Have you ever read a review for a book that’s not your usual choice of genre, but tried it on the strength of a review? I did that recently when I read a review of Audrey Davis’s book, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings.
I don’t usually read books with anything remotely ‘supernatural’ in the title, but I’m so glad I made an exception for this one. It’s a lovely story, told with wit and charm with an array of interesting characters and some real laugh out loud moments.
So I contacted Audrey and asked if she’d be interested in appearing in my monthly column, Ideas Store, in Writers’ Forum. And also, of course, on this blog.
Thankfully, she said yes!
Welcome, Audrey and thank you for agreeing to be featured and for answering my questions.
First, the question all authors are said to dread.
Where did you get the idea for The Haunting of Hattie Hastings?
I can only say ‘spooky’ forces were at work, because it literally came out of thin air. Looking back, the name – Hattie Hastings – materialised first. I started writing a chapter about Hattie and her husband with only the vaguest notion of where it might go. I imagined them as an everyday couple, ordinary people leading ordinary lives. In Chapter One I wanted to paint a picture of this normality, with Gary lapping up his moment singing in the spotlight, and Hattie wishing she could get to bed. From there, I added their twenty-year-old son, Johnny, and his reluctance (or inability) to make something of his life. But, where was it all heading? Only as I neared the end of that first chapter did inspiration strike. What if Gary died, then came back to haunt Hattie?
Always a sucker for a spot of alliteration, the title provided the bare bones of the story. As a confirmed ‘pantster’, I did little in the way of plotting, preferring to let the story and characters develop with each page. Hattie needed a best friend. What if that friend had her own set of problems? Who else could Hattie turn to when Gary reappeared? Gradually, other family members and friends crept in, whispering in my ear (a definite case of ‘voices in my head’.)
Although I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife, I was drawn to the idea of a place where lost souls are assigned guardians and tasks to fulfil. Here was potential to mix things up with humour and pathos, because I enjoy the balance between comedy and sadness. Making people laugh is a gift, as is bringing a tear to someone’s eye.
The Haunting of Hattie Hastings was originally published as a novella trilogy. Partly because I wanted to experiment with releasing books this way, but mainly because I was still ‘winging’ it! In the lead up to publication day, I was working on the next instalment with still no fixed idea of how the story should progress. Surrounded by white cards and random scribblings, possibilities presented themselves, many of which were discarded.
Taking on board pleas for the trilogy to be released as a standalone novel, I went ahead and combined the three parts. Many people have asked how the book came about. I usually mumble, ‘not sure, really’. Probably best not to mention my ‘imaginary friends’ …
So you have ‘imaginary friends’ as well? So glad it isn’t just me! That’s fascinating. And I love how Hattie started as a novella trilogy and sort of evolved
You’ve written other books, I see. Including one called “A Clean Sweep”. How did that one come about?
The inspiration for my debut romcom novel, A Clean Sweep, came from an unexpected visitor a few years after we’d moved to Switzerland,” she says. “I answered the door one morning to discover an extremely attractive young man with a van. He gestured to my beloved yellow Mini Cooper, and said, ‘Madame, il y a un lapin sous votre voiture.‘ My French was basic at the time (and hasn’t improved greatly), but I understood enough. Yes, there was a fluffy bunny hiding under my car, my neighbours’ pet with a fondness for hopping into our garden.
It turned out that my good-looking gentleman caller was the local chimney sweep, calling to organise the cleaning of our chimney and to check the central heating boiler. I later learned that all households are required by Swiss law to have this carried out annually.
Fast-forward many years – and visits by this charming man – and I embarked on an online course in Writing Fiction. Scrambling around for ideas for a short piece, I thought of my chimney sweep and imagined a relationship between him and an older woman. No, I wasn’t fantasising, honestly! Once I’d completed the course, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.
From there, a couple of chapters about Joe and Emily took wings and – several months later – I had over 80K words. Along the way, other characters knocked at the door (metaphorically speaking), and I submitted the MS to an editor in the UK. She came back with (gulp) a 14-page report, and the suggestion that I expand on the book club element which I’d only touched on briefly. As a member of a book club at the time, I was able to draw on my experiences but I hasten to add that everyone in A Clean Sweep is entirely fictional!
That’s great, thank you so much. So tell us about your writing in general.
I write romantic comedy, but like to incorporate real-life challenges and issues (such as illness/divorce/loneliness) to balance humour with pathos. My two (soon-to-be-three) books are all standalones, but I did write a short, dark prequel to A Clean Sweep entitled A Clean Break. I also offer a short book entitled When Hattie Met Gary on my author website as a freebie leader magnet. Which makes me sound much more promo-savvy than I actually am!
Do you have a particular writing method? (I think I might know the answer to that, from what you have already said about writing Hattie!)
I only learned the terms ‘plotter’ and ‘pantster’ well into my fiction writing journey. It’s safe to say I’m much more of a pantster. I envy authors who can plot and plan every detail, proudly displaying a wall in their office plastered in Post-It notes, their book drafted out meticulously on Scrivener with character notes, detailed chapter synopses and a clear beginning, middle and end. My only concession to being organised is scribbling random thoughts on white postcards and printing out a calendar for my most recent book. Chiefly because the timeline was a total disaster!
I’ve always written, but as a journalist from the age of 18. A very different discipline, and my career went off track after I moved from a video magazine in London to Singapore, then Australia and – in the late 1990s – to Buckinghamshire. Two boys, relocation stress and house renovations meant I had little time or energy to write more than shopping lists. I am so grateful to FutureLearn (an offshoot of the Open University) for rekindling my passion for writing and for the many people I’ve subsequently connected with on social media for believing in me. Twitter, Facebook etc often get a bad press, but the writing community is a rock-solid source of encouragement when all you want to do is bang your head repeatedly on the keyboard.
You’re so right about the positive side of social media. There are some wonderfully supportive groups out there.
So, tell us three things we might not know about you.
1. I interviewed Rowan Atkinson back in my London days, after Blackadder, one of my all-time favourite shows. He was more nervous than me, but revealed his next project was ‘about a man who doesn’t say very much, and gets into all kinds of comic capers.’ The rest, as they say, is history …
2. I’ve bungee jumped in Cairns, scuba-dived on the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji and Vanuatu and screamed my head off on some of the scariest theme park rides in the world. Nowadays, I get scared driving on the Swiss autoroute!
3. Speaking of scary, I adore movies/shows that give me the heebie-jeebies. Ever since I cowered on the sofa watching Dr Who do battle with the Cybermen (and my Mum realised I was coming down with measles), I’ve been a huge fan of all things terrifying. Top two off a very long list – Sean of the Dead (love the comedy/zombie combo) and Train to Busan, a Korean corker I’ve watched three times. It makes the journey between Edinburgh and Dumbarton East seem like a stroll in the park …
Thank you so much, Audrey, for such a fascinating interview. And now for those all important links.
Social media links, website etc.
https://audreydavisauthor.com Psst! You can pick up a free copy of my novella opener, When Hattie Met Gary, if you hop over here.
getbook.at/AudreyDavis A Clean Sweep