I am delighted that ELIZABETH FORBES is joining me on my blog today. Elizabeth's two books - Nearest Thing to Crazy and Who Are You - are both brilliant psychological thrillers published by Cutting Edge Press.
So Lizzie, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
Hi Vicki, and thanks for inviting me onto your Q&A. That's a difficult question. I can't think of anything in particular that inspired me to write, to be honest. I think I just felt the need to express myself in words on paper. I don't know whether other people do this, but I used to dream I was writing stories. And I used to annoy everyone by usually guessing the twists in movies and TV dramas, and imagining what I would do with the characters if I was telling their stories. Then when my children were very young, I was at home with a typewriter (shows how long ago that was!) wondering how to keep myself occupied, so I started to write my first novel just to see 'where it would go'.
Where do your ideas come from?
Maybe something that happens to people around me; perhaps stories in the newspapers or general themes that I think would be interesting to investigate and develop. In Nearest Thing to Crazy, I was interested in the notion of truth in storytelling and the way we all have our own versions of what is the truth. For example, we can go to the same party and have entirely different experiences and recollections of what 'actually' happened. And as it says in the beginning of the book, 'memory can play strange tricks…' So I decided to pitch two narrators against each other and attempt to have the reader not really knowing who to believe. I think this happens in real life. People exaggerate, or add light and shade, or maybe hold back on something that was uncomfortable, so we have a picture, but perhaps not the whole story, of what happened.
Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? And if so, how?
Well, I suppose the fact that I've been through two divorces means that I know how it feels when a relationship is under pressure; and I have experienced living with a husband with a terminal illness, so life hasn't always been easy for me or my children. I think I can tap into those feelings of despair when life is falling apart around you, and I'm just fascinated by the power of the human spirit. Whatever adversity life puts in one's way, our natural instinct is to try and survive it somehow. In Who Are You?, I wanted to explore this survival instinct and the way the mind attempts to deal with trauma, perhaps through denial, or by becoming a kind of artificially constructed 'self' that convinces itself it's OK when actually it isn't at all, if that makes sense!
Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
Twisty, dark, sometimes drily funny (hopefully) in spare, transparent prose. (At least that's how I'd like it to be!)
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Err, sometimes I have two Jack Russells peering over the keyboard as I type or sitting on my arms, which makes life difficult. I stuff bananas and drink cappuccino coffee from my lovely Nespresso machine. I also have a constant supply of nicotine lozenges and e-cigarettes. I'd love to say I get up at 4am and do four hours work before breakfast, but I'm far too lazy. I procrastinate for hours, play on Facebook and Twitter, surf the internet for research and then eventually face the blank sheet of paper. Ideally I need to have long, interrupted time when the book's in full flow so that I can get into the writing mindset and hope that the characters will start to talk to me. I become seriously anti-social, protecting my writing space by avoiding the phone and praying friends won't drop in unexpectedly. And then I just pray that they'll still be around when it's over.
Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
I have an idea of the theme, the main characters and the basic arc of the story, but I don't do a detailed plot. I prefer not to know how the book will end, because I feel I would subconsciously give away too many hints along the way. And part of the excitement for me is a bit like reading a book: you've got to keep going in order to know how it will end. The downside is that it does make it a bit 'seat of the pants'. I find that however I thought the story was going to progress, it always seems to develop a mind of its own and surprises me.
What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Overall there's the overriding fear that every word I write is rubbish and nobody will be remotely interested in reading such drivel. Then there's the thinking of the plot, and trying to develop characters and scenes that will move the story forward and keep the reader both involved and satisfied. I wish I had a better imagination and could be one of those writers who has a clear idea of the whole story from beginning to end, with all the bits in-between. But for me, it's like pulling teeth. And when it's all finished, there's the awful post-exam-waiting-for-the-results thing, when you have to wait for the verdict of success or failure. But when the book gets a good reception, it's like giving birth - all the pain's forgotten until the next time.
Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
I had to read a lot of the classics when I was doing my literature degree, and I adored Henry James, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad; and Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favourites. The contemporary writers I love include J.M. Coetzee because his prose is clean and pure. It makes me tingle because it's just so perfect. And I love Caroline Smailes because she is brilliant and pushes the boundaries with her novels. I really enjoyed reading Harriet Lane's psychological thrillers because I admire the sense of subtle menace lurking below a seemingly normal domestic environment which she creates. I like Louise Doughty for the same reason. And I read Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, which I thought was both beautifully written and one of the most moving books I've ever read. Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Patrick Gale, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Patrick Suskind are all favourites - I could go on and on because basically I pretty much like everything and anything as long as it's well-written.
How has your life changed since becoming a published author?
It's a mixture of excitement and terror. It's an amazing feeling to have my books in print, and to have people tell me how much they've enjoyed them. I still find it all a bit unbelievable. I'm grateful to anyone who's put the time aside to actually read one of my books. The downside is the agony of fearing that everyone will hate my next book and I'll never, ever be able to write another one. But I'm hoping that this comes with the territory and most writers feel the same way. At least that's what I keep telling myself. I've got to mention THE Book Club on Facebook, which has been a massive support to me - I've been able to connect with lots of readers and receive some really positive feedback, which helps to keep me focused on the next project.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
Ha ha - 'Four Wedding and a Funeral' (with apologies to Richard Curtis). Or 'I Just Kept Buggering On'.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Try and write as unselfconsciously as possible and pretend that no one will ever read your wip (work in progress) so you can try to put those horrible feelings of self-doubt aside and just get on with the writing. Just get the words on paper; then at least you'll have something to work with and revise later on. Writing just a few hundred words every day will eventually add up to a full-blown novel. The book won't write itself! Read everything you can - people who write in the same genre, classics, biography, anything. Be a sponge, ready to soak up every experience. And when you're going through a bad one, stay positive because it just might come in useful sometime.
And lastly, why should people read your books?
Ooh, that's a tricky one for me to answer. So can I duck out and just quote the fabulous book blogger Anne Cater: 'Her writing is chillingly unsettling; tense and cleverly paced. Prepare yourself to be consumed by this story, to be terrified and at the same time to empathise with the hidden victims of other people's actions. A triumph!' I couldn't ask for a better plug than that, could I?
About Elizabeth Forbes
Elizabeth Forbes lives with her husband in Herefordshire near the Welsh Border. She has two grown up children who have just started NOT to bring their washing home. She is supported in her writing day by two Jack Russells called Squirt and Stumpy and a Cocker Spaniel called Scooter. Elizabeth studied for a BA in Literature with the Open University, and graduated in 2010 with First Class Honours. She also holds an Open University Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing. She is currently working on her third novel.
Find Elizabeth Forbes's books on her official Facebook page and follow Elizabeth on Twitter - @lizzieforbes.
Nearest Thing to Crazy
Published by Cutting Edge Press (26 June 2013)
Synopsis: Dan and a group of his friends enjoy Sunday lunch together on a perfect summer's day. They're pleased to welcome their glamorous new neighbour and novelist, Ellie, who has rented a house in the village to work on her book. She likes to place herself in the centre of her plots, she says, although it's hard to see what she'll find to write about in this quiet backwater.
As Ellie slots effortlessly into the village social scene, Dan's wife begins to feel increasingly alienated from her friends and isolated from her family but, for the life of her, she can't fathom out why…
Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon USA.
Who Are You?
Published by Cutting Edge Press (23 June 2014)
Synopsis: Alex Miller, after years of unaccompanied postings abroad in the service of his country, has finally returned home to his wife Juliet and young son Ben, with the hope of leaving old wounds and memories behind. All Juliet has ever wanted is to get the man she married home for good. At last everything seems perfectly in place to begin the next phase in their married life in their smart new London home.
But Alex's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and irrational, and Juliet suspects that he may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his experiences serving with an elite regiment in Afghanistan and Iraq. His refusal to either acknowledge this or obtain professional help drives Juliet to seek support on the internet, finding solace in web forums where she can safely share her innermost fears.
Unable to reach Alex, and finally fearing for both her life and Ben's, she is offered a place of safety through one of her trusted internet contacts. She has no choice but to escape the tyranny of their home in the hope of starting afresh...
Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon USA.