Irini and Elle are sisters, but they didn’t grow up together. When she was three Irini was sent to live with her aunt. She has no idea why. When her mother dies, Irini returns to the family home, the home that she didn’t grow up in, the home that isn’t her family home, to find answers. She needs to know why her parents chose Elle over her. She needs to know what went so wrong that they walked away from her. She needs to understand. That’s easier said than done, especially when her relationship with Elle is best described as toxic. Toxic and dangerous.
Michelle Adams’ debut novel is a wonderfully creepy psychological thriller. It’s unsettling in the way that all great crime fiction is. The story grabs you immediately and has you questioning everyone and everything throughout.
Thanks to Michelle Adams for taking the time to answer my questions.
How would you describe My Sister in five words?
My Sister is dark, creepy, discomforting, twisted, and hopeful.
How did you first get into writing?
I suppose I got into writing through my love of reading. I used to love book club at school, and spent a lot of hours alone with my face buried in a book. I was fascinated by the magic of it, that you could get lost in a world that didn’t really exist. By the time I was in my late teens I had read some influential books at school like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale that inspired me to start playing around with ideas of my own, writing short sections of intended books that never really made it past the first page. It wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties when I realised that if I wanted to be a writer I really had to start doing something about it by writing a book, start to finish. That first manuscript took me about nine months to bash out a first draft, although I’ll admit that my idea of editing at that point was questionable at best, a quick search for typos and grammatical errors without any idea about developing the story. But although that manuscript never got picked up by a publisher the feeling I got from finishing it was so satisfying that I was hooked from then on.
Writing is a solitary process. Do you have a routine so that you don’t get completely lost in the world(s) you’re creating?
It’s strange really because although the life of a writer in many ways is a solitary existence I never remember feeling lonely. I think I have a certain rhythm while I write, especially during a first draft, or when I am crafting an idea during which I am very much in a world of my own. Whatever I’m doing I’m always thinking about the story and the characters, so I like to get a first draft down as quickly as possible. After that I try to take time out, do other things I love like hiking in the mountains or just hanging out with friends. I love watching movies and going to the cinema too. An injury kept me out of my trainers for a lot of last year, but I also love going for a run. While I am out running I completely switch off, and I think that ability to just focus on not thinking about work for a while makes me much more refreshed for when I come back to my desk.
Is there a piece of advice you wish you had while writing My Sister?
My process has changed a lot during the last two years. I was always a pantser, just writing and exploring as I wrote, and My Sister grew very much in that fashion. But that way I always had to negotiate false starts and dead ends, and a manuscript finished in this way often needed huge revisions, and needed much more time.
Now that I have an agent and a publisher to answer to they need something different from me. They can’t plan around my loose ideas in the way that I used to be able to. They need to know what I’m doing in advance because they have jobs to do too. So I find that by writing a thorough synopsis before I start is the best way to set off with some sort of plan. It acts as a road map, and although there will be diversions along the way, and some surprises, the synopsis makes the writing process so much more streamlined and directed. Plus, it’s a lot easier to write the synopsis at the beginning. Condensing 100,000 words into a couple of pages is much harder than the other way around.
I love hearing what people are passionate about reading, even if they can’t narrow it down to a favourite. Which book do you wish you could thrust into the arms of strangers and demand they read it immediately?
One book? That is so hard! There are so many good one’s that I have read lately and that have left their mark on me. But when it comes to picking one book from all the ones I’ve read, my mind always returns to my favourite of all time; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I think it is so elegantly and beautifully written, and it absolutely broke my heart. I think it was the first book I ever finished that after turning the last page I looked up for somebody to share it with, and who would be able to say, ‘Yeah, I know’. I desperately wanted the ending to be different, and was devastated when I realised that of course it had to be that way. It might have been the first time I was really searching for a happily ever after, and I didn’t get it. I guess writers know what they are doing, though. That’s what I like to tell myself anyway!
My Sister by Michelle Adams is published by Headline and is available in trade paperback and ebook format.