Thursday, July 31, 2014

Please Welcome Mystery Author Sarah Hilary

Omnimystery News: Guest Post by Sarah Hilary
with Sarah Hilary

We are delighted to welcome author Sarah Hilary to Omnimystery News.

Sarah's debut mystery is Someone Else's Skin (Penguin Books; June 2014 trade paperback, audiobook and ebook formats) and introduces London Detective Inspector Marnie Rome.

We asked Sarah to tell us a little more about the book and today she gives us the backstory to writing Someone Else's Skin.

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Sarah Hilary
Photo provided courtesy of
Sarah Hilary;
Photo credit Matthew Andrews

Watching TV mysteries/crime can be addictive, especially if you're meant to be writing, but it can also be a terrific way of letting ideas into your head. You're not thinking about work or writing, you're relaxed if a little tense, depending on what's happening onscreen. Your lizard brain thinks that it's switched off, but a writer's lizard brain is never really switched off.

I was watching the third in a row of TV dramas about crimes without witnesses. Great dramas, really gripping, but my brain was busy with another idea: what about a crime with lots of witnesses? How might that work? And what if the witnesses were unreliable, if you couldn't be sure of their evidence because they were all keeping secrets?

What if the detectives investigating the crime were keeping secrets? How would that work? I didn't know it at the time, but I'd started writing Someone Else's Skin.

Wary of jumping straight in, I skirted around the idea by way of research. There's something very reassuring about research, like laying down newspapers before you start making a mess. I headed for my local library, holding hard to my secret that I was writing something new (flutter under the ribcage, excited buzzing in my head) and spent forty minutes just looking randomly at the spines of textbooks. If this sounds weird, well, maybe it is. But it's what I always do when I have the first whisper of an idea: I seek out evidence, or rather let evidence find me; I didn't know what I was looking for, just that I'd know it when I saw it.

What I saw was a textbook called The Eye: A Natural History by Simon Ing. Fascinating book, brilliantly written. All about how we see not with our eyes but with our nerve endings, and our expectations; our brain interprets data based on our past experiences; it's how we're able to speed read.

Next I read about the Invisible Gorilla experiment in Harvard, which proved that we can fail to see what we're not expecting, even when it's right in front of us. The more I read, the more I wondered why eye witnesses are relied on for any kind of evidence.

Research can be addictive, like TV, but more dangerous because it involves books; you can kid yourself you're working when you're reading. I knew I had to stop looking at textbooks and start writing fiction, to see whether the idea for Someone Else's Skin had legs.

There was never any doubt that my lead detective would be DI Marnie Rome.

Marnie had a walk-on role in an earlier story of mine, and she'd been watching me from the wings ever since. More or less patiently, although I could tell she was starting to wonder when I'd get the hint and write her a whole story. It took me a little longer to find her detective sergeant, but Noah Jake entered the fray and I was all set, more or less.

I wrote the first draft swiftly, for the sake of the momentum and in case I lost my nerve. It wasn't great but it had a good spine, and I could see where the layers were needed to make it better. I was lucky with my cast of characters. Once I'd picked a women's refuge as the setting, the characters came to me: lost women with stories they were reluctant to tell; survivors. And the less savoury characters, one of whom hung back in the shadows until the second draft, unnerving me.

It's good to be surprised when you're writing; it means your readers will be surprised too.

Did I keep watching TV while I was writing? You bet I did. Have I started imagining Marnie Rome and Noah Jake up there onscreen? You bet I have. But for now, I'm happy to keep them busy on the page.

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Sarah Hilary writes copy for a well-known travel publisher. She has also worked as a bookseller and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, she won the Cheshire Prize for Literature. Sarah lives with her husband and daughter in Bath, England.

For more information about the author, please visit her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin
Sarah Hilary
A Marnie Rome Mystery

DI Marnie Rome knows this better than most. Five years ago, her family home was the scene of a shocking and bloody crime that left her parents dead and her foster brother in prison. Marnie doesn't talk much about her personal life, preferring to focus on work. Not even her partner, DS Noah Jake, knows much about Marnie's past. Though as one of the few gay officers on the force and half Jamaican to boot, Noah's not one to overshare about his private life either. Now Marnie and Noah are tackling a case of domestic violence, and a different brand of victim.

Hope Proctor stabbed her husband in desperate self-defense. A crowd of witnesses in the domestic violence shelter where she's staying saw it happen, but none of them are telling quite the same story, and the simple question remains: how did Leo Proctor get in to the secure shelter? Marnie and Noah shouldn't even have been there when it happened but they were interviewing another resident, Ayana Mirza. They're trying to get Ayana to testify against her brothers for pouring bleach on her face for bringing dishonor the family, and blinding her in one eye. But Ayana knows that her brothers are looking for her, and she has no doubt that they'll kill her this time.

As the violence spirals, engulfing the residents of the women's shelter, Marnie finds herself drawn into familiar territory: A place where the past casts long shadows and she must tread carefully to survive.

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