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.
Only the Innocent.
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: 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?
Rachel: 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.
Rachel: 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.
Rachel: 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.
Rachel: 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!
The Back Road (2013)