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Saturday 28 February 2015

Rachel Abbott

I am delighted today to have Rachel Abbott drop by to talk with us.

Rachel Abbott was born just outside Manchester, England.
 She became a systems analyst at the age of 21 in the early 1970s, and formed her own software company in the mid 1980s designing computer programmes for education.   The company expanded into all forms of interactive media and became extremely successful. The sale of the company in 2000 enabled her to take early retirement and fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions - to buy and restore a property in Italy. 
Once there she completely restored a ruined monastery and started a second successful business renting it out for weddings and conferences.
In 2010 she embarked on her third career and wrote her first book
Only the Innocent.

Lizzie:                         Rachel welcome.  You have had two successful businesses’ the second of which fulfilled a lifetime ambition, and now a third as a writer. Did you always want to write, or did it come to you later when you took stock of your achievements and thought - so what now?
Rachel:            In my working life I had always done a lot of writing. My interactive media business was based around training and education, and we often used drama to convey key points. I was actively involved in creating the scenarios and writing the scripts, and I loved it. However, it never occurred to me that I might write a book until about six years before I sold the business. One evening over dinner a friend asked me what I would do if I retired before I was fifty, and without thinking I said “I’ll write a book”. Nobody was more surprised than me! As it happens, I didn’t retire before I was fifty – but I still kept thinking about that book I was going to write!

Lizzie:             The advice so often given to aspiring authors is ‘write what you know’.   So why a police detective, and not an amateur detective, such as a computer analyst,  hotelier or property developer? 
Rachel:      Strangely I never think of my books as being about a police detective. Much as I love Tom Douglas, he’s almost incidental. I write about the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes (which suggests I have an even murkier past, if we are to believe that people write about what they know). The geography of my books is different from a lot of crime novels, which tend to be based around the policeman – his office, his car, his interviews with suspects. My books are based – for the most part - in the home of the protagonists. They are books about relationships that have gone badly wrong, and the terrible things that people are capable of doing to each other – most of which ultimately require the input of a policeman.

Lizzie:             Did you always plan to write a series?  Sleep Tight is the third outing for DCI Tom Douglas. When you set out to write your first book Only the innocent, did you already have DCI Tom Douglas in mind, and if so was he based on anyone, or did he emerge as you wrote?
Rachel:            I never really wanted to have a series. I expected each book to be a stand-alone because of the nature of the stories I hoped to tell. But when somebody is murdered in the first scene of a book – as happened in Only the Innocent – you need a detective, whether you want one or not. I liked Tom, but the readers loved him, so he had to come back. He wasn’t based on anybody in particular – but he’s my idea of an all round good guy. He can be a bit gruff and direct, and he struggles to deal with the grey areas between right and wrong. He is often conflicted when he knows that technically a crime has been committed, but sometimes the reason for that crime provides a level of justification that Tom finds hard to come to terms with. He struggles with knowing what – as a policeman – he should do, and his own innate sense of right and wrong.       
Lizzie:             Working as you did in both the computer and leisure/catering industry are the ideas for your books sparked from real events and people you have come across, or do ideas just come to you? Or a mixture of both?
Rachel:            The events don’t come from my own experience – thank goodness. But the people do. I am a great people watcher, and I’ve seen the dark side of too many characters over the years. Nobody quite to the extent of Hugo Fletcher in Only the Innocent, of course, but I’ve been stalked myself by a very intelligent, normal guy who just lost the plot. I’ve witnessed other bizarre behaviour where people become obsessed with somebody or something, but believe their behaviour to be perfectly rational.

Ideas for the books just come to me, but it’s the people within those stories that create the atmosphere, and I suppose I have taken aspects of personalities I have witnessed and just multiplied them many, many times to create my bad guys (or girls).

Lizzie:             With Sleep Tight , I found the balance between the characters and the police procedure beautifully balanced.  So often where the protagonist is a police detective it mainly about the actions of the police.  Was this a conscious decision or did it just work out that way. 

Rachel:                        Thank you for that, and I’m glad it worked out that way. Sleep Tight was a book about obsession – just what I was talking about above, really. So the story had to be focussed on the impact of that obsession on the main characters. The police are a requirement in the story – somebody has to stop something terrible from happening. But the emotions, fear and anger have to come from the characters who are affected by the story. I think this is why I’m often not drawn to standard police procedurals. If everything is seen from the eyes of the detective, it limits the range of emotions. He’s not going to be scared for his life, or frightened of going to sleep when somebody is in the house? So my books have to be about the characters – and I try to make the police procedure as interesting as I can, through the character of Tom.

