Today I am thrilled to welcome bestselling author, Debbie Howells, onto my blog. Debbie's psychological thriller, The Bones of You, was published last year by Pan Macmillan after a rather nice bidding war and has since been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. I met Debbie for writerly chat in my local coffee shop in Steyning recently and was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions about her success..
How long did it take you to write The Bones of You?
It took me two and a half months, and was an incredibly intensive writing process. My daughter was away and my son was in college, so I was able to completely immerse myself.
Your novel is a psychological thriller, have your always written in this genre?
No. I started writing commercial women’s fiction and when I submitted my first novel to agents, I was told the same thing several times over, that it was a crowded genre and difficult to get a first novel published. However, I had enough positive feedback to make me think that my writing wasn’t complete rubbish and I wasn’t put off. I self-published my first two books under a pen name - my second reached 150 in the Amazon ebook rankings and caught the attention of an agent, but didn’t go further than that. My third novel, Wildflowers, caught the attention of six agents. I’d put everything into that book and after none of them offered to represent me, I decided I had to write something different. That book was The Bones of You.
What would you say is the hardest part of writing a psychological thriller?
After writing my other books, it was a completely different experience, not least because a police investigation needs to be accurate and true to life, but pacing is important and the smallest details must be consistent throughout. Readers don’t miss anything! Because of the subject matter, it was quite emotionally challenging to write. I’d done my research, but even so, I had to try to get into the minds of abuse victims.
You used to be a florist. Was it hard to give this up?
I loved being a florist and I’ll always love flowers! The mainstay of my business was wedding flowers and believe me, that’s stressful. (Read Wildflowers – very cathartic outpouring of too many weddings!) Even after twelve years, the stress was always there because each wedding is someone’s big day and it cannot go wrong! I don’t miss that feeling. I used to dream about flowers – not always in a good way. At the moment, I indulge my inner florist in my home, though I still help with the occasional wedding for family and friends.
I can only begin to imagine the moment your agent told you she’d found a publisher for your novel. Can you tell us something about it?
I’d allowed myself to imagine finding an agent. I met Juliet (Mushens, my agent) in December 2013 – that was surreal in itself. I worked on her edits over the next month, and when I sent her back the last tweaks, she emailed me by return, with the list of publishers it was going out to – that evening. We had meetings with three of them the following Monday and a couple of days later, The Bones of You was bought at auction by Pan Macmillan. Even writing this now, it seems surreal. It was the kind of amazing story I’d read about happening to other writers, and here it was happening to me. It was an unforgettable moment - hugely, hugely exciting but also, after wanting this for so long, there was relief, too.
The Bones of You was chosen as a Richard and Judy read. What was it like meeting them?
It was another surreal moment, finding out that The Bones had been selected for the Richard and Judy book club. Richard and Judy couldn’t have been nicer, they really put me at ease. I met them just before Christmas and we had a conversation for about thirty minutes, which was recorded for a podcast for their website. The time passed astonishingly quickly!
One of the themes of the novel is emotional abuse. That must have been hard to write about.
Having researched the subject fairly comprehensively and heard firsthand stories of victims, it was a subject I was – and still am - compelled to write about. For most of us, our children are our most precious, loved people and we do what we can to keep them safe. It’s shocking when you realise how many children don’t have that, and how many adults live with the fallout of abusive childhoods. You can’t tell, either, by looking at someone. This kind of abuse is invisible. Leaves scars where they can’t be seen. It also is more common than you might think.
We come from the same area of Sussex. Woodland features prominently in your novel. Is there a reason for this and is it based on somewhere local?
We’re lucky to live in the midst of the most beautiful countryside! I walk on the Downs most days and one of my favourite walks is through the woods to the top. I never tire of how they change with the seasons, the sense of peacefulness I always find there. Not surprising they’ve found their way into my book.
Can you tell us something about your next book?
The Beauty of the End is about a reclusive ex-lawyer called Noah, who discovers that a girl he once knew is suspected of murder. Her name is April Moon and she was the love of Noah’s life. He absolutely knows she’s innocent but with April on life support and the evidence pointing to her guilt, it isn’t that simple.
It’s a story about secrets, lies, and the power of the past. It’s also a love story.
Debbie Howells worked as cabin crew and a flying instructor before starting her wedding flower business. It was during a hectic summer full of weddings that she started writing women's fiction, as an escape, dreaming of one day becoming a published author. A few books later and after a change of genre, Pan Macmillan bought her first two psychological thrillers, The Bones of You and The Beauty of the End, to be published in July, followed by a deal recently to buy two more.
Debbie lives in a small West Sussex village with her children and animals.