Today I am delighted to welcome Katharine Johnson to my blog. Katharine is a very talented writer and I recently read and enjoyed her novel, The Silence. Although I have asked Katharine on my blog to talk about her latest novel, The Suspects.
Hi, Katharine. And welcome to my blog. Let’s kick off with that question all writers are said to dread (and which appeared in my Ideas Store column in Issue 214 (August 2019) of Writers’ Forum magazine.
Where did you get the idea for your psychological thriller, The Suspects from?
The idea was probably born many years ago during my own house shares as a student and graduate in the 1980s and 1990s – although my experiences were much less exciting and terrible than those of my characters.
But I suppose one of the reasons I chose a house share situation was because I’ve been thinking about them again recently as one of my daughters is about to graduate and the other one’s about to start university in Bristol so they’ll be looking at shared accommodation. (Although with hindsight it might not have been the best time for me to be thinking too much about this!)
I wanted to capture that optimism and anticipation you feel when you move in with a group of people, but also play on that frisson of doubt about how well you’ll get on together and how well you really know each other. It’s one thing to worry about the people next door but when you’re under the same roof there’s no escape.
I liked the idea of a house share because it provides a claustrophobic environment in which the characters find themselves dependent on each other for their survival but are increasingly fearful of the enemy within.
As the saying goes, you don’t truly know someone until you live with them.
My five characters have very different tastes, habits and political beliefs. Throw into the mix a shared mortgage, falling house prices and rocketing repayments at the height of Thatcher’s Britain and you have a potentially explosive situation.
But things get so much worse when they discover a body after one of their parties – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. Because they each have reasons from their past not to trust the police they make a decision which will force them into a series of secrets and lies – but can they trust each other?
There are light-hearted moments as the tensions build between the characters and I had fun researching this bit – I’m grateful to everyone who shared their housemate-from-hell story with me! But there is also a gathering angst and paranoia as they question each other’s ability to keep a secret, and discover some shocking truths.
As with my other novels (The Silence, The Secret and Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings), my main characters aren’t bad people but they make a bad choice. I like to put ordinary people in extraordinary situations and see how they cope.
I chose to tell the story in the confessional first person narrative from a single viewpoint as I hoped it would make it feel more immediate. My worry was that I’d never be able to convince the reader but I’ve been thrilled with reviews such as “It’s actually worryingly easy to forgive them their mistakes”, “I could completely understand how they talked themselves into doing something so reprehensible”, “I felt like I was not only reading the story but living it as well” and “My heart was racing at times as I shared their guilt.”
Would you have made the same decisions my characters did? Hopefully not, but if you read the book I hope you can understand why they made the decision they did, and most of all I hope you enjoy reading it.
That’s fascinating, Katharine. Thank you so much. So now, let’s move on to your writing in general. What inspires you most? Is it characters? Settings? Or maybe even books you’ve read?
All of those. I think initially I get excited about a situation. Then I think about the characters as they will determine how the story unfolds.
And how did your writing journey start? Have you always written?
I’ve always enjoyed making up stories and wrote my first book aged nine on my plastic typewriter. It was a collection of stories about a naughty chimp (still unpublished!). My grandmother encouraged me to write when she was babysitting – probably as a way to keep me quiet.
What was your first published piece?
My first published piece would be a story for my local paper in Bristol. I think it was about a couple that lived on a traffic island because they refused to move out of their home when a road was built.
My first fiction piece was many years later for Take A Break Fiction Feast about a very badly behaved bridegroom’s mother at a wedding and her daughter-in-law’s revenge.
You had a very wise grandmother! And your Take a Break story sounds fun. So tell us about your future plans, please.
I’m working on another, more conventional and very contemporary psychological thriller. I’m also very excited about a co-writing project with another author about a well-known artist.
And I have several bits of novels and a whodunnit series I’d love to make progress with if I can find the time.
That sounds fascinating. I’m looking forward to your next thriller and intrigued by your co-writing project. It sounds as if you, like me, are desperately waiting for someone to invent the thirty hour day!
In the meantime, how about sharing three things about you that we might not know?
- As a teenager I (very briefly) joined a religious sect.
- The first time I tried an avocado I was so horrified by the taste I fainted but it’s now one of my favourite foods (something I tell my children to encourage them to try new foods!)
- I’m ambidextrous (but my handwriting’s terrible in either hand)
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone fainting at the taste of an avocado before! That was a great interview. Thank you for a great interview and the best of luck with your latest book. I have just moved it nearer to the top of my tottering To Be Read pile and am really looking forward to reading it..
Please read on for the blurbs from Katharine’s books, the all important buy links and her social media links.
Love, Lies, and Betrayal in Wartime Italy.
Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences.
Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything.
Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.
But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.
Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.
Bristol, 1988. Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices rocket out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.
After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies. But can they trust each other?
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything.
When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity.
In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance.
But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.
Katharine’s social media Links
Purchase links for
The Suspects: https://mybook.to/thesuspects
The Secret. Https://mybook.to/thesecret
The Silence. Https://mybook.to/thesilence
Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings. Https://mybook.to/liesmistakes
Katharine Johnson is the author of four novels. She grew up in Bristol and currently lives in Berkshire. She’s been a magazine editor and has written for lots of magazines, mostly in the home and lifestyle sector, as well as short stories and a history book. When not writing you’ll usually find her reading, drinking coffee, exploring cities, playing netball, guiding people around a stately home (not her own!) or out walking with her writing buddy, Monty the spaniel.