Writing The Sister was such fun. There was no pressure, no deadlines, no expectations. Signing a three-book deal is something I am still super-excited about and very grateful for, but the prospect of writing two more books to a deadline is a little daunting.
It was with great relief I settled down for a chat with Claire Seeber. Claire is currently editing her sixth (sixth!) thriller and having just devoured her latest novel, The Stepmother, in one sitting, I couldn’t wait to bombard her with questions.
Claire, six books! I can’t imagine. That must be an amazing feeling?
It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing it long enough to have written six books! I’m just very grateful anyone still wants to read them!
I’ve found it quite emotional leaving behind the characters in The Sister to begin something fresh. How did you find writing a second book in comparison to your first?
Er..my 2nd book BAD FRIENDS was actually the book I started writing first! I was working full-time as a TV director when I had the idea, inspired by a programme I was making at the time (the book is about a TV producer who gets stalked by someone possibly very close to home). I wrote a few chapters and then left it on the shelf. When I got my first deal with Avon/ HC a few years later, I needed a 2nd book synopsis to prove I’d got more ideas up my sleeve, and BAD FRIENDS was it. Having said that, I remember being taken out to the River Café by my first editor (those were the days! Now it’s a Nandos!) and she asked me what I wanted to write about next, and I said ‘infidelity’. Simple as that, but I think that must have been for my 3rd book NEVER TELL. My books are meant to be in part about things that ‘matter’ as well as being hopefully a bit thrilling.
You certainly achieved that blend with The Stepmother. I’m feeling a lot of pressure to produce something that will be as well received as The Sister has been. How hard was it for you to write a second novel.
I think I was lucky that it wasn’t more difficult to find an idea – I certainly know the ‘2nd book syndrome’ can be horrible, and I was definitely worried that I wouldn’t deliver a book my editor liked as much as my first. Luckily she did – but it didn’t do as well as my first, ironically – though then my 3rd, NEVER TELL, did really well thank goodness.
That’s good and now book 6! I keep looking at the paperback of The Sister which sits on my bookcase and I can’t imagine how thrilling it will be to see another cover on with my name on it. Thankfully the idea for book two came to me as I was wrapping up book one but I’ve no idea what will come after this. Do you have ideas for future stories squirrelled away or do you take it one book at a time?
I always have lots of ideas scribbled down – I’ve learnt that if I don’t write something down IMMEDIATELY, I will forget! If I have a cracking idea at midnight as I’m dozing off, and convince myself I’ll remember in the morning – well I won’t!!! Many an idea’s been lost that way. When it comes to a new book, I sift through things in my head and my notes, and see what feels most important to me at the time, most current etc. Usually I will have a discussion with my editor about what I am writing next, and what she thinks is the best plan too – and that will push me in one direction or another. We don’t always agree, it has to be said! So more ideas, yes! Not sure if they’re any good but I’ve got them!
I have scribbled notes but when I come back to them I can barely decipher my writing! So reviews…. Although the reviews I have been sent for The Sister have all been very kind I’m trying to finish a decent draft of my second novel before I dive into Goodreads and find out what everyone really thinks. I’m not expecting everyone to love it, of course, but I’d rather have the second book written before I read anything that will potentially knock my confidence as a new writer. Did you write your second book before or after you published your first and do you think that makes a difference?
I wrote it after I’d written the first book LULLABY. As I’ve said, I’d had the idea beforehand for BAD FRIENDS, but I think I scrapped those early chapters and started over. I was on a tight deadline with Avon, and I remember it as a pretty stressful time; we’d just moved house into a complete wreck and I had two little boys under three at the time. It was pretty tough to find the time to write it!
Wow – when my boys were that age it was a challenge to even get dressed sometimes! Your reviews are brilliant. Do you feel the pressure to keep up the same standard or are you more relaxed about writing now?
Ah bless you! I could find you some bad reviews! There’s always someone out there who will say something bad; but I have learnt to take it on the chin, though that’s been a relatively long process. It’s too soul-destroying to take it all personally; we have to realise that the internet breeds critics and everyone thinks they’re entitled to their opinion, (which they are, of course, but there are polite ways of criticising aren’t there?!). I’ve also learnt that people have very different reactions to the same book and that’s normal.
A thicker skin is something I’m going to have to work on I think. I feel quite protective of my characters. With The Sister I wrote Grace’s story as it flowed. I never once thought about genre or marketing. I never intended it to be anything other than what it was. Now, I’m aware I have signed a deal to produce two more psychological thrillers. Do you find genre is something you are very conscious of as you write?
Well, I suppose I’d made a conscious decision with LULLABY that I was writing a certain type of book and I knew that ‘crime’ in general was the biggest seller of the time (I needed to make some money, I had a very feckless now-ex husband & a baby I was desperate to stay at home with). Remember though, this was back in 2004 when the ‘domestic noir’ of today didn’t exist. When I was first looking for an agent in 2005, having written LULLABY, I found they were unsure what bracket I fitted into: it wasn’t straight crime as they knew it. It seems really odd now to remember meetings at Harper Collins HQ where they were unsure what readership to market, and had pie-charts and things about demographics! Then Gone Girl came along and the market EXPLODED!! But that was after my first 4 books had been published!
In answer to your question, I knew I wanted to write what I called psychological thrillers (of course they’re called that generally nowadays), and those were stories with strong female protagonists, who had to deal with some frightening scenario in their ordinary lives, and usually had some kind of relationship issues/ romance thrown in too. So it wasn’t a genre I had particularly chosen, more a type of book I wanted to write, because I liked reading it. The closest contemporary books to what I was writing were Nicci French, when I started out. My ‘genre’ in my mind was a combination of lots of things – dangerous, scary, but a bit comic too, with a hint of romance often (though not always) – and about why people do bad things to each other.
That’s something that has always fascinated me too. I’m not very good at planning, I don’t even know what I’m having for lunch. Working to a deadline I think I need to be more organised. Do you outline your plots?
Yes and no. It’s a good idea to, I think, if you are on a deadline, because it can be easy to go all over the shop if you don’t. I did with my first, because I’d never written a whole long book before, and it meant I knew what was coming next. I did with THE STEPMOTHER, my new book, because I was under a lot of time pressure. In between, not always!
Planning is something I want to explore. I feel it has been a massive jump, writing for fun in my bedroom to writing to a deadline. How do you feel the writing process has changed for you from your first book to your sixth.
It’s definitely not so much fun, to be honest, once it’s a ‘job’ – as you’ve found out! Though the paradox is that you know someone wants it at least! My first book was very much escapism: I used to disappear into the world and it was a break from washing dishes and changing nappies. I still do disappear into it, to an extent, but with a different mindset eg knowledge of deadlines/ realities of knowing I’m not the next best-selling Agatha Christie etc!
I think Agatha Christie is definitely in a league of her own! There’s plenty of books around on how to create a good thriller. Is there a formula?
I always write the best book I can; I want to write to a certain standard and to keep the pages turning for the reader, that’s the key to thriller writing, in my mind. Not too ludicrous a plot, and page-turning! With characters the reader can believe in, if not necessarily like.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me Claire.
You can find out more about Claire’s (6!!) books here.