Blog post by Sarah from Lost In The Land Of Books - Feb 25th, 2021
Well hello you beautiful people, I hope everyone is doing okay. Today I get to bring you just about everything you need to know about the lovely author A. A Chaudhuri. I hope you have managed to catch the reviews for The Abduction while the blog tour is happening. I know I have and they are friggin epic. Today I’m bring you a little chat I had with Alex. Thank you so much Alex for taking the time out to ask my questions. Right guys we all know I love a good ramble so I won’t keep you waiting any longer.
What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
Plot, always. But once I’ve come up with the plot, the characters tend to evolve very quickly. For both plot and characters, I might be inspired by my own life experience, reading the newspapers/watching the news/TV programmes/films/documentaries, or reading articles on the internet. The main inspiration for THE SCRIBE came from my time at the London College of Law where I studied the seven legal subjects which form the basis of the plot. Obviously, THE ABDUCTION is slightly different because it’s a sequel and was therefore always going to feature the main characters of Kramer and Carver. Having said that, aside from DS Drake, none of the other characters in the book came to me before I devised the plot.
Even with the plot, I’ll only have a rough idea of the story and how it might progress when I first start writing, rather than a detailed chapter by chapter account of what’s going to happen. New ideas will occur to me as I write, and these can often take me in a totally different direction from what I originally envisaged, including, at the most extreme, the identity of the culprit. It’s one of the most exciting, not to mention satisfying, things about being a crime/thriller author; thinking up that new twist or red herring you hadn’t considered when you first started writing the novel, but which takes the story up a gear.
Ohhh Alex I do love a good twist and a sneaky red herring, it ramps up the tension and surprise for me. Plot first though does sound like a good way to start. Handy little tip there guys if your looking at writing something, cause I won’t lie I had loads of ideas floating round and noted down and spend too long thinking a out characters hmmm anyway Sorry, moving on.
Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing?
It depends on the book. With my, as yet unpublished, psychological thrillers, I dived straight in, largely because their primary focus is the human mind/nature, the feelings/circumstances that motivate people to behave in a certain way, along with things I have had experience of, for example, working in the City, being a mother, being in love! Obviously there may be some research required, but with these types of novels I’ve found it’s generally easier to dive straight in with the story and do bits of research along the way as and when required, than it is with, say, a spy/political thriller, or a police procedural, where detailed research is generally required beforehand. With THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION, I had to do a fair amount of research on police and forensic procedure before I started writing both novels, but further points of research came up once I got going. I’ve also written a spy thriller, which required me to do extensive amounts of research on government agencies like MI5 and the CIA before I started writing the book. I have a whole lever arch file of notes for that novel! As with both THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION, the research didn’t stop once I started writing. Things cropped up along the way that needed to be verified, although I’ll admit we writers embellish a little here and there to make the story more interesting!
Alex I won’t lie I’m really curious as to what is in this lever arch file, haha. Again great advice in there.
Speaking of research, how do you research for your books?
A huge amount of research can be done online now, and I used the internet extensively for THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION and for my spy thriller. But sometimes on-site visits are warranted to get a real feel for a place. No amount of research on the internet can tell you what a place smells like, what you might hear, as well as the general prevailing atmosphere. For example, for THE SCRIBE, I visited the various murder locations, even though I had lived in London for thirteen years before and was therefore familiar with most of them. I wanted to go there and imagine what it might be like at night, observing every little detail, imagining what I, as the victim, might see, the sounds I might hear as the killer approaches, noting down the exact location of minor details which add tension to the scene.
Employing expert advice is another invaluable research tool. For THE ABDUCTION I employed two experts to advise me on police and forensic procedure/pathology. One of these was Roger A. Price, who’s not only a brilliant crime writer, but an ex-DI and therefore knows his stuff!
Ohh Alex yes, Roger really does know his stuff and he is lovely and I have to agree he does write fantastic books.
Now I know a few things I can’t get this out of my head. What does your writing space look like?
