I am thrilled to be kicking off the Gone without a Trace blog tour with a Q&A with Mary Torjussen.
What inspired your latest novel, Gone without a Trace?
I was on an online forum where a woman posted about a problem she was having. She said that she’d come home from work to find her boyfriend had left home, taking everything he owned with him. He’d even taken a half-empty jar of chutney that he’d had in the fridge. Now I knew people whose boyfriends had left home suddenly like that, without even leaving a note, but the jar of chutney caught my attention. I remember lying in bed that night, wondering why he would take everything – it was as though he was erasing all traces of himself. Of course as it turned out there was nothing really interesting about the situation; he simply had another woman and had moved in with her, pickle and all, but by then the story of Gone Without a Trace was born.
Gone without a Trace is set in Liverpool, what made the decision to have this city as your setting? Does coming from that area help with the plotting of the story line?
I’ve lived on the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool, since I moved up here to study at Liverpool University and really love the area and the people. It seemed natural to me to set a story in an area I knew well. I walk down by the river a lot and that certainly plays a big part in my writing. I like to be able to picture exactly where people are in a story, so it seemed obvious that I should set my novel in my adopted hometown.
How has your journey as a published author been?
I wrote a novel quite a long time ago when my children were younger. I wrote for two hours a day and wrote 1,000 words per day. In eighty days over one summer I’d written the novel, though of course I needed to edit it afterwards. That was a massive learning curve for me and really taught me that the more you write, the easier it gets. I certainly found the second half of the book much easier to write than the first half. I sent it off and got nice replies from agents, but nobody would take it on. I was really despondent after that and that was my biggest mistake: I should have just written another book.
A couple of years later I started an MA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University. I didn’t need the qualification as such, but wanted the company of other writers and to force myself to write something each week for the writers’ workshops.That was a fantastic experience. I learned so much from editing my own and other people’s work. I started another book and finished it after the course ended. Again, I had encouraging replies from agents, but nobody would sign me up. I then wrote another and when I sent that off, I was still getting encouraging replies but no action. It was incredibly frustrating.
Then I had the chance to take voluntary redundancy from my teaching job and I decided I would take the money and spend a year writing a novel that would sell. It was after that that I had the idea for Gone Without a Trace. With this book, things suddenly changed. When you approach an agent you have to send in the first three chapters and if they like those, they’ll ask to read the full manuscript. Suddenly almost every agent I wrote to wanted to read the full manuscript and very quickly I was signed up by Kate Burke, from Diane Banks Associates, who sold it immediately to Headline in the UK, Penguin in the US and Random House in Germany, and sold the film and TV option, too.
It was fantastic to have such a response after all those years, but I think without those years of experience writing the other books, this book couldn’t have been written.
What are the best and worse things about being an author?
The best thing has been learning so much about writing and the publishing process. Having really experienced editors look at your work and tell you what needs to be done to improve it really is a fantastic experience, though frightening, too! It really made me want to impress them, which forced me to write more carefully. The worst thing can be the lack of structure in a day. When I was working full-time there was always a limited time for writing. If I had two hours free I had no option but to write as fast as I could. Now that I can write at any time, it’s hard sometimes not to be distracted, so I tend to write in the library, where I switch off the internet and force myself to get on with it.
What is your writing process, are you a planner?
I like to plot out a book before I start, though it always changes as I’m writing as I get to know the characters. I tend to write about a page per chapter before I start to write the book, and try to plot in cliff-hangers and plot twists at that point.
When writing your books, do you know how it is going to end or does that come during the writing process?
I always know how it’s going to end before I start. With the books I’ve written, I’ve known the opening and closing chapters right from the beginning; it’s keeping up the suspense in the middle that’s the problem. I try to plot the middle out, but that the part that changes the most.
Are you working on your next project? Any clues you can share with us?
It’s so difficult when you write psychological suspense, because there’s very little you can say about the book you’re writing without giving the plot away. This new book is a story of revenge. It’s called The Girl I Used To Be and the deadline for my first draft is the end of March. It’ll be published by Headline in November 2017.
Finally, when you’re not writing yourself, what books do you like to read? Favourite authors?
I do read a lot! The best thing about being published is that I’m sent so many books; I have tons of books on my TBR list.
Thanks for stopping by and answering my questions 🙂
About Gone without a Trace
Published: 23rd March 2017 (Headline) – already out in eBook
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 Mary Torjussen