Interview with Clare Mackintosh

In conversation with author Clare Mackintosh

This month I’m in conversation with Clare Mackintosh, author of I Let You Go and I See You, who I recently bumped into at The Crime Fair in Denmark and we agreed to have a chat about our publishing journeys.

It was great to see you in Denmark, Clare. Was it a good event for you?

It was my second time there, and it was really amazing. I’m still fairly new at this with only two books to my name and last time I was there only about two people – my editor and somebody sitting down because they had a bad back – were interested in listening to me speak! Coming back this year after I Let You Go, suddenly I had queues and a massive audience because the book did so well there. It’s a reminder of how much has happened in such a short time.

I remember reading, and loving, I Let You Go. When did you write it?

I wrote it mostly in 2012, maybe a bit in 2011. I got an agent in 2013 and signed a publishing deal in the same year, and it came out in ebook in November 2014 – but it was when the paperback was published in May 2015 that things exploded. So it’s still relatively recent. When did your debut come out, Rachel?

My debut Only the Innocent came out at the end of 2011, but I hadn’t ever expected to publish it. I only sent it to a few agents when my family talked me into it. At that stage in my life I didn’t think I would handle rejection well! The feedback was good, but it wasn’t the type of novel the agents believed publishers were looking for at that time. So eventually I self published, wrote a marketing plan and managed to drive it up the charts.

Getting back to Denmark for a moment, if I remember rightly, that was only one of the many stops on your trip.

That particular week I had already been to Paris and to Lyon as part of a French PR trip. I came to Denmark for 24 hours, and then went to Utrecht to do some pre-publicity for I See You!

It sounds exciting, but of course it’s a lot of hanging around airports and hotel rooms. Where else has your writing taken you to in the last couple of years since I Let You Go was published?

I have been all over the UK, Mexico, Norway, Amsterdam, Spain, France and I did a two-week North American tour in February. Coming up I’ve got several more, including Helsinki and Madrid – plus Guernsey of course, where you’re speaking too.

I am, but sadly we’ll miss each other. You’re very busy! Where in the UK do you have to travel from?

Clare Mackintosh, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2016

Clare Mackintosh, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2016

I’m originally from Oxfordshire, but we moved to North Wales in September. Manchester is now my nearest big city and my airport of choice, and I’m starting to realise how wonderful the north is. I was such a southerner through and through. But now we have the lake and mountains all around us!

So it’s safe to say writing has made a massive change to your life?

It’s changed beyond all recognition. I left the police force in 2011. Life up to then had been so busy and I wasn’t seeing enough of my children. Of course, now I’m really busy again, but it’s allowed us to change things. My husband has left work – a job he had grown to dislike – and he’s pursuing his dream. He’s able to be with the children when I’m travelling, and he loves the mountains so is now part of the South Snowdonia Search and Rescue team.

When you took the brave step to give up your career in 2011 you didn’t have a deal, did you. So how did that work?

I still needed to earn but I wanted to be with the children more. They were all under school age, and so although we saved on child care I still had to make up the shortfall. I started writing for money – pitching to magazines, newspapers, doing freelance speeches, copy-writing for businesses, social media content. That allowed us to pay the mortgage for a couple of years, and at the same time I started to write I Let You Go. I didn’t give up work to be a writer. But I knew it was something I could do from home.

Where did the idea come from for I Let You Go because it’s quite an intense story, isn’t it?

There was a hit and run in Oxford when I was a junior police officer and it haunted me. I couldn’t understand how somebody could drive away after killing a nine-year-old boy and I still wonder how that person can sleep at night. I couldn’t understand how the mother could bear losing her child. Ten years later I lost my own child – one of my premature twins contracted meningitis and died. I realised in the weeks and months that followed that you do survive. You have to, for your other children. I now have a ten-year-old and nine-year-old twins. But it changes you. Something so traumatic colours your entire future. I started thinking more and more that one big incident changes everybody’s life, and that was the catalyst for I Let You Go.

That’s so sad, Clare. I know everyone reading this will feel for you. I also loved your second book I See You. I just wish I’d thought of such an intriguing storyline! Where did that idea come from?

That was very different. I Let You Go came from an event, but I See You came from a premise. There was a lot of pressure to produce another bestseller, and the first attempt at my second book went well – it was fine. But I didn’t feel it was as good as I Let You Go, so I ditched it and started again. I had this idea that we are all creatures of habit – we like doing the same things every day. We cross the road at the same point every time we make a particular journey. But of course the more predictable we are, the more danger we are putting ourselves in. If you know what you do every day, then so might someone else.

I See You

Second books are scary things, particularly after such a great success. Is I See You going as well as you had hoped?

I was obviously mildly terrified – but the initial reviews were good, and in its first full week it went to number one in the Sunday Times hardback chart. It has also done amazingly well in audio. Rachel Atkins is the narrator and she just brings something extra to the table. It has only just come out in paperback, and it’s doing great. I tend to make my judgements on how well my books are doing based on the Sunday Times bestseller list, and rarely check on Amazon. But of course, you’ve done so well on there Rachel – do you find yourself checking your rankings all the time?

Sadly the answer to that is “yes” – but not quite so often as my husband, who occasionally tells me what the ranking was at four in the morning. Not sure why he feels he needs to know that!

There’s so much strategy involved in the marketing and the pricing – but I don’t have to do any of that. I leave it all to my publisher.

Lucky you! Although I’ve enjoyed it over the years, it’s a huge amount of work. I do have help now, because the marketing can take over. But I still need to find time to write!

I know what you mean. There are so many other things that take up time, so now I’m getting some help too. It always takes a while to let go, because sometimes it seems easier to do things yourself than to train somebody else, but it seems to be working out, so I’m hoping it will free up more time to write.

Are you already working on your next novel?

I am, and it’s going well. I’m planning to send it off to my editor by early June.

That’s good news for your readers, and at least you are past that scary ‘second book’ moment. Although I find the launch of each and every book to be just as terrifying as the previous one.

I know. I think the ‘second book fear’ is a bit of a misnomer, because I feel the pressure has just moved from book two to book three really.

It’s because we want our readers to enjoy each book and don’t want anybody to be disappointed. But it’s great to hear that the third one is well under way, and we’ve all got something to look forward to. I’m conscious that I’ve kept you talking for way too long when we should both be writing, but it’s been a real pleasure chatting with you, and let’s hope we manage more than a fleeting ‘hello’ the next time we meet.

I’m sure we’ll bump into each other at some festival in the next twelve months and we can have a longer chat.

I’ll look forward to it – but for now, Clare, thank you so much for your time and for sharing with me how being a writer has changed your life in so many positive ways. I, like everybody else, can’t wait for the next book.