relief?  

The Binding Song gave me a few creepy moments in bed when the lights were off!  But on the whole I found writing The Death Knock much more frightening.  There's no real flavour of the supernatural in it, and for me as a journalist, imagining real life horrors is always more terrifying.  I certainly scared myself with some of Ava's exchanges with her kidnapper.  Fortunately I had plenty of light relief in the form of my newly arrived son.  I spent some really wonderful hours with other new mums I had met while we were all pregnant, meaning I wrote this dark book during the happiest year of my life.

Who are your favourite novelists – both crime/thriller and beyond?

In terms of thrillers I'm a big fan of Ali Land's 'Good Me, Bad Me' and Claire Douglas's 'Last Seen Alive', while for crime I love Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint series and recently really enjoyed Kate Rhodes's 'Hell Bay'. I'm looking forward to more of her Ben Kitto books.  Outside the genre, my favourite writer is Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.  I love all her novels but 'Half of a Yellow Sun' is such a stunning, epic work on every single level: characters you fall in love with, a gripping plot, and a meditation on the nature of war, character and love.  In no particular order, I also love Daphne Du Maurier, the Brontes, Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison.

How does your job as a journalist inspire your writing?
As a reporter for ITV News Anglia the side of crime I tend to see is the emotional aftermath of violence, and so my fiction is also concerned with the point of view of the victim (or victim's family).  To me this aspect of writing about crime is just as important as the who/why dunnit.  So, in my first book The Binding Song, I set the story in a prison, as this seemed the ideal place to explore characters' feelings about grief and retribution.  For The Death Knock I wanted to write realistically about the experience of covering crime for a regional TV programme - who would you interview, what's it like covering a case in court, what restrictions are on your investigation?  Reporting crime can also feel morally ambiguous - your story is someone else's life, after all - and this is something my main character Frances Latch grapples with.

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