Q: How would you describe your second novel using only three words?
A: Twisty, relatable, plausible
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: I went to London with a friend of mine who’s a commuter. We were standing on the platform, and she moved me about two metres to the left and said, ‘If we stand here, when the train gets in, we’ll be in exactly the right place for the doors.’ And sure enough, the train came and the doors opened, and because we were standing in just the right space, we got on and got the last two seats. She could have done her commute blindfolded: she knew exactly which way to go, she knew which escalator went faster than the other, she reached out and picked up a copy of Metro without even looking, and I realised that all over the world, there are people doing exactly the same thing, every single day. We find routine very comforting, very familiar. The crime writer in me (and the former police officer) immediately thought about the risks that we’re opening ourselves up to.
Q: Do you get freaked out on public transport now, after writing this book?
A: I do! I deliberately spent time in London Underground stations that made me feel quite freaked out, so I would scare myself to capture the right feeling. And now I don’t really like using the underground – I like to walk. Walking feels safer!
Q: What were the biggest challenges for you while writing I SEE YOU, and how did you overcome them?
A: Writing I SEE YOU after I LET YOU GO had done so well was really challenging. I had days where there was so much good news coming in about I LET YOU GO that it paralysed me, and I couldn’t write anything at all. I had a couple of false starts, writing a book that actually just wasn’t strong enough, which I then put to one side. But as soon as I had the concept of I SEE YOU, it was so clear and so strong that I was able to put those concerns and that pressure to one side, and just thought, all I can do is write the best book that I can write.
Q: Was is tough not replicating the pattern of twists and turns in I LET YOU GO?
A: I was really keen not to. I actively avoided something that had a midway twist that felt the same. And that’s a challenge in itself, because when you’re a writer, you want to make sure that your readers have more of the same. But it needs to be different too, and that’s a really tough balance, but that’s also what keeps things interesting.
Q: I SEE YOU is a thriller but includes vital details about day-to-day life: why are ancillary issues important in this novel?
A: In a novel, I think it’s important to present ordinary characters. Even though some thrillers feature people with special skills or those living in glamorous places, I prefer to read about ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary situations. That’s when the real aspects of a protagonist’s character come to the fore. I want to create characters with whom readers can identify. Most people know exactly what it’s like for this woman to be struggling to make ends meet; who’s working in a job she doesn’t enjoy; and who’s worrying about her grown-up kids. I like to put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes.
Q: Your protagonist, Zoe Walker, is tired, underpaid, works too hard and looks after two demanding grown-up children. Why does she let her partner Simon get away with not even paying any rent?
A: Yes, Zoe works hard and it’s easy to assume that she is ‘put upon’, with her children and Simon all taking advantage of her, but that isn’t entirely the case. Rightly or wrongly, Zoe has made a very conscious decision to live her life this way. Her own young adult years didn’t play out the way she expected, and she wants more for Justin and Katie. She could ask them to pay rent, but she knows they’d then never be able to save for a place of their own. As for Simon, he has offered many times to pay rent, but Zoe won’t let him, and she explains why in the book. When she split with her husband Matt, she had to start from scratch and she never wants to find herself in that position again; even though she loves Simon and hopes their relationship is for keeps, she is astute enough to want to retain financial control of her house. So yes, perhaps Zoe does put her family first a little too much, but that is her choice, just as it is the choice of many single parents today.
Q: Do you think Zoe is a likeable character?
A: I don’t think a character must necessarily be likable, I think a character must be interesting. I think what makes Zoe likable is that she’s relatable. We can put ourselves in her shoes. Her experiences could have been ours. The other important thing is her vulnerability. She’s upended completely by the advertisement featuring her photo and doesn’t really know how to go about dealing with this extraordinarily stressful situation.
Q: Do you think Detective Kelly Swift became the main character?
A: I certainly had no intention to make her it. But over the course of writing the story she became so vivid and such a strong character. I do think she threatened to overshadow the whole story. In the future I would love to write more stories that put her front and centre. There is still so much about her that I want to talk about. I am not done with her yet.
Q: Does the creepy world evoked by your plot exist as you describe it?
A: Well, I hope it don’t exist exactly as I describe it, but there is certainly a dark underworld in this country and elsewhere, where human lives are treated like commodities. Often the victims of these organisations are marginalised women who exist on the side lines of society. They have already been rendered invisible due to poverty, crime or abuse, which makes them not only more vulnerable to further abuse, but – horrifically – less important in the eyes of many people and agencies. The criminal world in I See You targets more ‘visible’ women, but the types of crimes aren’t new. Violence against women continues to be a huge problem, and for every ‘visible’ victim it’s important to remember all the ‘invisible’ ones, and to do what we can to help the charities who identify and help them
Q: Technology plays a huge part in I SEE YOU. Is social media inherently dangerous?
A: We all need to think carefully about what we put on social media. I’m very conflicted about it, because I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all the time, but I’m conscious of the risks. It’s easy to forget that there’s a jigsaw affect. You put something on Facebook, and on a different platform you mention something else about yourself. On Instagram you post a picture of your street, because the trees look lovely. Someone can put all that together and have your complete profile. As technology becomes more advanced, police and criminals are playing cat and mouse, trying to outwit each other. In many ways technology has become bigger than us.
Q: There are a number of twists in I SEE YOU, including a complete surprise on the vary last page. Are twists important to you as a writer?
A: I’ve always enjoyed the old mysteries—like books by Agatha Christie, who was a master of plot twists. My first novel, I LET YOU GO, has a very big twist in it. Because of that, there was a lot of pressure to produce another book that was very twisty.
Some of the twists in I SEE YOU were plotted out in advance. Others just took me by surprise as I went along writing the book. Twists are great fun to write. I like the feeling of lulling a reader into a kind of complacency, and then unleashing a twist that says, it’s not what you thought at all. I think it’s important to have more than just twists in a thriller novel. There will always be some readers who correctly guess the twists and that shouldn’t stop someone from enjoying the novel. There should also be great characters, a good story, and fine pacing.
Q: Do you have plans to continue with these characters?
A: At the moment I don’t have any plans to continue the story, although perhaps there’s a short story or novella in my future – who knows? The ending of I SEE YOU will be frustrating for some people, but it felt like the right way to finish the story. Life isn’t a series of neatly tied-up episodes; it’s a messy, continuing story that often throws a curveball when we least expect it. From a police point of view, the crimes in I See You represent a mammoth undertaking. Hundreds of separate victims, separate crimes, separate offenders. Different boroughs, different investigative teams, different outcomes. Resources would be stretched to breaking point. If they’d arrested a ‘straightforward’ serial killer, that would have been the end of it. But in I SEE YOU, things are a little murkier. Once you create a concept you can’t un-create it. It’s out there, and anyone could pick it up and run with it.