Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today we’re a celebrate Barbara Copperthwaite’s launch of her book, THE GIRL IN THE MISSING POSTER. Barbara is the Amazon, Kobo and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, THE DARKEST LIES, HER LAST SECRET and THE PERFECT FRIEND. Her writing career started in journalism, writing for national newspapers and magazines. Barbara interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She’s fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line. When not writing feverishly at her home in Birmingham, Barbara is often found walking her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy, or hiding behind a camera to take wildlife photographs.
Thank you for inviting me to the tearoom to launch my book.
You’re very welcome. First can I ask you did you try to be more original when writing this book, or deliver what you felt the readers wanted?
With each book I try to change things up, exploring new themes, locations, character types, and scenarios. Every time I finish I feel I’ve done the absolute best I could, but when I start a new book I try to push myself to improve and experiment.
My latest psychological thriller, The Girl In The Missing Poster, is about a woman who agrees to take part in a documentary to mark the 25th anniversary of her identical twin’s disappearance. She hopes she might finally get answers – then starts receiving messages from someone claiming to be the killer. One different way of presenting the book was to have some chapters that are transcripts of the documentary. They provide the background story, rather than it being in flashback ‘then’ sections, which are more familiar in my genre. By doing this, it brings the documentary to the front and centre of the book, rather than it simply being a device that provides an inciting incident. It meant I could ‘ask’ the main character Stella some questions and get answers that might not usually be possible, which gave the story more depth. It also tapped into my former job (I was a national journalist for over 20 years) and it was lovely to flex some of my old journalistic skills.
Did you feel energised or exhausted after writing this book?
When my fifth psychological thriller, The Perfect Friend, was published my career seemed to be going from strength to strength. Within weeks, though, I was hit by illness which left me barely able to think and sapped my strength to such an extent there were days I couldn’t walk my dogs. After six months I slowly began to rebuild my strength, but I’ve been left with long-term chronic illness that needs careful management. As a result, writing The Girl in the Missing Poster has taken two years (almost to the day) from having the initial idea to it being published – and it’s been almost three years since The Perfect Friend hit the shelves. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t know if I’d ever reach the end, but I passionately believed in the idea of this book and what I was trying to do with it, and that constantly energised me to keep metaphorically putting one foot in front of the other.
Do you want each of your books to stand alone, or are you building a body of work that are interconnected? Whether that be a theme, a set of characters, a setting, etc. Explain more for our readers.
Each book stands on its own merits. The only thing that connects them is my fascination with taking everyday characters and seeing how they react as I pile more and more pressure on them. My background in journalism means I’ve had the honour of people sharing some of their most difficult times with me, and trusting me to write their stories with care; I think that’s why it’s so important to me to make my characters as realistic as possible, too, and always ensure they react in a way that is true to them.
How do you balance your demands on the reader with taking care of your readers? In the book did you spell everything out so your reader just had to read it, or did you rely on their emotional response to your words?
I think there’s an exchange of trust between author and reader that each will do their part. In other words, the author will give enough information to be clear, but not patronise them by spelling every little thing out; and the reader, knowing that, opens up their hearts and minds so that they can lose themselves in that make-believe world for a while, allowing themselves to be led along certain paths.
Do you hope your book will deliver you literary success and how will this look to you?
I’m not bothered by winning awards to give me critical acclaim (although I wouldn’t say no!). What matters most is that readers enjoy my stories – hopefully enough to then recommend it to friends, who recommend it to their friends, and so it goes on.
Was there anything you edited out of this book, you wanted to keep in, but you knew it would be a better book by cutting it?
First drafts are always such messy affairs, as I tell myself the story and discover what the characters are like, and twists and turns reveal themselves to me. As such, it means there are always extra things to be put in during the various other drafting and editing phases…and lots to be taken out, too! But everything that needed to be there, everything I’m proud of and that feels right for the book, is present.
How long did you spend researching this book’s subject matter, or was it a book you had already planned?
I was spending a lot of time on my sofa bingeing on true crime documentaries as I initially started my long climb back to health. Near the end of one about the unsolved murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando, her brother, Nigel, said something that really struck me:
‘I just wish someone could explain to me – or a judge and jury – and tell me why they killed her. It makes no sense to me. It will never make sense to me.’
I wrote it down, because that single lined summed up so much. I tried to think of how I’d feel, not knowing the truth for so many years, and always having unanswered questions whirling around my mind. Just the thought of it had me in tears. And that made me think of the killer, the person who holds all the answers. How would the killer feel if s/he is watching? What if they were moved to get in touch and explain, or even apologise? What chain of events would be triggered by that…?
As I started to write I felt a great weight of responsibility to the victims who never get justice; to those who go missing and are never found; and to the families who wait in limbo, hoping for answers. Research ranged from voraciously reading about similar cases online, to crime statistics (which are scattered through the documentary sections of the story) to contacting The Lone Twin Network to ensure I accurately conveyed what it was like being someone whose identical twin had passed away. At one point I even got shut in the boot of a car in the name of research.
What was the hardest scene to write in the book?
Well, I can’t go into detail due to spoilers but… The scene that was the hardest emotionally was also one of the quickest to write as it seemed to flow out of me. I cried the entire time I typed it, and have cried every single time I’ve read it during edits.
How will you cope with bad reviews on this book?
Not everyone will like every book, so I cope with bad reviews by acknowledging that sad fact.
What’s the one thing you would give up to become a better writer?
Eek! Tough question! I gave up a well-paid job in order to pursue my dream of being a writer, and that meant serious belt-tightening; I rarely have days off or holidays; I work incredibly long hours (when my body allows me) and am constantly pushing myself to improve…so I’ve already given up a lot to become a better writer. Was it worth it? It must be, because I can’t imagine doing anything else. But I don’t think it’s about giving things up: what improves a writer is taking new things on, being open to constructive criticism, having a constant curiosity to try out fresh ideas, reading lots of books in their own genre and beyond, and also reading books/going on courses about how to improve their craft. I think it’s important to never stop learning and adding to your repertoire.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Barbara. I hope everything goes well with your launch. If you would like to find out more about Ann’s books check out the links below.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops, too.