Well, before the pandemic turned all our lives upside down, I had my own study overlooking our garden. I have a fairly large desk from IKEA, a comfy chair, and on the desk, I keep a desk top computer, a phone and research filing tray to my left and a desk lamp and printer to my right. Being situated at the back of the house, the room is quiet which I like. I’m not one for music playing in the background, or any kind of noise really. It’s nice and light in there, too, and behind me I have a bookshelf full of my favourite books which gives me added inspiration! Unfortunately, my husband has laid claim to my study for the best part of a year, now. He’s a lawyer, on constant conference calls, plus he does a lot of document work, so it’s only fair he has my desk. I remember what it’s like being a lawyer and needing lots of desk space! In the first lockdown, I sometimes worked at a desk in our spare room, or just on my laptop in the living room. Now, with my older son using the spare room and my younger one working at a desk in his bedroom, I’m finding it easier to work on my laptop at the dining table.
Oh Alex, the writing space sounds wonderful, hopefully things will start returning to some sort of new normal and you will be able to leave the dining table behind and back into your study. It is difficult, I have been lucky I’ve managed to keep my little book cave for me, my son won’t go In there so I’ve managed to set him up some where else but it’s good to be adaptable.
Can you tell us about your first published book? What was that
My first published book was THE SCRIBE, published by LUME BOOKS in July 2019. The book features Maddy Kramer, fiction’s first female London lawyer amateur sleuth, who teams up with the surly but enigmatic DCI Jake Carver, to hunt down a serial killer who appears to be targeting former law students of Maddy’s old London law college. Because of Maddy’s connection to some of the victims, and the fact that the murderer appears to be killing in line with a pattern corresponding with the legal syllabus, while also sending the police disturbing legal riddles pertaining to give clues as to the location of the next murder as well as the victim’s identity, Carver enlists Maddy’s help. It’s quite a dark, gruesome read, but I hope it also educates readers a bit about the law without slowing down the pace or detracting from the story.
I won’t lie, the journey leading up to the publication of THE SCRIBE was long, arduous and hugely stressful! It took me several years to get my agent, Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency, and then another three years to get my deal with LUME BOOKS, who also published THE ABDUCTION.
By way of background, I started writing a women’s fiction novel, Love & Limoncello (basically a romantic comedy with a bit of mystery thrown in) in 2010 when I was pregnant with my second son, and a full-time mum to my first. Every spare minute, usually at my toddler’s nap times, either at home, or in Starbucks (!) I’d spend writing and it took me about six months to finish it, allowing for horrendous morning sickness and serious indigestion! I spent a year or so submitting it to various agents, but had no luck, and so ended up self-publishing, with the sequel following the next year. Love & Limoncello did extremely well on Amazon, considering I did all the editing myself, while the cover was home grown too, and it sold over 10,000 copies. But I always knew I wanted to write thrillers, having become addicted to them since reading The Firm and A Time to Kill by John Grisham.
In 2013, I had an idea for a London-based legal thriller featuring a struggling female lawyer who becomes embroiled with a corrupt firm. By then, with my first son starting school and the second in pre-school, I had more time to write. I loved writing this book, and soon became utterly immersed in it, and from that moment knew for certain that crime/thriller writing was what I wanted to focus on. Once again, I submitted to agent after agent (and in that time had a rather upsetting agent experience which very nearly broke me (!)) but I ploughed on and finally, to my joy and relief, was offered representation by Annette in 2015. Between then and 2018, I wrote THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION as well as two other standalone books, one a psychological thriller, the other a spy thriller, but despite coming close with some big publishers, that magic ‘yes’ still eluded me. None of them said I couldn’t write; in fact, I often got hugely positive comments, but nothing quite hit the mark for them, and in some ways the ‘nearly there’s’ were more heart-breaking than the straight rejections because, as the saying goes, I was so near and yet so far. But I kept going, kept honing and refining my books, hoping that one day I’d catch a break. Writing is a tough, competitive business, and you need a thick skin to cope with the inevitable setbacks and criticism you will encounter along the way. It helped that Annette always believed in me, was always there to pick me up when I felt down and plagued with self-doubt. I knew it wasn’t just me, that rejection is par for the course for most authors and that, being a highly subjective industry, with so many variables, publishing deals are like gold dust. Luckily, James Faktor, publishing director at what was then Endeavour Media, loved THE SCRIBE, and made the offer in November 2018.
