Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant and is the founder of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. She now writes full time and lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their three children.
Clare’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is a Sunday Times bestseller and was the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer in 2015. It was selected for both the Richard and Judy Book Club, and was the winning title of the readers’ vote for the summer 2015 selection, and ITV’s Loose Women’s Loose Books.
Clare is the patron of the Silver Star Society, an Oxford-based charity which supports the work carried out in the John Radcliffe Hospital’s Silver Star unit, providing special care for mothers with medical complications during pregnancy.
For more information visit Clare’s website www.claremackintosh.com
Firstly HUGE congratulations on the incredible success of your debut novel I LET YOU GO and your second book I SEE YOU. Both are, in my opinion, outstanding psychological thrillers. Do you often pinch yourself when you look at how your life has changed over the past few years – has the fame gone to your head yet?
Thank you! It’s been an amazing time, and I’m very grateful for my good fortune. In 2011 I was working 50-60 hours a week as a police inspector, and hardly saw my family. Although I work very hard now, and my hours are often long, I do it on my terms. I take the children to school every day, and am always there if they’re ill or off school, and we spend weekends as a family. That wouldn’t have happened without the success of I LET YOU GO – it’s no exaggeration to say it changed my life.
I Let You Go won Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2016 beating JK Rowling. Have you met her since and did you do a victory dance, sing “ner ner ner ner” and wave the award in her face or were you restrained?
Did you see the award? It’s a very heavy, hand-crafted miniature beer barrel. If I tried waving that about I’d pull a muscle. I’ve never met JK Rowling, sadly. She sent a really lovely tweet when I won the award, which sent me sky-high in my children’s estimation.
You are the founder and director of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival – can you please tell me more about this?
When I left the police I was at home with the children, earning a living writing content for websites, and doing occasional features for magazines and newspapers. I knew I’d be bored without a team to run and a project to manage, and at the same time I was starting to write I LET YOU GO, and was looking at the publishing industry for the first time. My vision for ChipLitFest was to bring big-name authors into intimate venues in a town, instead of to faceless marquees with corporate sponsors. I wanted to create a community event that would attract a national audience, and that’s exactly what we did. After four years I stepped down as director, but I’m still a trustee and very proud of what we’ve achieved. The festival runs every April and the line-up will be released this month on chiplitfest.com.
I know you are working hard on book 3 – can you tell me anything about it please (and can I be one of the first to read it pretty please?)
Tracy, I wouldn’t dare write a book without giving you a copy… Actually, I can’t tell you anything about it, because I’m at a critical point and am not entirely sure which way I’m heading!
Can you tell me about your writing process and more importantly how comfortable is the new chair you bought from Plan-It Interiors.com and would you recommend it to all aspiring authors?
I’m not sure I really have a process; it seems to be different with each book. I’m essentially a plotter, so I shape the story first, including any major twists and turns. Then I work on characters, and establish who they are and why they do what they do. When the story’s straight in my mind I start writing, and I try to do 10,000 words each week until I’m finished. The chair I bought from you is (genuinely) brilliant. In fact I’m struggling right now because it’s in storage as we’re between houses, and I’m using a rubbish chair in a rented office. Maybe that’s why book three isn’t working yet…
An important question I have always wanted to know is how long can you hold your breath underwater?
Not very long. Until a few years ago I swam like an old lady, with my head stuck out of the water. I’ve always hated getting water on my face, and being splashed or dunked would bring on a panic attack. I don’t like being beaten by ridiculous fears, so I started trying to overcome it, and eventually managed a decent breaststroke. Now I’m working on my front crawl, which is a bit rubbish, precisely because I can’t hold my breath/breathe out for very long underwater. I started open water swimming last autumn, in the lake in the town where we live, and am determined to do the triathlon here in September, so I need to get it sorted.
We’ve met at a few literary festivals (Harrogate, Crime in the Court) which you seem to enjoy immensely, how important are these events to you and have you had any other readers fangirling you (like I did)?
By ‘enjoy immensely’, do you mean ‘always have a glass in my hand’? I love doing events, but I have to choose them carefully because otherwise I’d never have time to write. I’m also very conscious that my children won’t be small forever, and I don’t want to spend these years away from them – that’s precisely why I left the police. Harrogate is a must for crime-lovers, but I enjoy any opportunity to meet other authors and chat to readers. As for fangirling, bring it on 😉
In the early days when we “virtually” met on THE Book Club on TBC there was an incident over on Amazon regarding a review and a dog which was rather unpleasant. Do you still read your reviews and what advice would you give to other authors about negative reviews?
Ah, the one that said, ‘the dog’s the only decent thing in this book?’ I remember it well… No, I don’t read reviews any more, unless they’re tweeted directly at me, or they appear in a newspaper or magazine and the clipping is sent to me. I think ignoring reviews – both good and bad – is by far the healthiest strategy for any writer.
Can you describe your perfect 3 course meal?
One I don’t have to cook.
Finally, what plans have you got personally and professionally for 2017?
Personally: improve my front crawl (see above) and do a triathlon. Run 10k in under 58 minutes. Switch off my phone after 9pm. Read more to the children. Learn Welsh. We’re also trying to move house, so I’m hoping a lot of 2017 will be taken up with creating a new home.
Professionally: finish my third book and plan my fourth. I’ve got some screenwriting goals as well, that I can’t say too much about yet, but they’re very exciting!