Exploring the darker side of crime fiction with Sam Carrington

Sam Carrington is an author of psychological thrillers, and our paths first crossed on Twitter last year after I saw the release of the cover for her first novel, Saving Sophie.

Following a career as a nurse and then working within the prison system, Sam is now a full-time writer.

With new novel, Bad Sister out on 5 October (currently available for pre-order), I grabbed Sam for a quick chat about her writing habits, and to find out more about her latest release.

Sam, welcome to the blog!

Sam Carrington author photo Colour

After studying psychology following a long career with the NHS, and then going on to work in the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Facilitator, was it inevitable that you’d start to write crime fiction, or was there something else that attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? What do you love about the genre that keeps you going back for more?

I think working in the prison ensured I’d write in that genre, although I already had a deep fascination with crime, criminal psychology and why people do the things they do, prior to working in the prison service. Once I was immersed in that world though, I suppose my curiosity intensified! I’m more of a psychological thriller writer than a straight-up crime writer – but my books always have a crime element.

What do I love about the genre? That’s a really interesting question. It’s not only crime in books, but TV and film too that draws me in. I love the fact that the genre always surprises me – delivering those excellent twists and turns that catch me out – and that feeling when reading a book of ‘just one more page’ is addictive.

I think I must be quite a dark person and I’m not sure if that’s due to some of the experiences I had when growing up, or because of the books I read – probably both. I do read outside the crime/thriller/psychological genres, but admittedly not a lot! I belong to a local book group that helps me go out of my comfort zone occasionally, but I’ll always return to crime/thrillers, I can’t leave it too long to get a fix!

Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?

So far, I’ve plotted my novels. I begin with a ‘blurb’ then I add in more detail so that it develops into a synopsis and I use this as my plan. I also write notes in numerous notebooks as well as character cards which I stick on my corkboard alongside the picture of the character (which I get from magazines or online).

I feel comfortable with this way of writing, it has worked for me, therefore I probably won’t change it. I think I’d lose the plot, quite literally, if I had no direction and just started and flew by the seat of my pants!

What does your writing space look like?  Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?

My writing space is ever-changing. When I started writing my first novel-length work (unpublished), I was in the kitchen on the breakfast bar. I then wrote Saving Sophie mainly at the dining-room table, Bad Sister was written on my son’s hand-me-down desk at one end of the lounge. Then, for book three I went back to the dining room table for a while.

Now I’m in my daughter’s old room, which is currently in the process of becoming my son’s room, so it’s a bit chaotic. The majority of book three has been written there. My desk is my daughter’s old dressing table, and I have my corkboard hanging above it.

Once my son has moved in, I’m going to have his small room as my writing room - hopefully in time to pen book four! I can’t wait to have my own, dedicated writing space. My pre-writing ritual is: new notebook, blank corkboard and new index cards for the characters, coffee, social media, write!

You’ve had a lot of success writing short stories for women’s magazines, but our paths crossed when you published your debut novel, Saving Sophie. What has surprised you most about readers’ reactions to the book, and did this influence the writing of Bad Sister in any way?

It is a complete unknown isn’t it, when that first book goes out into the world! I was filled with excitement, nerves and lots of questions when Saving Sophie was published.

As a reader, I knew there were books I loved which others hated, so I also knew not to expect everyone to enjoy mine.

Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington book cover

I had a certain amount of confidence given that it had been picked up by a publisher, and that my agent and my editor worked with me to make sure it was the best it could be, but I was fully prepared (I thought) for whatever was going to come next, good or bad.

Reviews can be wonderful or devastating, and it’s a strange experience to get used to (it took a while!) I did find it interesting to know what readers thought worked well and what didn’t. I think the more negative ones, if they are well written and backed up with reasons why they didn’t like it, are invaluable to help you develop as a writer.

I do believe I was influenced by reviews, because my mind seemed to be more tuned to considering readers reactions as I wrote Bad Sister – for example, sometimes during a scene I did stop and think ‘how will this go down with the reader?’ ‘Is this too far-fetched?’ ‘Should I make this a happier ending?’ But, having said that, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and ultimately, I want to write book that I would enjoy reading myself.

The biggest and loveliest surprise was how supportive the blogging community were (and continue to be), as well as other writers in the genre. Such an amazing bunch of people, and I’m thrilled and honoured to be a part of it

How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?

I really struggle with this! Main distractions in order of ability to distract are:

  • Social media
  • My dogs and cat (mainly the dogs)
  • My children (who aren’t kids anymore and I only have two of them at home now).

I’ve found that getting up at 6 a.m. makes a huge difference. I grab a coffee, have a very quick look at social media while I ‘come to’ and then I begin writing. When I’ve done this, I’ve managed to write about a 1000 words before 9 a.m. As the day wears on, the distractions become greater. I used to work late at night too, when the house was quiet and everyone asleep – but I’ve not managed that for a while, I think because I’ve been way too tired to be productive or creative at that time of night.

Bad Sister by Sam Carrington book cover

In your new release, Bad Sister, you reintroduce readers to DI Wade and DS Mack. When you wrote Saving Sophie, was it your intention to have these two recurring characters, or was it because of their popularity with readers following the success of your first novel that they feature once more?

The feedback in relation to Lindsay Wade in particular was great, so although I’d already planned to have her and Mack return in Bad Sister, she has more of a part due to readers’ reactions. We also learn a lot more about Mack in this novel.

The main protagonist in Bad Sister is psychologist, Connie Summers though. I really enjoyed writing Lindsay and Mack, so maybe they’ll return in future books too.

Psychological thrillers have a tendency to be quite dark, so what did you enjoy most about writing Bad Sister?

They do, don’t they! I really enjoyed writing about Connie’s character, and the darker aspects of her experiences. The then chapters were also great to write because these chapters tended to concentrate on the reasons the characters acted as they did. I did quite enjoy the slightly gorier scenes depicting the dead body too - that goes back to my nursing days and seeing post-mortems and my ever-so-slightly weird ambition of working with the dead (I totally blame Patricia Cornwell for this).

What have you got planned for the next 12 months?

I’m almost at the end of writing book three which is scheduled for publication in July 2018, then I will begin book four in November. I have a tighter deadline than I’ve had so far, so that will be … interesting! I’m hoping to attend more writing festivals next year, too. I’m going to be doing CrimeFest again in May – I really enjoyed my first author event there this year so look forward to returning on a panel. Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is one I’ve heard a lot of great things about too and so am desperate to go to that one in 2018!

Finally, where can we buy your books?

You can  find them online here:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Kobo

Saving Sophie and Bad Sister are also available in other online stores such as iBooks, google play, Waterstones and WHSmith.

Sam, thanks ever so much for taking time to chat with me today!

You can find out more about Sam and keep in touch with her via:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

4 Comments

  1. Delighted to be on your blog, Rachel – thanks so much for the fabulous questions, I really enjoyed answering them!
    Sam x

  2. Great talk, Sam & Rachel. It made me contemplate why crime fiction is so popular. I guess it’s exploring the darker side of humanity – pushing the comfort edge where readers dip but aren’t drowned. Best to both of you great crime thriller writers!

    • Thanks, Garry – glad you enjoyed reading the interview! I agree; it’s a fine line to tread between entertaining the reader and shocking them, and Sam does this wonderfully with her writing.

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