Lizzie:             Do you plan your plots before you start writing?  And, if so, do your books change during the writing process? So often writers say that the characters take over, resulting in a different ending and sometimes perpetrator. Do your books pan out exactly as you originally planned?
I do plan the book, but there are many changes and deviations from the original outline as I write. Sometimes the planned route stops working because suddenly I think ‘but he just wouldn’t do that’ and I have to find a different way through. When I was writing Stranger Child, I had a very clear idea of how the book was going to end. I discussed it with my agent, and sat down to write the final chapter. In spite of a conversation that very morning, the ending that I wrote was entirely different. It rather bizarrely seemed to have a life of its own. It didn’t affect the outcome of the crime – the same person was guilty – but it was interesting how clear the character’s behaviour had become in my mind, so that I couldn’t give them the ending I had planned.

Having said that, unlike some writers, I do think it’s essential to know the key points of the story, including the guilty party, before starting to write. Even if things move in slightly different directions as you write, characters have to be consistent. If you start off without knowing who is the perpetrator of the crime, how can their characters develop and how can they be true to themselves?  

Lizzie:             When embarking on a new book, what area of the book challenges you the most?
I start every book thinking ‘this is only going to be about 30,000 words’, and then when I finish it and it’s 120,000 and I have to cut a huge amount, I don’t know how it’s happened. So I worry at the start that there’s not enough to the story – that it’s too simple. So the challenge is to create a web of deceit with multiple strands that all come together. One advantage of being an ex systems analysis is that I am an ace flowcharter! And I need to be to ensure that I keep everything on track.           

Lizzie:             Do you have a favourite part of the writing process?
All of it! It’s different for each book, but one thing that I always enjoy is getting back my first set of edit notes. Some people think this is the worst part. There are (virtual) red lines through whole sections, or notes such as ‘this should all be happening sooner’ or ‘let’s see some more of this character – he’s too weak’. It’s the ‘big issue’ edit, and I sit and stare at it, eat a few Jaffa cakes swearing and cursing at my editor, and then start to make the changes and all the pieces begin to slot into place. Suddenly this totally different beast emerges. It’s a fantastic experience.

Lizzie:             So why self-publishing? It’s clear from your background that you must be motivated, clever and positive to have achieved what you have.  I am sure that you could have got a publishing deal particularly after the success of  Only the Innocent. 
Rachel:            After Only the Innocent I got an agent. We decided together that it would be worth writing a couple more books to see how they sold before we thought about a publisher. There were several reasons for this. A few successful self-publishers had been picked up by traditional publishers, and not all of these relationships had turned out well, although some did. I felt that I was still learning (and now realise that I always will be), and I wanted to keep improving. I would have no problem with a traditional deal - there are so many advantages – but the timing and the deal haven’t been right yet. 

Lizzie:             You have now relocated to Alderney which features in Sleep Tight. What prompted that move?
Rachel:            There were several reasons. We still have a house in Italy, and I’ll spend some months there over the summer. It’s a truly great place to write. But I actually missed speaking English. As a writer, it’s actually quite useful to have intelligent friends who you can have a decent conversation with and stretch your use of language. Even British television – if chosen wisely (which I don’t always) helps with vocabulary. In Italy, anything other than Italian tended to be American. I was increasingly finding that I couldn’t remember the English words for things like aubergine and courgette, so a British speaking country was a must. We thought about the Channel Islands because after Italy we couldn’t face living in the cold north again (although I love visiting), and when I read about Alderney it seemed such a quirky and interesting place that we came for a look. I was bowled over by the place, and it still puts a smile on my face every day.

Lizzie:             Your fourth book, Stranger Child, comes out in e-book at the end of February.  Can you tell us about this book?
Rachel:            It is SO hard to talk about this book without giving away key elements of the story.
The book starts when Caroline Joseph is driving her six-year-old daughter home from a family party. She sees a car slewed across the road ahead and is about to stop when she receives a phone call. The person on the other end is begging Caroline not to stop, so she puts her foot down to get past the car. Sadly the car skids and turns over, and she is killed outright. When the police arrive, there is no sign of another vehicle – but neither is there a little girl in, or anywhere near, the car. She has disappeared without a trace.

