This interview i am talking to author Rachel Abbott who lives in the Le Marche region of Italy - it’s in Central Italy, on the Adriatic coast - but she is originally from Manchester in England. She spent the majority of her working life as the Managing Director of an interactive media company, designing websites and software, but she sold the business in 2000 and she and her husband bought an old ruin in Italy which they restored. They now live there with their two German Shepherds - but they do get over to England quite a lot to see their step-children, of which they have five!
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Rachel Abbott: I’ve tried to come up with a good answer to this - but I can’t! I just don’t remember a specific first story. I used to make up the words to songs when I was very small - and then the whole family had to sing them whenever we were in the car. I do remember that, because my mother always reminded me! I also remember writing a story when I was about ten that was read out to the whole school, but I have no idea what it was about now.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Rachel Abbott: I was brought up with books. My mother was an avid reader, and she pointed me in the direction of books that she had enjoyed and she thought I would too. So Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and lots of historical novels were all passed to me from quite an early age. She taught me the love of words, and I can very clearly remember asking her what a word meant, and being told to go and get the dictionary. She knew the answer, of course, but she wanted me to get into the habit of finding things out for myself.
In terms of inspiration for my writing now, that definitely comes from studying real people and recognizing the interesting characteristics that make us all so different. In particular I am interested in anything that makes people behave in an extraordinary or unusual way based on events that present themselves.
Books & Writing: What attracts you in thrillers?
Rachel Abbott: That’s an interesting question, because I don’t think it is the thrill so much as the fact that a good thriller explores the feelings of the people in the story. It might be fear, dread, excitement - but it should always create a feeling of some description. I also like chick lit - which couldn’t be farther from the thriller genre. But again, when well written it produces emotion. The word “thriller” seems to cover a multitude of genres now, though. Standard crime novels are often portrayed as thrillers, and whilst I have read and enjoyed countless detective stories, they generally don’t make me shiver. So to be good, they have to actually make me have a physical reaction.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your book “Only the Innocent”?
Rachel Abbott: Only the Innocent is definitely a thriller - and it made me shiver when I wrote it in places. It is set in both London and Oxford - with a little bit of Italy - including Venice, Positano and central Italy - for good measure. It’s the story of a man who gets killed in the prologue but whose presence manages to pervade the rest of the novel - and of his horrific impact on those around him. One of those people - certainly a woman - has killed him. But it was no crime of passion. It was an execution. Throughout the book, more dark secrets are gradually revealed until the reader knows exactly why he had to die - and is left with the question “should the guilty be punished, or the innocent protected”.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Rachel Abbott: With Only the Innocent the inspiration came from hearing about a woman murderer. I can’t even remember who it was. But it’s very rare for women to kill - especially in cold blood - so this intrigued me. I didn’t follow up on this particular case because I didn’t want to know why. It may have been some mundane reason. So I just sat down and wondered what would be so bad that I would commit murder. and I couldn’t think of a single thing. So it took me quite a long time to come up with the answer.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about the main character Detective Chief Inspector Tom Douglas?
Rachel Abbott: It’s very interesting that you - and others - think of Tom as the main character. I always thought that Laura was the main character, but now that Tom has established himself so well, he’s definitely going to be carried forward into my next book.
Tom is a man with high principles, and a caring nature. He has suffered a couple of very sad losses in the recent past, and is struggling with the impact that these have had on his life. But he feels great empathy with Laura, initially on the death of her husband but gradually as he begins to understand the life that Laura has led, he begins to feel her pain. For the first time in his life he struggles with the difference between doing what is right, and doing the right thing. He never knew there was a difference until now.
Books & Writing: Is he based on someone you know?
Rachel Abbott: I think that he is perhaps a little too close to perfect in some ways, so he has characteristics of a lot of people all meshed into one. He is honorable - I suspect that’s the best word for him. In every aspect of his life. Which is why the ending of the book is so very difficult for him. I can’t say more than that. But I think that the damage that he suffers in this book must be brought out in his character in the next.
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new at the moment?
