What Alice Knew by T. A. Cottrell **Blog Tour ** Author Q & A **
It is with great pleasure that I welcome T. A. Cottrell to Books, Life and Everything to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, What Alice Knew.
e- book edition published December 1st 2016 Transworld Digital)
paperback edition published 20th April 2017 (Black Swan)
Alice has a perfect life- a desirable job, great kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; the phone rings and then goes dead; things don't quite add up.
Alice needs to know what's going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?
Welcome to my blog. Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself?
I grew up reading- and sports-mad 'where South London blurs into Surrey', read History of Art at Peterhouse, Cambridge, played cricket for the university, drifted into the City, didn't like it, moved to west Dorset to try to be a novelist. Everyone said it was economic madness - and so it proved! When it didn't work I headed to Bristol to become a freelance writer. I took a job at Redburn, where I now work. Throughout I continued to write fiction and with perseverance and luck and slow improvement (and help from the great team at Transworld) it happened.
What was the inspiration for ‘What Alice Knew’?
The novel was inspired by the sense most crime novels and psychological thrillers are written from the perspective of the police or victims. I wanted to create a perpetrator with whom the reader empathised. Therefore, it was essential he/she was an accidental ‘criminal’, the victim of bad luck and judgement only. Hence Ed has an unimpeachable life and Araminta’s death was the result of a succession of out-of-character one-offs (drinking etc) traceable to his exhaustive shift. I also wanted to address the parent-child contract, in the context of trust, the truth and adult secrets. How much do family relationships require honesty?
I confess I'm rather lazy about research, preferring to rely on imagination to create a 'consistent' believable world and fearing a 'knowledge-dump' that interrupts the narrative. The first version was written in the third person with greater focus on Ed. I met an obstetrician and visited him at work, although most of the 'research' was omitted. Although I studied History of Art I learnt little about the mechanics or psychology of painting, but when I lived in Dorset my first (unpublished) novel was about a portraitist and I spent a lot of time with one. She painted me while telling me how she thought and worked.
How did you get inside the mind of a female, Alice? Is she based on anyone?
Alice grew from the memory of several girls I knew at university and in London in my twenties, and inevitably there are elements of my wife. Ultimately though she took on a life of her own. When I was writing I thought of her psychology more in terms of her 'as a human being', a particular character subject to the influences and upbringing and prejudices she had been, rather than as specifically 'female' or as a character laden with whatever might be considered 'female characteristics'.
What do you like about being a writer and do you have a writing routine?
At present I am not a full time writer of fiction so it has to be fitted around the rest of my life - job, children etc. I write in a local cafe on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and days off, and go over the text in the kitchen at home at teatime or in the evening. Whereas noise from my own children, or a feeling I should be emptying the dishwasher, disturbs me, other people's or children's noise in a cafe does not. I love writing. It gives me the sense of freedom and depth swimming far out to sea gives strong swimmers. I can go anywhere, do anything. All I have to do is be able to pull it together, to bring it back to the shore.
Where is your favourite place to write?
My favourite writing place is a cafe called Coffee #1 in Clifton Village in Bristol where they are tolerant of my extremely loud typing! But being used to fitting it in around the rest of my life means I have necessarily learnt how to write in any public place, primarily cafes. For me it is not so much the place as the unencumbered time that is critical.
Finally, have you any plans for any further books which you are able to share?
I am circling the 'difficult second novel', the idea for which was taken initially from a line about a minor character in 'What Alice Knew' but which has changed entirely in the plot construction. I cannot quite see my way to the end at the moment and so in parallel I am moving the pieces around the board on that idea and casting around for another. I have also been writing some short stories, which will appear around the time of publication of 'What Alice Knew'. Two concern characters related to people in that novel.
Marianne: Thank you so much. It's such a privilege to hear from authors about their writing. I can't wait to read your next story!
What Alice Knew turned out to be one of those books which drew me into its own world and kept me there. I could feel the tension rise as the story progressed and yet when the twist came, I wasn't prepared for it. I loved the writing style and the way we were let into Alice's thought processes as she analysed the best way to appear or react. Alice as an artist was woven into the fabric of the book and became part of the plot itself. All of the characters were interesting in their own right and as truths hidden in the past came to light, no detail jarred or seemed out of place.
In short: Written with panache and insight, a cleverly constructed journey to unravel events, both past and present.
T. A. Cottrell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.
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Thanks to Becky Hunter at Transworld Publishers for a place on the Blog Tour and a copy of the book.