Charlotte Duckworth is a busy woman. She started her career as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites, and now runs a web design business alongside her writing.
All this, and bringing up a small daughter as well. But she still found time to talk to Mystery People about her life, her writing, and most of all her latest novel, The Sanctuary
She lives in Surrey with her partner and their young daughter.
You can find out more on her website.
Lynne: Many thanks for taking on this interview, Charlotte. Promoting a new book takes up valuable writing time and creative energy, and I’m sure you’d rather be thinking about the next one.
As the powers-that-be try to convince us that the pandemic is over, the world is slowly getting back to something approaching normal. Have all the restrictions and lockdowns got in the way of your writing? Or have you welcomed the enforced solitude? How has it all affected you?Charlotte: I actually had about nine months off writing when the pandemic first hit, as my daughter was home from school, and I just can’t write when she is in the house (she’s six now and very noisy!). But once she went back, I was able to get back into it quite quickly, so I wouldn’t say it affected my output too badly. However, it has been very lonely not being able to go out and about and see other writers as much, and I’m sure like everyone, I’ve found myself feeling a bit low over the past two years at certain points. I’m very hopeful things will get back to normal this year.
Lynne: Some writers have been creating stories since they first picked up a pen; others come to it later. How was it for you?
Charlotte: I’ve always written – and always wanted to be a writer! I actually found a rejection letter from Random House recently, dated 1998, when I was 17. I can’t even remember what book I sent them; I was always
writing something! Books are a Big Thing in my family – my grandfather was an antiquarian bookseller, and my parents own thousands of books. Reading was my first true love. I couldn’t think of anything better than being able to make up stories for a living, and I feel very lucky that it’s now my job.
Lynne: You used to be a journalist, a very different style of writing. What made you decide to make the move to fiction?
Charlotte: As I said, I always wanted to write novels, but I left university with a degree in Classics, and no idea what I was going to do with my life. I spoke to a careers advisor about my plan to be a novelist, and he told me that it wasn’t really a viable career, and instead to consider something like journalism. So, I completed a post-grad qualification and ended up working in magazines for years. But that was always my Plan B really, and I continued to write novels while working as a journalist. It was a great job though! I met a lot of would-be novelists who also worked in the media, many of whom have gone on to be published too.
Lynne: That’s not an uncommon reaction from a careers advisor. And you proved you could do it your way as well as his. Your novels fall into the very broad category of domestic thriller, and have covered the workplace, the dangers of social media and parenthood; now you’ve tackled the friendship between women. What lights the fire under a new novel? Where does that first spark come from?Charlotte: I know this is a cop-out answer but I’m honestly not sure! Ideas come to me when I’m least expecting them. But I am a bit more strategic about which I choose to pursue nowadays – so I’ll take my time to examine an idea and make sure it has enough potential before I mention it to my agent or publisher. I also think a lot about what readers of my previous books might want/expect from me.
Lynne: How do you approach the process of writing? Are you a planner, with timelines and spider charts and character sketches? Or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer who relishes finding out what happens as the story develops?
Charlotte: I used to be very much a pantster, but for the last two novels I have planned more meticulously in order to save myself time in the edit! I’m not a spider chart or post-It note kind of person, but I usually write a blurb, then a brief synopsis/outline, and then I make lots of incomprehensible notes in both my phone and a notebook. I always have an idea of the ending, and of one or two twists, but the rest I like to discover as I go. I don’t think I’m hugely efficient as a writer as I have to do several drafts, but this is the way it works for me.
Lynne: Who do you write for? Is there a reader in your mind when you set out to write a novel?
Charlotte: I suppose I write for women like me – busy mums who like a bit of escapism – something that keeps them turning the pages but that also perhaps examines contemporary culture a little too. I don’t consciously have a reader in mind as I’m writing, but I do think a lot about books I’ve enjoyed recently and try to analyse why and what made them successful, and take inspiration from certain elements within them. But really, writing is my way of exploring an issue that interests, baffles or frightens me – so perhaps the truth is (rather selfishly!) that I write for me!
