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I’m Kat, an author from North Wales, and I write young adult thrillers/horror. My latest is Wicked Little Deeds/Burden Falls, and it tells the story of Ava, who gets tangled up in a series of gruesome murders in her small town where superstitions about witchcraft and vengeful ghosts are rife. You can find out more about my books and where to buy them here.

If you missed last month's newsletter, you can catch up here.

Pictured: The hair blondening continues. It'll be different again next month.
What’s coming for you…
 
In this newsletter, you will find:
  • news & updates 
  • an interview with Gina Blaxill, author of You Can Trust Me
  • what’s on my radar: books, TV, movies, music
Book news and other stuff
First, some wonderful book news: Wicked Little Deeds (aka Burden Falls) will be published in France by publisher Nathan in early 2023! I’m absolutely delighted that my book will be available to French readers, and I look forward to attempting to read my own words in translation. I believe it will also have a new cover, so I’ll share that as soon as I’m able.

Events-wise, I only did one online chat this month: The Dark Crystal chat for Josh Winning’s brilliant 80s Fantasy Film Club (shout-out to Josh, too, whose latest novel — The Shadow Glass —was published last week!) along with Chelley Toy and Georgia Bowers. It was a really fun chat about the film, and you can watch it back here. I’ll be adding more events to my events page as they’re confirmed/available to watch online, so keep an eye out there.

While I’ve been in the relative lull between finishing one manuscript and starting another, I’ve taken some time away from my writing desk to get out and do some of the things that I find really help to fill my writing brain. Castles, cemeteries, forests, beaches: you name it, I’ve been adventuring in it. These were a few of the places I visited last month:
This is Ewloe Castle, the last Welsh castle to be built back in the 13th century. 
St. Winifrede's Well, where the water is said to have healing properties. Pilgrims still travel there to this day. 
Conwy Castle, a medieval fortress which has towered over the town for 700 years.

This month I also met up with a group of horror authors for the first time in forever at the gorgeous Gladstone's Library in Hawarden. 

Pictured below L-R: Georgia Bowers, Amy McCaw, Melissa Welliver (honorary horror author for the weekend!), me, Dawn Kurtagich, Kathryn Foxfield, Cynthia Murphy. Below that is the library looking all spooky at night.
Now, I feel ready to really dive in to the next writing project.
Interview with Gina Blaxill

Gina is a YA author of thrillers and fairytale retellings. As well as her most recent books, You Can Trust Me and All the Better to See You, she has authored three other crime-thrillers (Pretty Twisted, an e-book bestseller, Forget Me Never, winner of the Oldham Book Award, and Saving Silence, winner of the Warwickshire Book Award and nominated for the Carnegie Medal). Outside of writing, she is a freelance editor. Prior to that she worked in the education sector, offering advice and guidance to young people considering university and various career pathways, and also several weird and wonderful temping jobs. She currently lives in Essex with her family and two imperious cats.

You can find out more about Gina and her books on her website, and you can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

About You Can Trust Me

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder meets I May Destroy You, this dark YA thriller will have your heart in your mouth from the very first page!

Tragedy hits a teenage New Year’s party . . .

When Alana’s best friend is found drowned in a pool, the forensic reports discover date-rape drug GHB in her blood. GHB from a drink Alana knows was meant for her. Despite the swirling rumours, the suspected group of boys seem untouchable. To investigate, Alana allows herself to be pulled into their glittering orbit. But among shifting alliances, changing alibis and buried secrets, can she pinpoint which of the boys is responsible before she becomes their next target?
 
You Can Trust Me comes out 7 April from Scholastic. There are links to preorder it here

Kat: You Can Trust Me tackles serious issues like rape culture and privilege in a way that is really intriguing and compelling. How did you decide on the book’s themes, and was it hard to strike a balance between the seriousness of those themes and making sure the story was entertaining?
 
Gina: In a sense, the book’s themes just kind of happened, which, given I plan everything, feels a slightly disappointing answer to this! My original idea was to write something about feminism (sparked by a conversation about suffragettes), and the obvious story was to follow a group of girls in some kind of society taking down toxic male behaviour. However, this felt quite overdone, and I wasn’t sure I was the right person to write it. I was quite lost with my writing at this point in time, and was viewing this book as my “last chance saloon” with YA, so I decided to play to my strengths by shifting the essence of my feminism idea into a murder mystery/thriller framework and see what happened. Once I got going, I was really thrilled at how natural everything felt - and how much fun I was having writing!

I don’t remember deciding to take on rape culture and privilege, as such, but they felt the natural fit for the story as it evolved. I didn’t overthink the themes too much in the first draft - my first aim was to write a pacy, exciting thriller - but in editing I gave their handling much greater thought, and did much more in the way of research. I hope I’ve managed to handle my themes with due care. Sometimes it’s scary as a writer to go near “big issues”, but, as so many are faced by teenagers and young people, it felt kind of cowardly to avoid them, too.
 
Kat: Alana is a great main character with an interesting backstory: a former model who feels self-conscious about that part of her life and her appearance; she’s also the new girl who wants to fit in and make friends, but who doesn’t hesitate to call out the toxic behaviour she sees around her. Was she always the central character in the story for you? How did she evolve during the drafting process?
 
