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Monday 2 December 2019

Emma Curtis


Radmila May talks with Emma Curtis

Find her on Twitter: @emmacurtisbooks

Radmila:          Thank you so much, Emma, for agreeing to be interviewed. I enjoyed your first two novels, One Little Mistake, and When I Find You, very much and am looking forward very much to reading The Night You Left. And I’m so interested to hear that you have decided to set up the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association; although a sub-genre of crime fiction generally, it very much has its own characteristics. Firstly, tell me about your life before you started writing. You were born in Brighton but since then have always lived in London. Now you are married with two children and live in Richmond.
Emma: I married relatively young, at least for the time. I was twenty-four and had barely begun to think about what I wanted to do when I got pregnant with my first child. My second was born two years after that. I was young and none of my friends were at the same stage, so I felt as though I had somehow underachieved. I also felt a little trapped. It was reading an article about a romance writer that started me off. First it was just a thing to do in the quiet times, then it became a habit and then an obsession and along with that a determination to get published. I kept submitting work for eight years, then gave up and became a school secretary. I started writing again in 2008 when my son went to university and once again I had that feeling that I had underachieved and that life was passing me by. I was happy but I knew I was capable of more and I hadn't finished with writing. I submitted three novels before I finally got an agent but at no time did I think I would give up again. For me that was it.

Radmila: Have you always wanted to write?
Emma: No, not always. My mother has written novels since the early 60s and although she's brilliant and her books are extremely good, she's never had the luck you need to submit the right book at the right time to the right agent.  Although I was interested, I wasn't sure I wanted to go through that. It was only when I started writing that I realised that rejection didn't matter. Just keep going.

Radmila: Have you always liked crime fiction? If so, any particular genre? Particular authors?
Emma: My first experience of crime fiction was Agatha Christie's ABC Murders when I was thirteen. I read all her books, then Ngaio Marsh, PD James and Ruth Rendall. But I read widely, having always been
encouraged to do so.  I still do. I probably read less crime now than I used to, or I read it because I've been sent a book rather than I've actually seen it in the paper and gone out to get it.  I don't like anything too forensic!  I
particularly enjoy Robert Galbraith, Gillian Flynn, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay.

Radmila: What brought you to psychological suspense?
Emma: Like many authors, getting published after the massive success of Gone Girl changed the landscape for crime novels, I was steered towards psychological suspense. I had never heard the term before and was ambivalent at first. However, since romance had never worked for me, I was relieved to find that I had a talent for this particular genre, that the dark side to my writing had a home, and a very popular one.

Radmila: What lights the ‘writing spark’ within you? 
Emma: Conversations! I'm a listener by nature, and it's the stories that friends, neighbours and chance encounters tell, that spark the best ideas for these books.

Radmila: Do you plan your stories in detail before you start writing or do you let them evolve along the way? Or some of both?
Emma: I was never a planner; I don't think many writers are naturally. However, I've had several false starts and two novels written and rewritten that have been rejected by my editor, so now, both for my sanity and my publishers, I write a detailed proposal and get that agreed before I begin. I wish I didn't have to, because it means coming up with a fully realised plot rather than letting it develop organically, but psychological suspense has to be so tautly written, so twisty and pacey, that the chances of getting it right without planning are slim to none.

Radmila: I get the impression that in your writing character rather than plot is more important for you. Would you say that that is so?
Emma: That's very interesting. It's something that hasn't occurred to me. I do think that it's not enough to have a brilliant plot, you have to have three-dimensional characters as well.  So I'm very glad you say that! I tend to cross my fingers and hope that the character in my mind will come out on the page. To be honest, characters 
could manifest themselves through what they do and what they say, not through how the author describes them.