Six years later we begin to see the repercussions of the decisions taken that night. The danger that was lurking has never gone away, and one person is seeking revenge for the torment suffered. Tom Douglas is there to help, but in the process he is forced to face some demons of his own.

Lizzie:            So what are you working on now?  Another DCI Tom Douglas, or are you becoming restless to try something different?
My next book will involve Tom again – but as yet I haven’t worked out his role. When coming up with ideas, I always start with the victims and the perpetrators. Tom’s involvement only comes about as a result of their actions, but as there will undoubtedly be a crime committed at some point, he will be needed. He will probably have a smaller role than in Stranger Child, which had elements that were very personal to Tom. I have worked out most of the story, but it’s a psychological thriller on the whole, and we’re a long way into the story before a crime is committed. So I have to figure out how and where Tom fits. But he’ll be there!

My thanks to Rachel for talking to us. If anyone has any questions for Rachel, we will be delighted to hear from you. 

Books Are:
Only the Innocent  (2011)
The Back Road (2013)
Sleep Tight (2014)
Stranger Child (2015)

Friday 27 February 2015

‘Sleep Tight’ by Rachel Abbott

I have recently finished reading Sleep Tight a taut thriller by Rachel Abbot that I could not put down until I had devoured every page.  Below is my review.  If you would like to hear more about Rachel, do drop by my blog tomorrow when I have the pleasure of talking to Rachel about her life and writing.

Published by Black Dot Publishing Ltd,
February 2015 (E-book).
ISBN: 978-0-9576522-3-1

Following the disappearance of her beloved husband Dan, Olivia Brookes has now married Robert who entered her life as she was coping with the loss of Dan, and then stood by her when a second tragedy occurred. Now she is calling the police to report her husband Robert and three children have disappeared.

The first six chapters of the book take us through Olivia’s panic and fear as the hours pass, and she knows that she has reason to think the worst, as she knows what Robert is capable of, but cannot share these fears with the police. As the investing officer’s conduct a routine search of the house for any clues as to where the children could be, they discover that some of the children’s clothes are missing.  But Olivia insists that Robert just took the children out for pizza.  However, Inspector Tom Douglas recalls an earlier call when the young Olivia reported the disappearance of her first husband Dan, and wonders.

Two years later, Tom Douglas now a Chief Inspector is called by his boss Chief Superintendent Philippa Stanley who tells Tom that they have a missing-from-home case.  But this time it is Olivia who has disappeared, and with her are the three children.  A report from the PC who went to check it out says it’s an odd situation, as her car is in the garage, and her purse is in her handbag – on the kitchen table. The police want to issue an appeal, but every single picture of this family has been removed from photo albums, phones, and computers.

The subsequent interviews with Robert and the evidence they find are all conflicting.  In fact they cannot even establish when she was last seen.  Then the forensic team find blood, and it turns into a murder hunt.

In the early chapters it quickly becomes apparent that Robert is utterly obsessed with Olivia.  So when Robert reports Olivia missing we are two years further on, and as the police investigate, slowly the last two years unfold revealing the frightening intensity of Robert’s obsession with Olivia. 

The story is complex and has many twists, which makes compelling reading. I could not put this book down - heart in mouth as the tension mounts, and we reach the dramatic conclusion.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Rachel Abbott, whose real name is Sheila Rodgers, was born just outside Manchester. She spent most of her working life as the Managing Director of an interactive media company, developing software and websites for the education market. The sale of that business enabled her to take early retirement and fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions - to buy and restore a property in Italy. .She bought a ruined monastery with its own chapel in Italy, and completely restored it, in the process starting a very successful business renting it out for weddings and conferences.   She lived in Italy for some years before relocating to Alderney. In 2010 she fulfilled her ambition to write a novel with Only the Innocent and thus began her third successful career. She is a successful self-published author of crime novels, with a strong women’s slant.  Her first  novel, Only The Innocent, went to no 1 in e-book format on Amazon.  She has published three novels so far: Only The Innocent, The Back Road and Sleep Tight.  The fourth, Stranger Child, comes out in e-book at the end of February.