Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin is published on the 27th of this month (by Headline) and it’s a stonkingly good read. I don’t usually read crime fiction, but I do enjoy watching TV detective shows, as does Sarah. (I know this because we have tweeted each other about our love of “Cho time” in The Mentalist, and our admiration for Luther.) Reading S.E.S I was immediately struck by how much like a television drama the novel seemed. I could “see” the story unfold. It has to be made into a TV show, surely?
Marnie Rome and her partner, DS Noah Jake, visit a women’s refuge in the hope of getting one of the women to testify against her brothers. Whilst there, a man is stabbed by his wife in front of several of the residents. As the officers investigate the stabbing, three of the women go missing.
At the same time, Marnie Rome’s backstory is woven in – her parent’s were murdered five years ago, and Rome regularly visits their murderer.
What follows is an intriguing tale where Hilary continually confounds expectations. Rome is allowed weakness, she makes mistakes, gets angry, and has complex emotions. Her relationships with Noah, and victim support worker, Ed Belloc, are well drawn. It’s a novel where nothing is quite as it seems. Hilary is unafraid of exploring darkness and some big issues, but never at the expense of story. It’s all very page-turny, even if I did find some of the violence unpalatable. It’s a well written, pacey, engaging novel, and I really want to know more about Marnie et al and am looking forward to book two. In the meantime, I had a few questions for Sarah which she agreed to answer for me:
Q. You’re an excellent short story writer, how difficult was it to expand into writing novels? Any words of advice for writers hoping to transition from short story writing to novel writing?
A. Thank you, that’s very kind. I enjoy writing short stories but boy, do I find them hard to get right. I think I’m better suited to writing novels; my stories seem to bend towards the shape of a novel more easily. So, in terms of advice, I’d say go with the shape of the story and see where it takes you.
Q. Where did you write? Any routine/ritual etc?
A. I’m very guilty about the fact that I bought a lovely writing desk when I moved house, and haven’t sat there once. I write in cafes. I like the white noise, and the coffee. I make sure I write for at least two hours before I allow myself a break. It’s the only way I can be sure to get it done.
Q. When you started writing did you know you were creating a series?
A. Always. It’s such a gift to be able to spend time with the same characters.
Q. How far ahead have you plotted in terms of story arc?
A. I try to have ideas for the next book along, whenever I’m writing something new. Not plotting, as such, but nuggets.
Q. Have you written book 2 yet?
A. First draft, yes. I’m about to embark on the second draft so wish me luck.
Q. Would you like to see it made into a TV series? And if so, any idea on who would make a good Marnie Rome?
A. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? A friend suggested Karen Gillan for Marnie, but I’m not sure. I do know that I’d love Ashley Walters to play Noah Jake.
Q. What is your fave tv detective series?
A. Currently? The Bridge. I love Saga and Martin so much it hurts.
Q. Who is your fave tv detective?
A. Saga Norén.
Q. What about crime novels – any favourites?
A. Everything ever written by Fred Vargas. Also, The Collector by John Fowles, and Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
Q. You write about domestic violence & female genital mutilation – was it always your intention to try to highlight these issues?
A. No. I started out to write a book about secrets, and deceit. The characters I created each had different secrets, and some of those secrets were very dark. But I do want to talk about issues which have been side-lined by society, especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. There’s too much silence born of discomfort, I think. I’d like to make a bit of noise around those issues, because they matter so much.
Q. Did you do much research?
A. Enough to be sure of my facts, but not so much that it strays into non-fiction or gets in the way of the storytelling.
Q. The book is pretty harrowing with some deeply unpleasant violence. How easy was it to switch off and go and cook tea etc?
A. I don’t cook, which helps..! Writing Someone Else’s Skin did stir up a lot of unsettling emotions in me, but I think that’s part of being a writer, isn’t it? Keeping faith with the dark and the light… The chip of ice in our souls, as Graham Greene called it. I’m not very good at switching off; the next story is always percolating in my head. Probably very unhealthy although my editor would approve.
Thank you Sarah. I wish you and Marnie much success.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on Someone Else’s Skin you can preorder here. I’m sure all fans of crime fiction will be delighted to discover such an intriguing new detective.