Sophie Hannah is the author of six internationally bestselling psychological thrillers, including Little Face, The Other Half Lives, and Lasting Damage. Her first thriller to be adapted for television, The Point of Rescue, was broadcast on ITV1 last year, under the series title Case Sensitive. In 2004, Sophie won first prize in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition for her suspense story The Octopus Nest, which is published in her short story collection, The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets, which I enjoyed reviewing for The Short Review. Sophie’s seventh thriller, Kind of Cruel, is described by the Observer as ‘Cool, calculating and utterly chilling.’
Welcome to Crawl Space, Sophie! Not that this isn’t going to be a high-brow bookish interview, but with the success of Case Sensitive on ITV1 last year, I have to ask: What’s it like being adapted for television?
Fantastic! First of all, it’s flattering that TV people, with all the books in the world to choose from, choose your books to turn into a TV series. And I think ITV and Hat Trick Productions did such a great job with Case Sensitive - I loved it. It was stylish, visually stunning, brilliant cast. Can’t wait for the next one to be on - which will also be called Case Sensitive and is the adaptation of my fourth crime novel The Other Half Lives. It’s probably going to be broadcast May or June.
Q. You’re taking part in two panel sessions at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol. Before I ask about those, how do you feel about crime festivals in general? Are they fun, or hard work? And have you ever read one of your poems at a crime festival, just to mess with people’s minds? Pessimism for Beginners would be a brilliant choice, I think.
No, I’ve never read a poem at a crime festival, but I once contributed to a panel on Poetry and Crime Fiction at Bouchercon, the American Crime Convention - and the panel was a huge success. I like the festivals - panel discussions are always fun, but any kind of public performance is also hard work because you’re on display - you can’t just slump in a corner. And you can’t delegate - you are the only person who can be you in public!
Q. So, these panel sessions at CrimeFest in May. On Saturday 26th, you’re discussing ‘Crime Fiction as Social Commentary or Entertainment?’ Can you tell us which side you’ll be on, or would that be considered a plot spoiler?
Entertainment first and above all - always. A great story is what every novel needs, the sort with twists and turns that make readers’ hair stand on end, stories with intriguing beginnings and surprising endings. If I feel an author cares less about story than about making a socio-political point, I’m afraid my first reaction is ‘Please bog off with your worthy agenda’.
Q. On Sunday’s CrimeFest panel, the topic is ‘Creeping You Out: Psychological Thrillers’. I love to be creeped out. A couple of my favourite thrillers are The Collector by John Fowles, and I by P.D. James. Daphne du Maurier’s short story, Don’t Look Now, also freaked me out. Do you have any favourites?
Some of my recent favourite creepy novels have been Tana French’s Broken Harbour, S J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep and Gordon Reece’s Mice. Less recent faves include The Deadly Percheron and Devil Take the Blue-Tailed Fly by John Franklin Bardin, and my all-time favourite Wuthering Heights. Some memoirs are also psychologically chilling, for example the stunning House Rules by Rachel Sontag.
Q. At a recent event in Bristol, you gave some excellent advice about knowing when to listen, while keeping your ears open for weapons grade dimwittery (it is a word, I checked). I’d hate any writers to miss out on this advice, so please can you summarise (and even expand) on your point?
When you are an unpublished or struggling new writer, there’s a tendency to feel immensely grateful if any agent or editor shows an interest in you. But not all agents are equally intelligent, and nor are all editors. My advice is, meet your potential agent/editor before committing and try (subtly!) to assess whether they’re clever or a dimwit. Signing up with someone who is too stupid to give you sound editorial advice will do your career more harm than good.
Thanks, Sophie, that was fun. I especially liked, ‘Bog off with your worthy agenda’ and may be using it myself in future. Looking forward to seeing you at CrimeFest.
Sophie Hannah will be at CrimeFest in Bristol on Saturday 26 May and Sunday 27 May. For full details of the programme and to buy tickets, please go here.