What’s on your desk, Wednesday? Weekly Spotlight Feature!
FROM THE DESK OF MARY TORJUSSEN
(What no desk? Read on! Instead I’ve made sure to share lots of lovely book covers for Gone Without A Trace – Who’d have thought they could be so different!)
Oh now this is embarrassing. I’m in the process of having my spare room done up as an office and can’t wait until it’s done. I wrote Gone Without a Trace at the local library, though. I would sit in the reference section where there were people figuring out their family history or school kids doing homework, and found it really inspiring. What helped was the fact that I told the librarian not to let me have a password for the internet, so I couldn’t go online! Once you know you can’t go online, then you just have to knuckle down and write the book.
When I’m planning my writing, I work at home, on the sofa in my living room with my feet up! No television on, though – I couldn’t work with that sort of noise, though I do love the hum of people working in the library and find it easier to work with that sort of noise. I have a few writing friends (if you use Twitter, then check out Fiona Collins – @fionajanebooks – she’s the writer who’s been my constant companion since we were first approaching agents – we both got signed up within a couple of days of each other) that will help me figure out plots, either on the phone or via email. So then I sit in the living room and when I’m stuck, I’ll email one of my friends and put forward an outline. Often, by the time I’ve finished the email I’ve seen all the flaws in it! We do that for each other – I’ve made some fantastic friends through online writing groups – it’s so great to meet people from all over the world and to be able to chat in real time to them.
What is your writing routine?
I work best to a very short deadline. I like to feel a sense of panic before I can get down to work. I can set myself deadlines, such as 2,000 words a day, or if a friend is at the same point in the writing process, we’ll email at the start of the day to discuss what our plans are for the day, then email at the end to catch up with what’s happened. I love to think of them sitting there working away – it really inspires me.
When Hannah returns home one day to find her boyfriend, Matt, has not only upped and left her but also taken everything he owns, too; it’s as if he never existed. Shocked, saddened and then angry at how he could have left her with no warning — in such a harsh way — Hannah sets out to track him down to get the answers she deserves. Meanwhile, her life is crumbling around her and someone playing with her mind. If it’s not Matt, then who else would have it in for her?
When I read ‘Without A Trace’ by Mary Torjussen I loved it. The whole ‘unreliable narrator’ main character theme made for a fast and intense read. I could not put it down, and was totally exhausted by the end of it!
What’s it like writing a story like this, where there’s a need to drop the readers clues involving the truth without giving away major plot points and revealing too much too soon? It must take some doing.
The first crime books I read were by Agatha Christie and in them I learned all about unreliable narrators, red herrings and so on. I first read them when I was about 10 or 11. There weren’t many young adult books around then and I’d read every children’s book I could lay my hands on, so I used to go to the adult library and read some of the easier books. What I really loved with Agatha Christie books was reading up to the point where you found out who the murderer was, and then going straight back to the start of the book and reading up to that point again, just to see how she did it.
So when I write, I’m always aware of writing on two levels – one is where you’re absolutely telling the truth, and the other is where you’re concerned with what the reader first sees. You can’t lie to the reader, so you have to drop tiny clues in that on a re-reading would make it obvious to the reader. It’s not that I’m expecting anyone to re-read my book (I re-read a lot, but I know most people don’t) – it’s just that I need to know I’m being completely honest with the reader, even though I’m misdirecting them at times!
How do you keep track of your story timeline?
I keep a spreadsheet! I usually set books over a limited time and I’ll draw up a column containing days and dates and I’ll make sure that everything fits. I have read books where something happens on a Wednesday and the next day it’s Saturday and I know how irritating that is for the reader, so I put some effort into keeping the timeline straight. However, the copyeditors are fantastic at spotting any mistakes like that, though I’m mortified when they do!
Why did you choose to write in first person?
I love to read books that are written in the first person. I like to feel as though I’m inside the narrator’s head, like in a film where you can see a scene from the actor’s eyes. Third person seems a little detached for me, though it can be great if you want to show multiple viewpoints. I think psychological suspense really lends itself to first person; if the narrator is scared, you need to feel scared, too!
