Having long admired Laura Ellen Scott‘s own writing (and having interviewed her myself in these pages), I’m glad to welcome her in another capacity to Art & Literature. This week, Scott interviews bestselling suspense writer Sophie Hannah about her most recent book and her career in general. To find out more about Scott, visit her own website, Probably just a story. To find out more about Hannah… well, just read on, as Scott guides you into Hannah’s often twisted and always tantalizing world.
Poet and novelist Sophie Hannah is the author of five internationally bestselling psychological thrillers featuring DS Charlotte “Charlie” Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse, four of which are available in US editions so far: Little Face, The Wrong Mother, The Truth-Teller’s Lie, and The Dead Lie Down. The fifth book in the series will be released here as The Cradle in the Grave. Frequently compared to Tana French, Hannah specializes in dark, tangled relationships and continuing characters who are as rich as her villains are extraordinary. Released in September 2010 in the US, The Truth-Teller’s Lie examines perceptions of rape and sadism, but we can rely on Hannah’s deeply human detectives to guide us through the shocks to levels of understanding all too rare in crime fiction.
Laura Ellen Scott: Your thrillers start with traumatized people instead of dead bodies. You humanize rather than objectify the subject to take the procedural to a whole new level. Do you think this allows you grapple with more complicated issues, as you do in The Truth-Teller’s Lie?
Sophie Hannah: Well, you’re right to say that I never start with a dead body! My main interest as a writer of mystery fiction is in the mystery and the suspense–I want the reader to be on the edge of his or her seat, desperate to find out what’s going on. So I try to start my novels with a really puzzling or apparently impossible situation. For example, a man confesses to the murder of a woman who isn’t dead (The Dead Lie Down), or a woman claims her baby has been swapped for another baby while she was out of the house for two hours, but no other baby has been reported missing (Little Face). I want readers not to have a clue what might be going on–I even want them to worry that I’ve taken on far too ambitious a premise and will never be able to make it work. And then, of course, the challenge to me is to do precisely that. So, starting a mystery story with a dead body doesn’t appeal to me because those kinds of beginnings are not particularly mysterious, in my view. Generally, the minute you meet the dead body, you know half of what’s happened–someone’s killed someone else. True, you don’t know exactly why, but generally it has to do with the killer not liking the victim very much for whatever reason…. More and more, I’m coming to think of the dead-body opening to a mystery as a kind of shorthand signifying a lack of original and interesting ideas.