Sarah Hilary Q&A – No Other Darkness
Today sees the publication of Sarah Hilary’s No Other Darkness. Last week, with publication day fast approaching Sarah kindly took some time to answer a few of my questions, I am delighted to be able to share our conversation:
I’ve had some incredibly encouraging early reviews, it’s true — and from readers who loved Someone Else’s Skin — so that’s helped the nerves a little. But these are Second Novel Nerves, so I wasn’t expecting to get off scot-free. No Other Darkness is such a different story to Someone Else’s Skin, but I think readers are going to enjoy following Marnie and Noah down this new path.
At the end of Someone Else’s Skin both Marnie and her colleague, Noah Jake, had been put through the wringer. Can you bring us up to speed as to where we will join them at the outset of No Other Darkness?
Six months have passed since the end of Someone Else’s Skin. Noah has recovered physically, and he and Marnie are a closer team now—they won’t make the same mistakes they made in that first story. Marnie is starting to open up to Noah, and readers will see some great teamwork between them in this new book.
Apologies if this is a little cryptic for those yet to read No Other Darkness. I have two sons who are 5 and 8. For reasons I am sure you can appreciate I found certain elements of the book very tough to read. Were you specifically targeting a parent’s fear as you wrote?
Not specifically, no. That said, I’m a parent myself and it was tough to write some of the chapters in the book. But I feel that’s what good books should do — challenge the writer and the reader, and provoke strong emotions, from fear to relief.
I felt that DS Jake played a larger role in No Other Darkness than he did in Someone Else’s Skin. Was that my imagination or was there greater focus on his character in this book?
There was. Partly, I think, because Marnie is learning to trust him and involve him more closely. She relies on his instinct a lot in this new story, and Noah’s instinct is pretty damn good. He has a kid brother too, so the story affects him at a personal level.
Did work begin on No Other Darkness before Someone Else’s Skin went on general release? If so, did you have to adapt your work in progress once reviews and comments started to appear for the first book?
I’d finished the first draft of No Other Darkness before Someone Else’s Skin was published, but a lot of the editing went on while reviews were coming in. In particular, it was interesting to see how readers reacted to the characters of Marnie and Noah. Those reactions have had a definite impact on the third book, Tastes Like Fear, which I’m working on now. I’m a great believer in the collaborative nature of writing/reading. The story comes alive in the hands of readers, so their responses are always hugely important and inspirational for me. (No pressure, readers.)
In my review I made a slightly glib comment that you had a Big Book of Horrible Things and suggested you were working your way through this book to unnerve your readers. Is it coincidence that your first two novels tackled issues which could be considered chilling? And I am aware that my question indirectly makes it sound like a simple ‘murder’ story could be considered humdrum and commonplace?
That’s very interesting because quite a few readers have said that they find Someone Else’s Skin chilling precisely because the crime seems so commonplace. I think it’s all in the telling. Any story can be scary if it’s told in a particular way, if you choose to get under the skin of your characters or to take your readers inside their heads. The Collector by John Fowles is a great example of how to be supremely chilling by digging into the depths of the mundane.
The series rights have been sold, yes, and it’s in the early stages of development. I’m not directly involved in casting or scripting, but I’m working collaboratively with the team which is very exciting. And of course I’m dream-casting all the time. I desperately want Jason Watkins (from Being Human, and The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) to play one of the protagonists in No Other Darkness. You’ll probably be able to guess which one.
Are you a fan of horror films and books? The dark edge that I now associate with your books make me wonder if you are influenced by scary stories.
Yes, yes I am—a huge fan of horror, especially films. I love being scared, really love it. George A Romero is a hero of mine, and I can still remember the thrill of seeing John Carpenter’s The Thing for the first time. I used to haunt the Scala cinema in Kings Cross during its All-Nighter days — back to back zombies in a building that was London’s first (and last) primatorium. Happy days.
Writing-wise, I’d say everyone from PG Wodehouse and Muriel Spark to Patricia Highsmith and Thomas Harris, by way of Georgette Heyer and Stephen King. I love all things Gothic too, from Dracula to Gormenghast.
Will we see Marnie return or have you plans to tackle something else first?
Marnie will be back in book three, Tastes Like Fear, early in 2016. After which I’ll be working on book four in the series. No rest for the wicked, thank goodness.
One of my favourite questions and I would be keen to know your thoughts on this: why do you believe readers of crime fiction enjoy a serial killer story when the reality is such a terrible concept?
Perhaps because it’s such a terrible concept. I do my best writing when I’ve become obsessed with an idea — not always a crime, sometimes a human condition, or a social or psychological phenomenon — and I have to write through it to satisfy my curiosity, or my terror. I’m often motivated by fear, or rather by the need to confront the things that scare me. There’s the vicarious thrill aspect too, of course. The ‘how would I survive?’. And let’s face it, there are some extremely stylish and compelling stories out there. Hannibal is a prime example, as was True Detective — something about these stories attracts storytellers and creative geniuses (designers, editors, actors) perhaps because of the challenge involved. It’s hard to look away from the spectacle, apart from anything else. I’m working on an idea of this kind in Tastes Like Fear, and the story has me adrenalised—the closest I’ve come to the notion of a story that ‘tells itself’ because of the momentum involved in trying to keep pace with a serial killer.
Finally, you seem to be in my neck of the woods later this month for the Aye Write festival. Then much closer to home you will be at Crimefest. Does the fun at a festival outweigh the inconvenience of travelling and of disruptions to your work and home commitments? James Oswald suggested the biggest problem at some events seems to be ensuring the bar does not have any booze left at the end of the night!
James speaks an imperial truth. I do love a festival, especially if I can work alongside other writers. I had the best fun at Gateshead Library with Mari Hannah and David Mark earlier this year, despite having a stinking cold and having travelled six hours on a train to get there. Spending time with other writers — and readers — is a great way to remind myself of how lucky I am to be doing my dream job.
Many thanks to Sarah.
No Other Darkness is published by Headline and is available now in paperback and digital format. My review can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=468
Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, was the Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series, is out in 2015. The Marnie Rome series is being developed for television.
Sarah Hilary is on Twitter: @sarah_hilary