When do you get your best ideas?
All my ideas have come from a chance remark or from something I’ve read online or in the papers. I’m not very good at just sitting there and thinking up a plot, but often if someone is talking I’ll think, “Now that would be a good story…”
The idea for Gone Without a Trace came from a UK forum called Mumsnet. A woman posted a thread saying she’d come home and her boyfriend had gone without any warning, taking all of his belongings with him. I lay awake that night just thinking about her and about him, and wondered how she was feeling and why on earth he’d do that. I woke early the next morning and thought, “Oh, I know what’s happened…” In my new novel, The Girl I Used to Be, the idea came from a newspaper article I read, though I’m afraid I can’t say another word about the article as I’d give the game away! That’s the problem with psychological suspense – you can’t say much about the plot without revealing spoilers.
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite?
It’s hard to say. In Gone Without a Trace I loved writing scenes with Katie in as she was such a bitch – I think the word ‘frenemy’ was invented for her. Overall though I think my favourite was James. I felt he was the most misunderstood character.
What is your favourite inspirational quote? #WednesdayWisdom
I think Just do it is my favourite. It’s hard to argue with it!
Who do you admire?
There are so many people I admire who have had the toughest of times. I know a couple of people who’ve lost children and I don’t know how they cope. I think it’s awe-inspiring that they can even get up and dressed in the morning. I admire anyone who sets themselves a goal and sticks to it – whether that’s writing a book or running a marathon or finding a job. There are so many writers I admire; for the sheer beauty of their writing, I love Maggie O’Farrell, Carol Shields and Anne Tyler.
What makes you bounce out of bed in the mornings?
I find it such a luxury to be able to get up whenever I want. After decades spent teaching and having to get up at 6.30, I find it such a treat to go to sleep without an alarm. But if I’m actually writing a novel, I’m up really early. I can’t wait to get on with it.
If there was one book you could make the whole world read, what would it be?
I love Jane Eyre and the book I’d recommend for anyone who also loves it is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which is Bertha’s story (Rochester’s first wife.) I found it amazing that a prequel written a hundred years or so after the original could be so insightful and I re-read Jane Eyre with a totally fresh perspective.
Best advice you’ve ever been given about writing? #WednesdayWisdom
A few years ago I was talking to a writer called Jane Hill who’d written a psychological thriller that I loved called Grievous Angel. We were both great fans of Gram Parsons and he inspired both her book and mine (which didn’t get published!) She said her agent had given her two pieces of advice. One was “Just finish the bloody book” – that is such good advice! Never mind talking about it, just get on and write it! The other was “When in doubt, go darker.” I found that really useful advice, to cut the comedy or romance in a suspense and make the book darker.
What are you working on now, and when can we expect to read it?
My next novel, The Girl I Used to Be, will be out in the UK on 3 May 2018 as an e-book, then on 9 August 2018 as a paperback. In the US it’s out in both formats on 24 April.
Where can we find you online to find out more?
I’m on Twitter, @marytorjussen and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormarytorjussen. I’d love to hear from any readers – just drop me a line and I promise I’ll reply!
Thank you, Mary! I look forward to welcoming you back when your latest book “THE GIRL I USED TO BE” is published! (Picture below!)
ABOUT THE BOOK
GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen is a chilling, twisty, compulsive thriller about a woman whose boyfriend has vanished. Fans of I LET YOU GO and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN will be gripped.
No one ever disappears completely…
You leave for work one morning.
Another day in your normal life.
Until you come home to discover that your boyfriend has gone.
His belongings have disappeared.
He hasn’t been at work for weeks.
It’s as if he never existed.
But that’s not possible, is it?
And there is worse still to come.
Because just as you are searching for him
someone is also watching you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Torjussen has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University. She worked for several years as a teacher and lives outside of Liverpool, where Gone Without a Trace is set.
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