Monday, August 23, 2010

9mm interview with Sophie Hannah

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of author interviews; 9mm - 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors.

For the 33rd instalment in the 9mm series, Crime Watch is talking to the multi-talented Sophie Hannah, who along with being a bestselling crime writer, is also an acclaimed poet, short story writer, and children's author. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Award, and is studied at British high schools. From a crime writing perspective, Hannah has penned five acclaimed psychological suspense novels - her latest being A ROOM SWEPT WHITE, which was released in harback earlier this year and came in paperback this month.

The blurb for A ROOM SWEPT WHITE says: "TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four - numbers that mean nothing to her. On the same day, Fliss finds out she's going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hind. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four..."

"Hannah seems almost unable to put a foot wrong in the arena of the psychological thriller," said Barry Forshaw (who knows a thing or two about quality British crime and thriller writing) in a review. It certainly sounds like an intriguing premise to me, and is a thriller I'm very much looking forward to enjoying over the next couple of days (I just started it yesterday).

Last month I posted about Hannah, who has been a fellow at both Oxford and Cambridge, admitting in an interview that she doesn't mind being called a crime writer, while at the same time rejecting the value judgments others sometimes place on the label. You can read more about her thoughts on such subjects here.

But for now Sophie Hannah stares down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I have lots of favourites: Val McDermid's Tony Hill, Ruth Rendell's Inspectors Wexford and Burden, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis. Miss Marple, of course - I marginally prefer her to Hercule Poirot, but I'm a fan of his too!

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
As a child, I loved Enid Blyton's Secret Seven mysteries and E W Hildick's McGurk mystery series. In both cases, what I loved was the mysteries - I can remember thinking, even aged about six or seven, that a story with a mystery in it was infinitely superior to one without.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had published two children's books, four poetry books and three novels that were not in the crime/suspense genre. They did contain mysteries, but were mainly darkly comic novels, if I had to try and define their genre. Those novels were 'Gripless', 'Cordial and Corrosive', and 'The Superpower of Love'. They're out of print now, which I'm quite pleased about, because I don't think they're fully mature - though of course I thought they were when I wrote them!

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I am an obsessive swimmer, and ideally like to swim seventy or eighty lengths a day. I'm also an obsessive surfer of property websites, and occasionally I go and view houses even when I'm not in the market for a house, purely because I love looking round houses.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I live in Cambridge. I lived here twelve years ago, then had to leave because of my husband's job. When he gave up his job last year to be a man of leisure, we immediately moved back to Cambridge because we both honestly believe it can't be beaten, as a place. So I suppose the one thing I think tourists in Cambridge should do is move here!

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio - we both have curly hair!

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I don't have a favourite. They're all my favourites in different ways.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was in Bath, on my way to an appearance at a literature festival, when I heard that my first crime novel, Little Face, had been accepted for publication by Hodder. I drifted around in an ecstatic haze for about two days. As a result, I now adore Bath, because I associate it with that moment of perfect happiness.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Before I became a crime writer, when I mainly did poetry readings, a man from one of my audiences came up to me after the reading and said, 'Do you know, I've never slept with a poet before.' It was the word 'before' that particularly alarmed me!

Thank you Sophie Hannah. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


So what do you think of this 9mm interview? Have you read any of Sophie Hannah's psychological thrillers? Her poetry or other writing? If so, what did you think? I'd love to read your comments. Please share your thoughts.


  1. Craig - Thanks, as always, for this interview. I think this is such an interesting way to "meet" authors. And Sophie and I have very similar tastes in our favourite sleuths : ).

  2. A blogging friend of mine from the UK recommended this author to me. She said Little Face was very good. I want to start with Little Face, which I haven't found yet here in Canada. So I really enjoyed this interview with Sophie. I read Enid Blyton's mysteries as a child too! Am more determined to find Hannah's books also now. Thanks!