Gina: Thank you! Alana evolved with the story. In early drafts, she didn’t regard herself as any kind of feminist, and part of her journey was to gain a greater awareness of what is and isn’t OK, and that there are many completely different ways in which to advocate for female rights. Like many girls and women, she wasn’t clued up about issues such as consent, and my idea was for her (and the reader) to learn as the story went on, with Alana gaining confidence and knowledge.

However, this path felt really slow burn for a fast-moving story, and, again, rather obvious and overdone. And this character simply wouldn’t do a lot of the things the plot required her to do. Sometimes, this can be a sign that the plot needs reshaping around the character, but it can also be a sign that the character isn’t right for the story. The more I wrote, the more I wanted my protagonist to be someone who was hellbent on getting to the truth - someone difficult, and a little spiky, yet still vulnerable, empathetic and sometimes uncertain. And so Alana became someone who was well-aware of the attitudes she’s fighting against, and why that was important - and also single-minded to the point of being self-destructive! The more reading I did around rape culture and misogyny, the angrier I got, and that fed into Alana too.
 
Kat: I loved that there were so many options for possible culprits, and all the twists that came before the big reveal had me second-guessing myself constantly! How did you go about plotting the mystery element?
 
Gina: Oh, plotting is my favourite thing ever! I have a deep love of murder mysteries, and over the years have analysed things that seem to me to work well. Alana herself takes quite an old school approach to solving the mystery - she plasters her bedroom wall with Post-It notes of suspects, alibis and evidence. This is a character quirk but also a clear way for the readers to keep track of these things, too.

One thing that really helped with juggling suspects was pinpointing, chapter by chapter, who I wanted Alana (and the reader) to be most suspicious of at that moment, and why (alibis, anecdotes, evidence). This changes as more information is uncovered, and some suspects are ruled out, and others are introduced. It can be tempting as a thriller or mystery author to withhold a lot of information for a big reveal at the end, but I’m starting to think it’s often more powerful to reveal information earlier - giving the reader some answers, and gradually revealing the whole picture. Having characters be more/less suspicious at various points helped with this!

I also had a list of clues and planned twists (from big ones to small), which I then peppered throughout the story. Managing the flow of information is one of the hardest things of this genre, I think, but also the most rewarding! I use Post-It notes when I plan stories, and these were especially helpful for You Can Trust Me, as I could experiment by moving Post-It notes with various pieces of evidence or new information around the story map, and gauge the most effective structuring and ordering.
 
Kat: You’ve written thrillers before, but your last release — All The Better To See You — was a fairytale retelling. Do you enjoy writing in different genres? Do you have a favourite?

Gina: My first love is definitely mysteries and thrillers, and actually, that probably shows in All The Better To See You. The fairytale setting is very different, but the story is essentially a whodunnit in structure, with Red Riding Hood and the other characters trying to get to the bottom of what the big bad wolf is up to. It was actually quite liberating to write a setting without CCTV, mobile phones, Internet, social media profiles or DNA!

I have experimented writing different genres before this - romance, historical, more classic fantasy - but it has taken a while to realise that, while I might enjoy reading all those, they don’t necessarily play to my strengths as a writer.
 
Kat: What’s next for you? 

Gina: So there are various nice things coming up in April (podcasts, interviews, etc) relating to You Can Trust Me. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to mention at this stage or not, so my Twitter (@GinaBlaxill) is the best place to look for updates. I do have a book-related announcement I hope to be able to share before too long, but that’s probably all I can say about that right now! (Sorry, annoying answer, I know!)

Thank you, Gina!

On my radar
Books – There are 3 books I want to mention in particular this month, aside from Gina’s excellent You Can Trust Me. They are: The Depths by Nicole Lesperance (out in October), which is a creepy story of isolation and obsession set on a tropical island; Ready or Not by Tracy Darnton (out in May), which is a pacy mystery-thriller about a group of friends who meet up for the holidays until one of them mysteriously disappears; and Vile Stars by Sera Milano (out this month), which is an absolutely stunning story about a toxic relationship and its fallout. I highly recommend all of these.
There are some wonderful-looking books coming up on my TBR, too: Bad Things Happen Here by Rebecca Barrow (out in June), When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill (out 3 May), Big Bad Me by Aislinn O’Loughlin (out in October) and Sixteen Souls by Rosie Talbot (out in October). I’m sure I’ll be shouting more about them in a future newsletter.
 
TV & Movies – It’s been another slowish month for me, film-wise, to the point that I revisited one that scared the crap out of me last year: 47 Meters Down. It's a scary shark film, which if you've been reading these newsletters for a while will come as no surprise. On the TV front, though, things have been brighter - Bridgerton is back! And while I don't think Anthony and Kate had quite the same level of charm as Daphne and Simon, I still loved this new season and am already hankering for more. I'm also watching season 2 of Picard, and am relieved to find a lot more going on this time around. 

Music – Lately I've been listening to Rest in Peace, the new one by Dorothy. I find Dorothy's a safe bet when I’m in the mood for some angsty country rock, which is surprisingly often. If you fancy something more chill, try ODESZA feat. The Knocks - Love Letter. His voice is like butter, but with a hint of gravel. (Gritty butter? Are you sure you're a writer, Kat?)
In next month’s newsletter look out for an interview with Tracy Darnton, author of Ready Or Not, and lots more bookish news!

'Til then… 
 
Kat x
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