Alex Lake is one of my favourite authors of psychological thrillers – I loved After Anna and Killing Kate (despite the latter’s title, obviously…). The good news is that this week HarperCollins publishes Alex’s latest thriller, Copycat. A review will follow shortly but, in the meantime, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to interview Alex as part of the blog tour to celebrate Copycat‘s publication.
First, a little of what the book’s about:
Imitation is the most terrifying form of flattery…
Which Sarah Havenant is you?
When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.
But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.
And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…
Q&A, with thanks to Alex!
Congratulations, Alex, for Copycat! Another excellent psychological thriller. What inspired you to write the story of Sarah Havenant? Where did her story come from?
Thank you – very kind! Sarah’s story came from a number of different ideas that I had floating around – I’d been thinking about identity theft online, I had an idea about meeting your doppelganger and what that might do, I wanted to write about someone – who became Sarah – who had a seemingly stable, solid life, but who had no idea of what was coming to them and how vulnerable they were. And then, one evening, all of the ideas came together: the doppelganger became an online doppelganger, and they were the person who meant Sarah serious harm.
That tends to be how it happens – I have all kinds of scraps and notes and ideas for characters, none of which is, on its own, a book. Then one day they assemble in some way and I think – there it is. That’s a novel.
Did researching the story affect your use of social media, particularly Facebook?
I don’t use social media all that much, although if I did I would probably have stopped after writing Copycat! I read a bunch of stuff on identity theft, and all that someone needs to get access to your bank accounts and tax records and whatever else they want, is your name, birthday, address and a few personal details like your maiden name or the names of your kids. It does seem risky to leave all that out there for the world to see.
You’ve written three psychological thrillers, each is original and also compelling. Do you already have ideas for the next? Does it get harder each time?
I do. I’m working on something now, and I have a rough idea of the one after that. As I mentioned earlier, I also have a drawer full of notebooks and scraps of paper with ideas and sketches on them, some of which will make it into a novel at some point.
I think it gets easier in some ways and harder in others. Easier, because you get better at spotting what isn’t working – a character or scene or plot line – and you become more ruthless – now I don’t hesitate to cut something if I think it is not quite right.
Harder, because you start to worry about becoming repetitive. It’s not the writing itself – it’s the ideas. Other writers may be different but I can’t force ideas to come – all I can do is gather the scraps and wait for them to come into focus. It always feels a bit risky – what if they don’t come?
Do you have the plots of your novels worked out completely before you start writing or do you leave room for character and plot to develop as you write?
I have the characters, the situation they are put into, and the ending. I need all three before I start on a first draft. In particular, I have to have the ending. I have at least two manuscripts in a drawer that I got about 60,000 words into and realised I didn’t have an ending for. So I try to avoid that now.
Once I start I let the characters and plot go where they will. Often a character surprises me by doing or saying something I wasn’t planning, and that can lead to unexpected developments in the plot.
How important is a twist to you as a writer and a reader?
I think it’s important in a psychological thriller because it’s sort of the engine of the book – everything’s going along and then suddenly something happens and our understanding of the characters and events is totally changed – normally we realise that their situation is a lot worse than we thought. The twist is the way we get that understanding. It’s also fun, because readers know it’s coming and try to figure it out. It’s a bit like a whodunit – there’s an element of a game between the reader and writer.
However, the twist alone is not enough. You still need characters you can believe in and sympathise with and a villain who scares you, as well as an original idea for a plot.
Some historical fiction authors avoid reading other historical fiction. Do you read psychological thrillers for pleasure? If you do, do you work them out?
I tend not to read them when I’m writing or they kind of creep into my work, but I do read them at other times. Sometimes I work them out, but not often. I don’t think that being a writer of psychological thrillers necessarily helps – other writers approach the puzzles and problems totally differently. I’m often amazed (and jealous) at what they come up with.
What is your favorite novel of the year so far?
Gosh, it’s hard to choose. If I have to pick one, I’ll go for His Bloody Project. I thought it was really original, and I read it in an afternoon.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. It’s fascinating – he describes how trees communicate with each other, care for sick trees by providing them sugar and water through interconnected roots, and even have families, of a sort. It’s really changing how I think about my walks in the forest!
For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.