If you’ve read my recent review, or anyone else’s review of Penny Hancock’s debut novel, Tideline, then you’ll already know of the buzz it’s creating.
Penny was good enough to drop by for a chat about the book and its writing:
KBW: I thoroughly enjoyed TIDELINE – a magnificent crime debut, did you always set out to write a crime book?
Penny Hancock: No! I’m afraid I’d always shied away from what I thought of as ‘crime’ although I love psychological thrillers. I particularly like the idea of dark things going on under the surface of apparently respectable, upstanding citizens. And I’ve always written short stories in this kind of genre. But I’m getting into crime now I’ve learnt what a diverse and creative genre it really is.
KBW: I have to ask if Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery had any influence on you in terms of the abduction and drugging of Sonia’s prey?
PH: Again, no I’m afraid. I hadn’t read Misery or seen the film though have read it now. I thought Annie Wilkes was horrible, really sinister, and she does some extremely violent things, with no apparent conscience- a great horror character. Whereas I believe Sonia is a much more tender woman, even if she does cross the line. She never actually intends to hurt Jez and she does have a conscience even if she’s deluded about what she’s doing with him.
KBW: I loved the attention to detail in Greenwich and will never see the place in quite the same way again – are there any plans to set another book there? Or have you set a location already for your second book?
PH: I love that area as I grew up there. I find the Thames, particularly those dark Dickensian creeks and urban riverside wharves and warehouses inspiring. My next book is set in Deptford, and the river still features. I love the contrast of old Dockside buildings with the towering glass skyline of Canary Wharf on the other side. The old areas seem more sinister, but actually the contemporary skyline is more scary to me- this reflects my characters- the more polished on the outside, the more potential there is for deviance inside-if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!
KBW: Who do you read and is there a crime novel that you most wish you’d written?
PH: I didn’t read much crime until I started to write Tideline, but I’ve always loved Beryl Bainbridge’s early novels which usually feature apparently banal, run-of- the-mill characters with flaws that lead them to do terrible things. There’s always a latent sexual element to them too. Rebecca(Daphne du Maurier) is a book I wish I’d written. I also love Graham Greene. I’ve recently discovered Nicci French since writing Tideline and like the plots which, again often involve sexual obsession or skewed relationships. I’m more interested in the characters and their motivations than the crimes they perpetrate.
KBW: Which character in Tideline do you most identify with?
PH: I think there’s a little bit of me in all the characters but equally there is a lot in most of the characters that is anathema to me.
KBW: What was the spark for the idea of the book and did it arrive pretty much fully formed or did the story reveal itself to you in the same way that it slowly rises to the surface for its readers?
PH: There were a number of sparks. I heard Chris Beckett a science fiction writer talking about ‘making the internal, external’ in his stories and realized this is what needed to do. Internally I was going through a period of nostalgia for my first romance, and where it took place- in Greenwich. I thought what if I made this obsession external, and wrote about a woman literally captures a teenage boy, in a quest to recapture her own teenage years. Only for her to do something so extreme, her teens must have been extremely troubled, with unfinished business meaning her psychological development was somewhat arrested.
The story of Sonia’s teens, and the gradual steps that lead her down the path she takes, unfolded as I wrote. I had no idea she’d go as far as she does…
KBW: Are you set to be at any/all of this year’s crime writing festivals and events?
PH: I’ve been invited onto a panel at Harrogate and have also been approached by Bristol Crimefest. I’m also doing a panel with Sophie Hannah and SJ Watson (both authors I admire) at Cambridge Wordfest in April.
KBW: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by other writers, or any advice you would give to others?
PH: Stephen King’s advice is the best I’ve read or can give to others, don’t wait for the muse. You have to treat writing as a job, get up, get going, do it. Then if you’re lucky the muse may come up from his basement and pay you a visit. ( this is not a direct quote, I’m paraphrasing!)
KBW: Do you have a particular writing regime?
PH:I write whenever and wherever I can. When I’m doing anything else it feels I have to rush to get back to writing. I’m a bit obsessive about it.
KBW: What can we expect next from you?
PH: I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeves. My next novel is in progress and is, I hope, equally compelling and dark. It’s set in contemporary Deptford and involves two women, one a successful career woman, the other hermigrant domestic worker. After that who knows, I’ve become a little worried about Jez, I don’t think he got a fair hearing in Tideline, so it’s possible there might be a sequel toTideline one day.
A big thank you to Penny for taking the time to drop by and to Dawn Burnett of Simon & Schuster for making the interview possible.