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>> Kidnappings, disappearances - and a murder

Kidnappings, disappearances - and a murder
20/10/2018

Kidnappings, disappearances - and a murder


MURDER AT TWILIGHT, a spine-tingling murder mystery, follows sworn enemies Viv and Noah. When Noah is kidnapped and Viv's mum becomes the prime suspect, Viv must do all she can to rescue Noah. But soon both their lives are in mounting danger. Author FLEUR HITCHCOCK tells us more!


Q: There are a lot of detective novels written for young people, but what took you off in a slightly different direction, writing thrillers?

A: I have always loved adventure. I longed for adventure as a child but on the whole I found it only happened in books and films. So now, I write the kind of book I wanted to read - not detectives and not really puzzles in that sense of solving a case but real page turning thrill, with baddies, that has some genuine peril at the heart of it.

I love a visceral experience that actually makes the reader hold their breath and go through the roller coaster of fear and relief just like the main characters. I love writing it. For me that's fun, and I want readers to have fun.


Q: What kinds of books did you enjoy reading as a child?

A: When I was a child there were far fewer authors to choose from so I read everything my school librarian and the mobile library threw at me. I did prefer adventures, I suppose, but in adventure writers I include Nina Bawden, Joan Aiken and C. S. Lewis. And I read an awful lot of pony books. Good ones and bad ones. I really didn't mind how badly written they were. I simply read all the time.


Q: Murder at Twilight focuses on Viv and Noah, who come from very different backgrounds and who really don't like each other. Why did you decide to make that the dynamic of their relationship?

A: Viv's mum is a single parent and came back with her small child from Singapore to find work as a nanny, and Noah's parents own the ancient Belcombe estate. They are social opposites. They could have been best friends, growing up on the same river and playing in the same fields, but two people getting along splendidly is never as interesting as two people who loathe each other but have to spend time in each other's company. It's even better if one of them has to help the other one out.

It's fun to write, and actually uplifting in the end as inevitably they forge some kind of understanding during the course of the book. Also, I think most young readers identify with this kind of needling relationship - siblings are often at war with each other, low level war, but war all the same.


Q: Was it important for you to show that being rich can still make you miserable, just as being less well off can be problematic?

A: I think it was more of an accident of character. Noah is loathsome, his attitude is insufferable, but I couldn't make Noah absolutely without redemption, otherwise Viv might just walk away and let him drown, she had to feel some kind of empathy for him and it had to be easy to communicate. And I didn't want Viv's life to seem less fulfilled than Noah's - and of course it isn't less fulfilled because she has friends, even though she and her mother are beholden to the Belcombes. Because of the characters I ended up showing that in this story, friends are worth as much, if not more than, fortunes.


Q: Do you get fond of your characters as you write them? Would you like to revisit Viv and Noah in a further novel?

A: I do get fond of my characters. I get to know them so well that I could tell you everything about them, but I also like inventing characters, settings and scenarios and I've never been comfortable with the Midsummer Murder phenomenon where so many murders seem to take place in such a tiny area. That's the problem with writing crime stories, unless someone's a detective, you really don't have any reason to come in contact with murders on a regular basis.


Q: This book is set in a big house on an estate. Is this based on somewhere you know? How well do you know your settings before you start to write?

A: The house is a conflation of places I have visited, but the landscape is real. I've moved bridges and rivers, but I grew up in the countryside of Murder at Twilight, playing on the river and running in small gangs over a huge area that wasn't a single estate but seemed to be all ours.

There were plentiful estates which we avoided with scary gamekeepers and waterkeepers, so I've used them a little. And yes, I do like to know my settings well. They're never exact, with the exception of the South Bank in Murder in Midwinter, but I stretch real places to fit the story.


Q: How much investigation did you need to do into how police conduct their inquiries into missing children in order to write this?

A: I did very little research, but there were two real life events that I encountered personally which gave me quite a lot of insight. I think as a writer you inevitably log these things for later use. For things I don't know, I only research when I need to know something, rather than the other way around, and then I use police or other websites, and but I try to carry the research lightly as it can really bog a story down.


Q: Do stories like this have to be planned quite carefully? Is it hard to place and pace the clues without giving too much away?

A: Because I'm not really writing detective/murder mysteries, I don't do the puzzle thing in the same way. I think they have to be worked out VERY exactly. I do have to be careful and I do have to make sure that everything is flagged up in advance, but only a tiny bit, one word is often enough.

I tend to write it more by the seat of my pants than planned to the 'nth' degree - which makes it go faster, and increases the peril. As a result, I often write my characters into a hole and spend a couple of days working out how they're going to survive. Quite often, things are dropped in after the first draft, or even in the last draft if there's some enormous plot hole. It's more instinctive than planned.


Q: What are your top tips for young writers who want to try and write a thriller?

A: I'd say that the principal character has to feel totally real to the reader. Only then, when the reader really cares about them, can you take the reader on a thrilling journey. Details go miles towards making it real. If the wallpaper is bobbly under someone's hand, tell us, so that we're there with you. Short sentences are always more exciting. But change the pace, up and down, and don't forget humour, humour makes peril greater. Also, you can learn a great deal from films.


Q: Where do you write and what is your best time to write? What are you writing now?

A: Mornings are best. Empty house is best, but I move around, sometimes on my desktop in the spare room, which is easy to type on and has a comfy chair, and sometimes on a borrowed laptop that allows me to look out at the garden but I make millions of mistakes.

Just now I'm working on a series of four adventure stories for younger children - The Clifftoppers, for ages six plus, which are set in the Dragon Peninsula where four cousins go to stay with their delightful but marginally negligent grandparents. They're funny with mild peril, theft and kidnap, and no murders!


Q: What's your favourite escape from writing?

A: My garden. And in fact the landscape in which we live which is stunning Wiltshire countryside. I love walking, and I love being outside. I also swim in a freezing cold lake when I'm feeling bold.

 
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