Bestselling author Sam Blake: ‘Story comes from the collision of unrelated ideas’
Here, we catch up with Sam Blake to chat about her writing process, literary influences, and the making of her latest YA thriller, Something Terrible Happened Last Night.
With seven adult thrillers and three nominations for Irish Crime Novel of the Year under her belt, Sam Blake has made her YA debut with the newly released Something Terrible Happened Last Night.
Described as Gossip Girl meets Agatha Christie, the book is a murder mystery set in an elite South Dublin private school, with lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end.
A story with 100 suspects and just one killer, the tale begins on Katie’s 17th birthday. The dancefloor is packed, the drink is flowing, and Rave-fess, the Raven’s Hill School confession site, is alight with gossip.
Then a huge fight breaks out, sending guests fleeing. When Frankie, Jess and Sorcha go back to help Katie clear up her wrecked house before her parents get home, they find more than broken bottles, but there’s a body on the living room floor. It’s the deadliest party of the year.
Read on for our interview with the author…
Did you always want to be a writer/author?
I always thought I’d write a book, but I didn’t really see author as a career choice (no idea why, it can be!) so writing definitely, yes.
What inspired you to start writing?
My husband went sailing across the Atlantic for eight weeks and I had an idea for a book – and lots of long winter evenings to fill.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
My first book, like all my books, came from a variety of places – someone I’d met, things happening in the news, but it was truly terrible and will never see the light of day!
Tell us about your writing process.
I used to plot and plan religiously, creating a detailed chart of what happened in every chapter, but now I write much more instinctively. Trying new ways of doing things helps you grow as a writer and that’s really important to me. I need to know where I’m heading with a story – what the end scene is or one near the end, and the big thing that happens in the middle, but now I’m happy to trust the process and see where the story takes me.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
Every book is different, sometimes it’s a core plot idea or a location, sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a first line. Everything grows from that initial spark, whatever it is. Story comes from the collision of unrelated ideas, once one is forming it links with other bits in my head (that’s a highly technical term!) until a whole plot develops.
What did you learn when writing this book?
My first book (written as opposed to the first that was published) was only a first step. Over the next four books I learned tons about writing technique – showing not telling, effective dialogue, how to use location, how to create suspense and tension, how to deliver a good story. By the time I got to my fifth book (Little Bones), I’d got the hang of it and it got me an agent, a publisher and was an instant runaway bestseller.
Do you have any quirky habits when writing?
I can write anywhere, anytime, so no habits as such – if I can, I like listening to the soundtrack for the book as that helps drown out the noise in my head of other things I should be doing, but I’m very focused when I need to get something done.
The first book you remember reading is…
Famous Five – Five go to Kirrin Island I think. I’ve loved mystery ever since.
Your favourite Irish author is…
I love so many – I’m currently mad about debut Alice Bell, her book Grave Expectations is hilarious and brilliant.
The book you gift everyone is…
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Three books everyone should read:
Rebecca, Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (a children’s book) and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.
You overcome writer’s block by…
I believe writer’s block is your subconscious mind putting the brakes on when you’ve gone off course, so I go back to where it was working and see if I’ve made a mistake – perhaps a character has done something that’s out of character, or said something they can’t know.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes – some books are partly inspired by music and listening to it helps the story flow.
The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…
I treat myself to something nice – often jewellery – when I have a book published. I always wanted diamond earrings, so I bought those when Little Bones was published, and I have a lovely gold bracelet with a gold typewriter charm on it from Remember My Name. I’m a bit behind with The Mystery of Four and Something Terrible Happened Last Night – a shopping trip beckons!
The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…
My recommendations for books everyone should read! I can read Rebecca over and over again and find something new every time.
A quote you love is…
I came across this one by Febvre when I was in college: ”there are no necessities, but everywhere possibilities; and man, as the master of these possibilities, is the judge of their use”. I think you can do anything you want in life if you’re prepared to work hard enough, and I also believe you can make your own luck – everywhere there are possibilities.
The book you always return to is…
Seeing your book in shops is…
Always fabulous – but seeing someone you don’t know reading one, in an airport or on a train, is even better!
One book you wish you had written is…
Rebecca because it’s a multi-layered mystery that gives you tension and romance and literary imagery in one brilliant and unexpected story. It’s a masterpiece.
How do you use social media as an author?
To chat to readers, I love people and connecting with people and it’s very useful for that. Everyone has a story to tell.
Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?
Book covers tell you a huge amount about the contents of a book and a good cover will carry it to readers – my publishers design my covers but often I might have thoughts on ways to tweak it to work better with the plot. Something Terrible Happened Last Night has quite a busy cover and when I showed it to a reader who has ADHD, they struggled a bit – Gill were fabulous and made changes as a result of their input to make it more accessible. They also made it a brighter blue than the original design because I was keen that it popped on the shelf.
Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?
I tend to be very focused and get things done, so occasionally procrastinate, but only when I’ve got too much time!
The best advice you’ve ever gotten is:
Just keep writing – from Sarah Webb. Can’t thank her enough for that.
Your work space is…
Wherever my laptop is – I used to prefer not to work in my office at home as it can be hard to separate writing from the day job, but I’ve just redesigned it and have two screens now, so it’s actually the best place to work.
Your favourite literary character of all time is…
I’m torn between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple.
Featured image by Alice-Rose Jordan
Visit www.samblakebooks.com to find out more and join Sam’s Readers’ Club or follow her on social @samblakebooks Grab your copy of Something Terrible Happened Last Night here.