Rachel Abbott: Yes - another thriller. At the beginning, it would seem that all the characters are normal average people that any one of us could know. But each has a secret. Most of these secrets are not of major significance - the sort of things that we all know have happened to people we are acquainted with. But some are more deadly than others, and it is the cumulative effect of all of the individual secrets and lies that brings the story to a frightening conclusion.
Books & Writing: Where do you see yourself in a couple of years in relation to writing?
Rachel Abbott: Ideally, I would like to write a book a year. I think that’s the right number for me. I know that since the indie publishing explosion some people are aiming at 6 or 7 a year, but there is no way that I could do that. I am a fanatical planner, and the planning and scoping of a book takes me several months. I have to understand every character, and how they respond to each other character. I have detailed storyboards, character sheets, timelines - a thriller is only as good as the complexity of its plot, and there should be no holes at the end of it. And for me - although maybe not for others - that takes a huge amount of research and planning.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Rachel Abbott: Believe in yourself. Have faith. If you have the stamina to sit down and write a full length novel, it demonstrates a level of commitment. But before you start, try to work out exactly why you are doing this. If you are writing to make money, then your approach will be different to if you are just looking for the satisfaction of having your book published. If you are looking for fame, then you may have a different approach. Fame without fortune can be achieved by having the highest rated free book, for example. On the other hand, if money is a driver then you need to start preparing your sales platform NOW - something that I didn’t do and didn’t even know about before I published. It’s been a very steep learning curve, but there are an increasing number of books out there to help indie publishers and authors.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Rachel Abbott: Too many to mention, really. Daphne du Maurier is the one that always springs to mind, because I loved the way that relationships were so important and so tangled in her books. When you read Rebecca, it’s a long time before you work out what is going on in Max’s head - and I am totally fascinated by relationships.
I also loved all the Minette Walters books that I have read. Each one is different and the characters are so well painted.
Books & Writing: What is the last book you read?
Rachel Abbott: I have just finished a book by Chris Orcutt called “A Real Piece of Work”. I’m reading it to review it, though. It’s not a book that I would automatically have chosen for myself - but I was asked to review it and I’m really glad that I did. I can’t say too much more until I’ve done the review, but it’s an excellent PI novel, well researched and very well written.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Rachel Abbott: Only the Innocent is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and is also available for the Kobo, Nook, iPad - the usual e-readers.
You can also find it at Smashwords and Goodreads. For links to all of these other outlets, the details are in the How To Buy section of the website, listed below.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
I am really excited about a new addition I am just working on for the website, at the moment - it should be up and running by about 2nd February? In order to introduce people to the story, I have created interactive maps of some of the places visited by Laura with Hugo - Venice, Positano, central Italy, London and Oxford - with a little snippet of the tale in each one, and images of the places they stayed or lived. I would love to get feedback on that from readers.
You can also follow me on twitter @Rachel__Abbot.
Below you can read an excerpt from her book "Only the Innocent"!
Less than a hundred miles south west of Oxfordshire, a young girl stood at a window, looking out into the night beyond. Even though the room behind her was in total darkness, the unlit country lanes and the lack of a moon left nothing more than vague shapes discernable to the human eye. She could just make out the shadowy forms of the tree tops against the black night sky, swaying in the strong winds coming off the nearby sea. But there was not a sign of human life anywhere. Nevertheless, she scoured the landscape, her eyes straining to penetrate the dense, high hedgerows, praying and fearing in equal measure that she would see the twin headlights of a car in the distance, weaving their way towards her.
It was several days since he’d been, and he’d never stayed away for this long before. She knew he was angry with her, but perhaps – just perhaps – she could make things right when he came. Maybe she had been too hasty, or maybe she had expected too much.
Seeing nothing, she pushed aside the vague sense of relief. She knew the feeling would soon be replaced by a creeping dread. The room was cold and she realised she was shivering in her flimsy clothes. She took a tiny sip of water, and pushed herself under the thin bed covers, dragging them around her to cut out the icy draughts, and burying her head beneath them to let the warm air of her breath bring a little comfort to her trembling body.