Saturday, 18 March 2017

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with AJ Waines

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

Today I'm interviewing AJ Waines, the author of five books, including the confusingly titled Girl on a Train!

1) Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place

I’d been working as a psychotherapist for 15 years and by 2008, I’d reached a point of burnout and was looking for something else to throw myself into. I’ve always loved words, images and metaphors; they are the means by which we navigate our inner emotional worlds and as a therapist, I paid a lot of attention to how people explored and expressed what they felt. 

I always thought novelists were superhuman; I could never imagine being able to sustain a storyline for 300 pages or more;  it seemed such a daunting task. Then, later that year, I read Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’ where he suggests starting with ‘an incident’ and seeing where it leads. The idea of allowing the story to unfold, without knowing anything about the plot seemed absurd, but also exciting and freeing. The notion that the characters could create their own story, with twists and turns as they went along, had never occurred to me! Once I started my first novel (with an incident!) I couldn’t stop. That first book got me an agent in 2010 (and I actually turned down a small publisher in UK on their advice), but on reflection, the plot didn’t really hang together. I now plot my novels in advance; it’s safer – but Stephen King’s approach got me started.

2) How many books have you written and what are they?

I’ve written five (published), so far, with more in production. The first four are standalones and can be read in any order:

The Evil Beneath

Girl on a Train
Dark Place to Hide
No Longer Safe
Inside the Whispers (first in the Sam Willerby series)

3) Which book are you most proud of writing?

That’s really hard, because they all feel like huge achievements. For me, writing is like taking a big breath, holding my nose and diving underwater for a very long time and with each new book it doesn’t get any easier. I think, on balance I’d have to choose The Evil Beneath, because I loved the ‘hook’ (the idea of finding a body in the water and realising that the victim is wearing your own clothes) and the way the story takes the reader to a number of well-known bridges along The Thames, in London. I’d just moved out of London at the time (a massive wrench) and it was a nostalgic way of getting to revisit the city in my mind. I’m delighted to say, even though it was first launched in 2013, I’ve just acquired a publisher in Norway for it.

4) Which book was your favourite to write?

No Longer Safe. It is set in a remote spot in the Highlands of Scotland and I loved writing atmospherically about the snow and using all kinds of images to reflect the fact that snow ‘reveals‘ aspects (eg footprints), but it also ‘covers things up’… Very useful, but also dangerous for the characters in this book, especially when there’s  thaw on the way. I also got thoroughly embroiled in the dynamics of the group (four ‘friends’ reuniting for a holiday in a ramshackled cottage where the relationships turn toxic very quickly.) It was fun to write and the ending has probably got the biggest twist of all my novels so far, given the stunned response I’ve had from readers!

5) Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

Inside the Whispers (my latest) is the first in a series and introduces Dr Samantha Willerby, a clinical psychologist, who will appear in the next two books at least. I really like writing about her, partly because she extends beyond one book, so I can show how she changes and the impact events have on her, over time. She has a prickly relationship with her (schizophrenic) sister and I love writing about the challenges and shifts that take place during their turbulent relationship. Sam is devoted to her work with traumatised patients, tries really hard (sometimes too hard), is loyal and stands up for her beliefs, but falls for the wrong kind of men. Will she ever learn? We’ll have to see…

6) If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

That’s a really interesting question and I think on balance, I’d have to say no. Probably the biggest standout issue with my books has been the title of ‘Girl on a Train’, which has been mixed up with Paula Hawkin’s book, ‘The Girl in the Train’. A number of people have suggested I jumped on a bandwagon, but anyone who checks will see that my book originally came out about a year earlier! In 2013, it was originally going to be called ‘Dead in her Tracks’, but my agent at the time suggested the new title. The result has been bittersweet, in that a number of readers have blamed me for the fact they bought the ‘wrong’ book, but on the other hand I wouldn’t change a thing, because amidst the furore, my book got noticed and has done amazingly well.

7) Which of your covers is your favourite and why?

It’s probably Dark Place to Hide, because I love the creepy image of the dank steps leading into darkness with the single innocent shoe left behind. You know straight away that the shoe belongs to a child and that she shouldn’t be hiding in that kind of place, so it links to the title and sets up the story beautifully. All my covers are made by a fantastic designer, Paper & Sage, in US, and I work very closely with them so that the initial images I have inside my head end up depicting the book in the most dramatic way.  

8) Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

With a background in psychotherapy (and having always read mysteries since I was little), the genre of ‘psychological thriller’ feels like ‘home’ to me. I’ve never been interested in historical, supernatural, erotic or sci-fi novels and I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t have some kind of dark suspense at its core.

9) Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

My next novel, Lost in the Lake, is due out in September 2017. It’s the second in the Samantha Willerby series and is about a woman, Rosie, who comes to Sam for memory retrieval following an accident. If Sam had known the truth about the apparently na├»ve and innocent Rosie, she would never have invited her into her own home for therapy. But by then, it’s too late…

10) I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

Oh, without hesitation it would be Nicci French and there are so many books to choose from by that writing duo! I loved the earliest thrillers as a reader - and as a writer, they are truly inspirational. Novels such as The Memory Game, Killing Me Softly and Secret Smile were the beginnings of domestic noir in psych thrillers and I always come back to them for a masterclass in technique!

11) Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your back catalogue of books?

Only to say that if anyone has read one of my recent books and would like the chance to win one of my back catalogue as a Giveaway, they just need to follow me on Twitter and post a tweet including @ajwaines , with the title they’ve read and the one they’d like, within a week of this post and I’ll pick a winner! 

Thank you AJ Waines, for coming and sharing with us about your Back Catalogue.

About AJ Waines

AJ Waines has sold over ¼ of a million books worldwide and topped the UK and Australian Kindle Charts in 2015 with her number one bestseller, Girl on a Train. She was a Psychotherapist for fifteen years, during which time she worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, gaining a rare insight into criminal and abnormal psychology. AJ Waines is now a full-time novelist with publishing deals in France, Germany (Random House), Norway and USA (audiobooks).

Her fourth novel, No Longer Safe, sold over 30,000 copies in the first month, in thirteen countries. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Times and in 2016 was ranked in the Top 10 UK authors on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

AJ Waines lives in Hampshire, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  

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