Having my book launch for THE SCRIBE at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, London, alongside Awais Khan’s IN THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS, and with the amazing Ayo Onatade hosting, was a very special occasion, and one which I will never forget, as was the moment I held the paperback version of my book for the first time. That’s the thing about rejection, I guess. Although it feels like the end of the world at the time, ultimately it makes that one ‘yes’ taste that much sweeter. And now, with both books out in audio with Isis, that’s really the icing on the cake!
Wow, well I’m glad you didn’t break Alex, and to have both books out in audio is just incredible… I’m sure a lot of people out there will be glad you kept going.
Now, having written a couple of romance books under the name Alexandra Sage, how do you feel you have developed as a writer?
I’m learnt a lot about the writing process/industry since I started writing ten years ago, and definitely feel I’ve matured as a writer since then.
Of course, my romance novels were written in a completely different style to my thrillers. Thankfully, having read a lot of thrillers, I already knew crime fiction tends to require shorter, sharper, punchier sentences and dialogue to build and maintain suspense, as well as a more methodical, considered, analytical approach so as to ensure all the threads of the plot add up in a convincing, logical and believable manner. I’m more aware of the smaller, finer details now when I write. The importance of characterisation, use of the senses to build atmosphere and tension, when to include dialogue and when to hold back. I think more about the structure of my novel now: how my chapters start and end, injecting humour at the right moment to break tension or give the reader a break. I think more about showing what’s happening with the plot and characters, rather than telling the reader what’s happened or went on in the past, allowing for the fact that sometimes a degree of telling is needed to set the scene/allow the reader to understand a character’s motivations. Since I started writing full-time, I’ve written books in the third and first person, and I’ve also learnt the importance of getting my research right, and verifying every fact, particularly with my police procedurals. Having now had some of my books copy-edited, I’m also more conscious of certain formatting/grammar conventions that I wasn’t so aware of before. I also think more about what’s essential and what isn’t; what could be cut down or chopped out completely.
Finally, when I first started writing, I used to read through my completed drafts on screen or print them out and read them that way. Now, I always download my finished drafts to a kindle because it reads more like a book, and I’ll frequently notice things/spot errors I’d never have seen on a laptop or on an A4 print-out.
Again some great advice Alex, thank you. I think as with most things it’s all just a huge learning curve all the time and reading on a kindle to have a read would make more sense and you can spot more. Oh I forgot to check that you were nice and comfortable with a lovely tea or coffee beside you Alex. I’m rather comfortable and have my trusted coffee by my side
Can you share with us something about The Abduction that isn’t in the blurb?
It’s not just a straightforward kidnapping action thriller. It’s a dark psychological thriller in many ways, focussing on some painful issues/life events that can change a person forever and lead them to do terrible things.
Oh, I’m sure that’s got a lot of you curious to want to read/listen to The Abduction.
Alex, can I ask what book is currently on your bedside table?
What Lies Between Us by John Marrs. It’s a dark, gripping psychological suspense thriller centring on a mother and daughter who live in the same house and share a disturbing secret. I love books that explore the darker side of human nature. They’re not the most cheerful of reads, but I find them utterly compelling.
Oh good choice it is a good read. I couldn’t agree I do like the darker side of human nature and they do make for compelling reading.
Now a little personal but What is your favourite quote?
SUCCESS IS NO ACCIDENT.
It is hard work, perseverance,
learning, studying, sacrifice
and most of all, love of what you are doing. – Pele
I do love a good quote and jot them down everywhere, now we shall continue onto the last few questions that are more personal and take us away from books.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Empathetic, conscientious, sentimental.
Oh lovely words to describe you Alex. I’m glad it’s you in the hot seat as its not a question I could answer.
What is the best part of your name?
On a normal working day at home, the morning up until around 4 pm, because once I’ve had breakfast and worked out, that’s when I’m most productive.
On weekends, especially Saturdays, the evening as that’s usually family movie night when I’ll curl up with the kids and indulge in my favourite Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.
