Penny Hancock has kindly agreed to be on my blog today. Needless to say I am ecstatic. It was lovely to be able to ask one of my favourite authors, the questions I have been dying to know. So please scroll down to read my review and then a really interesting Q&A with Penny Hancock herself.
As a massive fan of Penny Hancock I couldn’t wait to start Tideline, I didn’t even read the back to see what it was about. I just saw her name on it and bought it. Well I wasn’t disappointed. The idea in itself was riveting. The fact that Sonia just decided to kidnap Jez had me hooked. My first thought was ‘she is bonkers’ but as I got to know Sonia and all of her past and present it made much more sense. (I hope people don’t take that as I am kidnapper in the making!) The vivid depictions of her childhood and the realistic portrayal of her crumbling marriage and her ’empty nest syndrome’ feelings meant that even the most unforgiving person would be able to understand some of her reasons. I think deep down we all have thoughts and feelings that we shouldn’t have but we don’t act on them. (Putting my husband into the washing machine and turning it on, when he asks me where his clean clothes are…to name but a few) So it was really interesting to read a book where this was actually acted upon.
The setting in this book really made it atmospheric and drove the story. I don’t normally appreciate setting that much but it really bound the past and the future being described in the book. It also augmented the tone of the book. The fact she doesn’t want to leave their was a great metaphor for her living in the past. Which is what ultimately leads her to kidnapping Jez. It was interesting to see how the author seemed to explore how we can attach memories to certain places and how Sonia refusal to move on from the house is also refusal to move on from the past. Instead she embodies this dark, creepy setting and ends up kidnapping a boy.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this book and it was gripping from beginning to end. I liked that this book wasn’t just from Sonia’s point of view but we also got to see the reaction of Jez’s family to the fact he is missing. I couldn’t breathe at some parts when the two narratives overlapped. I was actually rather worried about myself by the end as I felt so sorry for Sonia that I didn’t want her to get in trouble. I think that says a lot about the author’s writing that she was able to write this character doing something awful but being able make you understand and empathise to a certain degree. As there is a danger that people could just write Sonia off as disturbed and a villain and not appreciate what led to her behaviour.
Although I enjoyed learning more about Sonia, it was the present day that had me riveted the most. How she would keep him there and how she would stop him escaping? How she would avoid detection? Those questions had me completely absorbed. The mystery and intrigue in this book is sensational and I loved experiencing the need to read faster as I always do with Penny Hancock’s books.
An Interview with Penny Hancock.
Q.1. Where do you find that you write the best? Is there a particular place that you find you are most productive?
I don’t really like to be in once place for too long so I am an itinerant writer, moving from the kitchen table to a café to bed!
However when it comes to doing a final draft with careful editing I go to the university library as I live close to Cambridge. I hope the quiet atmosphere of study and creativity and the legacy of writers who have worked there before might somehow infiltrate my writing by osmosis. It’s a bit fanciful but it is certainly easier to concentrate there than in a noisy café.
Q.2. As you have been travelling do you think that you will write any novels set in places that you have travelled to?
I used some of my memories of living in Morocco in The Darkening Hour for one of the narrators who is Moroccan. However it is some years since I travelled. At the moment I’m enjoying using more familiar settings, London and the Fens- I find our dour damp climate and the dark winters very atmospheric.
Q.3. As you can see I have just finished Tideline and loved it. It was especially amazing how you wrote Sonia in a way that she didn’t come across as completely crazy and evil. How hard was it for you to get into the character Sonia and write her this way? Do you know anyone like her that you could base her upon?
I really just tried to put myself in her head and write as if I were her- a kind of ‘method writing.’ I don’t know anyone who would do what she did but I do know a number of women who have some of the thoughts she expresses! I never thought of her as evil or crazy, I felt a great deal of sympathy for her, stuck in a crumbling marriage and hanging onto a house everyone wants her to leave. Those things and her yearning to relive her youth are what drive her. I think those are things a lot of people can relate to.
Q.4. From your website you say that you have always written, I wondered, do you remember the first story that you ever wrote? Do you remember what is was about?
What a nice question! One story I remember was about a pig who wanted wellies for his birthday and each of his farmyard friends gave him one, but they were all different sizes. I did the pictures to go with it, I think it was quite sweet but I was only about seven at the time and it wasn’t very sophisticated!
Q.5. A Trick of the Mind is one of my favourite novels and so I have to ask, did you always know about the massive jaw-dropping twist when you started writing the novel or did it manifest in the writing process?
It sort of manifested as I wrote it, I hadn’t quite worked out what would be revealed although I knew it had to be something dramatic.
Q.6. Where do you think that you got your passion for writing from?
I think it was from having a really creative primary school teachers who encouraged me and allowed me to write. It always felt like a treat not a chore to fill up exercise books with fantasy worlds and draw pictures to go with them. I would love to write and illustrate children’s books as well but I can’t draw well enough.
Q.7. Do you have any rituals or traditions that you have to do when you are writing a book?
I write a first draft quite quickly and roughly and then do a lot of re writing and re working. After the first draft I show it to a few select friends who read it and feed back. The first stage is loose and I get ideas from walking, gardening, running. The next stages are harder work and are about tightening up and editing so that’s when I go to the library!
Q.8. I am desperately hoping you are writing another book; will it be in the same genre?
I am working on something at the moment, it’s a similar genre, a little more issue-based and a little less dark perhaps than the previous ones. It’s written, like Tideline from the alternative points of view of a woman and her best friend, who are torn apart when one of their sons is accused of rape by the other woman’s daughter.
Q.9. Do you remember where you were when you came up with the idea for Tideline?
At a friend’s big birthday party, the idea came from a conversation where someone mentioned her teenage daughter’s boyfriend being very handsome and nice to look at- which could be taken as slightly dodgy in the wrong context- but it gave me the idea for a novel, about a middle aged woman who kidnaps a teenage boy.
Q.10. If you could only read 3 books for the rest of your life what would they be and why?
Well I’m reading War and Peace at the moment so I’d like to finish that which might last me! I love the character observations and the family complexities which we can relate to today, and the sumptuous settings- the battle scenes are a bit harder going however.
Wuthering Heights for all its wild landscape and passion, for the drama and complicated structure.
I love Patricia Highsmith and The Talented Mr Ripley, so I’d like to read more of the Ripley stories and anything else by this author.