Interview with Cara Hunter – Author of No Way Out
Peter: Cara, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your books, Close to Home, In the Dark and now the new book No Way Out. I loved the complex characterisation from the victims and the perpetrators perspective. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview to ask more questions about your novels, your writing experience and your future plans. Many thanks for making the time available to answer these questions.
Peter: Where did the idea come from in writing No Way Out?
Cara: It was a coming together of ideas, really, rather like with In The Dark. Close to Home came to me as one big whopper of a twist, but since then it’s been a rather subtler process. Things I’ve seen or read about, an evocative location, people glimpsed on the street. No Way Out takes place very close to where I live, in one of the huge Edwardian North Oxford houses originally designed for big families and a host of servants. This one (not a specific house by the way!) is probably unique in still being owned by the same family who first bought it, and that gave me the opportunity to look at the dynamics within that family, and between the generations: that complex web of expectations and tensions and ambitions we all experience, and the whole idea of a ‘legacy’. Other elements came from my self-confessed obsession with true crime, and there’s one very well-known case referenced within the novel. But I don’t want to give too much away at this stage!
Peter: You have created a team of wonderfully drawn and complex characters with great interactions. Who is your favourite and who was the most challenging to develop, and why?
Cara: I do, I admit, have a tremendous fondness for Adam Fawley, but I doubt that’s going to surprise anyone! It’s not just that he’s the leading man, I love his imperfections as much as his strengths. He’s got rather to short a temper, for example, but he’s also very vulnerable in many ways. The relationship with his wife is both deep and intense and the extra phase of their story is unfolding before our eyes in this book. I actually cried when I wrote their last scene in No Way Out, and when you get there I think you’ll understand why.
As for who’s hardest
I think that’s probably Quinn. So much about him is a bit stereotyped, but
that’s the point: clichés become clichés precisely because they’re so
common. So it’s a challenge to make sure
his character has scope to expand beyond that.
That’s something we see in particular in this book.
Peter: Adam Fawley, is a deep, complex and capable DI that doesn’t steal the limelight during these investigations, which is also very refreshing that the whole team contribute. However, do you still feel that you control Adam or does he control you?
Cara: That’s a very insightful question! Probably a bit of both – I do find him doing things I wasn’t quite expecting (sounds weird but any writer will tell you the same thing). There’s a lot of me in him too. Some of what he says about his childhood is drawn from my own past, for example (though unlike him, I wasn’t adopted), and we definitely share the same sense of humour. Having now written four Fawley books he seems to have taken up residence inside my head – writing his sections sometimes feels like taking dictation!
Peter: In all 3 books, children play a fundamental role in the plot. What was your motivation and inspiration in focusing on them? Did you feel any emotional strain while you were writing about children and did you tread cautiously for your own sake and the readers?
Cara: It’s a good point. I’m not a parent myself so it’s one of my greatest challenges to think and feel myself into the position of someone who is. There are things I wouldn’t write, simply because they’d be gratuitous or sensationalist, and I always try to be sensitive in how any story centring on a child is portrayed. But I do want to write those stories because they are so fundamental to who we all are – the way families work or break, the way love and power intersect, even in supposedly ‘happy’ households. There is no richer seam for a writer.
Peter: How important do you feel it is to research elements that you integrate into your stories, such as character traits, police procedures, forensics and location? What was interesting to discover in your research for No Way Out?
Cara: I think it’s vital. I now have a wonderful ‘pro team’ who advise me on the technical side, including a DI, a barrister, a former crime scene investigator, and a doctor. If a new story hinges on a specific forensic issue, for example, I’ll check that out in detail before I start, but the usual pattern is that I write a fairly finished first draft which they then comment on. The biggest research task for No Way Out was the fire with which the book opens. I was lucky enough to make contact with the local fire service in Oxford and spent a morning at the station finding out exactly how they approach incidents like the one in the book, and going through the process they follow for analysing a scene and determining the cause. It was absolutely fascinating and I am hugely grateful to them.
Peter: I feel that you have brought a very modern style in writing crime thrillers by bringing in the supporting content of Twitter feeds, news headlines, police report etc. What was your thinking behind using this approach?
Cara: It all started with Close to Home. I knew that these days any real-life case involving a missing child inevitably plays out in social media (often with unpleasant consequences, sadly) so it was always going to be part of Daisy’s story. And then I decided to build on that and gives those Twitter voices space inside the book. They start as a version of a Greek chorus – commenting on the action from afar – but by the end virtual reality has broken through into real life. I also decided to bring in other ‘documents’ like news feeds and interview transcripts, so my readers could start becoming detectives themselves. I love that style now and I do get a lot of feedback that readers like it too. And with each new book I ry to come up with something new I haven’t included before!
Peter: Do you use story boarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling?
Cara: I spend a lot of time building the scaffolding before I start. By the time I sit down to page one I’m usually working from a synopsis about 30 pages long. But that’s just the main crime thread – the domestic scenes with Adam and the other team members are done much later and much more on gut feeling. So I guess it is a bit of both.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being a published Author? Do you get involved in finalising other aspects of the book, for example the cover design, narration and the promotion of the book?
Cara: Having a team like Penguin behind you is very special. I’m still amazed at the amount of thought that goes into the sales and distribution side, even down to deciding optimum publication dates. A for covers, you always get consulted, but at the end of the day that’s their expertise, not mine, and they know what works (and sells!). As for promotion, that’s part of a writer’s job description these days, but I don’t mind because I love it. There is nothing nicer than being on Twitter or Instagram and being able to talk direct to someone who likes your book.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Cara: Depends on the phase – when I’m in full drafting mode, it’s heavily skewed towards the task, but in the lead-up to publication it flips the other way. But as I have two books out this year it’s pretty full-on with both right now!
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Cara: I loved Joan Smith’s detective stories when they first came out, and if I was inspired by any one writer it would be her. Actually, one of the greatest pleasures the books have given me was being able to meet her in person. Other inspirations include Agatha Christie (the queen of plotting), Minette Walters, and Nicki French, especially the first, The Memory Game.
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Cara: That’s a tough one! There’s been so much good crime written if Kate and so much of it by women. I’m going to cheat and give you three: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke, and The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton.
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring or debut authors?
Cara: Keep going! Both in the sense of perseverance, because publishing is a funny old business and sometimes it’s as much about luck as it is about talent – about having the right idea at the right time. But also keep going in the sense of keep writing – this job is like anything else, the more you do it the better you get. And also because getting published is not just about luck and talent, it’s about hard work too, and if you work hard sometimes you make your own luck.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Cara: There will another book this year! All The Rage (Fawley 4) will be out this winter. And I’m contracted to do a fifth already so that will probably be sometime in 2020.
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Cara: There’s a page on the Penguin website
But the exciting news is that Penguin is about to launch a Cara Hunter newsletter. I’ve seen the mock-ups and it looks really great. There’ll be special offers and sneak previews as well, and I’m planning interviews with my pro team so, which I think will be really interesting for crime aficionados (including me!).
Peter: Cara, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful books and I wish you massive success for the future.
Cara: Thank you!