Interview with Kate Simants – Author of Lock Me In
Peter: Kate, your book ‘Lock Me In’ is a wonderful debut novel and I’d like to congratulate you on writing it. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Many thanks for making the time available.
Peter: What was the inspiration that drove you to write your book, Lock Me In?
Kate: It’s hard to answer this question without spoiling the ending! But a lot of the ideas come from an interest I have in identity: how other people’s perceptions of us can alter how we see ourselves, and how there isn’t ever one true version of who we are. Ellie’s experience in the book is obviously way outside of this typical experience of identity but my fascination with it is what drove me towards the fringes of psychology and her very unique condition.
Peter: Ellie is such a wonderfully drawn character, with a backdrop of physical and mental damage. How emotionally challenging was it to write her character?
Kate: I think if you’re interested in mental illness as I am, you do end up hearing a lot of personal stories just by being a good listener, or being open to people’s testimony. So many people I’ve known over the years have suffered from mental illness – ranging from mild depression to serious breakdowns and psychosis – but they’re also all normal people. I’ve always been keen to be part of a movement that talks about mental illness as a condition like any other, so really I wanted to start with Ellie as a human being with loves and fears and hopes for the future, rather than a sum of her diagnoses. That said, I do heap the suffering on to her a bit. As a writer, I’m a bit of a sadist, it’s fair to say.
Peter: How much research did you undertake in exploring clinical psychology and mental illness, specifically Dissociative Identity Disorder? What research was the most revealing?
Kate: I read loads and loads and loads. The absolute last thing I would want to do would be to sensationalise something that causes so many people so much suffering, to the extent that I actually agonised about whether to use DID at all. But after many long days reading, and conversations with my best friend, a clinical psychologist with experience in this field, I decided that I could handle it sensitively enough. I think the research I’ll remember the most was sufferers’ stories of what it’s like to ‘switch’ back (or come back to their dominant personality) having little or no memory of what they were doing. That lack of agency and control is just terrifying – a daily torture that’s still not that well supported.
Peter: DS Ben Mae and DC Kit Ziegler are two unique and intriguing characters. Do you have plans to extend this book, to a series, involving these two detectives? What are you hoping readers see in them?
Kate: Actually Mae was also the detective in my first novel (it’s unpublished and will stay that way I think – everyone needs a ‘practise novel’!) so I feel like I know him pretty well. Early feedback on Lock Me In says the two of them are pretty popular so I’ll certainly consider using them again. I do love those guys – they honestly feel like real people to me and I’m quite sad that they’re not!
Peter: You have a background in undercover investigative documentaries. How did you draw on this experience and knowledge to help in writing your book?
Kate: My TV background was particularly helpful when I did the police procedure material. I worked on Crimewatch UK and other police shows so I’ve been around cops a lot, and seen how they work but also what the culture is like, how they actually communicate. My second novel The Knocks is about kids in children’s homes – almost everything I’ve put in there comes from the first-hand experience of working undercover in care environments.
Peter: As a mystery thriller how challenging was it to provide plausible twists to the plot and generate the suspicion of crimes or wrong-doing on multiple characters?
Kate: It’s so hard to do. I’m not a very forgiving reader – if something is too bonkers or convenient, or if I spot a plot hole, I do get frustrated with that, so I always try incredibly hard to make it so that the twists aren’t too obvious or improbable. Lock Me In has a fairly small cast and a lot going on within that – I did have an entire extra storyline (including another potential bad-guy) but it just got too convoluted so I had to cut it. That said, I’ve read plenty of crime novels where I work out exactly what’s happened on page 30 or so and it hasn’t impaired the enjoyment…
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? Would you therefore describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Kate: I’m definitely a plotter. I once wrote about 50,000 words of a novel about a Chinese woman at the end of the second world war – I had no idea where it was going and it showed. That one got binned as well actually! I do think that you can get away with a lot more ‘pantsing’ in other genres but with crime you do have to keep it very tight, on a clear trajectory, and you have to ‘seed’ a lot of clues etc. That said, I might try a slightly different technique with my next book – I know what the crime is, and I know that everyone has their reasons for committing it, but I’m not sure which one of them ended up doing it…
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Kate: No – I’ve tried but I just can’t get into them. I do make myself an excel spreadsheet for every novel though – columns for what happens, whose point of view, who knows what and when etc. It’s not too involved but it is a really clear way for me to keep on top of what can otherwise become quite unruly.
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?
Kate: The cover was run past me and my agent but I loved it so I just said thanks very much! Because Lock Me In is a digital-first title, it doesn’t have a whole load of marketing budget behind it so I’ve been in touch with a lot of bloggers etc myself to try to get the word out there. It’s not my natural environment but it’s been interesting to see how the world of publishing works as a business.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Kate: I definitely try to spend the majority of it on writing but in the lead up to publication it can be hard to stop myself checking things like Netgalley and Goodreads a lot. Because I have other work, plus two primary-aged children, my days are limited to the hours between the school run really so it can be hard to fit everything in.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Kate: I used to force myself to read a lot of classics all the time, but now I mostly read crime, with a fair amount of general commercial fiction and non-fiction thrown in. My all-time favourite writer is Kurt Vonnegut, for his intense humanity. I genuinely feel a little burst of grief whenever I remember that he’s dead now. My other first great loves are the great Russians like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but I can’t say they’ve exactly influenced me – people don’t really publish that kind of work any more! I love Gillian Flynn, Susie Steiner, Megan Abbot, people like that at the moment: anyone who looks their characters in the face and picks out their flaws with tweezers. I love that.
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Kate: Ah, that’s so hard! Daisy Jones and the Six was just astonishingly good – so was My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. Ridiculously powerful writing.
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Kate: Only do it if you really, really love it because it’s a very tough business – but also make sure you invite and listen to criticism. I’ve known so many writers over the years who have just bashed out page after page after page, refusing to listen to feedback, which is just madness to me. It’s hard to hear someone say you need to improve x or that y doesn’t work but if you’re getting that same criticism from several people, and they’re people you know are telling you this for the right reasons, you’ve got to take it on board. As the author (and an early tutor of mine) Celia Brayfield says, if nine Russians tell you you’re drunk, lie down!
Peter: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Kate: Vonnegut, without any hesitation at all – he was a true sage, hilarious, but with the greatest heart you’ll ever know. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with Mary Queen of Scots – how would it have been to live with that ferocity but to be so badly betrayed? And then, Nadezdha Mandelstam. She was the wife of the Soviet-era poet Osip Mandelstam. She’s a bit of a curveball but I read a few of her books a while back about the purges and my god, the brain on her. I find that period of history absolutely captivating so I’d love to meet her in person.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Kate: The Knocks, my second novel, is out on submission to publishers at the moment. It won the Bath Novel Award a couple of weeks ago, which was a massive boost – I’m hoping this might nudge a few of the editors who are reading it at the moment into making an offer!
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Kate: I have a fairly new website at www.katesimants.co.uk which I’ll be adding to weekly. I’m also always lurking on Twitter – my handle is @katesboat.
Peter: Kate, 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 this wonderful book and I wish you massive success for the future.
Kate: Thank you so much for the opportunity, it’s all very new to me being asked about my work but it’s also lovely!