Lynne: Not so much selfish as practical! Writers are supposed to research their market, and if women like you are your market, you’re a good example. There’s a lot more to your life than writing; you’re running a web design business at the same time, and of course there’s family, which at times can be all-consuming. How do you fit it all in? Have you found that elusive shop that sells forty-eight hour days?Charlotte: Ha-ha, this is funny. I’ve realized over the past year that I’m actually a workaholic, and it’s not really a good thing. I’m very lucky that I have a supportive partner who does an awful lot of the parenting and allows me to work pretty much full time even though our daughter finishes school at 3.30pm. I do work a lot in the evenings, which isn’t ideal. However, I mostly manage to keep my weekends free – I’m quite old-fashioned about them. I’m determined to book in some proper holiday time this year too.
Lynne: Some writers find the process of getting the words down painful, and can’t wait for that moment of triumph when it’s all down on the page. How about you? Do you actually enjoy writing? Or is discussing a website with a client, or even washing the kitchen floor, a welcome escape?Charlotte: I don’t find it painful, but I do find it draining and hard work. I would say though that I really enjoy it – it’s a job I can truly lose myself in. For me, after having jobs where I was counting down the hours until the day ended, it’s a win. I don’t think I ever want to escape it, but it is a lonely job and sometimes I wish I had someone I could share ideas with – the isolation of writing is definitely the hardest aspect for me.
Lynne: Your novels are very much character-based. How do you research those people? Do they appear fully formed in your mind? Are they based – loosely, of course! – on people you know?Charlotte: I am a very nosy person and I find people absolutely fascinating. So usually, my characters are made up of lots of little pieces taken from people I have observed either in real life, or on television or YouTube; I love documentaries for inspiration. I’ve never based a character directly on someone from my real life – I think it would be very obvious and risky. I also find characterization one of the most challenging parts of writing – especially as a thriller author when characters have to do Very Bad Things but also remain realistic and often relatable too. It’s a challenge to get the balance, and readers like to tell you when you get it wrong!
Lynne: You’ve opted to write standalones rather than a series. Would you ever consider writing a series? If so, have you thought about a protagonist, or a setting?
Charlotte: Funnily enough, I’ve recently started thinking about writing a series! It wasn’t a conscious decision to write standalones, but they are what I usually read. I think in my genre series are less common – which is interestingly why I’ve been mulling it over recently, to see if there’s an opportunity there…
Lynne: A book is a very special thing, even when you’re on your third or fourth and the novelty has started to wear off. When you hold your first copy of a new book, how does it feel? Do you recapture that first excitement? Does it feel familiar, your book? Or does it feel quite different now that other people have had a hand in it?
Charlotte: I think for my debut it felt very special to finally hold a copy of my book in my hand, but now I’ve had a few books published, the special moments tend to come from other things. I am still thrilled by any reviews of my books in mainstream press, and when my previous novel The Perfect Father became a bestseller I was overjoyed. Writing is a very strange career – but I will say the ultimate satisfaction for me always comes upon finishing a readable draft and knowing that I’ve created an entire story from nothing but my imagination. That’s the best feeling of them all.
Lynne: Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us a little about your new novel, The Sanctuary?
Charlotte: I really wanted to write a locked-room mystery, as I enjoy reading them so much. So, The Sanctuary follows a weekend when four pregnant women go away for a pre-natal yoga retreat in deepest darkest Devon. Each of the women has a secret that she is hoping won’t come out – but of course fate has other plans…
Lynne: Finally – you’ve dealt with several different aspects of modern life; what comes next? Are you planning book five, or waiting for something to ignite that first spark?
Charlotte: I’m just finishing up my edits on book 5. It’s another suspense, about a woman on the run with her newborn baby. I really enjoyed writing this one – it has quite a claustrophobic feel and features one of the most complex and interesting characters I’ve ever written. It’ll be out later this ye
Lynne: Thank you, Charlotte, for letting Mystery People take up some of your time. Here’s hoping The Sanctuary, published by Quercus 31 March 2022 will meet with even more success, than your previous novels, The Rival, Unfollow Me and The Perfect Father, all published by Quercus. To read reviews of these books click on the titles.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen,
and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but
never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher
for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now
burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half
of them crime fiction.