Radmila:          Why did you decide to set up a group within the crime fiction genre particularly for authors of psychological suspense?
Emma:               Psychological suspense has long been lumped under crime. When The Night You Left was reviewed under the subtitle PsychoThrillers in the Mail on Saturday I was absolutely thrilled! I googled societies for all the different literary genres and discovered that Psychological Suspense was the only one lacking a society, so that galvanised me. At the moment we are a Facebook group and a growing presence on Twitter. We've met once for lunch, which was a huge success, and I intend to organise another meet up in the New Year. I do feel that we aren't always accorded the respect that crime is. We tend to get given very similar covers and titles. Whereas crime readers tend to look for a particular writer that they like, psychological suspense readers are encouraged by often generic cover designs to look for something similar to what they've just enjoyed. I want to help individual writers increase their profile so that readers are looking for the next Emma Curtis  (for instance!) not the next book with a photograph of a pair of child's shoes on the cover.

Radmila: How would you define psychological suspense? Would you say that the descriptions ‘domestic noir’ and ‘grip-lit’ are included within the definition?
Emma: In a crime novel we want to know who the perpetrator of the crime was and see them unmasked and punished for it. Good over evil. In psychological suspense we don't always know whodunnit, we often don't know who to believe, we find ourselves liking the so-called villain and disliking the victim. It's all about the grey areas.   Readers should be torn in their allegiance. They have to have someone to root for, but that someone can be as flawed as the villain.

Radmila: How does psychological suspense differ from other sub-genres of crime fiction?
Emma: I'm trying to think what the other subgenres are. Historical crime, cosy crime, forensic crime. I would say that the main thing linking all crime is that there is a murder, a perpetrator and an investigator and it is the investigation that forms the backbone of the story. In psychological suspense, it's the people, the community and the victim that form that backbone.

Radmila: Do you think that it is likely to evolve in the future? If so, how?
Emma: Yes I do, though I'm not sure how that will manifest. The market is saturated, so there has to be a point where it changes or it'll become too diluted.  As with any genre, quality will rise to the surface.

Radmila: Do you see the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association as largely a way in which authors within the category relate to each other or also as a way of raising the profile of psychological
Emma: Both. It's already raising our profile. It's good to have a Facebook page purely for us, where we're not competing for attention with Crime.  It makes for a different discussion. We can be proud of who we are and what we do, and we need to be proud.  I get a little fed up with people telling me how great it is that I 'churn' out a book a year.  We work extremely hard to produce books we can be proud of.

Radmila: Either way, how do you propose to accomplish the aim? Will you, for instance, have a website to which authors contribute? Or will you encourage readers also to contribute?
Emma: At the moment Twitter and Facebook is all I can manage, but if all goes well and the other authors want it, we could have a public Facebook page on which our authors could talk about their books and readers could ask questions. 

Radmila: Finally, to bring the interview back to you personally, you have published two psychological suspense novels (One Little Mistake, When I Find You, see Mystery People reviews on the website ( and another novel is just about (September 2019) to come out. What is this last one called, and (just a taster) what is it about? And what about future stories – any ideas? And I see that you will be speaking at the Chiswick Book Festival – tell us what the experience was like.
Emma: I'm delighted to say that The Night You Left has now been published in paperback and is doing very well. This is a story of Nick and Grace.  In a nutshell: Twenty-four hours after Nick asks Grace to marry him, he goes for a walk and doesn't come back. While Grace searches for answers, she has to deal with his grasping parents who come to stay and refuse to leave, and an, at best, half-hearted investigation by the police.  It is very twisty!

Speaking at festivals is definitely one of the perks of being a writer. I love being on panels, because I get to meet other authors. I'm the kind of person who likes to get involved, so the Chiswick Festival with its strong community feel is the perfect home for me (even though I'm not a resident!).  I spoke on the Saturday and volunteered on the Sunday and had so much fun.  I shared the panel with author and HarperCollins editor Phoebe Morgan. This was a real thrill, because it gave me an insight into her world. I have huge admiration for authors who hold down full-time jobs and produce excellent books. Festivals are helpful in raising your profile, but what I really love is just hanging out with people who want to talk about writing and books. Before I was published, I didn't have anyone who I could have that kind of conversation with, apart from my lovely mother. Being published has opened a whole world for me!  One that I'm extremely grateful for.

Thank you once again, Emma, for a fascinating interview. All good wishes to you and the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from even years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing. 

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