28th Jan2014

Interview with Mel Sherratt

by Lloyd Paige

melwatchingoveryoucover

At the time of writing Mel Sherratt’s new book, Watching Over You, is flying high in the charts which is no mean feat. Of course it’s not her first success but with things going so well, plus my desire to get a few questions about the book answered, the time was right to catch up with her.

1. Hi Mel, it’s fair to say that you’ve had a long road to publication which has been well documented. Does that experience make you appreciate your current success even more?

Absolutely. I often feel that I need to pinch myself as I can’t believe everything that has happened. I hope I never forget the struggle and that my feet stay firmly on the ground. Even though I strive towards particular goals, I never expect anything so it all comes as a surprise. Getting a book deal was never guaranteed but I just kept at it.

2. Do you ever find it difficult to keep your writing momentum going?

Yes, lots of times. It’s usually when something hasn’t quite come out right in the draft, or a sub-plot needs to be worked out before I can go any further. Sometimes it can take a few hours, sometimes a few days, but it’s always because of the same thing. Once it’s ironed itself out, I can usually get going again. It makes me smile when some readers say that books are predictable but we writers work hard to tie up all the loose ends and make it seem that way. Working things out takes time.

3. Watching Over You has been released as part of your deal with Amazon Publishing, along with your first novel Taunting The Dead. How do you think your writing has progressed since the early days of Taunting The Dead?

Very much, I hope! I published Taunting The Dead at the end of 2011 and since then I have written and edited three books in ‘The Estate Series,’ and also worked with a structural editor and a copyeditor for ‘Watching Over You.’ I’m learning all the time. Most writers would hope that each book gets better and I reckon most writers wouldn’t want to read their first books back again either.

I cover a lot of gritty subjects in my books, with a fair few unsavoury characters with bad habits and addictions.”

4. When authors write a novel there’s always a part of the story that they seem to enjoy most. Which is your favourite chapter in Watching Over You and why?

Chapter 27. It’s a very brief chapter but it packs a mean punch. It’s the turning point in the book when Ella really is in trouble.

5. There’s no getting away from Ella Patrick’s reckless and risqué love life so what inspired you to craft her in that particular way?

I cover a lot of gritty subjects in my books, with a fair few unsavoury characters with bad habits and addictions. So this time I wanted to do a different addiction, showing the reasoning behind it. Ella is a sex addict – she craves affection and a quick fix but always needs to feel used, therefore unlovable. It gave me a lot of scope to develop her dark side.

6. Her infatuation with new neighbour Charley Belington is quite disturbing. What sort of research did you do for this part of the narrative?

I watched a few films, Single White Female, Basic Instinct, The Hand that Rocked the Cradle, and Fatal Attraction. These films, for me, have an overwhelming sense of fear, ‘something is going to happen and I can’t bear to look,’ building up and that’s what I wanted to do. A slow burner that then thundered along towards a climatic ending.

Also, Taunting The Dead is a complex plot with lots of characters, so this time I wanted a simple plot, to give me scope to concentrate on a few characters. This in turn enabled me to get inside their heads a lot more.

7. Does Charley’s own grief over her husband Dan and child prevent her from seeing the warning signs when she moves into her new flat?

This was such a difficult balance to get right. Should Charley see the signs or should she ignore them completely to make it scarier? Charley wants to help Ella but is conflicted. On the one hand, she realises Ella may need professional help that she could signpost her to. But on the other hand, she doesn’t want to bring her work home with her and possibly be accused of poking her nose in. It’s a fine line between looking the other way and being downright oblivious.

It’s also another reason, the other being pacing, that the final third of the book is over a matter of days. When Ella started to go off the rails, Charley began to check up on her, to see if she was known in the system, but as anyone who works in that industry will tell you, getting confidential information takes time.

It’s the most exciting part of writing, when a character reveals a twist that you hadn’t thought of.”

8. Ella’s all consuming personality derives from a huge amount of personal trauma and amongst other things, has made her one tough cookie. How do you hope readers will view her?

I’d like them to empathise with Ella but at the same time be terrified for Charley because they know more than she does. I hope they will feel angry at the way she was treated as a child and sad that she lacks the ability to love without becoming obsessed. I’d also like readers to really believe in Ella’s dark side.

I sometimes get readers saying that my stories are not believable, but I do my utmost to keep them authentic. I’m sure some will think that Charley missed the signs but I do get my work read by friends who work in the police and social services for their perspective too. These people work with the general public and often know firsthand that anything can happen. And that clients can fool you.

9. Jean is one of the other compelling characters thrown into the mix. Her observations are interesting but given her background, why did you decide to weave her into the story in the way that you did?

Jean’s character and background evolved as the first draft did. I always start a book with a beginning, middle, and end, but I allow characters to write their own stories as they go along. It sounds strange, I know, but some writers do that. I often sit down to write one scene and end up writing something completely different so I always go with the flow.

It’s the most exciting part of writing, when a character reveals a twist that you hadn’t thought of. I always intended Jean to be a nosy neighbour and I knew what she was going to witness but I didn’t really know she was part of the bigger picture until later in the draft. One of the other neighbours, Jake, was never in the plans at all. He just appeared one day when I sat down to write a scene.

10. The book pulls many disturbing punches while providing a thrilling finale. Did you ever find it a challenge to get the balance right in the story and if so, how did you overcome it?

Yes, it was quite a challenging book. I needed Charley to be wary of Ella but I also wanted her to care about Ella as she is a support worker by profession. I didn’t want readers to think ‘oh, for goodness sake, why would she do that,’ but ultimately I had to put Charley in some testing positions to up the tension. I also wanted it to build up from a slow start to a really fast ending – the first draft I felt was too slow at the beginning so I cut a lot.

This time I had the pleasure of working with a great editor. She really helped to shape the book into what it is today. I particularly enjoyed that process.

11. When taking a break from writing what sort of books do you now find yourself reading?

I like reading anything commercial to be honest. I’m enjoying all the ‘unreliable narrator’ books out at the moment. And I do like my chick-lit.

12. Finally, what can your fans expect from you next and when?

I’m just finishing the follow on from Taunting The Dead. I’m starting the third of three drafts that I do before I show anyone, so once that’s done, it’s time for feedback. I’m also getting ideas down for the next psychological thriller. I have most of that now so once this book is finished, I’ll be straight on to it. Hopefully both will be published sometime later this year.

Synopsis

Following the death of her husband and unborn child, Charley Belington sells the family home and

bravely starts life over again. On moving into a new flat, she is befriended by her landlady, Ella, who

seems like the perfect friend and confidante.

But, unbeknown to Charley, Ella is fighting her own dark and dirty demons as the fallout from a

horrific childhood sends her spiralling down into madness—and unspeakable obsessions.

As Ella’s mind splinters, her increasingly bizarre attentions make Charley uneasy. But with every step

Charley tries to take to distance herself, Ella moves in a tightening lockstep with her, closer and

closer and closer…

To find Mel on her site click here

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