Today I had the absolute pleasure of meeting one of my all-time favorite crime writers, Clare Mackintosh. Clare is the author of I LET YOU GO and the forthcoming I SEE YOU - two psychological thrillers which have completely blown me away! (You can find my blog coverage of I LET YOU GO and I SEE YOU linked at the bottom of this post.)
Without further ado, let’s dive right into my conversation with Clare! Our interview is divided into two parts. Part 1 appeared originally on my Instagram story: this Q&A features a series of brief, fun questions - kind of a “get to know you” with Clare and an intro to her new book, I SEE YOU. Click on the video below to watch the Q&A as it appeared on my Instagram, or scroll just beyond the video to read my write-up of it!
Part 2 of our interview includes a more in-depth discussion of I SEE YOU and of Clare’s background. These questions did not appear on my Instagram! You’ll find this discussion just below the Q&A.
A huge thank-you to Clare for being such a lovely interview subject. Happy reading!
Crime by the Book: Describe the plot of I SEE YOU in 1 sentence.
Clare Mackintosh: I SEE YOU is about routine. You know how you know your commute like the back of your hand? So do I.
CBTB: Describe this book in 3 adjectives.
CM: It’s twisty, chilling, and most of all – it’s plausible.
CBTB: What’s a thriller that you’ve enjoyed?
CM: FIND HER by Lisa Gardner – it is terrifying.
CBTB: If you could invite 3 crime writers - living or dead - over for dinner, whom would you invite?
CM: Mark Billingham, for the laughs - he's very funny! Agatha Christie, to teach me a trick or two. And Sophie Hannah, for some poetry.
CBTB: Are you a coffee or tea person?
CM: I don’t drink coffee! I’m English, I like a good big cup of breakfast tea with milk.
CBTB: In your free time (if you have any free time!), what genres do you like to read?
CM: I love reading crime fiction, unsurprisingly. Psychological thrillers, psychological dramas and suspense. But I also like a bit of rom-com!
CBTB: What’s next for Clare Mackintosh? Are you working on another book?
CM: Life is busy right now! I’m doing a lot of traveling and publicizing my books, but I’m also working on my third book, and a secret project!
(Who else is dying to find about this secret project? Me!!)
CBTB: What inspired you to write this story?
CM: I went to London with a friend of mine who’s a commuter. We were standing on the platform, and she moved me about 2 meters to the left and said “no no, we have to stand here.” And I said “well, what’s wrong with over there?” and she said “no we’ve got to stand here, because this is where, when the train gets in, the doors will open.” And sure enough, the train came and the doors opened, and because we were standing in just the right space, we got on and got the last two seats. So I watched her do this commute, and she could have done it blindfolded: she knew exactly which way to go, she knew which escalator went faster than the other, she reached out and picked up a copy of Metro without even looking, and I realized that all over the world, there are people doing exactly the same thing, every single day. We find routine very comforting, very familiar—but the crime writer in me and the former police officer in me immediately thought about the risks that we’re opening ourselves up to.
CBTB: It’s so true! Being in New York, and reading your book on the subway, I found myself getting totally freaked out considering what could be going on around me. So that ties into my next question: do you get freaked out on public transportation now, after writing this book?
CM: I do! I deliberately spent time in London Underground stations that made me feel quite freaked out. So I would scare myself to capture the right feeling. And now I don’t really like using the underground – I like to walk. Walking feels safe!
CBTB: You mentioned it briefly earlier, but I wondered if you might be able to share a bit about your time working as a police officer. How did you get into police work?
CM: I never planned to follow the career choice that I did! I wanted to be a management consultant, I was doing business studies and French while at University. I went to listen to a recruitment lecture given by a management consulting firm, and I was late and I ran in and sat down at the back, and realized when I looked up that there was a police officer at the front of the room. He started talking, and I realized I had gone into the wrong lecture theater, and I was in a recruitment drive given by the police to join a graduate program. And half an hour later, I was so blown away by this talk that I took an application form and signed up. It wasn’t at all what I planned, but it was fantastic, and I spent twelve very happy years in the police, doing lots of different jobs. I was a detective for a while, I got promoted a couple of times, I worked in a public audit department dealing with large-scale public meetings, and I had a really great career.
CBTB: What were the biggest challenges for you while writing your second novel, and how did you overcome them?
CM: Writing I SEE YOU after I LET YOU GO had done so well was really challenging. I had days where there was so much good news coming in about I LET YOU GO that it paralyzed me, and I couldn’t write anything at all. I had a couple of false starts, writing a book that actually just wasn’t strong enough, which I then put to one side. But as soon as I had the concept of I SEE YOU, it was so clear and so strong that actually I was able to put those concerns and that pressure to one side, and just thought well, all I can do is write the best book that I can write.
CBTB: Well, just so you know, I think I actually like I SEE YOU better than I LET YOU GO (and I loved I LET YOU GO)!
CM: I like it better as well. I loved I LET YOU GO, and I’m very proud of the twist, and of the reaction that it’s had, but I think that I SEE YOU is a better book.
CBTB: That’s actually my next question—what do you consider the biggest difference between the two books? (The drama of the plot twist of I LET YOU GO aside!)
CM: I think they are very different books. There’s much more emotion in I LET YOU GO – it’s probably a more thought-provoking book on an emotional level, where as I SEE YOU is more thought-provoking in terms of our own daily routine, and the risks that we might be opening ourselves up to. I SEE YOU has a more consistent pace. In I LET YOU GO, the first half is quite slow, and it sort of builds to something really big in the middle, and then the second half is very breathlessly fast. I SEE YOU has that sort of rollercoaster feeling all the way through.
CBTB: Absolutely, I totally agree. I LET YOU GO actually almost felt like two different books to me, which I loved - and I also loved that you didn’t try to replicate that with I SEE YOU.
CM: I was really keen not to. I actively avoided something that had a midway twist that felt the same. And that’s a challenge in itself, because when you’re a writer, you want to make sure that your readers have more of the same. I wouldn’t suddenly right romance! But it needs to be different too, and that’s a really tough balance, but that’s also what keeps things interesting.
I am so thankful to Clare for taking the time to speak with me, and to her publicists at Berkley for setting this conversation up! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to meet Clare one on one and discuss her fantastic books with her. Little personal anecdote: I LET YOU GO was actually the first advance copy of a book I ever read for Crime by the Book, and it has remained a lasting favorite, so getting to meet Clare was an extra treat for that sentimental value!
I SEE YOU by Clare Mackintosh releases 2/21/17, and I really meant it when I said it: I think I may have loved it even more than I LET YOU GO. In case it isn’t already abundantly clear, I highly recommend Clare's two thrillers. Both are sharp, chilling reads that will keep you completely hooked!
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Disclaimer: I am an employee of Penguin Random House. All opinions my own.