On holidays abroad, although I generally love all parts of the day, I’d say the evening just before dinner, because there’s nothing better than enjoying a cocktail or glass of bubbles al fresco in the balmy evening air.
Oh some Ben & Jerry’s lush, and oh holidays that would be magical to get back to them.
If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
This is really hard!! I can think of so many people, both male and female. In my younger days, I would have said Morten Harket, the lead singer of A-ha, because I was completely and utterly head-over-heels in love with him.
But now, if I had to choose one person, I’d probably say Robert Downey Junior. Not only is he a brilliant actor with a voice to die for (I loved him way back when in a film called Only You set in Italy and more recently in his iconic role as Tony Stark), I really admire the way he overcame his addictions to become one of the most celebrated actors of our time. That takes real guts and willpower. I love his quote: ‘Remember that just because you hit rock bottom doesn’t mean you have to stay there.’
I imagine he’d have a great sense of humour, and therefore make me laugh, while also keeping me entertained with stories about the movie business. Being a movie buff, that would really interest me. I’d also ask him what inspired him to turn over a new leaf. My younger son also loves The Avengers, so I’d get his autograph for him, though he’d probably prefer it if he signed it “Iron Man”!!! I’d make fresh sushi and sashimi, followed by a chocolate bento box.
Oh I know sorry I would have found this one hard too but brownie points with your son right there
Now can you tell us something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I hate roller coasters!
Oh I wasn’t expecting that, I strangely love a good roller coaster. Anyway guys it’s time to wrap up so Alex I just have one more question that I think given we are not living under normal circumstances it’s a bit of a check in
How are you finding lockdown?
Frustrating, tedious, exhausting! I’m an only child and both my parents have been rather unwell for the past eighteen months and so what with that, along with the pressures of trying to work whilst home-schooling and keeping my children’s spirits up, not to mention the book industry turned on its feet, it’s been a lot to deal with both physically and mentally! Although my vocation is one that requires you to be OK in your own company for long periods of time, which I am, I am otherwise quite a sociable person, so I’ve really missed seeing my girlfriends, having a meal or drink out, being able to travel, the general variety of life; things we all previously took for granted but hopefully will appreciate more in the future.
From a writing perspective, although I love having my family around, I do miss having quiet time to write. The day-time, when the kids are normally at school, and my husband is at work, is when I usually knuckle down and get four or five hours of writing done. Now, there’s quite a bit of noise, extra washing and lunches/snacks to prepare, on top of trying to write! On the flip side, though, and thinking more positively, I can see how fast my children are growing up, so really I should be thankful for the extra time I’m getting to spend with them, especially when I think about people who are alone and would do anything to have some company. Also, despite missing their sport and friends, my two are coping pretty well all things considered.
Obviously, it’s frustrating that writers haven’t been able to attend live events, or meet their readers. And I really miss meeting up with my agent and good writer friends. But thank goodness for the internet and social media – sometimes they’re a curse but for the writing community they’ve definitely been a blessing! Both have allowed writers to continue to promote their books and support one another, as well as converse with bloggers and readers on a daily basis. This blog tour being a prime example! I’ve made so many new writer and blogger friends during lockdown, while it’s also forced me to be more creative in my approach to marketing. What’s really stood out for me is the way in which writers, publishers, agents, bloggers, literally everyone who’s a part of the writing community, have rallied round each other during lockdown, making the most of opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible in the non-digital age.
So, I guess we all just need to hang in there, think positive and hope that the vaccines will get us back to something resembling normal sooner rather than later!
Being online has been a blessing and I’ve enjoyed a few live events and even though I get anxious at events I still miss them and the buzz and hype they bring. I miss family and friends and not having people come to the house for our usual Saturday chills etc. It’s been a hard year for everyone and you are right we all just need to keep hanging on in there, I’m sure there is some light at the end of the tunnel out there. Alex thank you again so much for taking the time out to chat with me. I hope you guys have enjoyed this Q & A I know I certainly have don’t forget to check out The Abduction, if you have any audio credits then you won’t regret using them on this gem.